You are a programmer when you write code. You are a brilliant programmer when you write readable code other programmers can understand and edit as needed.
Code readability is a rather ill-defined concept. When you turn to experts for pointers on code readability, all you get is a bag of rules like: “use expressive variable names”, “split big functions into smaller ones”, “use standard design patterns”, etc. Despite following these ground rules of coding, somehow you still find a code remains messed up.
You might try to solve this by piling on more rules like creating lambdas for complex expressions, using constants instead of magic numbers and splitting a class into two because it accumulates too many helper methods. These advanced rules turn into a maze of confusion, requiring any new developer, experienced or otherwise, to first decode the logic even before they begin to code.
Why does code readability matter?
Programmers who write codes for the sole purpose of creating a functional interface do end up creating one, except at the cost of code readability.
Some programmers who are amazing at retaining loads of information, use their heuristic shortcuts in the code. But their over-engineered code becomes difficult to read for other programmers because the logic spans so many classes and functions.
Code readability is pivotal for every software product that has to sustain future requirements. More so, in large-scale software development projects where multiple programmers are involved. The code should be readable and well-formatted so the future developers who will be making changes to the software, can understand it and edit it according to the requirements.
An ideally written code expedites the understanding of abstractions, allowing the developer to implement changes. This saves time and unnecessary efforts developers put in and helps improve productivity.
What are unreadable codes?
The code should be easily readable by other developers without external documentation or code comments (except for special cases). Anything that creates confusion is unreadable code. There are codes having abstraction so complex that even experienced developers can’t find their way out.
- Are repetitive and do not follow standards of indentation and formatting.
- Feature long functions and complex structure.
- Are full of lengthy texts and narrative comments.
- Do not handle edge cases very well.
- Take longer to debug and difficult to extend.
Here are two examples of unreadable code and readable code respectively. In this operation, the application code is persisting user survey details into the backend system:
How to Ensure Code Readability?
When writing a source code ask yourself: “ Will I be able to understand logic and abstractions I have made in this code after six months or a year?”, “Can other programmers understand my code easily?”
Human code reviews are the most important. The best sign you’ve done things right is when another programmer reads your code and thinks it’s “obvious”, as they could have done it themselves. Secondly, writing tests is a good habit.
Avoid unnecessary optimization. Optimization has its place, but often the code can be optimized without impacting readability. Opt for meaningful variable and function names. Functions should be in small, cohesive classes; the name of functions should reflect what they do. Well-named functions that are legible without scrolling provide the ideal level of code readability. Keep the code concise, writing only what is necessary.
Rules such as DRY and SOLID can be applied along with clean up refactoring to make the code cleaner and more readable.
There is a balance between readability and maintainability in a good source code. It’s important to have code that’s easy to understand than it is to have code that’s quick to write. Maintaining the codebase is time-consuming and not many developers like to do it because it lacks creativity. Write your code simple so even a newbie developer can fix it when needed.
Besides, good codes make optimum use of computer memory, processor time, and other resources. A readable codes is easy to understand, well-structured, well-commented, and features well throughout engineering principles. All this enhances code readability, helping developers understand what they are editing and how the behavior of the program will change.
If you want to discuss more on code readability, feel free to reach out to us.