Improve Names in Your Code

Clean Code

Clean Code by Robert C. Martin is a classic book that can be helpful to programmers of all experience levels, programming in any language. Since the advice is universal to coding, whenever I read a chapter, I find practices to use the very next time I code. Here are some thoughts from Chapter 2: Meaningful Names. I have highlighted the sub-headings used in the book in bold.

Use Intention Revealing Names – As the author says, “The name of a variable, function, or class, should answer all the big questions. It should tell you why it exists, what it does, and how it is used.” – The names you create in the process of coding can help organize your thoughts. For example, when coding a game of Tic-tac-toe, ‘determine_winner’ can be a placeholder for a method you will need in the future.

Avoid Disinformation – Only use words that have meaning to programmers if you take care to use them correctly. Examples include ‘list’ and ‘factory’.

Make Meaningful Distinctions – Avoid redundant naming, such as ‘username’ in the User class. – If you add to a concept, take care to distinguish the original name from what you have added. For example, ‘address’ and ‘address2’ have more meaning when named ‘mailing_address’ and ‘work_address’.

Use Searchable and Pronounceable Names – As the author says, “If you can’t pronounce it, you can’t discuss it without sounding like an idiot.”

Pick One Word Per Concept – Minimizing these words lends consistency to your codebase. For example, synonyms like ‘fetch’, ‘retrieve’, and ‘get’ should not be littered throughout your classes. Read through a similar file in the codebase to observe the convention, then follow it.

Now What?

These are the concepts that resonate with me. So, how can you use this information when coding tomorrow (or right now)?

  • Ask for help. If you are stumped on a name for a new class or library, talking with a co-worker can help. A quick search online can also help. Recently, I came across StackExchange’s “English Language & Usage” site when searching for a word that describes both ‘encoding’ and ‘decoding’.

  • Comment on pull requests. If you are wondering if a class, method, or test can have a better name, it probably can! You do not need to provide the ultimate solution; raising the concern can lead someone else to brainstorm something better.

  • Improve names as you code. If you add to, or change, a method significantly, ask yourself if the name continues to be suitable. If you encounter a confusing name as you code, take the time to search the codebase and replace with a better name.

Better naming leads to self-documenting code. It clearly communicates your intent and decreases the cognitive load for everyone who works in the codebase. Good luck!