Why coding standards matter

While it might not seem like it from the outside, coding can be a very personal practice. Yes, some rules need to be followed in order to make the end product function correctly, but developers are still left with a lot of flexibility.

Because of this ambiguous relationship to their code, there are two kinds of developers — the ones following code standards to the letter, and the ones taking them less seriously. Some people see the value of adhering to a normalized style, while others think it’s perfectly fine to ship code that has their fingerprints all over it.

Coding standards help collaboration

As much as you might like coding by yourself, there comes a time when you will have to share your production with others. There’s also the possibility you will have to look at their code — especially working in a team, where second opinions are vital to a great-working product. This is when you’ll realise that not everyone writes their code the same way, and you’ll start to think everyone but you is doing it wrong.

It’s a perfectly natural way of thinking, albeit slightly inconvenient — simply because there’s no easy way to define what should be the “standard” programming style. Something one person thinks is readable, consistent code might totally go against someone else’s ideas of what is readable, consistent code.

The real power of properly adhering to coding conventions isn’t seen in the first version of an app, when practically all of the code has been written by a single author. Instead, it becomes apparent later in the development process, when more people have touched the source code. Let’s say you have been working on a project by yourself for a while, but decided you need help getting something done. When your code isn’t up to standards, it would take a lot of time to explain the intricacies of how you decided to do things — drastically slowing down development.

Another example is diving back into a project that was finished by another development team. When you venture into code written by a group of people you’re not in contact with, you’ll end up finding all kinds of team- and developer-specific quirks that make it a lot harder to understand the code.

Think about the process of constructing a building. The architect isn’t the one who actually builds the structure — that’s done by the contractor. Later on, repairs probably won’t be done by the original construction crew, but the repairmen will understand the way the building works regardless. All of these collaborations go smoothly, because everyone applies the same standards — if you work with great people, at least. Great developers do exactly the same thing.

Writing code that’s up to coding standards

Coding standards aren’t a clear-cut thing, as everyone has a different idea about them — they can even differ between programming languages! There are, nevertheless, some basic practices you can take into account.

Formatting

Take care you indent where appropriate, add proper amounts of whitespace and continue on new lines to keep things readable. Also, take into account any naming conventions when you’re creating new files.

Portability

It’s important your code is written in a way so it’s easily moved between platforms — this means using no hardcoded values, as they would break when used elsewhere.

Modularity

Try and write code that’s usable by itself and doesn’t rely on anything written by someone else — these kinds of dependencies can break easily.

Style guide

If you work with a team of programmers, consider creating a style guide that leans heavily on common code conventions.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard to define and maintain the perfect coding style — that’s why this article comes with a big caveat. It’s important to note that consistency is always more important than following the rules — if you want to do things a certain way, that’s fine, just make sure you do it consistently. Nothing is more time-consuming than figuring out the irregularities in someone else’s code.

How Codacy can help with coding standards

Codacy is the easiest way to get your entire team on the same page, style-wise. With our automated code review platform, you and your team can focus on creating an incredible digital product while we take care of housekeeping.

Codacy is incredibly helpful in maintaining clean code, as we automatically and continuously review all pull requests, commits and the entirety of the codebase. Meanwhile, you have control over the standards you want us to follow, and how strict you want us to be when analyzing the code. By enabling or disabling checks in the Code Patterns module you’re able to customize everything according to your policies.

Deploy clean, secure code by getting started with Codacy today – just sign up with your GitHub account.

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