This best practices guide was created to serve as a language agnostic set of rules to follow when developing.
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README.md

Coding Best Practices

It's invaluable to have proven and agreed upon standards when working on a codebase. Whether in a team or working solo on a project, an applications architecture and the design patterns used to create it are key to a successful execution. This document was created to serve as a language agnostic set of rules to follow when developing. Note that most code examples are in written in Scala.

If you disagree with a below principle and can offer a better option (backed by facts that support it), please let me know. The goal's not to force change or have one person define the entire rule-set, but to define a process that improves each developer and the team as a whole.

Contents


Respect the Best Practices of the Language You're Writing In

If the language you are writing in has a style guide, familiarize yourself with it (e.g. Scala style guide). If there's no official guide, learn about the common standards for your language. While you shouldn't blindly follow a set of rules, you should understand why they're in place and consider updating your style to match them. Doing so makes it easier for other developers to follow your logic. Furthermore, having such knowledge will give you confidence to break a rule if required (though this should seldomly happen).

We often switch between languages throughout a project, so once you switch, change gears so that you're coding in the style of the current language. Doing so will go a long way in helping your team have unified code.

As a simple example, here's how you can create variables in:

Scala

val theGoodFoot: String = "right"
private val isOnItNow = true

The variable names are in camelCase and the optional semi-colons are excluded. Notice that private members with obvious types don't need their types annotated.

JavaScript

const theGoodFoot = "right";
const isOnItNow = true;

The variable names are in camelCase and the optional semi-colons are included.

PHP

$the_good_foot = "right";
$is_on_it_now = true;

The variable names are in snake_case.

Be Consistent

Consistency cements your coding style and greatly improves readability.

Favor Readability

Pay attention to how you name your members and the length of your lines. Just because you can convert a 10 line command into a single line, doesn't mean you should. Remember that your team, and the future you, may need to revisit the logic.

If you find yourself nesting multiple expressions, review your logic, as there's probably a better way to write it (e.g. separate your logic into small meaningful methods). Follow the single responsibility principle and strive to create atomic components (each doing as few things as possible).

For example, all three of the below code-blocks do the same thing:

Good

def canUserDrive(user: User): Boolean = {
  val User(licenseSuspended, age, hasLearnersPermit, vision) = user

  if (licenseSuspended) {
    false
  } else {
    isLegalAge(age, hasLearnersPermit) && hasGoodSight(vision)
  }
}

def isLegalAge(age: Int, hasPermit: Boolean): Boolean =
  age >= 18 || (age >= 16 && hasPermit)

def hasGoodSight(vision: Tuple2[Int, Int]): Boolean = vision._2 < 50

The above logic is good because:

  • The method names clearly express what they do.
  • You can quickly understand what's happening due to separating concerns into individual methods.
  • Each method is small and handles a single responsibility.
    • Having atomic methods promotes reusability.
  • As a bonus, I use destructuring to remove the need for prepending user to the relevant properties.

Bad

def drive(user: User): Boolean = {
  if (user.licenseSuspended) {
    false
  } else {
    if (user.age >= 18 || (user.age >= 16 && user.hasLearnersPermit)) {
      if (user.vision._2 < 50) {
        true
      } else {
        false
      }
    } else {
      false
    }
  }
}

The above logic is bad because:

  • The method name does not clearly express what it does (and is acutally misleading in this example).
  • There are redundant booleans/returns.
  • There's a lot of nesting, making it harder to quickly understand the logic.

Bad

def driveable(user: User): Boolean = !user.licenseSuspended && (user.age >= 18 || (user.age >= 16 && user.hasLearnersPermit)) && user.vision._2 < 50

The above logic is bad because:

  • The method name does not clearly express what it does.
  • Too much is crammed into one line.
  • The logic is hard to understand.

--

Note that my rule for when to use curly-braces differs from the Scala style guide. For consistency, I use curly-braces in all cases expect for when a short expression is being assigned to a member:

val color: String = if (leaf.isDefined) "green" else "blue"
def colorize(color: String): String = if (color == "green") run.a() else run.b()

More on Readability

As Jessica Kerr states in her FP presentation, "familiar code doesn't equal readable code." Just because you can make sense of logic due to being used to how it's written, doesn't mean that it's actually easy to read.

