9 Best Practices for Effective Code Review from Leobit’s Experts

, Aug 03, 2020

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The code writing process requires great mental efforts and concentration, which makes it very difficult to achieve a flawless result. However, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as perfect code — the programmers should strive to achieve a better code that constantly can be improved. Reviewing the code author’s work can’t guarantee the prevention of all bugs, but it can protect users from experiencing it. That’s why integrating the code review into the development process helps to deliver high-quality applications that companies expect to get while outsourcing their software development.

What is a Code Review? And Why Do You Need It?

Code review is a systematic examination of software source code to detect mistakes, spot early bugs, and track possible defects, improve general code quality and consistency, which makes it more maintainable. Conducted by fellow programmers and quality assurance specialists, code review aims to accelerate and streamline the software development process. The clean, well-designed, and easy-to-maintain codebase is a foundation of any high-quality, secure, and reliable application.

Code review brings many benefits to the product owner. Having the code review as an essential part of the development process helps to:

Reduce Bugs

An additional pair of eyes won’t be excessive when it comes to code review. The more bugs will be spotted at the early stages by the development team, the bigger opportunity to prevent bad user experience by the end customers.

Improve Security

Code review reduces the risks of any potential security and privacy vulnerabilities. It prevents commands or code injections performed by hackers or authenticated users that can make their ways to servers and disrupt the overall system security.

Save Time and Money

If bugs and errors are revealed at the initial stages of development, it’s less time-consuming and less expensive to fix them before the software is released. As mentioned before, code review precludes data breach and data theft which preserves companies from serious financial losses in the future.

Enhance Performance

The sustained code review process can improve the general performance of the project. It helps to detect performance problems and regressions and fix them before they degrade customer experience, reduce process efficiency, and have negative consequences for the product owner’s business.

Code review also provides some benefits for the software development team. At first sight, it might not be relevant for product owners but is highly important in the long run of the project. Thus, code review helps developers to:

Reach Coding Standards

When code authors realize that their code will be reviewed by their peers, they try to make it compliant with the common coding style. It makes code more readable and maintainable, that’s why it can be reviewed more efficiently.

Share Knowledge among Team Members

Knowledge sharing improves both software quality and developers’ skills. Reviewing the code of peers, team members can learn from each other, improve their critical thinking, and together find the best solutions to solve issues. It unifies the team and speeds up the development process.

Gain Trust from Stakeholders

The well-adjusted code review process will demonstrate to your clients that your number one priority is to deliver to them top-notch software with a clean code. Project stakeholders will become confident in your technical skills that will strengthen the positive team image.

code review benefits

9 Best Practices for Effective Code Review

It’s important to make sure that team members are all clear about the rules and guidelines on how to conduct code review in the company. Peer code review is about combining forces for higher productivity, not competition.

Leobit has over 6 years of experience in the IT market and is recognized as one of the Top Software Development Companies of 2020. Our team delivered more than 150 well-designed and well-factored web & mobile applications to our clients. Leobit’s developers have the necessary expertise in providing code review services and here are some recommendations on the best way to perform code review from them.

#1. Know What to Look For

When it comes to the review process, the developers have to know exactly which things they should cover. These are design, functionality, style, logic, structure, consistency, test coverages, the complexity of the code, etc. Some of the mentioned characteristics of code review can be examined automatically due to static code analysis (e. g. structure, logic), while others (e. g. design, functionality) requires manual reviews.

To make the code review process more efficient, developers who check the code after their peers should focus on the following questions:

  • Can it be clearly understood what the code does?
  • Does the code function as it was expected?
  • Does the code follow regulatory compliance?

If they can answer them, the code can be regarded as a good one.

#2. Automate Before Review

It’s worth paying attention to continuous integration, which is a practice of running a series of automated tests while building and testing the code each time the change occurs. Continuous integration must be conducted before a peer review. When a series of automated tests passes, developers receive a code with fewer errors and the process of manual check becomes smoother and quicker, saving developers time.

