“Spaghetti code” is a term used to describe poorly organized, tangled, or intricately nested code that is notoriously difficult to comprehend, update, extend, and maintain. It usually refers to code that lacks proper organization, has complex or convoluted control flow, and violates the principles of good software design.
If you’re not careful, spaghetti code will creep into your application’s source code, no matter how simple or sophisticated your code might be. Eventually your code will become unreadable and challenging to work with, making it difficult to add new features, fix bugs, and maintain the code base over time.
Here’s why spaghetti code may occur:
- Failure to follow recommended practices and principles for clean code
- Writing code without a plan for structuring or organizing the code
- Using borrowed code or code written by inexperienced developers
There are several major pitfalls of spaghetti code. First of all, spaghetti code makes it difficult for developers to fix bugs or add new features. A cluttered and disorganized code base leads to confusion among team members trying to make changes.
Secondly, spaghetti code can lead to lower application performance due to inefficient algorithms or lack of optimization. Response times become slower, memory consumption increases, and the user experience is compromised. And thirdly, Spaghetti code can hide vulnerabilities that might be exploited by hackers.
The cost of spaghetti code is high, but avoidable. In the sections below, we’ll discuss 10 best practices you can follow to steer clear of spaghetti code and keep your programs clean, well-organized, and maintainable.
Adhere to OOP principles
You should encapsulate data and behavior in your classes and objects, and take advantage of object-oriented programming (OOP) concepts such as inheritance, composition, and polymorphism to create modular, manageable, and organized code.
Adhere to SOLID principles
Building software that adheres to established programming principles such as SOLID and DRY minimizes the risks associated with poorly structured code. According to the single responsibility principle (one of the five SOLID principles), each class or method should have one and only one responsibility. For example, the Logger class in your application should be responsible only for logging data, and shouldn’t include any other functionality.
It is easier to understand and maintain complex functions when they are broken down into smaller, focused components. Reduce code duplication by abstracting common functions into reusable methods, classes, and libraries using the DRY principle. Adhering to the DRY principle will ensure that altering the code in one location automatically updates every occurrence of that code throughout the application.
Maintain a clear and focused approach
Break down complicated tasks into manageable steps to make your code easier to read and comprehend. This also reduces redundancy and improves code maintainability.
Use meaningful names
Maintain a clean and consistent code base by adhering to coding standards and style guidelines. Ensure that your variables, classes, methods, and other elements have meaningful and descriptive names. Meaningful names make your code easier to comprehend, reduce the need for comments, and make it easier to maintain the code over time.
Reduce cyclomatic complexity
Cyclomatic complexity is a quantitative measure of the number of linearly independent paths in source code. It’s a metric that can help you understand the complexity of your code. Excessive if-else statements and deep nesting make code difficult to understand and increase cyclomatic complexity. You can reduce nesting levels and simplify branching logic by refactoring the code.
Use comments sparingly
In your code, you should include comments that explain the purpose and intent of classes, interfaces, methods, and properties. Well-documented code is much easier to manage, maintain, and debug. Just remember that well-documented means clearly documented. Meaningful names and simpler code (i.e., code with less cyclomatic complexity) make code easier to understand than too many comments.
Refactor your code regularly
Remove code redundancy or duplication, simplify complex code snippets, and improve code quality with regular refactoring. By improving the design and structure of your code, refactoring makes a code base far easier to maintain over time.
Keep it simple
You can apply the KISS principle to your project to build the simplest solution that will meet user needs and avoid unnecessary complexity. When your application contains features and code that are unnecessary, it not only makes unit testing and code maintenance difficult but also detracts from the user experience.
Similarly, you can follow the YAGNI principle to eliminate features and code that are not essential. You should focus only on what is needed and avoid “gold plating” your code for the sake of perfection.
Run unit tests often
You should take full advantage of unit testing in your software development workflow to reduce errors in your applications. Unit tests help ensure that a unit of code works as desired. If you’ve changed or refactored your code, you should run the unit tests again to ensure that everything works as it should.
Conduct code reviews
Conducting code reviews can give you insight and feedback about your code. Peer reviewing code gives you and team members the opportunity to identify spaghetti code and gather suggestions for improvement. Peer reviews of code can help your team understand the pitfalls of writing bad code, learn the best practices, and practice implementing them.
Spaghetti code is convoluted and complicated, much like a plate of tangled noodles. If you want to clean it up, it’s best to start small and improve the code over time. By following the guidelines outlined in this piece, you can avoid spaghetti code in your applications and save yourself and your team members a great deal of time, effort, and trouble.
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