Also:

  • Use verbs to help clarify a methods action.
  • Declare variables where you need them (in the proper scope and next to its first use).
  • Keep each method as short and focused as possible.
  • Set a max column length that aligns with your team and the language you're using.

A Note on Column Length

Setting a narrow column is valuable to enforcing short and clean code. Additionally, it improves readability -- this is why newspapers to this day break a page into multiple narrow columns. I find it best to follow the rule of 80 characters per line; it not only pushes me to write better code, but easily allows for split screen development. As developers, we spend most of our time reading code, so it's good practice to set a max length to one that's optimized for ease of readability.

Favor Simplicity

Follow KISS principles (Keep It Simple) for improved understanding and debugging. If you can simplify complex logic, even if it takes a few more lines of code, do so; your team and future self will appreciate it. Additionally, the QA and test processes will be smoother if any bugs are found.

Favor Immutability

Whenever possible, keep your code immutable. Doing so improves testability, readability, and forces you to really think about each line of code you write. It makes your code more predictable by preventing errors caused by cases where a variable changes unexpectedly in the middle of running a process. The more mutable code you have, the higher the risk of errors in your application.

Scala example:

Good

val greenColor = "green"

greenColor = "red" // Will error (since using 'val')

Bad

var greenColor = "green"

greenColor = "red" // Will pass (since using 'var')

--

JavaScript example:

Good

const colors = Object.freeze(["red", "green", "blue"]);

colors = []; // Will fail (since using 'const')
colors[0] = "purple"; // Will fail (since array is frozen)

const newColors = colors.concat("yellow"); // Doesn't mutate original variable

Bad

let colors = ["red", "green", "blue"];

colors = []; // Will pass (since using 'let')
colors[0] = "purple"; // Will pass (since array is mutable)

arr.push(4); // Mutates original variable

--

Don't merely make your code immutable because people say it's good practice, make it immutable so that you (and your team) can better understand and change it.

Favor Reusability

Keep your methods short and strive to increase modularity by making functions reusable. Many of us are accustomed to passing values into a method (via parameters) in order to make them more reusable, consider also passing in behaviors.

For example, we rarely hard-code methods like this:

def countToTen() = (1 to 10).foreach(num => println("#" + num))

We often create parameters to make methods more dynamic, like this:

def countTo(n: Int) = (1 to n).foreach(num => println("#" + num))

We should pass in the behaviors too:

def countTo(n: Int, fn: (Int) => _) = (1 to n).foreach(fn)

Many languages have methods like this built in: just think of a map and filter.

Don't Repeat Yourself

Being DRY appropriately condenses code, promotes modularity, and simplifies future updates (while decreasing chances for bugs caused by updating logic in one place and missing it in another).

For example, if logic is needed more than once in a single file, create a method in that file so that it can be executed repeatedly. If logic is needed across multiple files or is complex (defined as a series of related methods), move it into its own file/class/module.

Document Your Code

Add inline documentation for all public methods. When it comes to comments, make them count and make sure to maintain them as your code changes. If your comment can be replaced with a proper code refactor, do so (e.g. improve a method name or refactor an if-statement to clearly express what the logic does without needing to add a comment). When using well named members, your logic becomes self documenting, and you'll notice that comments become less important. As John Papa says, "explain in code, not in comments."

Lint Your Code

If the language you're writing in has a linter, use it. Commit linting rules into your project repo and add a linting step into your build scripts. Also, consider implementing a code formatter if necessary.

Use Test Driven Development

Consider a test-driven approach to fail fast and decrease chances of bugs later in your application. Moreover, writing tests first forces you to better create pure and independent methods -- using dependency injection to create autonomous and more clear code (with less mocks). Start with unit tests, then move to integration, feature, et al.

Here are some valuable points from Randy Shoup in regards to TDD:

  • The upfront investment increases the final outputs chance of success.
  • The more constrained in time and resources, the more important it is to build it right the first time. It's better to do it once really well, then do it twice half-baked.
  • Tests make better code; they give you the confidence to break things and the courage to refactor.

