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Summary of the Code
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A comment that summarizes code does just that: It distills a few lines of code into one or two sentences. Such comments are more valuable than comments that merely repeat the code because a reader can scan them more quickly than the code. Summary comments are particularly useful when someone other than the code s original author tries to modify the code.
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Description of the Code s Intent
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A comment at the level of intent explains the purpose of a section of code. Intent comments operate more at the level of the problem than at the level of the solution. For example,
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-- get current employee information
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is an intent comment, whereas
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-- update employeeRecord object
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7 HARD DATA
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is a summary comment in terms of the solution. A six-month study conducted by IBM found that maintenance programmers most often said that understanding the original programmer s intent was the most difficult problem (Fjelstad and Hamlen 1979). The distinction between intent and summary comments isn t always clear, and it s usually not important. Examples of intent comments are given throughout the chapter. The only two kinds of comments that are acceptable for completed code are intent and summary comments.
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de Complete
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32. Self-Documenting Code
Page 13
Commenting Efficiently
Effective commenting isn t that time-consuming. Too many comments are as bad as too few, and you can achieve a middle ground economically. Comments can take a lot of time to write for two common reasons. First, the commenting style might be time-consuming or tedious a pain in the neck. If it is, find a new style. A commenting style that requires a lot of busy work is a maintenance headache: If the comments are hard to change, they won t be changed; they ll become inaccurate and misleading, which is worse than having no comments at all. Second, commenting might be difficult because the words to describe what the program is doing don t come easily. That s usually a sign that you don t really understand what the program does. The time you spend commenting is really time spent understanding the program better, which is time that needs to be spent regardless of whether you comment.
Use styles that don t break down or discourage modification Any style that s too fancy is annoying to maintain. For example, pick out the part of the comment below that won t be maintained:
Java Example of a Commenting Style That s Hard to Maintain
// // // // // // // // // ptGrdTtl....... Point Grand Total ptValMax....... Point Value Maximum psblScrMax..... Possible Score Maximum Variable -------Meaning -------
xPos .......... XCoordinate Position (in meters) yPos .......... YCoordinate Position (in meters) ndsCmptng...... Needs Computing (= 0 if no computation is needed, = 1 if computation is needed)
If you said that the leader dots (.....) will be hard to maintain, you re right! They look nice, but the list is fine without them. They add busy work to the job of modifying comments, and you d rather have accurate comments than nicelooking ones, if that s the choice and it usually is. Here s another example of a common style that s hard to maintain:
C++ Example of a Commenting Style That s Hard to Maintain
/********************************************************************** * class: * * author: Dwight K. Coder GigaTron (GIGATRON.CPP) * * *
de Complete
32. Self-Documenting Code
Page 14
* date: *
July 4, 2014
* * * * *
* Routines to control the twenty-first century's code evaluation * tool. The entry point to these routines is the EvaluateCode() * routine at the bottom of this file.
**********************************************************************/
This is a nice-looking block comment. It s clear that the whole block belongs together, and the beginning and ending of the block are obvious. What isn t clear about this block is how easy it is to change. If you have to add the name of a file to the bottom of the comment, chances are pretty good that you ll have to fuss with the pretty column of asterisks at the right. If you need to change the paragraph comments, you ll have to fuss with asterisks on both the left and the right. In practice, this means that the block won t be maintained because it will be too much work. If you can press a key and get neat columns of asterisks, that s great. Use it. The problem isn t the asterisks but that they re hard to maintain. The following comment looks almost as good and is a cinch to maintain:
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