For many teams, application development has morphed into an assembly line process, with each person learning to optimize their own workflows to get their work done. However, during this process, there has been little exploration of the process as a whole, and rarely has any effort been put into understanding how these workflows can be enhanced or how each stage of the process could be optimized. Here’s where the advantages of refactoring come in.
The large discrepancy between current capabilities and those demanded by current consumer expectations means that developers spend much of their time reworking the same basic steps or getting out of rhythm. Moreover, research has shown that programmers spend about 60% of their time reading code, with many considering it an arduous task.
Modern application development tools introduce structured efforts to capture some of these benefits by making refactoring a requirement of the software development life-cycle. Refactoring has become the “secret sauce” of making code better, and the ability to build on top of these efforts will only enhance your workflow.
Advantages of Refactoring: Efficiency, Readability, Adaptability
The advantages of refactoring are numerous. Because we can reuse code, we’re able to save time by removing repetitive work. We can also improve the experience of reading our code by improving our readability.
We can improve our efficiency by applying the “infrastructure approach”. That is, we can apply our code changes in a way that makes them faster and easier to understand.
A commonplace for code change to occur is within front-end code, where new code changes are made to accommodate the new data being presented to the user. In the following sections, we’ll talk about how we can make our front-end code faster so that it’s easier to read and maintain.
Refactoring: A Brief History
Code refactoring is a process of restructuring existing computer code for the purpose of improving its design and/or structure without changing its functionality. Refactoring is also a term that has been adopted by the community and industry to mean the process of creating more reusable code. For this post, we’ll use the words “refactor” and “reuse” interchangeably, but there are two major differences between the two.
“Refactoring” is a term that came from the Computer Science (CS) and Systems Engineering (SE) disciplines. It is a kind of code transformation whereby a code source is made into a more reusable form. For instance, when we use this kind of refactoring on our internal apps, we’re making code that can be reused by other teams.
“Reuse” is a term that came from the Software Engineering discipline and means the ability to reuse code and eliminate the need to write a new class each time we need to modify an existing code unit. For example, if we know we’re making changes to a service and want to be able to reuse it, we might introduce a new abstraction that wraps the existing code and brings it within our scope. We can then use our new code unit in the same way we used the original unit.
The advantage of refactoring is that it not only makes our code more reusable, but it also makes it simpler to understand. It is easy to figure out what’s happening in a coding unit if we can determine its original purpose, and it also makes changes within these units much easier to spot. It also provides a way for each developer to easily modify different components of the app without having to duplicate efforts.
Common Refactoring Criteria
In the following sections, we’ll look at some of the popular refactoring offerings in the industry today. We’ll do so by separating out the “high-level” approach to refactoring and the “contextual” approach, by examining the methods required, the principal differences, and their benefits and drawbacks. Then we’ll take a look at the frameworks that support these “high level” refactorings and which offer support for the contextually-based refactorings.
When considering the advantages of refactoring, the first kind of refactoring that we’ll look at is called “Code Proposals”. Code Proposals are designed to perform the initial transformation of an existing code unit into a more reusable form.
We can “high level” refactor code in the following way:
Write a version of our application that we can reuse. For each of our service classes, rename each instance to a different name. Change all instances to return the new version of the object, without updating any functionality that the existing implementation already provides.
We’ll assume that the example service object from above is a generic instance that wraps all kinds of services. After we finish this, we’ll create a new, compact code unit that contains all the changes above. In this code unit, the instances all implement the new interface, but they still have the original functionality.
Since we no longer need to return an instance of the service in the initial version of the coding unit, we can do so by simply removing the service method from each instance.
Another advantage of this refactoring is that we can see which code units we actually need to refactor. By doing this, we can determine which code units require fewer modifications, which can be delegated, or which may be available from an API.
The second kind of refactoring we’ll take a look at is known as “Code Context.” In this example, we’ll apply the refactoring to an existing code unit, by performing one or more “micro transformations” on a different code unit.
We can contextually refactor our code in the following way:
Start by adding the code we’d like to use to our existing code unit. Update the code using this new code unit.
While this approach may seem more advanced, it has several benefits:
• We can more easily understand what’s happening in our existing code unit.
• We can reuse any code that’s already implemented in the original code unit.
• We can make any changes we need, and then remove the code that the original code unit depended on.
