What are coding standards? Do we really need them?
Coding standards are rules and guidelines that help developers create cleaner, more readable, and more efficient code with minimal bugs and errors. They also offer a uniform way for developers to build highly functional code.
Coding standards aren’t the personal opinions of any one developer. They are concrete rules determining your code’s programming style, procedures, and methods. They need to be explicitly defined and available to developers, and make sure that developers follow specific guidelines. In turn this ensures that every developer, no matter their experience level, can understand, debug, and maintain the code. Ideally, a team’s source code should look like it was written by a single developer.
Why are coding standards necessary?
Coding standards are necessary for software developers because:
- They reduce security concerns and performance issues that might have resulted from poor coding practices.
- They help guarantee code quality, making your code easier to read, analyse and work through. The code also becomes easier to maintain and extend, even by new developers.
- They lead to lower code complexity and more elegant design solutions.
- Any developer can examine understand the code and change it independently of when and who wrote it.
Advantages to using them
There are many advantages to using coding standards. These are things like:
Enhancing efficiency of the software development process – developers spend a large part of their time fixing quality issues that could have been avoided. Implementing coding standards help developers detect these problems early on or prevent them entirely.
Reducing code complexity and the number of bugs – if a developer’s codebase is complex, the chances of it having bugs are higher. Coding standards help you develop less complex software and therefore reduce errors.
Improvement of the bug fixing process – with coding standards, it becomes easier for developers to find and fix bugs in the code because it’s written in a consistent manner.
Improvement of the code maintenance process – if developers are following coding standards, the code is consistent and can be easily maintained. Anyone can understand it and modify it easily at any time.
Best practices for coding standards
There are some best practices for using coding standards:
Understand why you are using them – remember that using coding standards improve your code’s readability, maintainability, and portability.
Choose the best coding standards for your industry or language – there are coding standards that are specific to certain programming languages or application domains.
Describe the intent behind each rule – if you are using an internal standard, each rule being implemented should have a clear description. Deeper context for why each rule is there should be provided.
Prioritise coding rules – when you first check your code against a coding standard you might find a lot of problems. Categorising the rules with a severity matrix can help assess code quality and prioritise bug fixes.
- Comment your code but keep it short. Having some comments around your functions, classes etc. will make them more readable and easier for other developers to look at your code and understand it. However, if your comment is too long people might not take the time to read it! Only include key information in your comments.
- Declare local variables with let and const. These create block scoped variables that can be used in that specific code block but let can be redeclared and used in a different block whereas const can’t. Neither can be overridden by other scripts. Let can be defined with or without a value (although only read and written after being initialised) but const can’t be declared without a value.
- Use for…of loops instead of for loops. Loops can be costly from a performance perspective, however if they are optimised this is reduced. The for…of loop is more optimised than a for loop and is less performance heavy.
- Create helper functions for common tasks. Modularisation means splitting larger files into smaller, reusable modules. Every function, interface and class should only perform one task (single responsibility principle), and helper functions for common tasks helps with this. Helper functions should be context-independent so they can be called from any module.
- Avoid creating irrelevant classes. They might be irrelevant because they are catch-all classes that do more than one thing, or because they have properties with no actions (or vice versa). Classes should respect the single responsibility principles like functions.
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