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How to Find the Stinky Parts of Your Code: 249 - Constants as Numbersby@mcsee
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How to Find the Stinky Parts of Your Code: 249 - Constants as Numbers

by Maximiliano ContieriApril 25th, 2024
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You map concepts to optimized numbers.
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You map concepts to optimized numbers

TL;DR: Use real-world constants as constants

Problems

  • Bijection Violation
  • Debugging
  • Premature Optimization
  • Maintainability
  • Type Safety
  • Limited Extensibility

Solutions

  1. Use descriptive string constants
  2. Use Enums
  3. Create A Polymorphic Hierarchy

Context

Numeric constants representing real-world concepts lack readability and make your code harder to understand.


It's not clear what each number represents.


if you need to add more constants in the future or change the order, you'll have to update all occurrences of these numeric constants manually.


New values can introduce errors and make maintenance more difficult.


Saving attributes as integers to improve the persistence performance or space is a clear signal of Premature Optimization.

Sample Code

Wrong

public const FORMAT_JPG = 1;
public const FORMAT_GIF = 2;
public const FORMAT_PNG = 3;

Right

public const string FORMAT_JPG = "JPG";
public const string FORMAT_GIF = "GIF";
public const string FORMAT_PNG = "PNG";

// OR

public enum ImageFormat
{
    JPG,
    GIF,
    PNG
}

Detection

  • Semi-Automatic

You can tell your linters to warn you about this usage, but they can show you some false positives.

Tags

  • Readability

Level

  • Beginner

AI Generation

No models create this premature optimization problem when prompted to list constants.

AI Detection

ChatGPT and Gemini detected this as a mistake.

Conclusion

After this correction, your code will be cleaner readable, and self-explanatory for debugging.


You can read it and It's clear what each constant represents.


If you need to add more formats or change the order, you should update the enumeration definition without affecting the rest of the code.


IDEs with auto-completion and error checking will give you better support to work with enums.

Relations

Code Smell 02 - Constants and Magic Numbers

Code Smell 110 - Switches With Defaults

Code Smell 20 - Premature Optimization

More Info

How to Get Rid of Annoying IFs Forever

Disclaimer

Code Smells are my opinion.

Credits

Photo by Markus Krisetya on Unsplash


Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans - everything in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.

Ada Lovelace

Software Engineering Great Quotes


This article is part of the CodeSmell Series.

How to Find the Stinky Parts of your Code