Write Better Code - Improve Readability and Maintainability

Write Better Code - Improve Readability and Maintainability


As software developers, we want to write robust code that handles errors gracefully. However, it's easy to go overboard with defensive coding practices like excessive null checks, try/catch blocks, and input validation. While these practices have their place, prioritizing readability and simplicity early on can pay dividends down the road.

In this article, we'll explore some tips for writing cleaner, more readable code without overengineering. Follow these guidelines, and you'll end up with code that's easier to understand and modify.

Use Meaningful Variable and Function Names

One of the easiest ways to improve readability is to use descriptive, intention-revealing names for variables, functions, and classes. Avoid single-letter variables like `a` or `b` unless their purpose is very clear from the surrounding context. Similarly, give functions and methods names that describe what they do rather than how they do it.


function getUserFullName(user) {
  return `${user.firstName} ${user.lastName}`


function manipulateUserData(u) {
  return u.f + " " + u.l

The good example is much clearer about what the function does from its name alone.

Refactor Large Functions into Smaller Units

Functions that span dozens of lines or perform multiple discrete tasks can be difficult to understand. Try to refactor long functions into several smaller, single-purpose functions with descriptive names.


function processOrder(order) {
  // 20+ lines fetching user data, calculating discounts, 
  //applying taxes, logging order info, etc


function calculateOrderDiscounts(order) {
  // logic for discounts

function applyTaxes(order) {
  // tax calculation logic

function logOrder(order) {
  // logging logic

Each function does one specific thing.

Provide Meaningful Comments (When Necessary)

Comments can clarify intent and explain tricky parts of code. However, don't overdo it. The code should be readable enough to not require excessive commenting.

When you do need comments, describe why something is done rather than what is being done. The code itself should show what is happening.

Avoid Premature Optimization

Resist the urge to micro-optimize code when writing new features. Optimization often comes at the cost of readability and maintainability.

Only optimize once you've identified actual performance bottlenecks and use profiling tools to guide your optimization.

Write Tests for Maintainability

Focus on testing code in a way that gives you the confidence to modify it without breaking things. Aim for high-value test coverage rather than 100% coverage. Remember that readable, well-factored code is often easier to test and change later on.

Avoid Excessive Defensive Coding Early On

Perform basic input validation when it makes sense but avoid going overboard with null checks and try/catch blocks everywhere. It adds noise and clutter.

As requirements become clearer, you can harden areas that need it. Assume valid input by default.

By following these principles, you can write cleaner and more maintainable code from the start, without excessive checks and over-engineering. Focus on readability first, then harden areas that need it later.

What other tips do you have? Let me know in the comments!

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