Clean Code Isn't a Goal, but a Solution: How to Write Clean Code and Why It Matters
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Clean code should be the goal for every programmer, for their sake and others’. But what is clean code and how can developers practice it? I’ve originally shared my musings on the importance of clean code driven development with DZone some time ago and this is a re-post of my guest contribution.
Clean code is critical to software development. When you don’t write clean code, you risk incurring a tremendous amount of code debt. The amount of time and resources needed to fix poorly written code can also threaten to derail the project.
Most software engineers naturally know what quality code should be like. In fact, it’s straightforward because the clean code will be easy to read and understand and is always “self-documenting.”
However, sometimes you end up with poorly written code because software developers are rushed by their superiors or clients to wrap the project up quickly — even if it means sacrificing quality. Or they just have a poor work ethic within a team and don’t bother to deliver clean code.
At other times people make mistakes, or it can be difficult to predict how someone else will interpret your code. More often than not these issues come up when projects become massive and multiple programmers get involved and interpret the code in different ways (and this scenario can quickly turn into a nightmare).
What’s Defined as “Clean Code”?
When we talk about delivering quality clean code to our customers at 8allocate, we are essentially talking about reader-focused development style that produces applications with code that’s easy to read (regardless of who wrote it), change, and maintain.
“Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand.” Martin Fowler, software engineer, author, and international speaker.
In today’s software development and architecture, simplicity is king! There shouldn’t be more code than what you need to achieve your software development goals. Anything extra has to be eliminated.
Whether you’re engaging in C++ programming or PHP programming, the rules are the same. The clean code needs to as readable, understandable, and maintainable by anyone.
For example, if someone new comes in halfway through a software development project, they shouldn’t have to spend hours trying to figure out things like how different objects collaborate with each other, the purpose of each expression and variable, the role and responsibility of each class, and so on.
It’s also critical to have the ability to seamlessly extend and refactor the code. This means that anyone coming in at a later date should be able to understand the code quickly, make changes, and be confident enough that the changes introduced wouldn’t break any of the existing functionality.
For another programmer to come in and easily make changes to the code, you also have to ensure the following:
- You took into account that all the methods and classes were small and only had a single responsibility.
- Each class had a clear and concise API.
- The classes and methods were predictable and worked as expected.
- The code is easily understood, changeable, and testable.
- The code has its own unit tests.
So if you want to be a clean coder, you have to make sure that you have a complete understanding of the problem before you write a single line of code.
Clean coding is at the heart of minimizing technical debt, delivering on time, and is vital to building a foundation that will help extend the lifecycle of your application.
When the code is written poorly, you’re not going to have a solid foundation to build on. So it’s going to be more involved, demand more of your time, and cost a lot of money.
How To Make Sure You Deliver Clean Code
Everyone has their own take on writing clean code. However, a good place to start is to read some books on the best way to approach it.
Osman Ahmed Osman, Engineering Manager at Quora, recommends reading the following:
- Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship, by Robert C. Martin
- Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, by Steve McConnell
- KISS: Keep it simple, stupid
- MVC: Model View Controller (Architecture principle)
- DRY: Don’t repeat yourself
- YAGNI: You ain’t gonna need it
- RASAP: Refactor as soon as possible
There are a ton of design patterns out there, so take advantage of them. Someone else has probably resolved your current problem, so that’s an excellent place to start. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, there are loads of libraries that you can leverage to solve even the most complex problems in software development.
When you’re working in a team, it’s imperative to set up some coding standard and conventions first. This will help negate a scenario where you end up with different types of code that follows different coding styles (and naming conventions).
There are also a bunch of clean code verification tools you can use to test the quality of your code. Some of these clean code tools are as follows:
- Klocwork (for Java and C++ programming)
- PHP Mess Detector (for PHP programming)
- SonarQube (for 20+ programming languages)
There are many more clean code verification tools in the marketplace, so it’s best to first try them out and commit to a tool that suits your style and current coding project.
Delivering clean code is all about doing things right from the beginning. It’s definitely worth the effort because when you build quality, working software, you end up with a product that can be improved continuously, rapidly, and cost-effectively.
It’s also just the right thing for a human being to do!
While many managers and Product Owners might pressure you to neglect writing good code because of the requirements or the schedule, it’s your job to do it right and stand up for clean code.
In the end, the odds are stacked up in your favor because quality code boosts the overall value of the product, keeps costs down, and makes updates and maintenance a breeze. So keep it simple!