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A Short List of Good Practices in Programming

Writing software is more than simply creating an application that fulfills its requirements; it has to be created to be maintainable, robust, verifiable, and readable, among many other things. Because of this, we as developers need to constantly strive to learn and find new ways that can help create better code, and ultimately, a better software application.

The goal of this blog post is to list a few good programming practices than can improve your code. This list is not by any means exhaustive (there are entire books written about this very topic). That being said, I have focused on listing good programming practices that have had the greatest impact on the quality of the code I write.

Test Driven Development (TDD)

Writing tests first offers many advantages such as verifiability, regression prevention, and documentation, among others. But one of my favorites is that it introduces a "user" of the code that will be written.

A test itself can be thought as a user of some code that will eventually be written, and as a result of it, writing code using the tests first approach enforces good design of code. This means that code written using TDD is usually better designed as writing the tests first forces the developer to write code that is easy to test, which is usually well designed code.

It is worth pointing out that TDD should be used together with Behavior Driven Development (BDD). TDD usually relies too much on the specific implementation a developer decided to use, while BDD instead tests the behavior of the code. This is specially useful while refactoring, as you can still be able to tell if the new code correctly implements the required behavior of the old code, without having to update any behavior tests at all.

Use pure functions

A pure function is defined as a method which, given the same input, will always return the same output and depend on no external mutable state. Pure functions offer a variety of benefits such as no side effects, ease of testing, ease of debugging, etc.

To illustrate pure functions, let us consider the following example:

const numbers = [5, 3, 1]  
const sortedNumbers = numbers.sort()  
console.log(numbers) // [1, 3, 5]  
console.log(sortedNumbers) // [1, 3, 5]  
console.log(numbers === sortedNumbers) // true  

The Array sort method is an impure function as it mutates the original array on which it is executed. This could lead to hard-to-find bugs, as the application would not necessarily always want to have the array of numbers in that particular order. A pure implementation in ES6 would instead look like this:

function sortArray(arr, compareFunction = null) {  
  return [...arr].sort(compareFunction)
}
const numbers = [5, 3, 1]  
const sortedNumbers = sortArray(numbers, (a, b) => a - b)  
console.log(numbers) // [5, 3, 1]  
console.log(sortedNumbers) // [1, 3, 5]  
console.log(numbers === sortedNumbers) // false  

The example above does not mutate the numbers array anymore. In addition to that, it allows passing of an optional sort method to specify how to sort the array, which makes the sortArray method more reusable.

A related point to consider is favoring the use of functional programming. Functional programming is a declarative software programming paradigm and it avoids changing state and mutable data. There are many concepts to functional programming other than pure functions, but the use of it will enforce code that uses pure functions.

Single source of truth (SSOT)

The concept of a single source of truth refers to the idea of storing application data in only one place. Any other link to a specific piece of information is simply done by reference, and thus this approach can help to both avoid data synchronization issues and create a clearer separation of data and its representation.

SSOT can also be applied to other endeavors outside of software development, such as to an organization or product development.

boolean variables should be named positively and contain is which implies true/false

Naming boolean variables positively helps to avoid double negatives which are more complicated to understand. Consider the following example in English:

You can't see no one in this crowd

This sentence actually means you can see everyone in this crowd, but it is difficult to understand because it is written negatively. Let us now consider another example, but this time written in JavaScript:

const inactive = false  
if (!inactive) {  
  console.log('is active')
}

This piece of code can be easily improved by applying the concepts from above. First, let us add the word is to the name of the variable, in order to imply true/false, and finally let us rename it to active, so that it is written positively:

const isActive = true  
if (isActive) {  
  console.log('is active')
}

This modified version is far easier to understand and read than the one written negatively. Always favor naming boolean variables positively and include is to imply true/false. With relatively low effort, this good practice will tremendously improve the readability of your code.

Favor the verb-noun approach for naming methods

Naming things is one of those problems that have haunted software developers for quite a long time. That being said, there are a few tricks developers can use to alleviate this issue, and one that has worked good for me is the verb-noun approach for naming methods.

When naming a method, start by describing the action it will perform with a verb, such as get, set, transform, or render. After the action the method will perform has been specified, include a description of the value the method will return or update such as getInvestmentTotal(...args), renderHeader(...args), or saveUserAvatar(...args).

Using the verb-noun approach will help other developers to more clearly understand the code you have written and save them time by letting them understand what the method does without having to read its implementation.

Conclusion

In this blog post, I have listed a few good programming practices that have helped me improve the quality of the code I write. As mentioned in the introduction, there are entire books written about this topic, and thus I have limited myself to only list those good practices that have had the greatest impact for me as a developer.

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