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The Significance of Code Formatting in Software Development: Examples and Importance

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Published by jetbi2
24 May 2023

In the world of software development, code is the backbone of every digital innovation. From small scripts to complex applications, the quality of code determines the efficiency, readability, and maintainability of a software project. While developers focus on implementing algorithms and solving problems, one often overlooked aspect that plays a vital role in code quality is formatting. Code formatting refers to the consistent and standardized arrangement of code elements, such as indentation, spacing, and line breaks. Despite its seemingly mundane nature, code formatting has a profound impact on the overall development process and the long-term success of a project.

The work of every software engineer should look professional, with neatness, consistency, and attention to detail. If attention is paid to such a thing as code formatting, it means that every other aspect of the project is treated the same way. The functionality that you create has a good chance to be changed soon, but the readability of your code can affect all the changes that will ever be made, in a good or bad way.

So, why the code formatting is important?

  1. Readability: Proper code formatting improves readability, making it easier for developers to understand and navigate through the codebase, resulting in quicker comprehension of the code's flow and intentions.
  2. Maintainability: Well-formatted code simplifies maintenance and modifications, reducing the time and effort required to identify and modify specific sections. This promotes efficient collaboration and ensures code remains clean and understandable over time.
  3. Debugging: Code formatting aids in the debugging process by visually highlighting the structure of the code, allowing for easier identification of logical blocks and errors, thereby saving valuable time during troubleshooting.
  4. Collaboration: Consistent code formatting fosters collaboration within development teams by eliminating confusion, reducing the chances of merge conflicts, and promoting a cohesive and efficient development environment.
  5. Code Reviews: Code formatting plays a significant role in code reviews as well-formatted code is more likely to receive constructive feedback. Reviewers can focus on the code's functionality and logic, rather than getting distracted by inconsistent or poorly formatted code.

Today we will consider some examples that are pretty simple as it’s worth concentrating on the code formatting, and not on its sense.


Vertical formatting

Vertical formatting in code refers to the arrangement and organization of code vertically, such as line breaks, spacing, and alignment. It helps improve code readability by separating logical sections, making it easier to understand and navigate through the codebase. Consistent vertical formatting promotes code maintainability and enhances collaboration among developers.

The topmost parts of the source file should provide high-level concepts and algorithms. Detail should increase as we move downward, until at the end we find the lowest-level functions and details. 


1. Vertical Openness Between Concepts

Each blank line is a visual cue that identifies a new and separate concept: imports, constants, or function declarations.



2. Vertical Density

While openness separates concepts, vertical density indicates close association. It means that lines of code that are tightly related should appear vertically dense.



3. Vertical Distance

Concepts that are closely related should be kept vertically close to each other. 

  • Variable Declaration

Variables should be declared as close to their usage as possible. Local variables should appear at the top of each function. In some cases, a variable might be declared at the top of a block or just before a loop in a big function.



  • Dependent Functions

If one function calls another, they should be vertically close to each other, and the caller should be above the callee. Due to this, readers will be able to trust that function definitions go together with their calls.



  • Conceptual Affinity

Some parts of the code should be placed side by side. They have a certain conceptual affinity. The stronger that affinity, the less vertical distance there should be between them. This affinity might be based on a direct dependence, such as one function calling another. 

But there are other possible causes of affinity. Affinity might be caused because a group of functions performs a similar operation.



  • Vertical Ordering

Function call dependencies should go in the downward direction. I.e. the callee function should be below the caller function. This creates a nice flow from high level to the low level.


Horizontal Formatting

Horizontal formatting in code refers to the arrangement of code elements on a single line, such as indentation, spacing, and alignment. It helps improve code readability by ensuring consistent and uniform spacing between operators, variables, and function arguments. Proper horizontal formatting enhances code comprehension and facilitates easy scanning and understanding of the code's structure and logic.

Some say that the length of the line should be 80, 100, or 120 characters. Don’t cling to these numbers. Just strive to keep your lines short.

1. Horizontal Openness and Density

Assignment operators should be surrounded with white space to be accentuated. The spaces make that separation of the left side and the right side obvious. 


The function and its arguments are closely related, and that is why no space should be between the function names and the opening parenthesis. At the same time, the function called parenthesis is separated to accentuate the comma and show that the arguments are separate.

Another use for white space is to accentuate the precedence of operators. The factors have high precedence, whereas addition and subtraction have lower precedence.



2. Horizontal Alignment

In the list of declarations above you are tempted to read down the list of variable names without looking at their types. Likewise, in the list of assignment statements you are tempted to look down the list of values without ever seeing the assignment operator. That is why declarations and assignments should be unaligned.




3. Indentation

A source file is a hierarchy rather than an outline. And to make this hierarchy of scopes visible, statements at the level of the file, such as most class declarations, are not indented at all. Methods within a class are indented one level to the right of the class. Implementations of those methods are implemented one level to the right of the method declaration. If/for/while statements are implemented one level to the right of their containing block, and so on.


4. Breaking Indentation

And the last code formatting rule is: try to avoid collapsing scopes down. Here is an example:


Every software developer has his own favorite formatting rules, but if he works in a team, then the team rules are in a game. A team of developers should agree upon a single formatting style, and then every member of that team should use that style. We want our software to have a consistent style. 

In conclusion, code formatting plays a crucial role in software development, contributing to code readability, maintainability, and collaboration among developers. By adhering to consistent formatting practices, such as vertical and horizontal alignment, developers can enhance code comprehension, simplify debugging and maintenance, and foster efficient teamwork. Embracing code formatting as an essential aspect of the development process leads to more reliable, maintainable, and scalable software solutions.


Happy Coding!

Gleb Zemskov
certified Salesforce Developer
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