Code Aesthetics and Style
3 July, 2023
When immersing oneself in the world of coding, it is imperative to accord proper attention to the aesthetics of your code. While the immediate objective might revolve around making your code functional, it is essential to bear in mind that your code will endure and evolve over time, it will have a lifetime. The true measure of your code's quality lies in its ability to be understood effortlessly by others and facilitate seamless collaboration.
Only shipping the code is merely one facet of the comprehensive software development process. In this blog post, I aim to articulate my perspective on coding style and approach, shedding light on the tools and practices to help you create a productive and sustainable development environment.
What I mean by code aesthetics
When we talk about code aesthetics, its about the structure and readability of the code you create. It's all about ensuring that fellow developers can effortlessly comprehend your work and feel at ease when it comes to making contributions. Think about it—how does the structure of your code aid others in navigating through its intricacies? Can they make sense of what you've written even in your absence? Code aesthetics primarily concerns itself with the style of your code and its alignment with established patterns and conventions. It's not primarily focused on performance enhancements and optimizations, although it's worth mentioning that these aspects can sometimes be byproducts of clean and well-structured code. The ultimate objective is to cultivate an environment where collaboration thrives and understanding flows naturally.
Good code is like a love letter to the next developer who will maintain it! - Addy Osmani
Maintaining a well-structured codebase is crucial for maintaining good code style at both the file and program levels. It's essential to establish a solid code style within your codebase. When new team members join and start contributing to existing projects, they often look at the existing codebase as a reference. Similarly, newcomers to a project try to learn from the code they are working on.
That's why it's vital to ensure that code style and aesthetics are consistently maintained. Maintainers have an important role in guaranteeing the quality of the code. They should ensure that the codebase follows good practices and avoid introducing bad habits. This is crucial because newcomers can inadvertently adopt poor coding practices if the codebase lacks quality control.
On the other hand, if you are a newcomer or a fresher to a project, don't hesitate to ask questions when something is unclear or difficult to follow. Additionally, feel free to suggest refactors or improvements. Your fresh perspective can provide valuable insights that benefit the project and future contributors.
Understanding the complexity
Cognitive complexity and cyclomatic complexity are two different metrics used to analyze code quality and understand the complexity of software systems. While both metrics provide insights into the complexity of code, they focus on different aspects and have different interpretations.
Cyclomatic complexity is a metric that measures the number of linearly independent paths through a program's source code. It is based on the control flow graph and counts the number of decision points, loops, and branches in the code. The higher the cyclomatic complexity, the more complex the code is considered to be. This metric helps identify areas of code that may have a higher likelihood of containing defects or being difficult to test and maintain.
On the other hand, cognitive complexity measures the mental effort required to understand a piece of code. It takes into account factors such as nested conditionals, logical operators, and the overall structure of the code. Cognitive complexity considers the readability and maintainability of the code and aims to capture how difficult it is for a human programmer to comprehend the code. It provides a more nuanced understanding of code complexity compared to cyclomatic complexity.
Cognitive complexity is often considered a more reliable measure of code quality. While cyclomatic complexity focuses on the structure of the code.
Targeting the files that need attention
Churn and hotspot are two important concepts in code analysis and software development. They provide valuable insights into the complexity and change frequency of code files.
Churn, measures the number of times a file has changed. It helps identify the files that undergo frequent modifications. The more a file is changed, the higher its churn value
Hotspots, on the other hand refer to files that have higher than average complexity and have recently been changed frequently. These files are often the ones that generate a lot of churn. In other words, hotspots are the parts of the code that require attention and might have a higher risk of introducing bugs or issues.
Tools to help us
When it comes to code, it's never a one-and-done deal. You'll find yourself revisiting and reviewing your code multiple times, and the same goes for your teammates, you will hardly find any software maintained for its whole life by the original author. So, either you starting in new project or contributing to an existing, I highly recommend you use the tools to make sure you are doing it right,
The choice of your code editor sets the foundation for your entire coding journey, and it's crucial that both you and your team feel comfortable with the editor you use. In today's world, code editors have evolved into powerful tools that offer a plethora of features and functionalities. They provide an environment where you can effectively write code at your own pace, unleashing your creativity and productivity.
