We’re all familiar with rules of grammar, which aid in communication by letting us know when to use a comma, how to spell a word or the proper use of prepositions.
Tools such as Grammarly allow you to run text through a checker to ensure you’re following those rules and make suggestions to improve the writing overall.
Let’s take a look at what these tools are, why you want to use them, and how to best take advantage of them.
Static Code Analysis
When you have a large project, you need programmatic tools to validate the correctness and ensure code quality. The idea is to check the code and predict but also find actual issues in it without actually running or compiling the code.
Formatters do pretty much as the name implies. They check your code for consistency in how it is formatted — like whether you used tabs or a specific number of spaces, what type of string delimiters are used, and even line widths.
A linter can handle formatting checks, but also scan source code for more complex issues. They use a set of rules to find any predefined issues to watch out for. Many of these rules are generic, but you can define specific rules for your project.
Linting tools can help in several aspects; besides flagging issues and providing warnings, they also provide suggestions for best practices consistent with the programming language being used. They not only flag style issues, programming errors and bugs, but also more serious issues, like security vulnerabilities.
Linters, also called static analyzers, perform static code analysis by providing alerts and finding the above errors and issues, before the code is compiled and actually runs. They help automate the code review process: they not only enable developers to find bugs much earlier and keep a consistent code style, but more importantly, they boost productivity; with linters in place, it helps save time in code reviews and you can spend more time developing products, or fixing other bugs.
Code checking entails scanning source code and looking for potential problems. This could be anything from breaking a naming convention or unused code to potential issues in performance and complexity.
The main goal is checking to see that your code follows the specific coding standards you have set up. Your team might follow a common convention such as Google’s style guide, or you might have your own in-house rules to guide you. A good tool should be fully configurable to follow whichever style you prefer.
Code uniformity means all your developers name the classes and properties the same way based on the standards you develop. The more people and the larger the project, the more essential it is to keep a handle on this.
Along with your code standards, inline documentation plays a key role in making sure everyone stays on the same page. This is especially true for developers joining a new team. Your checker can ensure that there are comments documenting your code so that it is easier for everyone to adhere to your standards. It is also important for adding and keeping track of TODOs and FIXMEs.
When Do You Check Code?
Your first time to do a code check might be in your own local environment before you submit the code to a shared repository such as GitHub, even though the checks done locally can be exactly the same as the ones done on the continuous integration server.
A later check might also be done manually by fellow developers during a regular code review process. The goal is to get the code as consistent, maintainable, and correct as possible before it hits the production server.
Check out the rest of our blog for more tips on how to improve code quality.