Design Considerations: Naming Conventions

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Intuitive naming conventions are perhaps one of the most important factors in providing a scalable software system. They are essential to ensuring an Object Oriented System can easily be understood, and thus modified by all members of a team regardless of their tenure within the organization or individual experience level.

When classes, interfaces, methods, properties, identifiers, events and the like fail to follow logical, consistent and intuitive naming conventions the resulting software becomes significantly more complex to understand, follow and maintain. As such this makes changes much more challenging than they would have been had better naming been considered originally. Of equal concern is the inevitability that poor naming will lead to redundant code being scattered throughout a project as when the intent of code is not clearly conveyed with as little thought as possible developers tend to re-implement existing functionality when the needed API cannot easily be located or identified.

Code is typically read many, many more times than it is written. With this in mind it is important to understand that the goal of good naming is to be as clear and concise as possible so that a reader of the code can easily determine the codes intent and purpose; just by reading it.

Teams should collectively define a set of standard naming conventions which align well with the typical conventions found in their language of choice. In doing so this will help to avoid arbitrary naming conventions which often result in code that is significantly harder to determine intent, and thus maintain. Of equal importance is the need for various teams from within the same engineering department to standardize on domain specific terms which align with the non-technical terms used by business stakeholders. Together this will help to develop a shared lexicon between business owners and engineers, and allow for simplified analysis of requirements etc.

Ideally, code should follow the PIE Principle (Program, Intently and expressively) – that is, code should clearly convey purpose and intent. In doing so the ability to maintain a software application over time becomes significantly easier and limits the possibility of introducing potential risk to project deliverables.

In short, conventions are very important regardless of a teams size; beit a large collaborative team environment, or a single developer who only deals with his own code. Consistency and conventions are a key aspect to ensuring code quality.

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