Code review: The beginning of your app modernization journey
As your app evolves and becomes more complex, it becomes more prone to system errors, bugs, and vulnerabilities. That is why the “set it and forget it” approach never works with program code.
On the contrary, the code must be continually revised to keep your software in good shape and running smoothly. This revision is called code review and is an ongoing, multistage process.
The key principle here is that code review is performed by someone who did not initially write the code (either senior developers in your team or third-party contractors who specialize in code optimization). This is especially crucial for legacy systems with old architectural frameworks that limit your opportunities to grow further and adapt your software to new environments and forms of use. Read on to find out how code review can help your software stay tuned and up-to-date.
The what and why of code review
The idea of formal and systematic code review became popular after the groundbreaking paper “Design and code inspections to reduce errors in program development” was published by IBM’s Michael Fagan in 1976. Today, with the growing popularity of Agile methodologies, code review is considered an important part of software development and ongoing system modernization. Let’s briefly go over why it’s so significant.
Different pieces of the software behind your app are usually developed by specialists from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, the differences in programming styles, syntax, formatting, language proficiency, etc., may lead to system errors, malfunctions, and vulnerabilities if not addressed in a timely manner.
Usually, fellow colleagues in the IT department review various pieces of code through pair programming, over-the-shoulder review, email threads, and other means. Some developers do tool-assisted code reviews, using special software to check the code. That is why code review is an efficient way of unifying the existing code structure, correcting bugs, and preventing similar issues in the future.
Eventually, when your software becomes more complex with source code geometrically growing in lines, in-house code reviews might not be enough to capture all the possible issues. To avoid accumulating further problems that won’t allow systems to modernize at scale, many companies turn to third-party code review. During this process, a third party thoroughly analyzes your software architecture, code structure, system functionality, and user interface to optimize the code behind your apps.
In addition, code review is a great way of knowledge-sharing and educating your team members, as it helps everyone to be on the same page with company-wide standards of programming through continual code optimization, bug fixing, and feedback. However, when your developers are overwhelmed with tasks, there might be limited opportunities to facilitate such learning properly with your in-house team. In this case, collaborating with a third-party is also a great way for your team to learn new things about the code.
Key milestones of the code review process
Let’s now look closer at key procedural stages of successful code review.
This is an initial stage where software architecture, system design, and code structure are evaluated to indicate places that need optimizing. At this point, reviewers look at possible system vulnerabilities, errors, scalability problems, UX issues, and so on. After the key problems are indicated, a more thorough review of software architecture and code quality could be performed to suggest changes.
Software architecture is the structural foundation of your app (think of it like a Constitution that gets amended from time to time), which means it is crucial to the overall system performance. Older architectural solutions may prevent you from using cutting-edge technologies, such as cloud infrastructures, microservices, and containers that connect different pieces of code together.
Any software is built with a purpose, which means it considers the environments and forms of use. Since environments and forms of use may change with time, your architecture must allow for future extensions, reorganizations, and optimizations. Similarly, your code must follow the current architectural layout to achieve optimal system performance. This means that architecture review is done to make sure your system is serving its purpose in the most efficient way possible.
This stage is focused on identifying problems related to design issues, such as layout, logical flow, and structure of the interface and UX issues, such as redundant information, unnecessary dialogical boxes, or lacking functionality. UI review also helps to make sure your software complies with the current industry standards.
Each design feature has a code behind it that is aimed at solving a specific task for the user, like adding a product to a cart when shopping online or applying an AR lens during a video chat. UI review helps to identify potential conflicts between the intended functionality and the way it is implemented in code.
Since manually going line by line over a piece of code might be cumbersome and prone to human error, developers use automated testing and tools, such as Smartbear or GitKraken, to assist in ongoing code review in the software development process.
While test-driven code reviews help in spotting bugs and errors beyond simply cosmetic issues, such as typos, syntax missteps, and duplicate categories across the code lines, they are still pieces of software written by other developers. This means that both automated tests and code reviewing tools must also be evaluated to make sure they check the code properly.
Thus, test review is a twofold process. On the one hand, it is aimed at assessing the code with unit tests that check whether the code fails under certain conditions. On the other, it is aimed at going over the automated tests and reviewing tools currently used by the development team to make sure they are set up properly to efficiently spot the possible problems. The latter includes the analysis of the code failure conditions set by unit tests, the speed of test execution, and similar issues.
Code quality review
Hardcoded values, unused variables, or too-complex methods are just a few examples of things that could negatively affect code performance. Code quality review, thus, is about diving deeper into the code itself to see whether it accomplishes the intended task smoothly, is easily understood by other developers, is bug-free, and does not contribute to software vulnerabilities. To do that, reviewers go over the code to list and categorize all the possible issues and provide detailed descriptions on recommended changes and critical problems that have to be addressed.
In the end, a code reviewing party prepares a summary with detailed explanations of what has been done, what has been found, what should be fixed, how it can be fixed, and why the fixes are necessary. In addition, such a summary describes the order in which the changes should be applied and an estimated time required to perform all the suggested optimizations.
Summing up: Keep calm and code review on
Code review is crucial both for software development and ongoing application modernization. Having someone continually review your code is a great way to keep it clear, concise, functional, and clean to avoid system errors, bugs and keep security risks at a minimum.
Almost 60% of the 2021 DevSecOps Survey participants found code reviews “very valuable” in ensuring code quality and security. The survey also reports that more developers performed ongoing code reviews in 2021 compared to 2020, with 45% of respondents saying they did it weekly and 22% every other week, which is a 14% increase from the previous year.
With digital changes becoming more and more rapid, more code is being written each year. As Sage McEnery recently argued on Medium, roughly 2.8 trillion code lines have been written over the past 20 years and much more lines are to come. This suggests that the role of code review in software development and modernization will become even more essential in the upcoming years.
Originally published at https://intexsoft.com.