Programmers often look at the code they’ve written and wonder if they could have made it better. Quality code should do what you expect it to and provide evidence of that success. You should also be able to understand what it’s trying to do. In addition, good code should have minimal bugs and follow the standards for the language it’s written in. The following five tips will show you how to write more effective code.
It’s essential that programmers unfamiliar with the code be able to determine what it’s trying to do, even if they don’t immediately understand how accomplishing its goal. Writing legible code includes the proper selection of names for classes, functions and variables. These names should be long enough to indicate what the entity is used for, but not overly cumbersome. Each language has its own naming conventions that can provide you with additional guidance in this area. For example, Python uses title case for classes, and snake case for functions and variables.
A code linter reads code and notifies the programmer when the code fails to comply with the standards of that language. These warnings often seem individually insignificant, but they can result in cumulative errors. You should use a linter regularly by including it as part of a continuous integration (CI) pipeline for your software development. Linting should be the first step in this process to ensure the code passes this test before it’s built, tested or released.
Comments are another area of programming where it’s important to strike the right balance between two extremes. While failing to comment code at all leaves a future developer unclear about what the code does, too many comments make it harder to read. Developers can include comments in many locations within the code, including the top of the file, at the class and function level, and inside the code itself. All files should have comments at the beginning, but inline comments should be quite rare.
Testing a program must be sufficient to show an outside developer that it works as intended, including expected cases, edge cases and failure cases. Test-driven development ensures that you think about test cases before writing code, giving you a better idea of the inputs and outputs the code will require. It also forces you to write the test cases first, preventing you from opting out of this task later.
A review of your code by someone else is the ultimate measure of how easy it will be to maintain. Development teams often perform the first code review after they write a significant amount, but well before the software’s release is imminent. You should also build time in the schedule to make changes based on the review. Even if you’re writing the code by yourself, you should still find a colleague to review it.