You’re working on this live-saving program that could solve a major issue, and it’s all starting to come together. Your fingers are dancing on the keyboard, producing hundreds of lines of code that even Alan Turing would be proud of. But as you take a quick coffee break and review your masterpiece, you realize that it may be a little… confusing. Your colleagues — and even your future self — are going to have a pretty hard time understanding your coding wizardry.
Fortunately, writing understandable code is more about following some easy-to-apply principles rather than being some unreachable mystery. If you can write, you can write understandable code. In this blog post, we’ll explore some strategies to make your code easily digestible for both others and yourself.
1. Choose the Right Language
Arguably, the most crucial aspect of writing understandable code is selecting the appropriate programming language for your project. If possible, using languages known for their readability, such as Python or Ruby, can significantly impact your program’s understandability.
2. Write Descriptive Variable and Function Names
One of the most vital aspects of writing clear code is naming your variables and functions intelligently. A descriptive name can often prevent the need for comments and makes the purpose of each variable or function explicit.
– Avoid names that are too short and cryptic (e.g., ‘a’, ‘d1’, ‘xx’). Instead, use full words that convey the intended meaning (e.g., ‘counter’, ‘word_list’, ‘get_temperature’).
– Use established conventions when possible (e.g., ‘i’ for loop counters, or appending ‘_list’ to list variables).
– Be consistent with your naming conventions across your project. If you use camelCase in one area, then stick to it throughout.
3. Keep Functions Small and Focused
Functions should ideally be responsible for doing only one thing. This single responsibility rule will help keep them short and focused, making them easier for others (and yourself) to understand.
– Break complex functions into smaller subfunctions if necessary.
– Keep functions shorter than one screen length whenever possible.
– Limit the number of parameters in a function to minimize complexity.
4. Use Proper Indentation and Formatting
Properly indented code is much easier to read than a mishmash of misaligned brackets and parentheses. Adhering to established formatting guidelines helps ensure that other developers can quickly get acquainted with your code without getting lost in a labyrinth of mismatched tabs and spaces.
– Choose either tabs or spaces as indentation (but don’t mix them).
– Stick to common indentation levels — usually 2 or 4 spaces vs. 8.
– Use correct formatting tools like linters to maintain consistency automatically.
5. Write Good Comments (When Necessary)
Comments can clarify what’s happening in your code but should be used sparingly. Choose simple explanations over long-winded dissertations — remember that the purpose of comments is to reveal intent, not dazzle readers with your linguistic prowess.
– Write comments that explain why particular implementation decisions were taken rather than describing what the code does.
– Keep comments up-to-date when making changes to the codebase.
– Don’t overuse comments; rely on properly named variables/functions instead where applicable.
6. Organize Code Into Meaningful Units
Leverage modules/packages (depending on the language) to separate distinct functionalities within your program. By grouping related functions/classes into a cohesive unit, it becomes much easier for someone (including yourself) to understand how everything fits together in the grand scheme of things.
In summary, writing understandable code comes down to choosing an appropriate language, using descriptive names for variables/functions, keeping functions small and focused, using proper indentation/formatting, writing useful comments when necessary, and organizing code into cohesive units. By following these simple practices consistently, you’ll be well on your way towards becoming a master at creating clean and well-understood programs that everyone will appreciate!