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Wed, 21 Dec 2005

The Copy/Paste Detector

Last week on the Agile Testing mailing list the topic of software metrics came up... several were mentioned and I wanted to follow up on one of them here. There's a nifty tool available to you called CPD. It's simply a Copy/Paste detector but it works on Java, C, C++ and PHP code.

The idea is pretty simple. When someone sees a block of code they want to use, sometimes they create a utility class or a common routine from the code and then use that common code. It's a nice, clean, maintainable solution.

However, most of the time, we just copy over the code and move on.

Why is that a problem? After all, it's quicker to just move forward isn't it? Copying the code into my class makes me productive right now.

The problem comes when the copied code needs maintenance. Perhaps it needs to be faster or tweaked to run with the latest toolkit (JDK 1.5 anyone?). Maybe the original code has a bug.

For whatever reason, you need to update the code. If there is a common routine to use, the code changes go in one place. If the code has been copied a dozen times, someone will waste a lot time trying to find all the code that needs updating. And odds are that some of the code will be missed.

Think about it this way. The last time you fixed a bug, did you search the rest of your codebase to see if the bug existed in other code? I know I usually don't.

Another more subtle reason to use CPD is to keep your code more readable. When your code is littered with aptly-named utility classes, it reads easier and is easier to understand. Instead of reading a for loop to understand what it's doing, you'd see a routine called sort_users_alphabetically or select_unique_values. Any of us would instantly understand what the routine was doing but understanding the for loop might be more of a challenge. Especially given how some people like to write code. ;)

They even have a GUI that runs using Java Web Start. If you have a recent version of Java, you don't even have to install anything. Just click this link and point it at your local code tree. You can't get much easier than that.

Is it a tool you need? I've been amazed at how often blocks of code have been copied not once but dozens of times. I've seen this in code from teams that turn out very good code and teams that don't. From what I've seen it's much more common than most people think.

Here's my challenge to you. Try it. See what it finds.

Then try to justify each copied block to yourself. Does the code really need to be copied or do you have an easy refactoring waiting to happen?

Reducing your lines of code, creating more readable code, and easing your maintenance work all at the same time. Sounds like a good day to me.

Jared

posted at: 22:15 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Eclipse or NetBeans?

I didn't realize there was a huge debate raging over the IDE of choice for Java developers. A friend recently forwarded me several links about the debate. I pass them on for your enjoyment.

Why Eclipse Developers Are Moving To NetBeans

Eclipse vs. NetBeans *yawn*

NetBeans vs. Eclipse - No Real Debate

After reading these entries, I think you'll agree that there is no debate. Everyone seems to agree that there can be only one winner. Now, if we can get everyone to agree on who that one winner is...

Seriously, here are a few observations.

First, competition is good. Having NetBeans chasing Eclipse will keep Eclipse sharp. And the same for NetBeans. Everyone runs faster when they are racing against someone else.

Second, if you're stuck in an IDE and don't know what it's doing for you, then you've done yourself a huge disservice. I strongly encourage you to be able to build your Java projects with Ant, your dotNet projects with Nant, and so forth.

Yes, it's more work at first, but you are buying yourself understanding. When Eclipse or NetBeans won't do what you want, you'll have an alternative. You'll also have a much better chance of understanding ~why~ things break. And it's inevitable that breaks will occur. The only question is whether or not you'll have to depend on your IDE's error messages to understand them. Don't put yourself in the position of having to switch IDEs to get a better error message.

And finally, try the other tool. Whichever one you like, try the other one. Stretch your brain and learn something new. Eclipse doesn't stink. And neither does NetBeans. In fact, I really like them both. I'm actually doing a bit of work in NetBeans today. I haven't used NetBeans in at least a year but it's come a long way.

You know, if there hadn't been a raging debate, I never would've gotten around to trying out NetBeans again.

Thanks everyone!

Jared

posted at: 20:17 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Daily Meetings: Who's Next?

I am involved with two teams who both have short daily meetings (SCRUM style meetings). Over time these meetings can fall into a bit of rut so we try to find ideas to break up the routine a bit.

One way is to have the last person who shared select the next person to share. Of course, this also tends to fall into the same rut. People tend to pick the person to their right or left and you end up going in the same circle you were trying to avoid.

So we created a next person selection rule.

You can't select anyone to your right or left unless there are no other selections available.

Letting people pick the next person is actually quite fun. We got the idea from Matt Bass who learned it while working with Ken Auer. You wouldn't think such a simple change would make much of a difference... who else has a tip or two to share? Mail them in and I'll post a follow-up.

Jared

posted at: 13:44 | path: | permanent link to this entry

But where are the Lava lamps?

Tonight on David Starr's blog I see that he's gotten himself addicted to the CruiseControl.Net Tray application.

I think that's a fine addiction to have David... but do you plan to add Lava Lamps to the mix? These lamps are red and green for the holidays, but the original used plain old Lava Lamps.

You've come this far... it seems a shame to stop now doesn't it? ;)

Jared

posted at: 00:16 | path: | permanent link to this entry