Is Premature Optimization Bad? – 3 Ways to Optimize for Win

One challenge every programmer has to deal with at different levels of a programming career is code optimization.

The problem, though, is at what phase are you performing the optimization? And what exactly is premature optimization?

Premature optimization is optimizing a system before it is needed. It usually occurs when designers or developers try to optimize their system before fully understanding the problem or requirements. Unfortunately, this can lead to sub-optimal, more expensive, and complex solutions than necessary.

Read on to learn about premature optimization and why you shouldn’t be doing it.

What is Premature Optimization?

To understand premature optimization, you need to know the initial purpose of program or code optimization.

Program optimization is the technique you follow to modify your code to use fewer resources or tools to accomplish a web or software development task. Properly optimizing your code ensures it executes faster using the best minimum memory.

Premature optimization could mean optimizing your code during a program’s development when it is not yet time. This refers to the moment you think you’re making your code more effective before it is apparent to guarantee an optimization. It makes you spend more time on things that might not necessarily be relevant at the moment.

But what makes premature optimization the root of all evil is the stress a programmer undergoes optimizing a code and the time taken.

Therefore, one of the crucial software engineering principles is to avoid premature optimization when possible.

Is premature optimization really bad?

As this question might sound tricky, premature optimization can be a bad idea, especially in the early stages of development.

You should know when an idea demands optimization and when it requires your input and logic. For example, imagine a programmer who is yet to complete the implementation of a project to manage 200 users’ crypto accounts, suddenly worrying about 200,000 users. And this happens when you are not sure if any user will use or recommend your application for use.

Developers should constantly consider the risks of premature optimization while building a project and try to avoid it.

Who said premature optimization is the root of all evil?

Although it is a well-known adage among software developers, Donald Knuth once said, “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.” This phrasing was also lifted from Donald Knuth’s book “The Art of Computer Programming.

Furthermore, sir Tony Hoare first uttered this aphorism, which gained notoriety due to Donald Knuth’s book. The quote was uttered in the 1960s when computer hardware was only beginning to consider the birth of new possibilities.

Why should you not be doing premature optimization

Programmers risk wasting valuable time and resources due to premature optimization. Because a programmer’s time is really valuable, you should not spend time doing things that might not add value to a project.

And it becomes worse when you’re optimizing when it’s still too early to tell what your software will turn out like in the end.

Other reasons why you should avoid premature optimization include:

  • It makes you less productive. Imagine spending four hours perfecting probably 2% of your program: when you have eight hours to work daily. It will be obvious that you are working but not making much progress and are running out of time.
  • It hinders you from concentrating on things that need more attention in your project.
  • When working on a project with your teammates, the worst thing you should do is something that undermines teamwork.
    Premature optimization can pile up more tasks for your team, as any line of code that requires rewriting takes more effort than the ones written from scratch. And this is problematic, especially when another of your teammates is the one to clean up the mess of whoever did the impromptu optimization.

3 ways to know when to optimize code

There are 3 ways to know when is the time to optimize the code:

  • Testing – As developers know, optimization is key to writing good code. But knowing when to optimize your code can be a tricky task. You don’t want to spend time optimizing code that isn’t slowing down your program, but you also don’t want to wait until your program is crawling to start optimization.
    This is where performance tests come in.
    By running regular performance tests, you can identify hot spots in your code that are starting to slow down. Then, you can focus your optimization efforts on those areas, resulting in more efficient and speedy code. So if you’re not already using performance tests in your development process, now is the time to start. They can save you time and frustration in the long run.
  • Customer feedback – By listening to your customers and paying attention to their feedback, you can often identify areas where you could improve your code. This can be anything from minor tweaks to major overhauls.
    Of course, not all feedback will be relevant to code optimization. But if you’re paying attention, you’ll start to see patterns emerge. And you can use these patterns to guide your optimization efforts. So next time you’re getting ready to optimize your code, take a moment to think about how you can use customer feedback to guide your efforts.
  • DevOps monitoring – DevOps monitoring gathers feedback so you can optimize the code. By monitoring the application, the team can get feedback on when to make changes to the code.
    This feedback is essential for DevOps because it helps the team determine when the code needs to be changed to improve the application. You can then use different tools to identify and fix bottlenecks, e.g., SQL profiler.

What is micro optimization?

Micro optimization is the process of making small changes to code to improve performance. These changes are usually made at the level of individual instructions or lines of code. For example, using StringBuilder instead of string concatenation in C#.

Micro optimization is often used to improve code execution speed or reduce memory usage or latency.

These improvements boost performance rather than change the system’s architecture or design.

What is a premature abstraction?

Premature abstraction is the practice of adding abstractions to your code before they are necessary and before you have a thorough understanding of the problem space and all possible variations.

Generally, abstraction manages complexity in object-oriented programming (OOP) languages by concealing extraneous details from the user. As a result, the classes communicate with the interface that defines a contract. They are not interested in the implementation, and you can easily change the implementation details.

So, premature abstraction means abstracting when it’s not time to do it.


Primarily, premature optimization will result in you using more time and resources. The best way to optimize is to wait for the feedback rather than optimizing sooner and then again optimizing to undo the damage.

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