The clean coding concept posits a long list of principles, all with the idea that software should be easy to write, easy to read, and easy to maintain. While clean coding takes more time, it's an endeavor that pays off in the long run.
The cost of "dirty" code compounds over time, with each future task taking hours longer than necessary as programmers muddle through a confusing codebase. It's not just cost savings, either. Clean coding improves dependability, extensibility, and performance all around.
One of the founding principles of the clean coding movement is a simple fact: Far more time is spent reading code than writing it.
One developer taking their time to write good, tested, comprehensible code will save countless hours, days, and weeks in the time to follow.
It's the old adage;
If you want to do something fast, take your time.
Bad code might get out the door more quickly, but initial speed comes at the cost of quality and slowing down every developer that will follow to try and fix issues and keep the project going.
In other words, clean code applied to a project offers advantages like:
Putting in the effort up-front adds up to cost - and time - savings throughout the entire lifecycle of the code.
Striking a balance between quality, time, and cost is not easy, but investing as much effort as possible into clean coding will pay off in the long run.
Clean code applied practically is not time-consuming unless a developer is trying to break bad habits and learn to clean code for the first time. With that said, clean coding principles are fundamental to the profession.
Pioneers like Robert Martin (often called Uncle Bob) have helped shape the principles of clean coding and, for those new to the concept, the best place to start is with the following elements.
One glance at any clean coding handbook and you'll read about the importance of using a naming convention to help you identify variables at-a-glance. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and everyone tends to come up with their own system.
When working in a team environment, you must sit down with other developers to create a naming convention that everyone can agree on.
By keeping the naming convention consistent across developers, it accomplishes its purpose of making code easier to read and understand, even for someone who's diving in for the first time.
Other key tips include:
Consistency goes hand-in-hand with code quality, so you may need to refactor existing code to ensure consistency and get help with establishing standards going forward.
A function should do one simple thing and do it well. In clean coding, this means that you should simplify (and even over-simplify) your functions so that they are small and straightforward. Likewise, they need a good name that describes what they do.
If you're at a loss, simply ask yourself what each function does. If it cannot be summarized in a short name, then you should consider breaking a function down into multiple functions. Deciphering extra-long definitions represent the opposite of highly readable code.
As you create functions, you need to follow the key principles of coding, like Don't Repeat Yourself (i.e., duplicated code needs to be simplified into functions).
Properly commented code is emphasized in every discussion on clean coding, but many developers use comments incorrectly. A comment is not intended to explain what a line of code is doing, but rather why a piece of code is written the way it is.
With the purpose of comments clearly defined, it's important to point out that they are not always necessary.
When good naming conventions are followed, comments can often be avoided. This is ideal because adding unnecessary comments only clutters the code for the eventual reader.
By following good commenting practices, utilizing version control to remove dead code, and frequently updating/deleting comments as needed, your team can achieve and maintain clean code in less time.
A final fundamental component in clean coding is unit testing. There are so many best practices related to testing that it's impossible to list them all, but it comes down to remembering the purpose of test code. Test code is intended to help you maintain and improve production code.
To do its job, the test code should be kept equally clean to your production code and you should update both at once. Ideally, test code is written before production code or immediately after. Waiting too long will lead to inconsistencies that will get in the way of proper testing.
With years of experience improving code quality, we know that testing is fundamental to clean coding. Of course, testing is often overlooked or under-utilized because of the time and complexity associated with running good tests.
If you are facing difficulties designing tests or improving your actual production code, it is advised to handle the issue with highly experienced developers in order to avoid future complexities.
Whether it's Java or Python, frontend or backend, iOS or Android - clean code should be the goal. Aside from readability, the side effects of bad software development are far-reaching and costly.
Good code and test-driven development save time and money in the long run while producing better all-around business outcomes. Of course, it comes down to far more than function names, design patterns, and proper indentation.
Clean code applied to real-world projects can be tough.
If you need help getting on the right track and improving the quality of your production code, or launching your next project without the need to rewrite it later, Adservio can help.
Our team of code quality experts can assist your business in achieving clean code with every project. Contact us to learn more.