Learn Functional Programming

Alvin Alexander lists general benefits as:

  • Pure functions are easier to reason about.
  • Testing is easier, and pure functions lend themselves well to techniques like property-based testing.
  • Debugging is easier.
  • Programs are more bulletproof.
  • Programs are written at a higher level, and are therefore easier to comprehend.
  • Function signatures are more meaningful.
  • Parallel/concurrent programming is easier.

If coming from an imperative or OOP background, put your current knowledge in the back of your head as you familiarize yourself with Functional Programming. It solves problems using a different set of rules.

Use Pure Functions Whenever Possible

A method/function is pure when:

  • It has no side effects (is stateless).
    • It doesn't affect the outside world (e.g. no global variables, no database calls, no API requests, no file access, no logic directly tied to user input).
    • It handles exceptions gracefully (no THROWing).
  • Its output only depends on its input.
    • It doesn't hide dependencies nor mutate data.
  • It's referentially transparent.
    • Its output is always the same when given the same arguments.
    • Its output can replace the actual function call without changing behavior.

Note that methods which interact with a data/time object or ones that print to the screen are considered impure. So are singleton class variables, since they act like global objects.

More on Function Purity

Be idempotent whenever possible -- making the same method call multiple times should always produce the same result. Additionally, if your method has multiple paths of executions (if/switch statements), consider splitting your method.

Good

class Preview {
  def respond(catId: String): String = getPreview(catId).body

  def respondWithMetrics(catId: String, metrics: Metrics, log: LogR): String = {
    metrics.createMeter()
    log.init()

    val preview = respond(catId)

    log.complete()
    metrics.exit()

    preview
  }

  ...
}

// Usage
if (logger) {
  new Preview().respondWithMetrics("vpaid", new Metrics, logger)
} else {
  new Preview().respond("vpaid")
}

The above logic is good because:

  • It separates different paths of execution.
  • It's easy to read.
  • It more clearly defines different use cases.

Bad

class Preview {
  def respond(
      catId: String,
      metrics: Option[Metrics] = None,
      log: Option[LogR] = None): String = {
    if (metrics.isDefined && log.isDefined) {
      metrics.createMeter()
      log.init()

      val preview = getPreview(catId).body

      log.complete()
      metrics.exit()

      preview
    } else {
      getPreview(catId).body
    }
  }

  ...
}

// Usage
if (logger) {
  new Preview().respond("vpaid", Some(new Metrics), Some(logger))
} else {
  new Preview().respond("vpaid")
}

The above logic is bad because:

  • I combines 2 paths of execution into one (requires Option types).
  • It's harder to read.
    • If the names weren't self documenting, it wouldn't be as clear which parameters are needed for preview generation versus which are needed for collecting metrics.
  • It's signature doesn't make it clear that both the metrics and log parameters are needed for metrics to be calculated.

Inject Dependencies

Dependency injection improves your codes purity and makes it easier to understand. Strive to create methods that you can understand based on its name and parameters. When calling a method, you shouldn't have to care about the implementation and should know what its output will be based on how it's called.

Furthermore, only pass in data that's needed; do not send in an entire object as an argument when only one property (from that object) is needed.

Good

class Team {
  def gender(genderId: Int): String = if (genderId == 0) "female" else "male"
}

new Team().gender(database.genderId)

The above logic is good because:

  • Its output solely depends on its input.
  • It does not affect the outside world.
  • Based on its signature, it's clear what the method does and what data it needs to do it.

Bad

class Team {
  val database = new Database(...)

  def gender(): String = if (database.genderId == 0) "female" else "male"
}

new Team().gender()

The above logic is bad because:

  • It affects the outside world (by accessing the database internally).
  • It's signature does not provide enough detail to understand the implementation.

Bad

class Team {
  def gender(db: Database): String = if (db.genderId == 0) "female" else "male"
}

new Team().gender(database)

The above logic is bad because:

  • It's expecting the entire database object when only one property from it is needed.

Additional Considerations

Avoid Loops

Avoid loops of any kind (while, for, et. al) and replace with built-in pure equivalents (or write recursive methods).

