The Pragmatic Craftsman :: Simplicity from complexity : by Stanley Kubasek ::

Coding Style — from Slashdot

I checked out the entry on Slashdot about the Code Reading book (very good book, BTW). Scrolling down, I came across an interesting discussion about coding style. I found the two entries that I list below very insightful. What’s the point here? Good developers write code that is readable. Good developers know how to tackle complexity: they make hard things seem easy. That’s probably the single most important thing I look when I look at code. If it’s simple, it’s good. I love simplicity.

Toby Haynes on coding style:

Most critical is managing complexity. Large, complex functions are bad – they have more bugs, they are harder to maintain, harder to bug fix (a change has more likelihood of breaking something else). If a function has grown beyond a hundred lines of (real) code, it is almost certainly too large. If it has more than 4 levels of nesting, it is too large.

Comments also matter. It’s easy to code a couple of thousand lines of fresh code over a weekend if you get in the groove. It is almost impossible to unpick it one year later if you didn’t comment it as you go.

Variable and function names should be expressive. No single letter variable names! No obscure combinations of letters like words with no vowels (fnct could be function or function control, or even Function Numerical Constant Type). And personally I find that reverse Hungarian notation can be more trouble than it’s worth. Annoying!

Build in automatic checks on everything. If a pointer to a function should never be null, check it and stop if it is. If a variable should only have values 1 -> maxIterations, then check it. If you (or anyone else) ever breaks that assumption, the code will flag it for you.

Beyond that, nothing beats good design, especially designs where extending the original work is easy. So many designs end up as tangle knots of conflicts because they ended up trying to solve problems that the original code base never envisaged.

Re: Coding Style by AuMatar

The problem with hard fast rules like that is they’re frequently not right. Take a state machine for example. A simple one with 6 or 7 states will go over 100 lines, and will go over 4 nestings. Heck, you’ll take one up with the loop and one with the switch alone. You can break it into functions and hide some of the nesting in functions, but when doing that you frequently end up with functions that don’t make a lot of sense by themselves.

A better rule than size IMHO is the one logical operation rule. A function should do one logical operation (read a file, write a file, run a state machine, calculate something, etc). They should contain all the logic needed to do that operation plus any debug and error handling that makes sense at that level of code. They should be broken up into subfunctions ONLY if those subfunctions themselves follow the logical operation rule, and only if that logical operation makes sense outside of the context of the higher function.

Take the state machine example. If it needs to wait on a semaphore before each iteration, the wait should be its own function- waiting on a semaphore is a logical operation. The logic for each state should NOT be separate functions, they are part of the state machine and make no sense without the whole of the machine for context. Breaking them out results in harder to read code, even if you do lose the nesting. But if in case RUNNING_MOTOR you issue a stop command to the motor that probably makes sense to be its own function- how you actually stop the motor isn’t part of the core logic of the machine.

I guess my point is- lines of code isn’t the enemy, some things are complex and need many lines to do. Nesting isn’t the enemy, some things require many loops/ifs. The enemy is a lack of clear separation of functionality and lack of clear abstraction between parts. If you have separation and abstraction, it tends to hit the optimal readability. If you don’t, it will fail either because you broke it up too much (too little context) or too little (too much context).

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