Just a few years ago, code review was perceived more as some kind of curiosity or idealistic programming practice than an element contributing an added value to the commercial projects. Although the term has been clear for both developers and managers, and most of them praises the idea of mutual code analysis by programmers, this job is still being treated as a waste of time, which could be spent on delivering another requirements.
The increase of the number of businesses in IT has created another challenges that projects have to face. How to improve product quality, reduce projects’ risk and costs, or how to build experience in teams effectively. Obviously, there is no one answer to the raised questions, but one of the elements which can help is building code review culture.
What is code review culture?
Code analysis brings rational effects only when a team understands its assumptions and uses developed rules. Its misuse can lead to results opposite to those expected. Let’s try then to determine do’s and don’t’s, to benefit from the process.
One of common mistakes is delegating a code analysis to the most experienced programmer or an architect only. IT technologies are developing incredibly fast, and it’s not possible to know all the mechanisms, libraries and novelties. Theoretically, we can assume that even a less experienced team member who is up to date with the newest trends in the field, can offer a solution which even an expert would not be ashamed of. Another thing is gaining experience. If you want to do something well, you need practice. The faster all the team members will start participating in the code review, the sooner they will achieve a high level and will be able to perform a thorough analysis of code errors.
Another significant element is easiness of a code analysis. Every corporation is aiming at simplification of all processes. A similar method should be applied in this case. The excess of formalities can not only discourage, but also expand the time of a project’s implementation. Depending on used technologies, there are numerous possibilities of code review process implementation. The most common method are using ”pull/merge request”, making use of built’in mechanisms of developers environments, or dedicated tools such as Crucible.
One of the hardest elements is developing and maintaining the quality of teams’ comments. Each developer has their favorite mechanisms, ways of solving problems, and even sizes of space in code’s indentation. Giving constructive remarks involved using some coding style rules which are shared by many providers from programmers’ environments, e.g. Microsoft. A team can also develop such rules themselves. It will help to limit suggestions connected with individual preferences and focus on improvement of readability, quality and efficiency of the solution.
The above-mentioned rules will help you implement code review or improve its quality.
What benefits can it all bring?
This basically simple activity can have more importance that it seems at first glance. One of significant elements is early error detection. Static code analysis can show possible problems both purely technical ones as well as those in business logic. The cost of fixing an error at this stage is the least invasive for the process of software delivering. Everything happens before building packages, delivering them to testers, users and production. It will not only save time, but also build confidence of a team. Errors are fixed at the software development level and do not go beyond the team.
Another important element is transfer between team members. Code review allows to find mistakes and ways of fixing them without going often through a really long process of implementation. It also shortens the time of introducing new team members, because it shows the way of solving problems, implementation of features or the team’s coding style.
The last element worth mentioning is code’s purity and easiness of its maintenance. Programmers often specialize in a certain application domain and focus on given project’s elements. Code review helps to see the whole of it and to be up-to-date with all its modules and nuances. This way, in case of any changes in a team or any unexpected shortages in management staff, the whole team knows how the product works. Because of that, tasks can be easily taken over by another developer and requirements would be delivered on time and with high quality.
With all the benefits coming from code review, you need to remember that it’s not a panacea for all the problems connected with code’s and product’s quality. To maximize the chances of success, reduce the risk, one needs to combine code analysis with another development and business processes. Before it starts, you need to make sure that there are no simple mistakes such as a problem with project’s compilation or unit tests’ performance. After it’s finished, there’s still the need to perform a set of manual or automatic tests in order to detect any malfunction concerning the requirements. Applying those rules, code review will be not only simple to implement, but it will also help to build experienced project teams and improve the product’s quality at a low cost.