What Is Code Refactoring?Ahmed Kamal
The process of restructuring an application’s code without changing it is known as code refactoring. It also has no bearing on its behavior and functionality. Its goal is to make the code more efficient and simple to maintain. How do you refactor code, what are the specific benefits, and how do you do it? Here’s a rundown of everything you should know, including best practices.
What is the meaning of code refactoring?
This question has already been answered, but the definition goes beyond simple restructuring. The developer’s inexperience, implementing shortcuts to meet tight deadlines, poor project management practices, or at least a few developers working on the same part of the project are all reasons for messy code. It could also be a combination of all of these elements.
As a result, you may end up with not only inefficient code, but also spaghetti code. Unnecessary length and difficulty in optimizing. You can’t manage the app properly unless there’s transparency. Resolve bugs, add new features, and integrate with third-party solutions.
Although code refactoring can aid in bug fixing, it does not imply that bugs are eliminated during the process. You only need to prepare the ground. It’s similar to cultivating a field. Weeds, bugs, and other pests infest your crops as time passes. You still have to get rid of them, but having a plan makes it easier. Bugs are fairly easy to spot when you respect the field and practice ecological and structured cultivation. It is also less expensive and healthier to get rid of them. You don’t always need a flamethrower; sometimes all you need is a penset.
This metaphor may be overly enthusiastic, but it is nonetheless true. Code refactoring smoothes out the application’s structure, leaving healthy cells alone and making room for repairs.
Here are some examples of code refactoring. Or, more precisely, types of “dirty” code that degrades an app’s performance:
- unnecessary parts of code – removing them will not cause harm to the application
- areas of code that require multiple changes for other parts of the code to work properly
- tight coupling (you want low coupling and high cohesion)
- incorrect or incomplete application of object-oriented programming principles
- too large elements (code, methods, classes) that prevent easy manipulation
Code refactoring in these cases would consist of:
- removal of an unnecessary portion of the code
- simplifying code structure to ease cooperation between different portions of an application
- simplification and disconnecting elements
- proper implementation of object-oriented and functional programming principles
- shrinking the size and weight of elements in the code
Is code refactoring and code rewriting the same?
No, it isn’t. These processes are both autonomous and distinct in nature.
Refactoring is the process of reorganizing an existing project to ensure that future updates run smoothly. It may also imply the use of newer versions of third-party libraries, frameworks, and technologies. It may also result in a reduction in code complexity.
Rewriting, on the other hand, means completely rewriting the application’s code. The entire process begins at the beginning, so developers are not constrained by existing code. Because there is nothing there, development time will be extended.
What are the benefits of code refactoring?
One of the most obvious advantages of code refactoring is that you remove underperforming sections of code and replace them with more transparent ones. Cleaning dirty code prepares your application for a long life. It also helps to reduce your technical debt.
Code that is clean is easier to read. Not just for the person who wrote it. Also for other people. The more engineers that join the project, the more functionalities that are added, the more QA specialists that join the fold, and the more integrations that are added, the more difficult it becomes. What and why does what? What does this line of code have to do with what I’m doing? Sure, code commentaries can help with some of it, but they won’t solve the fundamental issue – performance.
Clean code is more efficient. It also provides more information about how the application is created. This results in more informed decisions. If a group of people understands how the software is built and what architecture is used, they can plan for future updates. They can also take ownership of future iterations and current changes, which is extremely beneficial. Transparency encourages people to take responsibility, which is a huge plus.
Another factor is increased significance. Small pieces of code that have no front-end significance can appear in applications. Nobody considers them important enough to bother with because they do not “face the user.” When you collect enough of these, it creates a snowball effect. Sometimes unimportant, but sometimes with problems that require two or three people to manage and refactor.
This snowball effect has the potential to catalyze an entirely new approach to software development. It can, for example, spawn more consistent and consistent code refactoring initiatives, which we are confident everyone will appreciate. Particularly when there is a lot to do. You don’t have to do everything all at once. It’s sometimes better to take things slowly and address one issue at a time. This will keep the application stable and performant.
Another plus is the “glass half full” attitude. A rewrite is required to provide any kind of advantage. Refactoring does not work. You can stop the process in the middle and still have cleaner code. What you’re missing is a broader perspective and multiple benefits. What you’re giving up is… nothing!
There are also updates. You can provide updates to a user while continuing to work on the code in the background. Milestones can be used to introduce new features, but the code can be cleaned up while you’re still working on the app. This is important for any type of app, but with today’s complexities and product integrations with the cloud (for example, Amazon Web Services), it’s good to know that it’s business as usual.
When should you go with software refactoring?
Because the goal of code refactoring is not to address bugs, you should not do it while fixing errors in your digital product. There are various approaches to the topic, and none of the schools has the ultimate tools.
Before updating or adding new features, we find it most practical to refactor the code. There is also a policy that requires refactoring during code review. It’s your last chance to make changes before the product goes live. You can also institute a policy of scheduled refactoring sessions. This will take time off your project’s calendar and prevent you from adding new elements as quickly as you would otherwise, but it’s well worth the effort.
Consistency comes from consistency. It keeps the code from becoming “muddied.” Engineers are not required to spend an entire day refactoring. Instead, they only require a few hours at most. Okay, but what about common sense? When should you use code refactoring?
You can begin the procedure when:
- you spot logic repetition or declaration of code structures that go in circles
- multiple developers have trouble understanding the code and what it does
- multiple developers have issues with a portion of the code
- debugging takes longer than it should
- you’re debugging randomly because you have no idea how to tackle issues globally
- the last refactoring was some time ago and you’re due
- you’re planning to add a major feature, component, big block, or integration with a third-party solution
Consider using tools such as SonarCloud or SonarQube. They assess the code’s duplication as well as its cyclomatic complexity.