A good code editor should always be an enabler, empowering you to write code fluently and effortlessly. It should offer an efficient editing experience, allowing you to navigate through your codebase seamlessly and providing helpful shortcuts that save you valuable time. With a robust editor by your side, you can avoid redundancies and focus on the essence of your code.
Moreover, an ideal code editor is extensible, allowing you to customize and tailor it to your specific needs and preferences. It should offer APIs and integration capabilities, enabling you to seamlessly connect with other tools and utilities that are essential for your development workflow. This integration can enhance your coding experience, enabling you to leverage the power of complementary tools and boost your productivity.
By choosing the right code editor and becoming familiar with its capabilities, you can significantly enhance your code aesthetics. It serves as a powerful ally, empowering you to write elegant and well-structured code while promoting good coding practices.
A linter is a tool used in software development to analyze source code and flag potential errors, bugs, and stylistic issues. It performs static code analysis, which means it checks the code without executing it.
The primary purpose of a linter is to enforce coding standards and best practices within a codebase. It can catch common mistakes like syntax errors, undefined variables, unused code, improper indentation, and more. It help bring in standarization and makes code look like written by a single person.
Its your best companion when writing code. Initially linters may feel very binding but its like a guard dog, watching your every move which may look scary but after getting comfortable help you in avoid taking wrong turns. Linters enforce consistent coding styles and conventions, making the codebase more readable and maintainable for the entire development team.
A good code formatter ensures that the code you write is in a readable format and maintains consistency throughout your project files. Formatted code has a remarkable impact. It allows you to consume the code at a glance, making it easier for your brain to navigate through the logic, and minimize the load on memory, thinking, and vision when reading a program. Plus, by using a formatter, the chances of spotting bugs, if any, multiply significantly. A well-structured layout helps you identify the different parts of the code that belong together and have dependencies on one another. It's like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece fits snugly into its rightful place.
Moreover, formatters provide you with the freedom to write code at your own pace without worrying too much about the format. You can let your creativity flow, knowing that you can instantly format your code correctly afterward.
When it comes to code aesthetics, adhering to coding conventions is a crucial aspect. Coding conventions consist of guidelines and rules that are widely understood and followed within the developer community for each programming language. They serve as a roadmap for maintaining a sense of familiarity and consistency within a codebase, especially for new members joining a project. While linters and formatters handle most conventions automatically, there is one convention that deserves explicit attention: naming.
In the realm of naming, it's essential to strike a balance between meaningful and concise names. A name should reflect its intention, neither being too short nor too long. For instance, a function named
getNames clearly indicates that it retrieves names. Naming is subjective to some extent, but it's important to aim for reasonableness and clarity.
Consider variables, where a well-chosen identifier like
isActive implies a boolean value representing an active or inactive state. This simple name can provide insights into the purpose and behavior of the variable.
When it comes to files, the name should align with the information and content present within the file. For instance, a file named
trackerUtils implies that it contains utility functions and data related to tracking.
In the case of functions, a naming convention commonly used involves identifying the operation or action performed by the function, followed by appending it with the return value or parameters passed. Examples include
While coding conventions are not absolute and can vary between projects and organizations, they play a vital role in enhancing code aesthetics and readability. There are several published coding conventions available for reference. Here are a few examples:
- HTML5 Syntax
- Code Formatting and Naming Conventions in Go
- Java Code Conventions
- Coding Style and Conventions
- Kotlin Coding Conventions
These conventions provide a shared language and understanding among developers, resulting in code that is easier to read, comprehend, and maintain.
Effective use of code comments can greatly enhance the readability and maintainability of your codebase. Comments serve as a form of documentation, providing insights, explanations, and clarifications about the code, outline complex logic, or highlight potential pitfalls. They play a crucial role during code reviews, refactoring, and future maintenance.
One of the key advantages of code comments is that they have no impact on the runtime performance of your code. Compilers and interpreters typically ignore comments when generating the final executable, ensuring that your code runs efficiently.
