Stories about Software


Changing My Personal Coding Standards

Many moons ago, I blogged about creating a DX Core plugin and admitted that one of my main motivations for doing this was to automate conversion of my code to conform to a standard that I didn’t particularly care for. One of the conversions I introduced, as explained in that post, is that I like to prepend “my” as a prefix on local, method level variables to distinguish them from method parameters (they’re already distinguished from class fields, which are pretended with an underscore). I think my reasoning here was and continues to be solid, but I also think that it’s time for me to say goodbye to this coding convention.

It will be tough to do, as I’ve been in the habit of doing this for years. But after a few weeks, or perhaps even days, I’m sure I’ll be used to the new way of doing things. But why do this? Well I was mulling over a problem in the shower the other day when the idea first took hold. Lately, I’ve been having a problem where the “my” creeps its way into method parameters, thus completely defeating the purpose of this convention. This happens because over the last couple of years, I’ve been relying ever-more heavily on the “extract method” refactoring. Between Code Rush making this very easy and convenient, the Uncle Bob, clean-coding approach of “refactor ’til you drop”, and my preference for TDD, I constantly refactor methods, and this often results in what were local variables becoming method parameters but retaining their form-describing (misleading) “my”.

What to do? My first thought was “just be diligent about renaming method parameters”, but that clearly violates my philosophy that we should make the bad impossible. My second thought was to write my own refactoring and perform some behind-the-scenes black magic with the DXCore libraries, but that seems like complete overkill (albeit a fun thing to do). My third thought bonked me in the head seemingly out of nowhere: why not just stop using “my”?

I realized that the reasons I had for using it had been slowly phased out by changes my approach to coding. I wanted to be able to tell what scope a member was instantly by looking at it, but that’s pretty easy to do regardless of what you name them when you’re writing methods that are only a few lines long. It also becomes easy to tell the scope of things when you give longer, more descriptive names to local, instead of using constants. And techniques like command query separation make it rare that you need to worry about the scope of something before you alter it since the small method’s purpose (alteration or querying) should be readily apparent. Add to that the fact that other people I collaborate with at times seem not to be a fan of this practice, and the reasons to do it have all kind of slipped away for me except for the “I’ve always done it that way” reason, which I abhor.

The lesson here for me and hopefully for anyone reading is that every now and then, it’s a good idea to examine something you do out of pure habit and decide whether that thing makes sense any longer. The fact that something was once a good idea doesn’t mean that it always will be.