Coding standards and good documentation: Why are they important?
When you’re investing in a new software system for your business, you’ll want to ensure that the system can be supported and developed in the future. But this can be put at real risk if your developers aren’t applying the right coding standards or documenting their work correctly.
Here, Jimmy Campbell, Business Engineer at A2Z Cloud, explains more.
About Jimmy Campbell
Jimmy has been at the forefront of some of A2Z Cloud’s biggest deployment projects, including custom solutions for ITV and CVS. Currently studying towards a doctorate, Jimmy has experience of working with a multitude of programming and web languages.
At A2Z Cloud, we’re often approached by businesses that have used freelance developers to create new software systems. All too often, we’ve had to unravel their work because the original developer has not applied coding standards or documented their work correctly.
In the best-case scenario, our developers may need to trawl through a large number of custom scripts to try to establish what’s worth keeping and what needs to be replaced. The worst-case scenario is that the system is not supportable, and it needs to be completely redeveloped.
Software development is complex and multi-faceted. It’s therefore vital that developers work to coding standards and maintain good documentation to ensure that the software can be supported in the long-term and avoid further costs for the client.
What are coding standards?
Developers adhere to coding standards to ensure consistency in their code. Standards can be specific to a language or platform, or they can be more general. These standards may cover issues such as indentation, white space, naming conventions and syntax.
Using coding standards helps to avoid ambiguity and makes it easier for other developers to understand your code. Before starting work on development projects, it’s important to agree on a consistent standard.
Why are coding standards important?
Multiple developers may be working on the same project, and this creates a greater risk of inconsistency and misinterpretation. By adhering to a consistent structure, using clear naming conventions, and documenting code changes, it becomes much easier for a team to maintain a software solution. Not only does this improve the overall efficiency of the team, but it also reduces the likelihood of errors. This is especially important for open-source projects, where external developers are involved.
Maintainability is crucial in software development and a key factor in this is the quality of the codebase. This is the collection of source code that contributes to a software application or program. At A2Z Cloud, our developers ensure that all scripts are well-written and correctly structured. This allows developers to easily update scripts to use newer APIs and fix bugs, regardless of their previous experience with the project.
Adding extra functionality to a system may mean bringing onboard new developers to work on the project. This can be a time-consuming and costly process but adhering to coding standards can help to make it more efficient. Having a shared structure and well-documented code makes it easier for new developers to understand the system and get up to speed on the project quickly. Not only does this save time but it also reduces the overall cost to the client.
The importance of authorship
Some of our larger projects have involved developing custom solutions, which often include multiple integrations, widgets and products that need to ‘communicate with each other’. These systems often need additional functionality to meet new business requirements. To enable developers to access information about how and why a script was built, we include code headers in all of our scripts.
This header provides lots of important information, such as the original developer’s details, when the script started being tracked and any parameters that the script uses. Sometimes this header will also include a small description of what the script does. While this may seem like a lot of information to fill in, it means that whoever is accessing the script can access all the details they need.
Additionally, it enables clients who have their own in-house developers to request more information from the relevant developers at A2Z Cloud quickly and more efficiently. If the script breaks due to an API change or an SaaS provider upgrade, it is easier to track who has worked on the script and where the issue occurred. This is especially useful during the user acceptance testing (UAT) stage, which is completed at the end of each project and ensures a bug-free launch.
Version control helps us maintain quality standards by keeping track of what has been changed and when this was completed. This makes it easy to identify any issues with scripts or other code, as well as providing peace of mind that, if something goes wrong, you can go back in time and review previous revisions.
All of our code is committed to GitHub, a code hosting platform that allows developers from around the world to collaborate. This has many benefits and helps the development process. For example, if a client reports that a sync is taking longer than usually expected, we can review any changes to their system and determine if any new scripts have made an impact.
Clients with in-house developers or administrators will sometimes request access to the code we have written for their systems. In this case, we can easily share it with our client through GitHub.
The power of GitHub also allows us to draw on our existing code base for new projects. When a client requests functionality similar to something we’ve developed previously, our team can often adapt that code without having to build it from scratch – which lowers the development costs for the client.
Using reputable developers who apply strict coding standards and keep good documentation is vital when you’re investing in a new software system. This helps to avoid wasted time and energy spent on trying to fix errors. By following these simple standards, teams can work more efficiently and avoid potential frustrations and additional cost further down the line.
Of course, many business owners won’t even know that their developers have not applied the right coding standards or documented their work correctly.
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