Software decays over time. Not like a piece of fruit, rotting from inside, but due to lack of updates implemented to it; the updates IT environment imposes on all its residents. Such a phenomenon, also known as software aging, is preventable by numerous measures, one of which is code refactoring
What is code refactoring?
Code refactoring means restructuring your existing code, in a way that improves the internal structure but does not change its external behaviour. This complex procedure is aimed at modernizing software. It is typically used to increase the system’s maintainability, enhance performance, scalability, security and so on. If performed well, it can help developers discover some hidden bugs or vulnerabilities in the system.
Typically, refactoring is done in small steps, called micro-refactoring. Each of these steps is usually a tiny change to a source code that leaves the functionality of the system unchanged, it just makes the code cleaner and simpler. And if you do want to change some functionality of your code, it is much easier to do with a clean, refactored code.
Code refactoring does not mean rewriting the code. The two notions are often confused but the difference between them is simple: as we have mentioned above, the code refactoring does not the behaviour of software, while rewriting the code does.
Why is refactoring your code important?
The main reasons for code refactoring are the following:
To keep your code clean
Refactoring keeps you away from what is notoriously known as a code smell notion. It can mean a couple of things, like duplicate code, too many parameters, longer methods, etc. In turn, it affects your code’s readability and can lead to longer debugging time. Poor code is just like a ticking bomb. When it explodes, the damage will be huge and costly.
To improve a product’s performance
Refactored code, generally, performs faster. Which means it works favourably for both your developers when they add new features and your product’s end-users that will experience quicker system response and generally better customer experience.
To save yourself time and money in the future
It is always much better to keep your code clean and clear. For you, it will mean, that when you want to add new features in the future, your developers won’t have to start from untangling your messy source code, with means more time and a bigger budget, but can go straight to upgrading your software.
To reduce your technical debt
The cost of a software project is not finalized once you launch its first version. Without the reinvestment, with time your software will become unworkable and you run the risk of ending up with technical debt. If your project has already, the only thing at this point that you can do to reduce your debt is refactoring.
Your code is outdated
If it has been a while since someone investigated it, chances are it might be obsolete and in need of a brush-up. Another problem might be that the code uses libraries that are no longer maintained or even exist. Keeping the code up to date is also good security-wise and makes applying security patches, if needed, a lot easier.
When do you need to refactor?
If there is no more support
When manufacturers discontinue support of a compiler of a programming language, software systems built on it are left without a room for improvement. No new security updates and no patches are available for them, forever, which makes code vulnerable and a piece of software completely unsuited to the competitive environment. Integrating legacy systems via modern APIs is severely challenging; and so is finding experts who could maintain them efficiently. Moreover, the maintenance of outdated systems takes lots of resources and time and usually is not cost-effective.
When a dramatic technology leap occurs
It happens often that a promising technology becomes obsolete at once. Winamp, ICQ, Internet Explorer all got replaced by market newcomers, which, no doubt, will get bumped also, once more advanced alternatives come along. The software is sensitive to the ever-evolving market like nothing else and thus frequent reengineering is mandatory for each company wishing to stay relevant.
If the software is flawed
Software product reengineering is not merely a mean of staying a market leader. It is also a way to become one. If a solution developed for your company is buggy, fails frequently and limits the firm’s performance overall, reengineering can be applied to make it more efficient.
Best practices: refactoring in agile
Having a well-factored, clean code means it is an agile code. Refactoring goes hand in hand with agile software development as it is extremely hard and close to impossible to maintain and constantly extend the code from iteration to iteration without having it clean, simple and without any clutter.
Both agile methodology and best refactoring practices are proponents of taking it slow, diving your work into manageable small chunks and follow it with continuous testing. Here are the most important things to remember when refactoring the code:
Take it slow, step by step
Refactoring should be done as a series of small steps that are directed at improving the code while leaving the product up and running. Do not try to fix all at once but divide the process into sizeable pieces and follow it with testing before going further.
Go for a test-driven development
It often happens that refactoring leads to new bugs. To prevent them, you should always test throughout the refactoring. So before starting any refactoring project, always make sure you have enough automated test cases.
Always refactor before implementing new features
One of the primary reasons for refactoring is if you want to upgrade and introduce some new features. It might seem like an unnecessary step that will set you back timewise. But in the long run, it is actually an investment and time and money saver.
Choose refactoring automation
As with pretty much anything, refactoring is performed much quicker and efficient when done automatically. Luckily, the number of IDEs (Integrated Development Environments) are offering built-in automated refactoring support. One of the most popular are Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, VSCode for Frontend, and Visual Studio IDE for .Net.
Refactoring does not mean adding new features
Do not confuse code refactoring with upgrading and adding new features. It has nothing to do with it. No new functionality should be created during the refactoring. It is not about that. It is about keeping your code clean and ready when the time to implement new features comes.
The purpose of code refactoring is clear — to keep your code clean, neat, and in order. You might not always see an immediate benefit from it but in the long run it is a worthwhile investment in your product.
About Codacity Informatica Group
We are at our heart, engineers who love change and delivery. That what makes us stand out. We recognize that systems must always start and end with clean code. CIG can power your software development transformation from ideation to execution and benefit delivery. We have more than 18 years of experience driving business change in many settings. We are ready to enable you today.