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All developers have this similar experience: not having enough time to add that one last function into the program before the next launch. Of course, one can hastily write the code and add it but then it won't be aligned, well-structured, and organized with the rest of the code.

The thing with the hasty work is that you can make the code function temporarily, but it may also mess up your code and harm your software applications in the long run. Therefore, top-rated software development companies make it a norm to follow the best software development practices as it helps write clean code and deliver high-quality products.

Otherwise, your short-term solutions would turn into some kind of debt that needs to be dealt with eventually. And how do you deal with such technical debt? Code refactoring is an effective way to reduce your technical debt.

What is code refactoring?

When a code is restructured completely without making any changes in its functionalities or external behavior, then the process is called code refactoring.

There are various ways of executing code refactoring and most of them consist of the implementation of a series of basic, standardized actions which are called micro-refactorings.

The changes made in the existing source code are so tiny that they are unlikely to introduce or generate any error in the codebase. Hence the functionality and the behavior of the software are preserved.

The importance of code refactoring

One may wonder how code refactoring improves the nonfunctional aspects of the software, and how it is really helpful with the overall functionality. The aim here is to clean up the mess made in the source code of the software. This reduces the technical debt of the product.

The messy source code is often called a dirty code. It's an informal term that developers use to refer to code that is not only difficult to update or maintain but is even harder to translate or understand.

The dirty code is the product of tight deadlines or when the code or the functionalities are updated more often, the code gets all messed up. One can also smell the dirty code sometimes by looking at its front end.

When a messy or dirty code isn't cleaned up, it can snowball and slow down all future software upgrades and improvements. Developers then have to spend extra time and effort to understand and track the dirty code to clean it up first and then make necessary changes.

There are various types of dirty code;

  • The codes, classes, and methods become so large that they can't be wielded or manipulated easily.
  • When the implementation of object-oriented programming principles is either incomplete or incorrect.
  • Superfluous coupling
  • Certain sections of the code need multiple changes in multiple areas for your software to work up to expectations.
  • Removing any unnecessary part of the code isn't harmful to the overall functionality of the software

Benefits of Code Refactoring

  • Simplified support and code updates - Every code needs maintenance and upgrades from time to time. But the task becomes very difficult and complex if it's dirty code. However, after code refactoring, the developers can make the necessary changes to the code without any difficulties.
  • Saved time and money in the future - Code refactoring simplifies the software updates. And when there isn't a mess to solve, the developers can add and launch new functionalities quickly. Also, a clean code is less prone to make errors and fewer errors means saving more time and money.
  • Reduced complexity for easier understanding - Code refactoring cleans up the mess and simplifies the code. And when your code is not complicated, it becomes easier for other developers to understand your code.
  • Maintainability and scalability - When a code is not formulated clearly, some developers don't bother to iron out the details. But there are huge consequences of it. Firstly, you will be wasting your money on maintaining a dirty code which by the way won't be easy either. Secondly, you won't be able to scale your product with dirty code. Only code refactoring can help you maintain the maintainability and scalability of your software application.
  • When to refactor?

    It's not rocket science to know when it's time to refactor your code. The developers mostly know where they have to make changes in the code to create the required functionalities. Code refactoring becomes harder to prioritize if you are working in a team. Therefore, here are some tips that might be helpful to you.

    • Refactor using the rule of 3;
      1. If you are working on creating a software functionality for the first time, just focus on getting the job done. Don't worry if it ends up being dirty code.
      2. Now when you pick the work again, you will automatically know where you need to cut corners. You will make necessary changes but your code still won't be clean.
      3. You can start code refactoring when you encounter the changes for the third time.
    • Refactor during code review – This might be the last chance for you to clean your code before it is live. To pace things up, you can do a two-person review where you deal with the easy ones quickly so that you have time to fix the difficult code sections.
    • Refactor during regularly scheduled intervals - You can add refactoring to your daily routine like leaving the last hour daily for code refactoring. This way, the team won't have to spend additional time on refactoring the code.

    Some developers insist that debugging and code refactoring should not be done simultaneously. Although code refactoring leads to fewer bugs, debugging won't lead you to a cleaner code.

    Ways of Refactoring

    There are many ways to refactor a code. You can take it one step at a time, and test the functionality after each change. Testing helps you determine that functionality stays while the code is improved and that there aren't any new errors since you restructured the code.

    Code refactoring is a manual process but with the advent of the latest tools for common languages, the process is sped up a little. But if you are in a less common language, then you won't be able to use some amazing refactoring tools. If you understand common languages well, you will understand what the tools are doing.

    More often, it depends upon what kind of problem you are facing to determine which technique to deploy. Some common techniques are mentioned below:

    • Correcting the composing methods makes it easy for you to make future changes, remove duplicates, and streamline the process.
    • Conditional expressions can get unnecessarily complex over time. So, it would be better if you simplify them. That way, they would be easy to understand too.
    • Improve the interfaces for class interactions
    • Improve generalization
    • For better distribution of functionalities among classes, you can move features between objects. This includes hiding the implementation details, creating new classes, and safely moving the functionality.
    • To make portable and recyclable classes, you have to improve handling and class associations by organizing data.

    Refactoring checklist

    Follow this checklist to ensure that your code is clean.

    • What's obvious to other programmers? The answer to this can simply be something like improving more sophisticated programming or creating clearer structures for naming, classes, and methods.
    • Shouldn't contain any duplication. When you have to double up on the changes, the chances of making errors also double up.
    • It should have minimal moving parts such as less number of classes. When you have fewer things to remember, you have less to maintain and clean up.
    • Should pass all the tests. Everyone knows that a code might be full of bugs if it doesn't pass the test. But you should also remember that even a dirty code can pass most of the tests. Only the clean code can pass all tests.
    • Easy to maintain. If you have to spend less time on improvements then you have a clean code on hand.

    Code Refactoring in Agile: Best Practices

    Code refactoring is normal in agile development. Because it becomes hard to maintain and expand the code with every new iteration if the code is not clean and easy to understand. Here are some of the tips that work as the best code refactoring practices for agile development.

    • Take one step at a time - You don't have to do everything all at once. You can break down the code refactoring process into smaller steps where you can make micro-changes to the code and still not affect the functionality of the product..
    • Test the code - After restructuring your code, you have to test it to make sure there aren't any bugs in it.
    • Not adding new functionality - Code refactoring means you are restructuring your code in a way that won't affect the overall functionalities of your product. So, it is important to understand that refactoring is not about adding new features or functionalities or making modifications to existing ones. It is all about cleaning up the dirty code.
    • Plan your work and focus on progress - You have to understand that even the best quality code becomes obsolete over time. So, code refactoring is a never-ending process, it's not some kind of development process that would end after product deployment. It's more of a regular maintenance of code.

    Some other important refactoring tips are:

    • Make a to-do list
    • Check in frequently
    • Add new test cases
    • Review the results
    • Use code refactoring automation tools

    Final thoughts

    The benefits of code refactoring are not always obvious and they are also not gained immediately. But you will experience them in the long run as you get to keep your code clean and of high quality. Implementing code refactoring as a best software development practice can also help keep your work environment productive. So it is safe to say that code refactoring is a very reasonable and beneficial investment.

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