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What a hack is Code Refactoring?

 Matthew House   
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Refactoring code is a technique for reworking an outdated or incorrectly functioning piece of code that will alter the internal structure of the code without negatively affecting the external behavior. These are just tiny little changes to the source code that improve the readability of the code and reduce its complexity to allow for more maintainability of the source code.

These little changes, applied continuously, with great discipline, cause ongoing improvement of the code, and make it easier to work with over the lifetime of the program. The idea of refactoring, though, might seem greatly different to what is currently done, which is a negligible amount of refactoring and a lot of major reworking of code when problems arise.

However the usefulness of this technique can easily be seen. Take for example, an application built to serve a particular need. It may start out simple, but as time goes on, the same piece of software may be adapted for other uses, sometimes more complex. The code needs to be adaptable, and it needs to be able to adapt itself to changing requirements, even those that change important assumptions that were made when the original code was written. The main challenge then is to allow a piece of software to evolve in an organic way, so that it can respond to the changing requirements, without the need for a huge overhaul.

In this article, we will discuss the main reasons to use refactoring, and the situations it can be used in to make maintaining code easier.

Adapting to Changing Requirements

Because of changing requirements, there are times when software eventually breaks down and stops functioning when there is a lack of proper maintenance. Bugs will start to pop up, and the program will start giving the incorrect answers. These bugs are caused by the evolution that is changing the environment of the program so that it can cope with new requirements.

However, using continuous refactoring, the program would adapt to changes on a daily basis. The functionality of the software would be maintained, despite big changes to its processing capabilities. Programmers can make slight changes to the way the software works, so that it can still function within the new requirements. It can also be used to tweak the existing code base and to improve the confidence in the current code.


Advantages of Refactoring

Refactoring was originally introduced as an automated means of changing code written in an object-oriented way. Smalltalk was one of the first programming languages to offer refactoring capabilities, enabling programmers to be confident about the small changes they made. With a refactoring tool, changes to the code base can easily be made to clean up a program and keep it running correctly.

It is possible to automate refactoring because the changes allowed by refactoring are so tiny, and this is one of its main advantages. Some refactoring changes include: moving a method to a parent class from a subclass, changing the ordering of arguments, or renaming methods.

When to Use Refactoring

Factoring can be used liberally during workflow to be sure that the code is optimized, and it does not have to be a separate task from coding. Very frequent refactoring can:

Improve the existing code’s readability: Code can be simplified by combining statements, which makes it easier to read. Other times, it may be necessary to split a large statement in half or more to make it more readable.

Adapt to changes in the underlying code: When implementing a new feature to a piece of software, it is sometimes required to slightly change the existing code to keep everything functional. A refactoring tool can be used for these changes instead of doing them manually.  

Properly name methods and variables: Refactoring can help to ensure that names of the methods and variables in a program reflect their true meaning. Oftentimes as software evolves, the names originally used lose their meaning for various reasons. Refactoring easily solves this because it guarantees that the parts relying on the methods and variables will be updated correctly.


Refactoring is definitely a useful tool that any programmer can use in his work. Refactoring tools make life easier and make code better, and most modern languages have refactoring tools available. Once you have mastered the technique of refactoring, you will wonder how you ever did without it. 


Suresh 2012-10-06
Excellent descriptions. Thumbs up!

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