Bad code isn’t just inconvenient for your devs and your users — it’s also expensive. We’re talking trillions of dollars. A report from the Consortium for Information & Software Quality™ (CISQ) revealed that the cost of poor software quality is $2.41 trillion in the U.S. alone.
Want to make sure you don’t become part of next year’s statistic? Then it’s time to introduce better code reviews. One company saw a 90% decrease in defects when they introduced code reviews. While code reviews can be time consuming, they can also provide extra security, increased productivity, and improved maintainability — as long as your reviews are thorough and efficient.
What is a code review?
A code review is a detailed and structured assessment of code, and it’s an essential part of the development process. It provides an opportunity to assess and improve code quality, uncover bugs, and ensure adherence to coding standards, when done well. You can’t just jump into a review without a plan. A well-structured code review process will not only improve your code, but it will also increase efficiency and improve collaboration across your team.
To create a plan and provide structure for your code review, start with documentation.
Create a code review checklist
The ultimate goal is to have a detailed code review process documented and easily accessible for all of your team members. But you don’t have to start from scratch. Use this code review checklist as a foundation on which to build your process documentation.
1. Set clear objectives
Different code reviews may have different goals. Are you looking for bugs? Doing a general QA? Ensuring compliance? All of the above? Clarifying your goals and key metrics before starting your review will ensure every member of your review team is on the same page.
2. Verify feature requirements
You might have the most bug-free, high quality codebase in the world, but it’s only useful if it fulfills feature requirements.
Before reviewing your code, revisit your project requirements and user stories to get your team aligned on what your code should do. Include edge cases and potential error scenarios. Then, you can test your code against these requirements to verify that it behaves correctly. If it does, great! Continue on. If it doesn’t, your programmers need to revisit the code before you can dive into the review.
You should always encourage open communication between your code authors and reviewers, but it’s especially important in this stage. If there are questions about anything from code formatting to naming conventions, your reviewers should feel comfortable asking the developer for clarification.
3. Identify bugs
Just because your code meets feature requirements doesn’t mean it’s bug-free. Code, even from your best devs, rarely makes it to the finish line without a few defects. Misspellings and minor errors are hard to see when you’ve been staring at the same code for weeks.
The code review process ensures you get a pair of fresh eyes on the code to spot these errors.
4. Assess code readability and maintainability
Your goal during a code review should not only be to save time immediately after launch by reducing the number of bugs, it should also be to save time throughout the feature’s lifetime by writing code that is clean, easy to maintain, and follows established coding conventions.
5. Check for security vulnerabilities
Your code functionality may be working as expected, but is it properly protected? From 2020 to 2021, losses from cybercrimes increased by 64%, so checking for security vulnerabilities is an essential part of your review process if you want to prevent bad code.
If you’re dealing with lots of personal identifiable information (PII), like healthcare and financial companies, this step is extra important. You could even hire an ethical hacker to test the limits of your security.
6. Evaluate speed and performance
Even if your code does what it’s supposed to, you’ll end up frustrating your users if it doesn’t do it quickly. If your code relies on multiple API requests or contains inefficient string concatenations or logging, your users will face the consequences.
As you review, identify resource-intensive operations and code duplications that could lead to inefficiencies or consume excessive memory or processing power. You should also identify opportunities to implement caching or parallelization to improve performance. Your end user will thank you.
7. Improve documentation
Documentation is just as important for your code as it is for your review process. It is essential for understanding your code’s purpose and usage.
We’ve put this step near the end of our checklist for a reason. At this point, you’ve likely tweaked or added features or changed code. Both of these often require additional documentation. So while you’re reviewing inline comments and inspecting descriptions, you should also identify areas where new documentation is needed.
8. Spread the word
Code reviews don’t just fix the code you’re currently working on — they also help your entire team improve their skills and create higher quality code, thus reducing the time spent on future reviews. The time it takes to educate your team is an investment, but it will ultimately reduce development costs in the future.
Implement code review best practices
From subjective opinions to incomplete coding style guides, various things can stand in the way of an effective code review process. Implementing code review best practices can make sure your team doesn’t get lost in complexities or frustrated with other team members. Both will lead to low morale.
Some best practices include:
- A clear style guide
- Guidelines for feedback and discussions
- A shared prioritization process
- Fostering a top-down culture of learning and collaboration
Streamline your code review checklist with tools
For greater software engineering productivity, tap into tech. There are a variety of code review tools out there that automate different parts of the software development and code review process to help your team save valuable time and money.
A variety of plug-ins exist for formatting, debugging, and recommendations. Your review team is the second set of fresh eyes — plug-ins can be a third!
Version control systems (VCS)
VCS platforms help teams to manage code changes and track revisions with features like branching, merging, and commit histories.
Code documentation automation
Get your entire team on the same page quickly with documentation automation. These tools streamline documentation in the IDE and CI/CD pipelines and improve knowledge sharing.
Static code analysis tools
These tools parse source code for security issues and bugs. Using this type of tool before your review can save you time by finding the smaller issues so you can focus on the bigger ones.
Collaborative review trackers
These tools track comments, who interacted with code, what changes were made, and more. These tools are especially useful when organizing multi-phase reviews.
Or do it all with a test management platform
QA tools like Qase combine a variety of these code review tools and integrate with issue trackers so you can do everything in a single workspace. Qase has tools for manual and automated testing to blend seamlessly with your preferred workflow. From test planning to execution to analysis, Qase is your homebase for every stage of QA.
If you’re still struggling with code reviews, they might not be the right fit for your team. Consider implementing code review alternatives or pairing other methods with code reviews.