Code Quality Matters: The Difference Between Low & High-Quality Software Development

When we look at code quality, we define it as good code (high-quality) and bad code (low-quality).

Technically, the “quality” in measuring good or bad code quality, is in large part, subjective. It really depends on what individual teams, and organizations determine to be the best definition of coding practice is, based on their context. High-quality code will mean two different things between real-time systems vs website developers.

What Does Code Quality Matter?

The quality of any code is important as it will severely impact the overall lifespan and stamina of the software solution. Taking it one step further, the quality will determine if your codebase is safe, secure and reliable and boosts product lifetime value.

It goes without saying then that for business critical, safety-critical and highly secure systems, high-quality code is the only option at hand.

High Quality vs. Low Quality

It is thoroughly structured, tested, communicative and correct in behavior – making it stable and dependable. It will last as long as required. Conversely, low-quality code is poor code. It will not last nearly as long and will be the reason your project or product will eventually fail.

Good code, or high-quality code:

  • Does what it should
  • Follows a consistent design style
  • Remains easy to understand
  • Requirements have been well documented
  • Is highly testable via automation
  • Is easier to comprehend and to follow along (eg, is highly maintainable)

Conversely, poorly written quality code can have disastrous results:

  • buggy behavior exhibited by the code
  • slow implementation to production
  • messy code with low cohesion and high coupling
  • code that cannot be maintained
  • usage of obsolete libraries/frameworks
  • repetition of code leading toward costly refactoring

When Testing Alone Is Not Enough

Nobody is perfect, and that includes programmers as well. Exhaustive testing, both by manual as well as automated means, will not uncover every single error in the code.

In a study completed on software code error identification, it was discovered that individual programmers find bugs in their own software less than 50 percent of the time.

Therefore, emphasis should be on thoroughly automated tests on any business-critical part of the software. This will result in a lot higher efficiency (significantly reducing the probability of bugs in production use).

Errors in Code Can Bring Risk

Without a doubt, the quality of high code quality is crucially important. With low-quality code, there is a high chance that safety and security risks are compromised. Low-quality code used in security applications can result in catastrophic damage.

Quality equals Responsibility

For high-quality code to work, every employee, from the developer, to the tester to the manager must accept it is everyone’s responsibility. High-quality needs to be the objective from concept to implementation.

Measuring Code Quality

While there is no one specific approach to measuring two sets of code from two different companies for the same quality, the crucial traits used to measure code quality can be the same for both.

Reliability: This measures how well the system will run without downtime over a specific set of time while in operation. The number of defects and uptime of the software are the key factors in this category.

Running a statistical analysis tool will give you the number of defects. Normally, MTBF (mean time between failures) is used to measure software availability. If you want reliable codebases, being diligent with low defect counts is the only way this can happen.

Maintainability: This will measure software maintenance and its ease of care. Maintainability takes into account the size of the codebase, its complexity, consistency and structure. The software’s “testability” and how it is understood are two of a collection of factors used to determine a maintainable source code.

It is difficult to use only one metric to establish maintainability. Other factors such as the number of stylistic alerts or Halstead complexity allowance can be used to improve maintainability. In effect, developing maintainable codebase is reliant on both automation and human reviewers.

Testability: Testability calculates how thoroughly the tester can control, observe and isolate the testing. This also applies to using automated testing as well, among other factors.

It is measured based mainly on the number of test cases needed to identify possible defects in the system. Testability is impacted, for example, by size and complexity of the application. If you can apply methods to the code level (think about using cyclomatic complexity), you would be able to improve the testing ability of the component.

Portability: As its namesake tells us, this is the measurement of how well the software will perform in a variety of environments. It basically ascribes to platform independency.

While there is not a real measure for portability out there, there are a few other ways to ensure software portability. It is recommended to test code on various platforms regularly as the project progresses and not wait until the project closeout phase. If your organization has a code standard in place, great. It is recommended then to enforce the code standard to ensure high-quality code is created.

Reusability: This simply measures if existing assets – in our current focus, the code – can be reused again. If an asset has modularity and/or loose coupling characteristics, this may help identify the code segment as reusable.

The number of interdependencies will determine the reliability of the code. Running a static analyzer can help identify excessive interdependencies.

Improving Code Quality

Always Use A Coding Standard

Coding standards keep everyone on the same style used. They maintain consistency and readability. The goal is lower complexity with higher quality.

This is best completed by training the developers and helping them to comply with it. A static code analyzer would be beneficial to support this.

Before Your Code Review, Analyze the Code

Quality needs to be priority from the development start date as the luxury of time works against you as the project progresses. This is all the more reason why analyzing code before the reviews begin is critical.

The earlier errors are identified the quicker and cheaper they are to resolve.

Maintain Code Review Best Practices

It remains the most important factor that manual reviews are done to verify intent of the code.

Keep following the best practices for code review and take advantage of the automated tools available.

When Necessary, Refactor Legacy Code

Refactoring can improve the quality of an existing codebase. By refactoring the legacy code, cleaning up the codebase can lead to lowering its complexity and running at a higher rate overall.

Communication

Without excellent communication with your customers, the project will be destined to fail. Clients will make feature requests and the development team will need to probe for understanding and be able to clearly repeat the request to the client to confirm that both parties understand the new feature and any impact it may have to time, budget or resources.

Establish trust with your clients and stakeholders. They are a part of the project team. They will serve as an important advisory role throughout the project. Clients will need to know that not only will you be able to deliver the project on time, but also within budget.

Ensure you have regular weekly check-ins, feature discussions and if possible, arrange a staging environment for them to see progress. The more information you can share the better you will find stakeholder support should an issue surface that will affect timelines or budget impact.

Final Thoughts

It should be noted that incorporating the above best practices will result in high-quality code delivered to your clients. There is a higher initial cost to committing to a high-quality code delivery.

Anything less than the aforementioned best practices above will cost you significantly less up front. it will be low-quality code and it won’t be a matter of if, but when, you will need to fix bad code in order to move the project along. Even worse, there is a high chance you will need to take the new application offline for an indeterminate amount of time until the bad code is fixed. This will cost you as much as double your original spend. It simply is not worth taking chances on cutting corners to go with lower quality coding. Be wary of vendors if their proposal seems comparably very cheap.