Programming Languages

Clean Code, Evolved

Bob Martin’s 2008 book, Clean Code, is considered by many to be one of the “must read” books for software developers, and for good reason: The guidelines discussed in the book aim to decrease long-term software maintenance costs by improving code readability. One of the most beautiful aspects of Clean Code is that although it was written with an emphasis on Java development, the guidelines are applicable to software development in general.

Clean Code was written to combat the plague of unmaintainable code that creeps into software projects. You know the kind: intertwined dependencies, useless comments, poor names, long functions, functions with side-effects, and so on. Each of these things make code difficult to read but some are more nefarious because they make code fragile and difficult to reason about. The end result is code that is difficult and expensive to maintain or extend.

In March I had the good fortune to speak at Nebraska Code Camp. I was really excited about the way the schedule worked out because I was able to sit in on Cory House’s talk about Clean Code. As Cory walked through the points I remembered reading the book and pondered its impact on how I write code. Eventually, my thoughts drifted to the climate that necessitated such a book and its continued relevance today. In the days following Cory’s talk, I reread Clean Code and further developed my thoughts on these subjects. (Confession: I skipped the chapters on successive refinement, JUnit internals, and refactoring SerialDate this time around.) What I came to realize is that while the Clean Code guidelines are an important step toward improving code quality, many of them simply identify deficiencies in our tools and describe ways to avoid them. Several of the guidelines gently nudge us toward functional programming but they stop short of fixing the problems, instead relying on programmer discipline to write cleaner code.

There is no doubt that understanding and embracing the Clean Code guidelines leads to higher code quality but relying on developer discipline to enforce them isn’t enough. We need to evolve Clean Code. (more…)