However, it's important to strike a balance when it comes to commenting. Too many or unnecessary comments can actually hinder readability. Comments should add value by providing information that is not immediately obvious from the code itself.
Avoiding common Code Smells
In the pursuit of code aesthetics, it's crucial to address common code smells that can hinder readability, maintainability, and overall code quality. By proactively avoiding these code smells, developers can significantly enhance the elegance and efficiency of their code. Let's explore a few of these common code smells and strategies to mitigate them:
- Avoid top-level variable declarations: It's advisable to keep variable declarations within the appropriate scope, avoiding unnecessary pollution of the global namespace. By confining variables to their relevant scopes, such as within functions or classes, we can promote encapsulation and minimize unintended side effects.
- Avoid writing excessively long functions: When functions become lengthy, understanding their definitions becomes a scrolling adventure. To combat this, consider breaking down complex functions into smaller, more focused ones. This not only improves readability but also enhances reusability. Each smaller function can perform a specific task, making the code more modular and easier to comprehend.
- Avoid using magic numbers: Magic numbers are hardcoded numeric values scattered throughout the code. Instead of using these mysterious numbers directly, assign them to meaningful constant variables with descriptive names. By doing so, you improve the readability of your code and make it easier to understand the purpose of those values. This practice also allows for easier modification and maintenance in the future.
- Avoid using long parameter lists: When a function requires a long list of parameters, it can become challenging to keep track of their order and meaning. Consider using objects or interfaces to encapsulate related parameters into a single entity. By passing a well-defined object or interface, you can improve code clarity and readability. This approach also provides flexibility when new parameters need to be added or existing ones are modified.
- Avoid excessive nesting in your code. Strive to limit your code's indentation to a maximum of three levels. It promotes the creation of functions with a single responsibility, which leads to cleaner and more modular code.
By actively steering clear of these code smells, developers can not only enhances the readability and understandability of the codebase but also promotes code reusability, modularity, and ease of maintenance. Remember, the goal is to create code that is not only functional but also a pleasure to work with.
Patterns play a vital role in code style by providing reusable solution templates for recurring problems in software design. They offer a structured approach to organizing and architecting code. Patterns provide a proven blueprint to follow, which promotes readability, maintainability, and scalability.
One of the advantages of using patterns is improved communication among developers, referring to established patterns provides a common language and a shared understanding. It facilitates effective collaboration and allows developers to express their ideas and solutions more precisely. Patterns also contribute to the overall cohesion and consistency of the codebase.
Furthermore, patterns have a lasting impact on code maintenance. By following established patterns, developers can create a code style that is familiar and intuitive to others. When another developer takes over the codebase at a later stage, they can rely on the established patterns to navigate through the code more easily.
Good to have
Commits: When it comes to code aesthetics, maintaining clean and well-organized commits is crucial. Each commit should represent a logical unit of work, addressing a specific task or feature. Avoid committing large chunks of code at once, as it can make it difficult to track changes and understand the purpose of each commit.
Branch Name: A well-named branch provides context about the purpose or feature being worked on, allowing other developers to quickly understand its significance.
PR Structure: When submitting a pull request (PR), ensure it is well-structured and organized. Provide a clear description of the changes made, outlining the problem being addressed and the proposed solution. Add snapshots of testing, visual or automation. Additionally, include any relevant documentation or supporting materials to assist reviewers in comprehending the changes.
Comments: Reviewers should provide constructive and actionable feedback, pointing out areas for improvement, potential bugs, or suggestions for better code structure. When leaving comments, strive to be clear, respectful, and specific. Instead of vague remarks, provide specific examples or code snippets to illustrate your points. Remember, the goal is to foster collaboration and help improve the overall quality of the code.
In conclusion, code aesthetics and good code style contribute to creating an inclusive and collaborative environment where developers of all backgrounds and expertise feel comfortable to contribute. By adhering to proper code aesthetics and utilizing effective tooling, you save valuable time that can be invested in solving actual problems. Additionally, good code style plays a vital role in reducing technical debt within projects. Therefore, the next time you embark on coding, consider the importance of conventions and styles. Happy shipping!