Best Coding Practices - Don't just do it... do it right!

General Development Concepts

Find and discuss the best coding practices for all your coding projects

Date : 2006-02-02
Best coding practices, or best programming practices can be broken into many levels based on the coding language, the platform, the target environment and so forth. Using best practices for a given situation greatly reduces the probability of introducing errors into your applications, regardless of which software development model is being used to create that application. Programming is a complex process, adhering to standards simplifies and unifies that process.

There are standards that originated from the intensive study of industry experts who analyzed how bugs were generated when code was written and correlated these bugs to specific coding practices. They took these correlations between bugs and coding practices and came up with a set of rules that when used prevented coding errors from occurring. These standard practices offer incredible value to software development organizations because they are pre-packaged automated error prevention practices; they close the feedback loop between a bug and what must be done to prevent that bug from reoccurring. There is no need to write your own rules to get the benefit of these practices - the experts have already done it for you.

In a team environment or group collaboration, best coding practices ensure the use of standards and uniform coding, reducing oversight errors and the time spent in code review. When work is outsourced to a third-party contractor, having a set of these best practices in place gives you the knowledge that the code produced by the contractor meets all the guidelines mandated by the client company.

It should be understood that these practices are not just a way to enforce naming conventions in your code.

Best coding practices gives you a way to analyze your source code so that certain rules and patterns can be detected automatically and that the knowledge obtained through previous years of experience by industry experts is implemented in an appropriate way.

With the foregoing in mind, here is a base list of what is needed for a project that successfully utilizes 'Best Coding Practices':

Lifecycle: It is important to choose the appropriate development lifecycle for a given project because all other activities are derived from this process. A couple examples of this are the Rational Unified Process (RUP) and the eXtreme Programming (XP) methods. Having a process is better than having none at all, and in many cases it is less important on what process is used than how well it is executed. The methodologies above are very common and a quick Google search will turn up all kinds of information regarding how to implement them.

Requirements: Everyone needs to be on the same page before jumping into programming. This is a fundamental truth to almost any endeavor and even more so when accomplishing a group driven programming task. If you are programming alone you may find yourself adding or tweaking your application which depending on who you ask can be a good thing, but when you are looking at an enterprise piece of software everyone involved in the project needs to understand clearly the requirements and goals of the project before moving forward. End of story.

Architecture: This almost goes without saying, but we're going to say it anyway. Choosing the appropriate architecture for your application is key. You have to know what you are building on before you can start a project. Check the architecture of the target. Read as much as you can about the ins and outs of the platform and note any pitfalls before you start your code. It will go a long way to heading off any bugs that might be 'show stoppers' later on.

Design: Even if you feel great about knowing the architecture of your target platform without a good design you are going to be sunk. Try not to fall into the trap though of over-designing the application - a common saying is 'dont bite off more than you can chew' and it makes sense here too. The two basic principles are to "Keep it Simple" and to utilize information hiding (Dont show the user more than they need to see). Often this is where OO Analysis and UML comes in. Do a Google search on UML and you'll find dozens of articles on using it.

Code Building: Building the code is really just a small part of the total project effort even though its what most people equate with the whole process since its the most visible. Other pieces equally or even more important include what we have already gone over above namely requirements, architecture, analysis, design, and testing. A best practice for building code involves daily builds and testing.

Peer review: It's ok, really! Look at other peoples work. Learn from it. Chances are if you have a problem that someone else has already had and resolved the same problem. And don't be afraid to ask questions. Let others see your code and learn from their knowledge. Wisdom in programming is knowing where to look for answers as well as knowing how to solve a problem yourself.

Testing: Testing should not be an afterthought. It is an integral part of software development that needs to be planned. It is also important that testing is done proactively; meaning that test cases are planned before coding starts, and test cases are developed while the application is being designed and coded.

Deployment: Deployment is the final stage of releasing an application for users. If you get this far in your project your in the minority. Sorry, its the truth. Most programs dont make it this far. So take a break and pat yourself on the back!

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