Monday, June 23, 2008

Minimalist Code Samples

[This was originally posted at]

A minimalist code sample is a snippet that demonstrates a specific purpose, requires no extra context, yet can still run. For example, explains design patterns with a "real-world" sample, and a "structural" (i.e. minimalist) sample. Because it abstracts out the context, the minimalist sample has several benefits:

  • Easier to apply: It is easier to apply to different contexts - such as new projects.

  • Easier to remember: It is much smaller (no context means less code), therefore it's easier to remember what the code was about. For example, I have a folder essentially called "LearningSnippets", where I categorize different coding tricks. By keeping all the snippets small, they're fast for me to physically load, "mentally load", and then run. The last thing I want is to dig through some 2000 line project, scratching my head, thinking "how did I do that sorting algorithm?"

  • Easier to learn: It's easier to learn new concepts. Removing the irrelevant context means there's less to get distracted by, so you can focus on the specific concept that you care about.

  • Easier to show others: It is easier to show to others, such as a newsgroup, where other developers don't care about the business context. I sigh when I see some poor guy post a 5 page code question on a forum, because few people will sift through all that.

  • Easier to enhance: It can be much easier to enhance because the code is not constrained by some rigid business context.

  • It is a courtesy to others: If you just care about a 3-line algorithm, it would be long-winded of me to hide that behind hundred of lines of business context and plumbing.

In .Net, many errors come down to a few bad lines of code - you've got the wrong method, a bad input parameter, or some syntax error. It becomes very convenient when working with others, or learning new concepts, to be able to isolate code down to the minimalist sample.

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