Dec 18, 2019 - Suri Patel    

Agile for developers: Refactoring code

The time commitment involved in refactoring may cause hesitation, but the impact on developer productivity and efficiency outweighs the initial discomfort.

It’s difficult to cook in a cluttered, untidy kitchen. You need a specific knife, but it needs to be washed. You need that one mixing bowl, but it’s not in the cabinet where you usually keep it. You can’t find a place for the cutting board, because the countertop has no room. Software development is similar to cooking - you need a tidy codebase to deliver rapidly. If you don’t clean your code as you develop, you can find yourself surrounded by a mess. Fortunately, refactoring code helps you keep your source code neat and tidy.

Refactor code to accelerate Agile delivery

Refactoring simplifies the design of code, without altering its behavior, to increase maintainability and readability. Teams refactor code before adding updates or releasing features in an effort to improve code quality so that future iterations built on original code are not bogged down by confusion and clutter. As such, this process helps to accelerate Agile delivery.

“None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes.” — Thomas Edison

Refactoring isn’t a random exercise in which developers tinker with code. It’s a precise process designed to enhance the internal structure of a program’s source code. While it may seem like a tedious task, refactoring has long-term business value.

How to get started with refactoring

Staring at unrefactored code trying to determine where to start can be a frightening experience. Fortunately, there are a few methods you can use to make refactoring a little easier.

Incremental refactoring

The simplest way to get started is to make small improvements. Make a list of the parts of your system that change most often and refactor those areas. Making incremental improvements on the files that your team works with most often can help you steadily work through your code. By targeting the areas that are used most often, refactoring can have a significant impact on your overall system.

Test-driven development

You can think of test-driven development as cleaning as you’re coding. If you’d like to revolutionize the way your team develops and make refactoring an integrated aspect of your workflow, you can embrace test-driven development, which incorporates coding, unit tests, and refactoring to program in short development cycles. Developers write a failing automated test to define a new function before writing the smallest amount of code to pass the test. The code is then refactored to an ideal state.

The benefits of refactoring code

Refactoring prevents code rot, such as bad dependencies between classes, myriad patches, incorrect allocation of class responsibilities, and duplicate code, resulting in a more efficient code base. The time taken to refactor pays dividends, since it’s easier to clean code closer to when it was written rather than rush to fix problems later.

The time commitment involved in refactoring may cause hesitation, but the impact on developer productivity and efficiency outweighs the initial discomfort. When developers take the time to refactor, they continually maintain a tidy source code so that other developers can easily deliver without running into problems. Refactoring helps create a culture of shared responsibility, trust, and collaboration.

With refactoring, the QA and debugging stages are simpler, since there is more cohesion to the overall code. Furthermore, software assets can be extended for years, allowing users to experience prolonged value rather than dealing with an unusable system.

What’s next for your team?

Agile techniques have the power to transform your team’s culture, sparking seamless delivery, innovation, and collaboration. Depending on your team’s challenges, there’s a technique to help your team through it. With pairing sessions, your developers can bridge knowledge gaps, increase communication, and develop solutions to challenging problems. By strengthening group development, you can help your team rebuild after breaking down silos. When your team embraces an Agile mindset, they’re more flexible and can easily adapt to changes. Refactoring is one step in a journey to help your team cultivate a strong Agile culture.

Cover image by Barn Images on Unsplash

Guide to the Cloud Harness the power of the cloud with microservices, cloud-agnostic DevOps, and workflow portability. Learn more

Try all GitLab features - free for 30 days

GitLab is more than just source code management or CI/CD. It is a full software development lifecycle & DevOps tool in a single application.

Try GitLab Free
Git is a trademark of Software Freedom Conservancy and our use of 'GitLab' is under license

Try GitLab risk-free for 30 days.

No credit card required. Have questions? Contact us.

Gitlab x icon svg