When you think of beauty, you’re more likely to think of an attractive person or a piece of art. Perhaps it conjures up images of a breathtaking landscape or sunset or another aesthetically-pleasing image. In coding, however, beauty refers to something more simplistic, and it’s an important element of writing clean code.
Code bases can become extremely complex. Google’s Chrome browser runs on 6.7 million lines of code. The Android operating system has more than 12 million lines. Microsoft Windows OS has 50 million lines of code.
When codes get complex, it can be difficult for software engineers to navigate, especially if they weren’t part of the original development team. Beautiful code takes this complexity and makes it simple for others to understand.
Making your code beautiful means:
- Removing unnecessary code.
- Eliminating the need for long comments within the code to explain sequences.
- Avoiding repetition and redundancy.
- Minimize functionality unless necessary.
- Limiting functions to a single thing.
- Using fewer arguments per function.
The Benefits of Beautiful Code
While programs are executed by machines, they have to be read by people. While machines do not care about beauty in code, people do. That’s why the first two principles behind the Python programming language focus on beauty and explicitly.
Engineers will often spend more time understanding what code does than actually writing new code. Using explicit variables, functions, and consistent naming conventions, for example, helps engineers understand code.
Reduces Technical Debt
Writing beautiful code also reduces technical debt.
Technical debt is the cost of additional rework caused by code that is written to solve a challenge without regard for a better approach. For example, a developer may trade speed for quality (or speed for beauty) to speed time to market. However, this “ugly code” may add additional complexity or cause problems elsewhere.
Technical debt can triple the cost of support for products and services while hindering a company’s ability to make changes quickly. Engineers may have to weed through lines of code or artifacts that are unnecessary to find what needs to be fixed. Documentation or comments may be missing to help navigate.
The cost of overcoming technical debt can be significant, both for software developers and customers. If there is a defect, it takes time and money to fix. Beautiful code reduces technical debt, lowering the total cost of ownership (TCO) for maintenance and support.
Increases Software Stability
Beautiful code also provides a greater level of stability in final applications. Code will fit together well and withstand changes more easily. By comparison, poorly-written code or code that is complex can make it difficult to understand the impact of changes and how they might affect other portions of the software, resulting in additional testing and rework.
For example, when functions are written to accomplish multiple things, you might break portions of the code when trying to fix things. Partial changes inside a class or function can create a domino effect that requires additional remediation.
With beautiful code, there is a highly-defined structure and order in the way code is written and laid out.
One of the ways developers streamline the coding process is to reuse components. Beautiful code is clean and allows DevOps teams to plug and play certain code sections. Poorly designed code limits this ability to repurpose, resulting in potentially longer time to market and increasing the possibility of bloated code.
Writing Beautiful Code
One thing to note is that beauty in coding doesn’t always mean simplifying the code to the least number of lines. It means writing code in a way that is the simplest for others to understand.
Unlike beautiful things in life, this may not mean that the code is as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Rather, the beauty lies in the ability of others to understand it and work with it efficiently.