Main techniques to perform a code refactor
There are several approaches to this process. Each of them works best in different situations, so don’t treat them as equal chances to achieve the same result. Choose the best method for the task and problems at hand.
1.Red-Green-Refactor. This is one of the most popular methods. By using this, developers break down the process into three stages.
- Stop and consider what needs to be developed. Also, write a test that will generate a fail (Red).
- Get the development to pass basic testing (Green).
- Implement improvements (Refactor).
The Red-Green-Refactor is a part of test-driven development (TDD); a foundation of Agile development.
2. Refactoring by abstraction. This method is used when there’s a huge amount of refactoring to do. The goal here is to reduce unnecessary duplications in code. Abstraction uses class inheritances, hierarchy, and extraction.
3. The composing method. Composing lets developers streamline the code to reduce duplications. To do that, they use processes like extraction and inline refactoring.
Extraction is based on breaking the code down into smaller parts to extract data fragmentation. Fragmented code is removed and replaced with a new piece of code. Inline, on the other hand, is used to reduce the number of unnecessary methods. It can greatly simplify the code.
4. Simplifying methods. Simplifying is based on polishing interactions between classes. It’s about adding, removing, and injecting new parameters while removing old ones at the same time.
It’s a good method to deal with an old code, which tends to gather “mud” and become inefficient simply by putting too much weight over time.
5. Moving features between objects. With this method, developers create new classes and move functionalities between old and new classes. When one class is “overweight”, some functionalities are dropped and moved to another one to compensate for inefficiency.
At the same time, if a given class is not busy, engineers can consolidate functionalities in one class and remove unused classes for code clarity.
6. Preparatory refactoring. One can argue that this one is actually a part of a software update rather than an element of a classic refactoring itself. It’s because a developer goes with preparatory refactoring when it’s time to introduce a new feature.
Refactoring is done on the fly in this approach as a means of avoiding future technical debt. It’s a great way to quickly iron out some code, but it’s even better to plan ahead of time and not refactor at the last minute when the change is introduced to the application.
As you can see, there are numerous options. Choose the one that is most suitable for you. That should always be determined by the project’s size and scope, the amount of time available for refactoring, the number of people who can assist you, and the state of the code itself.
The best part is that the six methods for code refactoring mentioned above are not the only ones. There are dozens more, which you can find on Refactoring.com. We didn’t want to ruin the overall meaning of this article by including some of them because they are so unique or based on exotic assumptions.
Best code refactoring tools
There are numerous code refactoring tools available, but it is best to concentrate on automated ones. Sure, they won’t do everything, and you’ll still have to manage them and track their progress. The distinction is that these will undoubtedly simplify the process and free up time for other activities.
You can select your refactoring tool from the following:
- Eclipse IDE
- Visual Studio IntelliCode
There are other choices, but these are essentials.
Best practices to make it happen
There are some helpful hints you can use to have a positive experience. For example, for better management and issue visibility, always try to break down the code into smaller chunks. Also, keep documentation in mind. It is not only for your benefit, but also for the benefit of those who will follow.
Plan ahead of time for code refactoring. Not just when you introduce new and significant features. Stay ahead of the game by anticipating bottlenecks. To avoid pitfalls, refactor.
Make code refactoring a part of your daily routine. Refactor frequently, but with a well-thought-out plan. Prepare process tests and use them frequently. Change your testing methods if something slips through the cracks. Don’t give up after one or two incidents. Regular refactoring is required.
Because refactoring can have an impact on product outcomes, involve Quality Assurance specialists. Making them a part of the process is always a good idea. The refactoring process can include extensive and regression testing. Keep QA happy by cooperating with them on a daily basis. You never know what they might find, and you never know what they might miss.
Use the previously mentioned tools as well. Refactoring automation can be beneficial in a variety of projects and situations. Especially when full-scale, end-to-end development is required. The greater the complexity of a project, the more vulnerable you are. Refactor frequently and automate as much as possible.
Refactoring at Nile Bits
We take code quality seriously at Nile Bits. We identify difficult problems from the start. Those that can, for example, generate technological debt. First and foremost, we established tools to aid us in the process.
We use Prettier for code formatting, ESLint for problem identification, and SonarCloud/SonarQube for continuous code quality inspection (including code duplication). Every Pull Request is also subjected to code review. We also do refactoring because the opportunity exists. This is only the beginning. Our teams conduct code reviews on a regular basis. They leave comments in the code, which is extremely helpful. For code reviews, two developers are usually present, which reduces the chances of something going wrong.
In addition, we write unit and integration tests. Developers also set up tools to measure code coverage automatically. Coverage is typically set to 80%. This gives us the necessary level of assurance. At the same time, the team is not compelled to write tests solely for the purpose of increasing statistics. We only write automated end-to-end (E2E) tests with Cypress, Playwright, or Detox.
Having a solid testing foundation is a huge advantage. Developers are not averse to refactoring. They have a lot of experience and are optimistic about the rest of the application. They can easily test and modify something without fear of destroying the entire product.
Technological debt is a separate issue. We must discuss it openly and early on. Our developers will have more time to deal with it this way. What is our strategy? Every now and then, we run a sprint dedicated solely to eliminating technological debt. Of course, by refactoring. It can be difficult to discuss with the client at times. Argumentation and patience are required. The most important factor is time. Future functionalities integrate into the project more quickly and smoothly. That is a final conclusion and a significant benefit.
The beast that must be tamed is the structure of a code. Refactoring provides tools for keeping everything in order and being prepared for the future. Whatever tool or good practice you choose for the project, having a good team to work with is always preferable. Software cannot be built and improved in this manner. It requires consistency as well as talent.
You can create a product from scratch or supplement your current talent pool. In any case, the future of your app begins today. Are you certain you’re prepared?