The musings of a nerd

Shortcut, Long Pain

— Feb 16, 2015

Programmers are often tempted to take the shortest route possible to deliver a feature. While there is a lot to be said about pragmatism, every decision has consequence. Make the best possible decisions.

Convenience of code hinders clarity


You receive a feature request. You are to implement a view for pet management.

A pet has 4 attributes:

  • name (required): Emme
  • color: brown
  • size: medium
  • species (required): dog

Create an interface allowing a pet to be edited. The editable fields are displayed in the order: name, species, color, and size. The order is required to support [BEAUTIFUL INTERFACE].

To reduce duplication, you decide to iterate over the collections of fields.

required_fields = ["name", "species"]
other_fields = ["color", "size", "owner"]

Your view looks like this:

<% required_fields.each do |field| %>
  <%= f.text_field field, required: true %>
<% end %>

<% other_fields.each do |field| %>
  <%= f.text_field field %>
<% end %>

Conveniently, this renders the required fields at the top and the other fields below just as the feature was requested.

Long Pain

Some time passes and the client is back with a new feature.

A pet’s size is a required field. Preserve current order.

The best we can do is break out of the “other fields” iteration.

<% required_fields.each do |field| %>
  <%= f.text_field field, required: true %>
<% end %>

<%= f.text_field "color" %>
<%= f.text_field "size", required: true %>
<%= f.text_field "owner" %>

You had to give up the convenience of looping over the fields to display the last set. Further, it seems a little odd that “size”, a required field, is not included in the required_fields collection.

As it turns out, the programmer convenience of iterating over these fields to save some keystrokes should not have been captured in the code. This is an example of coincidental duplication. If you want to save typing, try setting up macros in your text editor. Convenience of tool helps you. Convenience of code hinders clarity.

What other examples of painful shortcuts have you seen in code?

© Jay Hayes