Getting your code to do what it should do is only half of the job – you must also ensure that it’s maintainable for the future, be it for you or a random person that might be tasked with changing something later. Many developers have a shockingly poor understanding of proper coding practices and how to refactor their code to improve it in the long run, and this often leads to frustration in team environments, not to mention faulty software.
As long as you ensure to follow some common practices, and align your work with that of your teammates, you should be able to come up with clean, readable code that’s not a nightmare to maintain.
Do It Early, Do It Often
One of the best things you could do to improve your refactoring quality is to simply increase its frequency. Chances are, you’re not refactoring often enough if you keep running into problems with your code. This will also allow you to catch issues early on, and to transform pieces of your code in a way that will allow you to add on to it much more easily and smoothly in the future.
You should set up some sort of scheduled system for that, and it’s not a bad idea to even do it daily after you’re done adding new code to the project. Just sit down, go through your changes, and think about them in a critical way.
Split Up Large Functions
You should never leave functions that are too large untouched for several reasons. First, it increases the chances that something is going to go wrong while that function is executing, making it much more difficult to trace the problem back to it if you’re dealing with a side effect. Second, it makes your code more readable. As a general rule of thumb, try not to have any functions that cannot fit on your screen in whole. There are some exceptions of course – not to mention that everyone works on a different screen size – but this should work relatively well for most people.
On the other hand, try to look for opportunities to do the opposite – if you have multiple parts of your code doing the same thing, try to extract them into a function and replace those segments with a single call to that function.
Extract Hardcoded Values into Variables
On the note of extracting information, try to never have any hardcoded values in your code. Put everything in dedicated variables at the top of the program, and only touch that part in case you need to make any changes. That way, anyone who comes after you will know that this is the only place where the configuration of the application can change, and on the other hand, you’ll never have to do the annoying “find and replace a dozen times” routine when you want to change some value.
This will also prevent errors that stem from duplicate or mismatched values, issues that can be particularly difficult and annoying to track down. This alone can improve the maintainability of your code tremendously, making everything easier to read and check for not just you, but anyone else as well.
Never Keep Dead Code
If your code is sprinkled with /* Old method, don’t delete */ sections, then you’re doing something very wrong. As long as you’re using a source control system like Git, you should never realistically need to keep unused pieces of code around. They make your code more difficult to maintain and can even lead to logical errors when you use the wrong version of a function, for example.
There’s no practical reason for the existence of these snippets, and it’s a bad practice that every programmer needs to get rid of as early in their career as possible. If you see such pieces of code in the project you’ve just joined, brace yourself as maintaining it is likely not going to be a pleasant experience at all.
How to Adapt Your Solution to Different Technologies
From time to time, you’ll need to ensure that your code works with some new technology, or that it can survive the transition to something else. Hosting is a common example of this in the web development world – if you’ve written your code in a way that expects a certain type of hosting platform, this can make things very difficult when you need to transfer it to another platform in the future.
You can do two things to prevent this, in this particular case: learn as much as you can about hosting and the different types of it, and ensure that your code is as modular as possible, so that you can easily replace components that don’t fit the bill at a later point. This should make these types of transitions as painless as possible whenever they occur.
Keep Those Conditionals Simple
Another tip that people sometimes ignore for the sake of writing “fancy” code is that conditionals should be kept as simple and straightforward as possible. Don’t try to lump everything together in one big one-liner – it may look impressive, but the next person who has to touch something in that part of your code is going to curse you to no end. In fact, that person may even be you, as it’s very likely that your own messy conditionals will look completely indecipherable to you yourself just a few weeks from now.
Code refactoring is a skill of its own, and one that many developers falsely believe they don’t need more of. The reality is that, in many cases, you are probably not doing enough refactoring to keep your code properly maintainable – if you’re even doing anything at all. Learn some proper practices and know when to follow them, and you’re going to see an improvement in how your code looks and works not too long from now. There are plenty of materials out there that can help you educate yourself on this topic, so if you feel like you’re lacking some knowledge, just look it up online.
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