#3. Limit Review Sessions

The effective review can be only conducted when the developers are 100 percent focused on the performing task. Most studies show that when people are engaged in any activity that requires high concentration, their effectiveness tends to drop off after 60 minutes. Code reviews don’t have to be rushed. It’s better to break this process into short sessions that will give developers an opportunity to reset thus improving the quality of the codebase.

#4. Check under 400 LOC per Hour

A single line of code (LOC) reviewed improperly can have bad consequences for the entire system. That’s why trying to check as many lines for one session as possible can lead to the failure of the whole development team. Code review cannot be done in a hurry, otherwise it loses its point. Trying to focus on a maximum of 400 lines for each review session will result in a more rigorous and efficient review process.

#5. Give Constructive Feedback

As mentioned before, peer code review aims to enhance the team’s productivity, not to incite competition between code author and reviewer. The code has to be reviewed anyway. And if developers perceive it as a learning process, not a criticism of their work, it contributes to the overall project success. Receiving constructive feedback will motivate developers to learn from their mistakes and expand their capabilities. Also, reviewers are welcome to leave comments with prefix “Nit:”. It means they don’t necessarily have to be fixed by code authors. However, such comments have an educational purpose and help developers to continuously polish their skills.

peer code review

#6. Set Up Goals and Capture Metrics

If the goals of the code review process are defined in advance, it’s much easier to measure code effectiveness and decide if the code review brings value and helps to achieve expected results. Setting up external and internal metrics using SMART criteria allows developers better access code quality. The examples of external metrics can be “reducing the percentage of defects reported by end-users in half”, or “decrease the defects found before the product launch by three times”.

Internal metrics include:

  • Inspection rate — the speed of the code review process
  • Defect rate — the average number of errors detected during one review session
  • Defect density — the average number of errors detected per line of code

code review tool SonarQube

#7. Annotate the Code Before the Review

Code annotation means that code authors look back at what they have coded and leave explanatory comments for the reviewer. The annotation guide provides information about what each code line or section is trying to accomplish. It also can show the reviewer what changes were done, which code modification methods were used, and the reasons why doing so was beneficial. This practice offers a deeper understanding of the code by the reviewer and simplifies the overall code review process.

code annotation

#8. Use Checklists

Let’s not forget about the human aspect of peer review. Sometimes the developers might forget to check some things. A checklist will make the review process more consistent, as it will be a constant reminder of what should be reviewed. It’s especially useful for the reviewer as it helps to move through the review process with specific criteria in mind. However, there is also such a concept as a personal checklist. If the code authors are aware of their common mistakes and flaws in the work, they can compile a checklist to continuously improve the quality of their code. Also, the code review checklists are very important in detecting omissions that are the hardest defects to review simply because they are not there.

  • Is code easy to understand
  • Does code formatting meet agreed project convention
  • Is the code structure modular enough
  • Does the chosen solution match requirements
  • Logic and bugs
  • Security leaks
  • Performance (any moment obvious for optimization)
  • Is code covered by tests
  • PR formatting, naming, description

#9. Include Everyone

The more eyes are there to catch a bug — the better. People tend to perform better if they know their work will be reviewed. It doesn’t matter what is the qualification level of the software engineer – everyone should be included in the code review process. Junior developers can learn new techniques and alternative methods of doing something from their senior colleagues, while seniors can perfect their programming skills by writing a code understandable and readable for everyone.

Conclusion

Choosing an outsourced vendor for their software development, companies should pay attention to whether code review is integrated into the development team’s workflow and how the team works on making code review and tooling more efficient. A solid code review process allows companies to get their projects on time and bug-free.

We, at Leobit, consider code review as one of the most important parts of our web and mobile software development services. If you want to receive a high-quality product with a clean, readable, and maintainable code, contact our experts and learn how to make the best use of code review in your next project.

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