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Definition of Refactoring

What is refactoring?

Code refactoring is a process that involves restructuring a computer code base without adding new features or changes to its external behavior.

It's like reorganizing a messy room without throwing anything away. The furniture stays the same, but suddenly everything is easier to find and use.

How is it done? Refactoring involves a series of small, targeted changes. You improve one section of your code organization and then systematically apply those changes throughout, ensuring all the improvements preserve the software's original behavior. The full process of refactoring is described in our related article

What is the purpose of refactoring?

Programmers refactor code for several reasons:

  • Building better designs — Refactoring can simplify complex methods, remove redundancy, and improve the overall code architecture.
  • Smoother feature flow — Well-structured code makes adding or modifying new features a breeze.
  • Bug squashing and performance gains — Refactoring can unearth hidden bugs and performance bottlenecks. Improving the code's internal structure eliminates weak spots and prevents issues from cropping up.
  • Remove technical debt — Developers sometimes take shortcuts to speed up coding, making the code harder to understand and maintain in the long run. Refactoring can clean up this technical debt, improving the code's quality and making it easier to work with in the future.

Refactoring is an ongoing process. It's not a one-time fix-all but a regular maintenance routine to keep your codebase healthy.

What is the role of the product in refactoring?

While the developers tackle the actual coding changes in refactoring, the product team has important jobs too. First, they must ensure room in the project schedule for refactoring work. They also need to talk to other teams involved, like marketing or branding, if refactoring affects things like the product name or design.  Sometimes refactoring is needed because of technical reasons, not because of new features. The product team needs to decide if it's worth delaying new features to make these technical improvements that can benefit the product in the long run.

What are the benefits of refactoring?

Refactoring offers many advantages that can significantly enhance software's maintainability, comprehension, and overall quality. Here's a closer look:

1) Improved code metrics 

Refactoring demonstrably improves objective code metrics such as length, duplication, coupling, cohesion, and cyclomatic complexity. These metrics are established indicators of code maintainability, and their improvement through refactoring suggests a subsequent reduction in maintenance effort.

2) Enhanced code comprehension

It fosters improved code understanding for developers. Refactoring increases code readability and clarity by streamlining code structure and eliminating redundancies. This allows developers to grasp the purpose and functionality of the codebase more readily, facilitating future modifications and bug fixes.

3) Collective code ownership

Collaborative development fosters the environment by promoting a deeper understanding of design choices within the code. This fosters a sense of collective ownership among developers, making them more invested in the overall quality and maintainability of the codebase.

4) Emergence of reusable components

It often leads to the identification and extraction of reusable design elements. These elements, such as design patterns and code modules, can be leveraged in various project parts, promoting code reuse and reducing development time in future iterations.

Key Takeaways

  • Refactoring code involves restructuring existing code without changing its external behavior.
  • This process is executed through small, targeted changes that enhance code organization while preserving its original functionality.
  • The goal is to simplify complex methods, remove redundancy, and enhance the overall architecture while ensuring the code continues functioning as intended.
  • Also, refactoring helps identify and address hidden bugs and performance issues, thereby improving software reliability and efficiency.
  • Refactoring offers numerous benefits, including improved code metrics such as reduced length, duplication, coupling, and complexity, which enhances code maintainability. It also promotes better code comprehension among developers by enhancing readability and clarity.

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