The Importance of Code Styling Guides

Written by JP La Torre
Importance of #codestyling

Learning to code is a minefield. Coders love to compete with one another in ways that seem utterly strange to the average outsider. Just as members of sports team or the armed forces have a sense of camaraderie and a tendency to joke around with each other, these behaviors are rooted in love and shared experiences.

Coders can occasionally get very competitive about how few lines of code they can write to achieve a particular objective. There are a number of standard conventions that are observed by coders. Some of these apply only to certain languages, others are conventions that are used by all coders.

In addition to these, many development teams will implement their own coding style guides in order to ensure that any code that is turned in can easily be peer-reviewed. Ensuring that all of your coders are using the exact same format and syntax means that it is easy for one coder to understand code written by another.

What Is a Coding Style Guide?

A programming style guide is a simple concept. All it is is a set of rules, guidelines, and best practice principles that are used to guide coders who are writing source code. Whether you are an individual coder, part of a small development team, or a department within a large enterprise, it is vital that any code written by your business is written cleanly.

How you define the ‘correct way’ for you lays the foundation for your coding style guide as laid out by yourself or the business you’re working with. Following a style guide should ensure that fewer mistakes are made, and if they are made, they are easier to identify and fix. Coding style guides are also helpful in assisting new coders who are moving to work with a new business to learn the organizational way of doing things with minimal fuss. Style guides improve shared knowledge across an organization. In true DevOps best practice.

Why Do Style and Format Matter So Much?

Well, the differences could satisfy an entire article of their own! Whether arguing about the merits of tabs versus spaces (spaces every time, of course) or trying to identify issues within a source code, one thing that every coder will agree on is that best practice formatting is critical. However, you choose to do it, just ensure you remain consistent (hence, where a style guide comes into play.)

From the outside, it might appear as if the precise way that a coder chooses to accomplish a given task is immaterial. After all, as long as the purpose of the app or program in question is fulfilled, why is the extra effort of conforming to a style guide necessary? Well, the first and foremost reason for formatting your code appropriately is that it will make it considerably easier for someone else to read later. It’s also easier to fault find code that doesn’t fit appropriate form and style and potentially identify bugs within the system.

Computers are good at looking through code for bugs, but there are some reasons why it is preferable to have a person do it. People are capable of spotting patterns in a different way to a computer. Consider the art of writing a brand book for example. If a company cannot decide on a single voice—even if contributed to by many writers— the result will be disjointed and hard to read. Code is much the same. Style guides provide much-needed uniformity.

Debugging

Debugging is something that the average coder will spend a significant portion of their work lives tending to. Though implementing automated testing into the development pipeline early is one way of reducing this time (read more here). It, therefore, makes sense that programmers would want to ensure the debugging process is as simple and straightforward as possible. When source code is properly formatted and laid out correctly, even someone who has little to no familiarity with the project the code is for will be able to deduce a great deal more about it just from scanning it.

Being able to see where the various modules of an application fall at a mere glance makes it easier to ascertain where any potential issues might lie.

Highlight Errors

When the same formatting and syntax is being used throughout a piece, it is a little easier to spot when someone has abandoned convention. With potential errors easily visible, you reduce debugging time.
Formatting your code correctly will have a huge impact on the efficiency and ease with which you work. As an individual, you should be looking to develop your own coding style so that you can leave your own individual stamp on your work, while also developing your own unique style.

As you begin working with other coders and entities, you can also look to them for inspiration regarding their own coding practices and styling. You will find that, the more coders you have working together the easier it is for everyone to have an agreed-upon set of style and formatting templates for everyone to use.

On the rare occasions that things do go wrong in a software development team, being able to track down and fix the bugs quickly makes a very big difference. A standardized format makes it a much simpler task to establish exactly which bit of code is trying to do what, and why it has failed to so.

Regardless of the field that you work in, or the type of coding that your job generally involves, you will want to be able to work as efficiently and smoothly as is possible with your programmers. One of the simplest ways of doing this is to ensure everyone uses the same language.

Developing Routines

Developing routines as well as best practice styles and formats for your coding is an excellent practice to get into. On the one hand, it will ensure that you are constantly looking for and finding new and efficient means of achieving your goals. On the other, it will help you to develop the kind of new and outlandish ways of thinking about the problems you are faced with that will enable you to find success where others can’t.

When it comes to coding, the philosophy that you should adhere to in order to complete complex projects is often just as important as the code that you write. One of the things that most clearly defines a relatively new coder from one who been in the game for some time is that the more experienced coders will have developed their own routine and styles.

Don’t forget to read our post Why Clean Code Matters for more on the importance of writing clear, legible code.


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