Writing better code

A key factor to being a successful developer is writing good, solid, maintainable, error free code. It seems like a pretty obvious – albeit innocuous – statement, so why state the obvious? When you check code into the main branch of the source code for your organisation, you immediately expose your abilities and disabilities as a developer to the people you work with and for. If you check in a bad bit of code that contains bugs, it usually isn’t you that first notices the bug, but a colleague and you can look inept, especially if it is a silly mistake (and you have made a few of them – your boss may start thinking you are inapt to continue in your role in the company).

Writing good code is very difficult, especially when the code base is changing rapidly so you as a developer need tools that can make your life easier. The more experienced you become as a developer, the more you look to ways of making your life easier. Jetbrains have a visual studio add-in called ReSharper that is a little like FxCop, which the smarter developers amongst us use. If you are wondering why some developers seem to produce very clean code consistently that omits silly bugs (even on a Friday afternoon), you will more than likely find that they are using ReSharper.

I don’t doubt that a lot of people may dislike the fact that this takes over your IDE (this really is for the better though), in fact, If I recollect correctly I tried ReSharper a few times, then removed it (after a few word of mouth trials) every time because my IDE was less responsive, and because I was impetuous. It was only when I released a test application to a customer a few months ago (that kept crashing unexpectedly), when desperation set in, and drove me (frantically) looking for errors in my code. The main culprit  (in this specific instance) was a handful of null references in the codebase that had gone unnoticed, that ReSharper readily identified and I corrected, consequently achieving rapid application stability, over the course of a few days long code review. I’m not saying that all my problems were fixed, but most of the niggling issues were, with little to no effort.

It is not just null checks that ReSharper identifies, but a pretty comprehensive set of common coding mistakes that even the best programmers frequently make. The ‘Big Win’ is in that you get to correct problems there and then, as the code is written, before it becomes an issue. Visual Studio 2008 introduced background compilation that surreptitiously increases developer productivity by showing them errors as the code is typed, rather than waiting to press F5. ReSharper is orders of magnitude more helpful, if you use it correctly, you end up with a very clean codebase, with no unnecessary code, that has had common errors identified, giving you the developer confidence in your code.

To show a few basic examples

22-05-2010 15-16-47

Here I can remove the redundant delegate constructor call that the IDE generates. I can also remove the this keyword. The this keyword is rather abused in C# (Me in Visual Basic) and a lot of code samples (even from Microsoft) show developers misguided bliss with the word. One only ever needs to use the word when you have two variables named the same in a class (typically in a constructor) like this

22-05-2010 15-26-58

In most other cases it is redundant to use the word.

22-05-2010 15-21-35

In the sample above there are several issues. I have dead namespaces at the top, a poorly named control, two poorly named variables, that can also be made readonly. This is just an iota of the static runtime assistance that you get as a developer, and you can adopt the mantra of “writing a little code that does a lot”, rather than “writing a lot of code that does a lot”, with significantly less bugs.

I strongly encourage you to download this tool, acquaint yourself with it, and start working a little smarter (even on Friday afternoon).