Sometimes you need to slow down to go fast.– Jeff Olson
Do you ever feel like your code is a mess?
Have you spent hours trying to figure out how to clean it up but just can’t seem to find the right way?
The answer may be refactoring. Refactoring is so important because it keeps your source code organized and easy to read. It also helps reduce bugs in your programs!
Refactoring improves the code structure without changing the external behavior or other visible aspects of the code. Thus, the outcome of refactoring is not to change how code works but to make the source code more efficient, structured, and easier for someone else to understand.
This blog post will cover some essential tips for improving your C# program by using refactoring techniques.
What is refactoring, and how does it work
C# is one of the most popular languages in use today. Many developers and organizations use it, including Microsoft themselves.
However, not all C# developers are created equal.
Some do not spend much time refactoring their code or considering how it can be improved. This can lead to longer development times, poor performance, and an increased risk of bugs and vulnerabilities. To avoid these risks and save yourself from headaches down the line, you need to use refactoring in your development process.
What is refactoring? Well, refactoring is the process of taking your code and changing it. Just a little bit. On its own, one minor refactoring won’t make a difference. But, when you do many small refactorings, they add up and improve your code base.
Martin Fowler popularized refactoring as a software development practice in his Refactoring book.
When should refactoring be done?
It should be done regularly throughout development. It can occur at any point during development:
- before starting with a new feature
- after finishing the feature
- before or after fixing a bug
Code refactoring is not just for optimization purposes – it can also improve readability and code organization.
Refactoring doesn’t change the way the program behaves. It can often be as simple as renaming a variable or moving code around to be more organized.
Refactoring is like cleaning up your house. You refactor to make everything look better and put things where they should go. You don’t refactor to change all the code at once. And hope for the best.
When not to refactor
Refactoring is great, and you should do it all the time. However, there are times when refactoring is not the best idea.
You shouldn’t refactor when you are close to a deadline. When you need to push out something fast, there is no point in refactoring. The gains you get from refactoring won’t help you to finish something faster. So instead, finish what you have and refactor after delivery.
The other case when you shouldn’t refactor is when the code base is too complicated and deserves a rewrite. Again, this is not an easy decision to make. However, if the technology you use is obsolete and there are better solutions, don’t refactor, rewrite. But beware, rewrites are dangerous.
Why refactor code
Every codebase starts as a greenfield project.
Clean. Simple. Easy to understand.
As the codebase grows, developers add various shortcuts. These shortcuts are often known as code smells.
Code refactoring identifies and resolves “smells” in your code, that is – structural defects that often lead to problems. Warning signs for this are:
- Code duplication – This is one of the most common smells found in almost every codebase. It is easy to copy one code to another place. But this affects maintainability.
- Large classes – These classes, also known as “god classes”, know everything, and it seems like they talk to almost every other class. They violate the single responsibility principle.
- Long methods – Long method is a method that contains too many lines of code. It often contains multiple nested if statements.
- Long parameter list – Long parameter list is a sign that the method is probably doing too much. You should avoid having a method with more than four parameters.
- Dead code – Dead code is a code that is not being used anymore. Developers are often afraid to remove it. They fear that they will break something.
- Comments – Comments are good when they help the programmer to understand the code better. Comments are not good when they repeat what the code is expressing.
- Shotgun surgery – shotgun surgery is a term used when you have to make changes in multiple places in your source code to fix a bug or implement a feature.
Every hack, every shortcut taken in the present to save some time, adds up and forms a technical debt in the future. Technical debt is a metaphor for code that developers need to write today to continue making progress. But, of course, the bill will have to be paid at some point. The trick with technical debt is knowing if and when it’s worthwhile to take a shortcut.
To pay off the technical debt, you can use refactoring.
Technical debt is something you can measure – just like financial debt. For example, let’s say you refactor some code to remove duplicate functionality. After that refactoring, your code is slightly more maintainable. And with removing the duplication, you have paid off a little bit of the technical debt.
