It’s inevitable, isn’t it?
You start with a perfectly good codebase, and before you know it, it’s an unreadable, unmaintainable mess. Your greenfield project has turned into a legacy codebase.
What now? Well, it’s time to refactor. Refactoring is the process of changing the internal structure of code without changing its functionality. There are many reasons why you might want to refactor your code, but when should you refactor it?
You should refactor your code in the following three situations:
- Refactor when you add new functionality.
- Refactor while fixing a bug.
- Refactor during the code review.
This article will cover details about when to include refactoring in your development process. So keep reading to learn more about why it’s time for your app to undergo some refactoring!
The Need for Refactoring
For a codebase to grow, you will inevitably add new features. Sometimes, your code base can become messy and difficult to maintain when this happens. If you’re not careful, you might even introduce bugs in your software code. All the above issues can make it difficult for others to read your code and understand what’s going on at first glance.
Fortunately, refactoring code is an easy way to avoid these problems and keep your code clean and readable. It’s also an essential part of any software engineer’s job description.
Refactoring aims to improve code quality by adding greater clarity, removing code duplication, and improving the design.
A common misconception is that you can only perform refactoring on well-documented code. The truth is that refactoring is a much broader process. You can use it on all code, regardless of how much it has documentation or automated tests.
When should you refactor?
The need for a refactoring process is something that is often misunderstood.
It sounds like a waste of time, right? After all, you want to get your job done and not spend time on something that doesn’t seem to help. Instead, think of refactoring as making your code more readable and efficient. This can range from changing variable names, moving methods into their objects to removing nested if statements.
Every software developer wants to know when is the best time to refactor code, and how to decide when this is? Should you set aside two or three weeks and only perform refactoring?
The answer is no. There is no need to treat refactoring as a separate task. Instead, treat it as a part of your day-to-day job. You should perform code refactoring every single day. Continuous refactoring brings the biggest long-term benefits. Here are the three tips on including refactoring into your daily routine.
Tip 1: Refactor When You Add New Functionality
Did you ever want to add a new function to your code, and you found yourself copying and pasting the same code repeatedly? Have you ever seen a long and complicated function that you don’t even know how it works anymore? If so, those are good times for refactoring.
Every time you need to add a new feature, think about the existing code. Can you refactor it and improve it?
When most developers need to add new functionality to an existing codebase, they often have a dilemma. Refactor or not? If the developer has the skillset to refactor the existing code, refactoring is the best option. In addition, code refactoring can decrease the time needed to implement a new feature. Even a small change can lead to better code. And it is easier to change organized and clean code.
Refactoring should be an ongoing part of your coding routine. Think of refactoring as cleaning your home: it may make you cringe to clean at first, but afterward, it’s much nicer to be in.
Tip 2: Refactor while fixing a bug
Sooner or later, bugs will inevitably happen. Unfortunately, even the most careful programmers sometimes make mistakes and introduce new bugs into your codebase.
So if you catch a bug, it’s essential to fix it as quickly as possible.
Ok, so you have a bug to fix? What’s the first thing you should do? The first step is to debug the code to understand where the issue is in the code. As you debug, you will probably stumble upon a code smell. If you do, see if you can refactor the messy code. Next, make it a little simpler to make the change that will fix the bug. And finally, implement your changes and write a unit test to ensure the same bug never occurs again.
Developers often spend time fixing bugs that never would have appeared if they had simply refactored earlier. So even if your code passed all tests in the test suite, there is always the possibility of an error creeping in through an overlooked detail.
Tip 3: Refactor during the code review
Performing code reviews is important for many reasons. First off, it offers the opportunity to improve the original code directly and create a better product. Secondly, it’s a chance to learn from your peers who may have different perspectives on approaches to development.
Code reviews are essential for keeping a good codebase healthy. Reviewing your code with the team helps ensure the code maintains high quality.
The best way to ensure that you don’t miss anything during a code review is to refactor the code as you review it.
Code reviews are a great way to improve your team’s development skills. They allow you to go over code with other developers and learn from each other. One of the best ways to use a code review is to refactor old code into new code.
You might be tempted to ignore old code, but don’t. Old code is gold for improving your coding skills. In addition, by going through old code and refactoring it, you can learn techniques you never knew before and teach them to others.
You can even do this with code you wrote yourself months or years ago. Then, when you look at it with fresh eyes, you’ll be surprised how much better you can make it.
The key thing to remember is that one of the best practices when it comes to refactoring is to do it regularly. By doing that, you keep up with high-quality standards.
If the structure of your source code doesn’t support adding new functionality, if it is taking longer than necessary to fix bugs, or if it is just plain messy and disorganized, you need to feel no guilt about needing to refactor! And finally, every time you go through the code review process is another excellent opportunity for code refactoring.
Don’t feel silly for wanting to improve things about your projects – this is exactly what software development is all about!
I hope these tips on when you should refactor have convinced you that you can do such a task without fear of its consequences.
As long as you don’t break anything and ensure that everything will continue to work, refactoring is always a good activity to perform.
So, what are you waiting for?