Because we’re not modifying the code units directly, it can be easier to understand the order in which the code changes take place.
Most importantly, we can perform many minor changes to the existing code unit, and then remove the code that depends on those changes. It also helps to eliminate duplication in the new code and adds more details into the comments that describe the changes. This is a major advantage of refactoring.
To improve performance, we can have each micro-change performed in a separate transaction. We can also define the transaction as non-blocking so that it does not block the main application thread.
Most importantly, because the original code unit is still available in the coding unit, we can change or remove the code, and then restart our application without recompiling, or even restarting the server. We can perform this refactoring on any number of code units, each of which we can then reuse, instead of rewriting each unit multiple times.
Refactoring for Reusability
Some programming languages have built-in support for “code changes”, which make it easy to organize and compose different elements of a program in a manner that makes them easily accessible to clients. These languages make it simple to express methods that are used to make changes to the program.
We can use these “code changes” to focus on improving the structure of our code without modifying the API calls themselves. This helps to make code changes easier, by giving us a way to refactor the code that calls our APIs.
Although this approach is less frequently used, it is definitely an alternative to writing generic code and makes it easier to combine code that depends on the same basic data model.
Advantage 1: Container-Based Reusability
One of the most significant advantages of composing reusable code is that we can reuse this data structure as many times as we want. In this process, we can reuse the same code, and we won’t have to worry about making sure that we do not introduce a collision of different code pieces.
It can be tempting to keep a large set of reusable code pieces in a single place, but it is often possible to reuse different components in different contexts.
Advantage 2: Reusable Code Architecture
In a typical web application, we’ll have many different elements. A typical mobile application is comprised of multiple elements, depending on the level of functionality and complexity of the application.
Because a web application can be used by many different browsers, in different clients, in different locales, we must make sure that our code architecture allows our web code to be changed and adapted over time.
When we do code changes, we often need to make several separate changes and ensure that we haven’t introduced any conflicts. That is, we must rewrite a web service in several places.
Here are some ways that we can improve our code architecture to make it easier to make changes:
- Reduce the number of configuration locations. Reduce the number of places that a piece of code needs to live.
- Make all of the configuration information local. Reduce the amount of configuration information that needs to be stored and maintained.
- Make all of the configuration information static. If it’s not reusable, don’t put it in the code.
The optimal code architecture does not eliminate any of these patterns, but it should remove the patterns that cause redundant or unpredictable code changes.
Advantage 3: Reduced Complexity
Another way that we can improve the readability and maintainability of our code is by reducing the number of dependencies. If you want to experience the advantages of refactoring, you have to consider that the fewer dependencies, the easier it is to move from one level to another.
- We can reduce the number of routes that need to be added to our application by identifying and eliminating unnecessary routes.
- We can reduce the number of parameters that need to be passed around the application by defining interfaces that specify the parameters that the client needs to pass.
- We can also reduce the number of components that we have to use by writing reusable components.
Advantage 4: Reusable Components
Programming is a collaborative activity. A well-structured team works together to develop a project. In such a team, we can create reusable components that take a set of tasks, provide an API for them to be shared between different developers, and are testable in all the different circumstances in which they will be used.
A reusable component is a common web component that provides an interface and a set of functions to its clients. A good example of a reusable component is a web form. A form allows a user to submit data and provides some validation to confirm that the data sent to the server is correct.
To make a form reusable, we need to create a reusable directive. An interface for a reusable directive is very similar to an interface for a web form. It defines what a directive does, what arguments it has, and some basic validation. It should be noted that reusable directives need to be tested using unit testing, because they may need to be able to adapt to new browsers, new client operating systems, or new interfaces that can be added to the directive.
Experiencing the Advantages of Refactoring Doesn’t Have to Be Elusive
Many of the best practices outlined here, while not exclusively defined as “programming” or “software” best practices, are deeply rooted in both, and if done correctly can provide for the best developer experience for our users.
- By removing the top layer from the stack and creating reusable components, we can remove unnecessary plumbing and concentrate on the value that we are trying to deliver to the user.
- By introducing testable code and writing reusable components, we ensure that our developers will spend more time writing code that fulfills their specific requirements.
- By identifying and eliminating unnecessary dependencies, we can remove the time wasted in working around dependencies that we don’t need and concentrate on working towards delivering a well-structured, yet reusable application.
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