If you think that code is fine as long as it works, you’re in for a huge surprise – guess what? It’s not! Clean code is in fact the fine line between Programming and Good Programming. I bet you can do better than being just an ordinary programmer, because you’re reading this after all. Clean code will not only increase the quality of your projects, but also pave the way to enhancement of skills and career growth. As an experienced developer, have you ever looked back at the work you did in your earlier days? I’m sure it made your head whirl or gasp at the mayhem you created at some point in time.
What is Clean Code?
Code that can be read like poetry or prose and resonates with your soul is the real clean kind (the good code). Clean code exhibits high quality and speaks for itself. It is simply elegant, has converged concepts and can easily be understood by any programmer. If code is not readable by anyone except the author and raises too many questions, it’s obviously bad. Clean code is well organized and single minded when we talk about modules, functions or classes. It is largely immune to hidden bugs, runs all tests and contains no duplication. Someone smart once said that the cleanliness of code can be measured by WTFs/minute!
Why the world needs Clean Code?
The main point of writing clean code is that everyone can interpret it and utilize it to the best of its capabilities. Most software development companies are following the Agile methodology for encouraging efficiency, collaboration and productivity. Therefore, every project is handled by a team of developers that may be responsible for delivering different elements of the same product. It’s no secret that every programmer has their own scripting style and preferences; so if he/she brings messy code to the table, how are others supposed to follow and harmonize?
When contrasting pieces of code are put together, there is a high chance of incompatibility issues and errors. Tight deadlines and pressure from the managerial staff is another reason developers try to make poor code work. There is hardly enough time to execute all necessary tests and make improvements. As a result, whenever a functional software is achieved, it is put forward without thorough consideration. Sometimes old projects need to be revisited and that’s the beginning of a terrifying nightmare. When the code written is far from self-explanatory, it is difficult to revise and debugging becomes impossible.
When the client asks to make changes or amendments, often the only way to make this happen is to restart from scratch. This uses up much more time and resources than the client has bargained for, leading to disappointment and bad reputation for the agency. If the code is clean, updating at any point in time will be hassle-free. The developing team within an organization may undergo regular transition as new people join and previous ones move out. Hence, it is possible that many past projects might have to be handled by an entire group of fresh members. It would be a miracle if they can work with lousy code they never had anything to do with.
Programmers should think of themselves as authors and write code for human beings, rather than machines. Also, they need to spend more time on reading others’ code and lesser on writing their own. It is common practice to use open source code transcripts written by people you never met. Whenever you’re looking for a solution, code readability is a major factor in deciding what is best. Many of you may copy paste code without actually reviewing it, but that’s an argument for another time. Bad code causes confusion and chaos; it has caused incidents in the past that cost corporations million of dollars. Though you might not be involved in high level case sensitive projects, any amount of loss is still a casualty.
How to Code Cleaner?
Resigning from bad coding practices and shifting to clean coding habits is nothing close to easy. It takes a lot of willpower and motivation, similar to quitting smoking after spending a lifetime with cigarettes. Taking the first step is hands down the hardest part, so if you’ve successfully done that, then there’s genuine hope for you. Firstly, you have to prepare yourself for a lot of reviewing, where you actually read code other people have written and try to make sense of it. Just like adopting any other fad, it requires training your mind to replace old patterns. Below are a couple of tips and tricks to help you through:
#1. SOPHISTICATED NAMING
During software development, it is beneficial to choose elaborate and meaningful names for our functions, variables and methods. This implies that any outsider reading our code can easily identify its purpose or nature. In spite of being descriptive, do not use too many characters. Exceeding 3-4 words suggests that you are overloading a task and must simplify the underlying code. Misleading names and single letter representations can create haziness or misunderstanding among readers. Moreover, usage of pronounceable names will further enhance the readability of your code. The secret recipe is to use verbs for naming functions and nouns for naming classes and attributes.
#2. DON’T MISUSE COMMENTS
Developers often add comments to their code to clear any likely confusions or misconceptions. This practice is quite conducive and frequently saves readers from painful dilemmas. However, overuse of comments is highly discouraged because it indicates that your code is repulsive. Comments should be kept to the minimum and only be added where they are legitimately inevitable. Some programmers take up the habit of adding comments to every line of their code; politely speaking, that is the worst idea ever (Never do that!). The best kind of code does not need comments and it’s better to rewrite bad code instead of justifying it with an endless series of comments.
#3. WHITE SPACE IS YOUR FRIEND
We often make the mistake of delivering code as a big block of text, which is rather distressing and unpleasant to the eyes. As mentioned before, your code must be readable, so it is necessary that you add spaces, line breaks and even some empty lines to separate different segments. Just like we are taught to break up essays into multiple paragraphs in school, code shall also be divided into several parts. This boosts the aesthetic value and it gets so much easier on the eyes. Some argue that white space increases the size of code; this is usually just a few kilobytes that can be spared. Nonetheless, you can always use some smart program/software to eliminate the issue right before deployment.
#4. KEEP FUNCTIONS STRAIGHTFORWARD & CONCISE
The bona fide rule for writing functions is: the smaller the better. You might recall moments when you created a function that could do several things on its own and you were probably proud of it. If you want to be practical you better make a habit of restricting one function to a single task (yes, that’s how it’s done). Complex functions lead to lengthy arguments and need to altered several times to comply with minor changes in overall code. Simple functions that are limited to a single action are easy to describe and maintain.
#5. REVIEW & REPEAT
Reviewing code is the most important step to achieving the golden standards of clean code. Don’t deploy your code before reviewing it, nor use somebody else’s code before reviewing it. Sometimes sitting back and reading code like a journal can be life changing. All you need is a little focus and the desire to learn. When you make a habit of reviewing code, you’ll begin to notice flaws and recognize different styles. As a consequence, you yourself will begin to write better code and the frequency of errors will decrease drastically.
When you start reviewing every code you come across, you will notice different patterns followed by other developers. You might develop a liking for multiple coding styles and attempt to implement it into your own work as well. As variety is the spice of life, it’s okay to try several techniques for experimental purposes. When it comes to practical situations, it’s best to adopt professionalism and exhibit consistency in your style. Utilizing more than one approaches simultaneously will ultimately lead to turmoil and cause you to lose direction. Therefore conduct your personal research and determine which practice suits you best.