Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Add-Delete ratio as a metric of code quality

Recently after reading some articles about software quality metrics, I started thinking a lot about what would be for me a metric that really could reflect the quality of the code in the system I am working in.

I am not a big fan of numbers but in the same way of an altimeter is a useful thing you want to look at when you are driving a plane, a good code quality metric could give you warning signs about system that you are building.

In page 15 of the book "Clean Code" by R.C Martin, it says that the only valid measure of code quality is, "What The Fucks per second".

Couldn't agree more, but the only problem with this metric is that is not easy to reflect in a chart so all others can see it and therefore have an idea of how bad the system really is...

Time ago while talking to a colleague here in London, we came to the conclusion that a really good metric to reflect the quality of the code we write, is the "Added-Removed code ratio".

So this is basically the ratio of added to removed lines of code in your system. 
To measure this, what you do is:

1 - At a point in time, take your system as a whole and count the amount of lines of code, of the target language, lets say Java(Just java, dont take xmls and other configuration files...).

2 - At a future point in time, take again the same system, and count the lines again.

3 - Write down the ratios and take note of the percentages the amounts of line are increasing, or decreasing and present the data in some chart.

 This metric if tracked often, such as the altimeter, will warn your department about when you need to invest more time in technical debt, and when your system is sustainable and you can keep pushing features.

I guess you wonder, how do I know this is right? 
Well, it is very simple, we just need to understand the definition of re-factoring which is:

"a change made to the internal structure of software to make it easier to understand and cheaper to modify without changing its observable behavior."

Re-factoring its very important, because the more understandable the system is, the better quality it will have. So it is not about just the smaller your code is, but about tracking the amount of effort you expend in adding and removing(specially removing) stuff from it.
- In a system where we see that the remove ratio numbers across time are going in a down trend(smaller gap between added and removed lines), it means that the developers are taking care and the overall  quality is improving.

- In a system where we see that the remove ratio numbers across time are going in an up trend(big gap between added and removed lines), it means that the teams are not investing enough time in improving the quality of the software they make.

I hope you liked the post, I appreciate feedback, this is just my opinion.

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