Good

def addDollarSign(numbers: List[Int]): List[String] =  numbers.map("$" + _)

addDollarSign(List(3, 7)) // List($3, $7)

Bad

def addDollarSign(numbers: List[Int]): List[String] = {
  var updated = new scala.collection.mutable.ListBuffer[String]()
  for (n <- numbers) updated += "$" + n
  updated.toList
}

addDollarSign(List(3, 7)) // List($3, $7)

Annotate Appropriately

If using a statically typed language, use types in all public members and when they help document the code, but not when they're obvious.

// Annotations helps understandability
val relatedPages: Seq = pages.getRelevant(book.currentPage)
val userNode: Option[NodeAsset] = user.getNode(placement)
def reportByLines(reportId: Int): Stream[String] = ???

// No annotation needed since the types are clear
val name = "James"
val age = 85
def add5(n: Int) = n + 5

Comment Your Regular Expressions

Regex can be hard to read, so add comments to help explain what they do.

val subject = "He's not too fancy but his line is pretty clean?"
val encoded = {
  subject
    .replaceAll("""[?.]""", "!") // Replaces '?' or '.' with '!'
    .replaceAll("""(not\s+too|pretty)\s+""", "") // Removes blacklisted words
    .replaceAll("""but|or|if""", "and") // Replaces conjunctions with 'and'
}

Indent Properly

Understand the rules around indentation and whitespace and follow common practices where present.

Good

val name: String = "James"
def calculateAge(user: User): Int = user.birthday.toYears
def getLunarPhase(
    month: Int,
    date: Int,
    year: Int,
    phase: Phase): String = {
  phase.calc(month, day, year).pull(mode = 1)
}
if (!baz) {
  foo("bar")
}

Bad

val name:String = "James"
val name :String = "James"
val name : String = "James"

def calculateAge (user: User): Int = user.birthday.toYears
def calculateAge(user: User):Int=user.birthday.toYears

def getLunarPhase(month: Int,
                  date: Int,
                  year: Int,
                  phase: Phase): String = {
  phase.calc(month,day,year).pull(mode=1)
}

if(!baz){
  foo("bar")
}
if(! baz){
    foo("bar")
}

Use two space indentation over four, and no tabs.

Decrease Method Arguments

If your method has many arguments, it's probably a sign of code smell, so revisit its implementation. If you still need many arguments in your method after a proper refactor, consider grouping related objects together.

Note that if your arguments extend pass your max character limit, break them into individual lines for improved readability.

Good

val asset: Option[PlacementAsset] = placement.getAsset(
  projectScope,
  requestParams(
    Params.ID,
    Params.AGE,
    Params.GENDER
  ),
  metaData
)

Bad

val asset: Option[PlacementAsset] = placement.getAsset(projectScope,
  requestParams(Params.ID, Params.AGE, Params.GENDER), metaData)

Note that my line-breaking preference slightly differs from the Scala style guide. For improved readability, when breaking a method into multiple lines, I make sure the closing line of the expression matches the column of the opening line. For example:

Scala Style

val assetName: String = placement.getAssetName(
  requestParams(
    Params.ID,
    Params.AGE),
  queries(
    true,
    Queries.RENDER_SCHEME,
    Queries.CONTEXT))
  .getOrElse(placement.defaultAsset)
  .replace("""\d""", "n")

By having the end parentheses on the same line of the last argument, it's hard to tell where a method ends. At first glance, it looks like getOrElse and replace are arguments too.

My Recommended Style

val assetName: String = placement.getAssetName(
  requestParams(
    Params.ID,
    Params.AGE
  ),
  queries(
    true,
    Queries.RENDER_SCHEME,
    Queries.CONTEXT,
  )
)
.getOrElse(placement.defaultAsset)
.replace("""\d""", "n")

By having the end parentheses at the same column of the beginning of the expression, it's more clear.

Avoid Code Smells

Familiarize yourself with this list of code smells and aim to write code in way that avoids them.

Remember Conway's Law

Although more tightly coupled to an applications architecture, it's worth being aware of your teams structure as you work on your project. Conway's law is defined as:

"Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations."

Continue Learning

Be open to gaining knowledge from languages that you may not be well versed in. For example, if you're a JavaScript developer who wants to learn more about Functional Programming, don't be intimidated to read up on how Haskell solves problems.

Finally

Care about the code you write... and choose a set of styles that you can stick with to create an environment you enjoying working in... all while using patterns and principles which help you, your team, and your projects flourish.