What are the benefits of refactoring
There are many benefits associated with refactoring:
• Your code will be easier for other people to understand, saving you time fixing errors – It’s no fun having to debug code that you didn’t write. This is one of the first things you learn when you start with your development career. Refactoring improves readability by making the code organized and readable. This means there are fewer edge cases to consider when reading through the code.
• Refactoring takes less time than rewriting the entire project all at once – Refactoring takes less time than rewriting the whole application. This is because it generally does not include changing the code’s functionality like starting from scratch. Thus, it saves the developer time, which he can spend elsewhere doing other things. Refactoring also means fewer changes you need to make as refactoring doesn’t overwrite but instead changes the existing code.
• You’ll feel more motivated to continue working on your project because it’s now organized and easy to manage – Maybe refactoring is not enjoyable all the time, but it’s gratifying. It can be tedious, but refactoring makes a difference in the quality of your code. Once you make the initial changes to code and realize how easy it is to navigate through the improved codebase, you will feel more motivated to refactor even more.
• Save time by reducing development cycles – Refactoring is an effective means of improving code quality, and it saves time by reducing development cycles. The refactorings can be anything from simply refactoring variables to splitting a large method into smaller methods. Refactoring also helps to improve the clarity and organization of code, which saves time by reducing the amount that needs to be read or debugged.
• Reduce bugs with improved coding practices – The most significant impact refactoring has on reducing bugs is by improving coding practices. The refactored code minimizes the chance of bugs. That’s because you start making less risky assumptions about the system’s design. Refactoring can also fix duplication across different software modules.
How to refactor code in C#
To refactor code in C#, the developer must have a few basic refactoring skills. It’s also vital to refactor only a single issue at a time rather than rewriting the entire program all at once.
What are the most common refactorings?
There are many refactorings that developers can use. The use developers tend to use the most are:
- Extract Method
- Inline Method
- Split Temporary Variable
- Inline Temporary Variable
- Replace Method with Method Object
- Move Method
- Extract Class
- Introduce Parameter Object
- Add Method Parameter
- Remove Method Parameter
- Replace Nested If Statements with Guard Clause
Can you automate the refactoring process?
You can perform refactoring both manually and automatically. Visual Studio has introduced many built-in refactoring tools to help you with refactoring. This means that you don’t have to make the changes by yourself anymore. Visual Studio refactoring features can save you time and help you get to the clean code.
Another tool available is Resharper: a Visual Studio add-on for performing refactorings automatically. Resharper is a paid refactoring tool, but there are many free alternatives.
Do you need tests to start?
Ideally, yes. Refactoring involves changing the code. Some of the refactorings you can do manually, some of them you can do automatically.
Even though every single refactoring is a small change, there is a chance that you will break the code. To prevent bugs, you should have automated tests in place. Those tests should execute fast, ideally, under one minute. You can’t wait for too long to get the test results because that will slow you down. And eventually, you will stop refactoring.
Now, what to do when you don’t have preexisting tests?
Can you refactor? Yes. You can do the change and test manually that everything still works. The approach I would suggest is to write a couple of characterization tests. These tests will act as a safety net for your changes. And you will be more confident that your changes didn’t break anything.
One of the most valuable skills for a C# developer to have is refactoring. You cannot learn it in a day, but refactoring is an essential part of development. It can also be tedious to refactor code, but refactoring is rewarding when you see the difference in the quality of your code.
Remember, refactoring is a process, not a destination.
Having clean, refactored code is important. It not only improves the performance of your application over time but also makes it easier to debug. In addition, a refactored program is more structured and organized, which means that someone else will be able to understand how it works that much more easily.
What is the purpose of refactoring?
The purpose of refactoring is to clean up code that doesn’t follow best practices (and could be challenging to understand) and turn it into more manageable, readable code. However, refactoring is not about redesigning programs from scratch.
What are the challenges of refactoring?
One of the main challenges is refactoring complex and tangled code bases. And to know when to stop.
When do you need to refactor?
You need to refactor when code becomes too difficult to manage and reuse.
Should you ask your boss for permission to refactor?
No. You refactor because refactoring is the right thing to do. Treat refactoring as a part of your development process. Besides, you wouldn’t ask your boss for permission every time you need to add a new method, right?