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// VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: // The constructor for this class takes a reference to a UiPublication. // The UiPublication object MUST NOT BE DESTROYED before the DatabasePublication // object. If it is, the DatabasePublication object will cause the program to
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3 FURTHER READING For
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good comments, see The Elements of Programming CODING HORROR 5 Style (Kernighan and Plauger 6 1978).
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32. Self-Documenting Code
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// die a horrible death.
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This is a good example of one of the most prevalent and hazardous bits of programming folklore: that comments should be used to document especially tricky or sensitive sections of code. The reasoning is that people should know they need to be careful when they re working in certain areas. This is a scary idea. Commenting tricky code is exactly the wrong approach to take. Comments can t rescue difficult code. As Kernighan and Plauger emphasize, Don t document bad code rewrite it (1978). One study found that areas of source code with large numbers of comments also tended to have the most defects and to consume the most development effort (Lind and Vairavan 1989). The authors hypothesized that programmers tended to comment difficult code heavily. When someone says, This is really tricky code, I hear them say, This is really bad code. If something seems tricky to you, it will be incomprehensible to someone else. Even something that doesn t seem all that tricky to you can seem impossibly convoluted to another person who hasn t seen the trick before. If you have to ask yourself, Is this tricky , it is. You can always find a rewrite that s not tricky, so rewrite the code. Make your code so good that you don t need comments, and then comment it to make it even better. This advice applies mainly to code you re writing for the first time. If you re maintaining a program and don t have the latitude to rewrite bad code, commenting the tricky parts is a good practice.
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9 HARD DATA
3 KEY POINT
Commenting Data Declarations
For details on formatting data, see "Laying Out Data Declarations" in Section 31.5. For details on how to use data effectively, see s 10 through 13.
4 CROSS-REFERENCE
Comments for variable declarations describe aspects of the variable that the variable name can t describe. It s important to document data carefully; at least one company that has studied its own practices has concluded that annotations on data are even more important than annotations on the processes in which the data is used (SDC, in Glass 1982). Here are some guidelines for commenting data:
Comment the units of numeric data If a number represents length, indicate whether the length is expressed in inches, feet, meters, or kilometers. If it s time, indicate whether it s expressed in elapsed seconds since 1-1-1980, milliseconds since the start of the program, and so on. If it s coordinates, indicate whether they represent latitude, longitude, and altitude and whether they re in radians or degrees; whether they represent an X, Y, Z coordinate system with its origin at the earth s center; and so on. Don t assume
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32. Self-Documenting Code
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that the units are obvious. To a new programmer, they won t be. To someone who s been working on another part of the system, they won t be. After the program has been substantially modified, they won t be.
1 CROSS-REFERENCE
2 stronger technique for
documenting allowable ranges of variables is to use assertions at the beginning and end of a routine to assert that the variable s values should be within a prescribed range. For more details, see Section 8.2, "Assertions."
Comment the range of allowable numeric values If a variable has an expected range of values, document the expected range. One of the powerful features of the Ada programming language was the ability to restrict the allowable values of a numeric variable to a range of values. If your language doesn t support that capability (which most languages don t), use a comment to document the expected range of values. For example, if a variable represents an amount of money in dollars, indicate that you expect it to be between $1 and $100. If a variable indicates a voltage, indicate that it should be between 105v and 125v. Comment coded meanings If your language supports enumerated types as C++ and Visual Basic do use them to express coded meanings. If it doesn t, use comments to indicate what each value represents and use a named constant rather than a literal for each of the values. If a variable represents kinds of electrical current, comment the fact that 1 represents alternating current, 2 represents direct current, and 3 represents undefined.
Here s an example of documenting variable declarations that illustrates the three preceding recommendations:
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