Just like Taking out the Garbage (With Version Control)

I had a Mathematics teacher in High School who used to get very excited over factoring problems where you could simplify expressions by canceling out terms. He used to say it was just like “taking out the garbage”. Taking out the garbage was not usually a fun task but it is surprisingly satisfying to get rid of stuff that is not necessary and is just clutter. I run into this same sort of thing when developing software. I just love to “take out the garbage”.

Version Control software is essential to any project, no matter how small (That in itself is a topic for another day). Version Control software gives you the ability to take out the garbage all of the time without having to worry about losing something that is important. You can always go back to old versions of a file if you need them at a later point in time.

Delete Unused Classes

Often when you are refactoring a component or adding something you end up with a Class that was used before that is no longer relevant. Delete it. Remember that you can always get it back later if you need it again through your Version Control system. It does not matter how ‘useful’ this code was, how ‘nice’ it looks, how ‘cool’ it is. It may have been a useful utility that you might need again. You have to resist these urges to keep it around. Unless you know for a fact that you will use it again, you should get rid of it. It is not gone forever and you can get it back if you need it. This will help reduce the complexity of your code and consequently the readability.

Delete Unused Code, Don’t Comment It Out

I see a lot of developers who take a piece of code that is no longer used and comment out the entire section. Resist the urge to keep it inside the code. You can always get the code back through version control, so why do you want to keep a long comment block somewhere where it needs to be maintained? Another danger to this is that if you do want to use this code later on, you will likely end up removing comments around code that no longer compiles. Things change and this once working code may no longer work after you uncomment it.

The follow code is a good example of this. The line that was commented called a function that takes 2 parameters. Notice that the current version of the function takes only one. Code blocks that are commented out are not compiled so the code is not kept up to date with the rest of the code.

// We don’t need to do this anymore
// variable = someFunction(a, b)

someFunction(a) {

}

It is simply better to just delete the code block. If you need it at some point in time later, the version control software can resurrect your lost code.

Bug #12324 Add a heading here
Bug reference numbers are not necessary

I have seen lots of code with comments around a changed block indicating the change was for a particular bug. Before long, the code has a mess of comments all over the place indicating bugs that were fixed and where. This is another case where version control software can eliminate comments that unnecessarily clutter your code. This one does require a bit more discipline though.

Always indicate the bug number being fixed and a small when checking in code into Version Control. For example, you could add a comment like “Bug 12324: Added heading to section”. Then when you look through the Version Control log, you can easily see where changes were made and what they were made for.

If you are looking at a particular line of code and you need to know where it came from and why, you can use the “blame” feature. That will give you the person who last changed the line of code you are looking at along with the comment (which should include the bug number and fix description). For more information on this feature of version control systems, check out the “Who wrote this Crap?” (http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000992.html) article on Coding Horror.

Taking Out the Garbage

So next time you are confronted with “stuff” that is not longer used. Delete it and let your version control do the work of remembering it. This will keep your code much cleaner and easier to read. It is just like taking out the garbage.