What is Refactoring?

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Kacper Rafalski

Aug 8, 2023 • 12 min read
software developer during refactoring

Are you tired of dealing with messy code that slows down your development process? Refactoring is the key to unleashing your code’s true potential.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into the world of code refactoring and explore its importance, benefits, challenges, and essential techniques. By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of refactoring and how to apply it to improve your code’s quality, maintainability, and performance.

Short Summary

  • Refactoring is the process of restructuring existing code to improve efficiency and maintain functionality.

  • Benefits of refactoring include improved readability, reduced complexity, better team collaboration, and a higher quality product.

  • Automated tools can help developers reduce time & effort for successful refactor projects by utilizing best practices such as Agile methodology & frequent testing.

What is Refactoring?

Refactoring is the process of optimizing and restructuring existing code to improve its efficiency without altering its functionality. It is a technique used by software developers to enhance the design, structure, and/or implementation of the software (its non-functional attributes) while maintaining its functionality. For example, renaming methods to make their purpose more explicit and easier to comprehend is a common refactoring practice.

To ensure the external behavior of the software remains unchanged, it is recommended to carry out refactoring before altering a program’s function. This should be done in small increments, and code changes should be tested and validated using software development techniques such as test-driven development (TDD) and continuous integration (CI). This approach helps maintain the software’s behavior and functionality by making small adjustments to the existing source code that is unlikely to cause or introduce any new issues.

The Importance of Code Refactoring

Code refactoring plays a vital role in transforming cluttered code into organized code, thereby minimizing a project’s total technical debt while preserving the software's functionality. The objective of refactoring is to enhance the quality, performance, and maintainability of code. Clean code is much simpler to comprehend, read, and maintain, thus facilitating future software development and increasing the probability of a high-quality product in a shorter period.

Refactoring is a critical practice for developers looking to enhance the quality, performance, and maintainability of their code. Regularly reviewing and refining your code can lead to a more reliable and robust application. In essence, code refactoring serves as a preventive measure against code deterioration, technical debt, and a hindrance to developer productivity.

When Should Code be Refactored?

Refactoring code is recommended prior to introducing new features, post-deployment, and when resolving bugs, in order to guarantee code that is both clean and efficient. This approach ensures that any changes made to the code during the refactoring process do not alter the product’s behavior in any way. To achieve this, it’s crucial to perform refactoring effectively.

By contemplating refactoring at optimal times, such as before incorporating any updates or novel features to existing code or directly after launching a product to market, you can maintain code quality and prevent the introduction of new issues.

What Are The Benefits of Refactoring?

The advantages of code refactoring go beyond merely improving the appearance of your code. Refactoring can lead to improved code readability, reduced complexity in software code, and create a simpler, cleaner, or more expressive internal architecture or object model to facilitate extensibility. This, in turn, enhances the maintainability of the source code, making it easier for developers to understand and modify the code in the future.

Refactoring also promotes the reuse of design elements and code modules, which can reduce the time and effort needed to develop new features. Additionally, refactoring fosters better team collaboration by ensuring that code is comprehensible and maintainable by all team members. In short, refactoring can lead to a more efficient and effective development process that ultimately results in a higher-quality product.

What Are The Challenges of Refactoring?

Despite its benefits, refactoring presents some challenges that developers must overcome. One major challenge is balancing the refactoring process with tight deadlines. Spending too much time on refactoring when a timeline is already constrained could result in increased levels of dissatisfaction and incur additional expenses for the customer.

Another challenge is avoiding the introduction of new bugs during the refactoring process. Identifying and resolving code smells, dealing with design alterations that are hard to refactor, and the possibility of regression bugs and merge conflicts are some of the challenges associated with preventing the introduction of new bugs. Ensuring proper testing during the refactoring process is also crucial, as it can be a lengthy process that necessitates meticulous code review.

Essential Code Refactoring Techniques

There are numerous techniques that can be employed to optimize code, including identifying code smells, red-green-refactoring, refactoring by abstraction, composing methods, simplifying methods, moving features between objects, and preparatory refactoring. Each of these techniques serves a unique purpose and can be used in different scenarios to enhance the design, structure, and implementation of software code using the refactoring method.

In the following subsections, we’ll explore each of these techniques in greater detail.

Identifying Code Smells

Code smells are characteristics or indicators in the source code of a program that may suggest the presence of deeper issues. They are commonly observed programming patterns or practices that can point to issues with the code’s quality, maintainability, or potential bugs. Code smells serve as warnings that indicate the need for refactoring or improvement in the codebase.

To identify code smells, developers must examine the program’s source code, searching for common programming patterns or practices that may suggest a decrease in code quality, maintainability, or the possibility of bugs. Some examples of code smells include long methods, duplicate code, large classes, and feature envy.

Addressing code smells is essential in order to ensure code quality and maintainability, and reduce the chances of bugs occurring.

Red-Green-Refactor Technique

The Red-Green Refactoring technique is a test-driven approach in Agile software development that involves adding new functions and refactoring code separately. The initial step involves writing code to introduce a new function to the system, while the subsequent step focuses on refactoring the code associated with this function. The ‘green’ element refers to the minimal code segment necessary for a function to pass the test.

The purpose of red-green development is to prepare an extension with continual testing to identify any faulty code and enhance its features. This technique ensures that the addition of new functionality and the refactoring of existing code is performed in a structured and systematic manner, reducing the risk of introducing new bugs and improving the efficiency of the development process.

Refactoring by Abstraction

Refactoring by Abstraction involves utilizing class inheritances, hierarchy, and extraction to minimize redundant code in software. This technique is commonly utilized for sizable applications that involve class hierarchies, inheritance, and extraction.

Pull-Up and Push-Down methods are examples of refactoring approaches that involve classes. The Pull-Up method involves moving code parts into a superclass in order to eliminate code duplication, while the Push-Down method involves taking code from a superclass and moving it down into subclasses. These techniques focus on optimizing the interaction between classes so that the overall structure and maintainability of the code are improved.

Composing Method for Streamlining Code

The Composing Method involves extracting and inlining methods to reduce duplication and enhance readability. Extraction involves decomposing the code into smaller components to identify and isolate fragments. The code was divided into pieces and moved to a new method. Following this, it was replaced with a call to that method.

The Inline approach in the Composing Method technique involves removing unnecessary methods in the program by finding all calls to the methods and replacing them with the content of the method, then deleting the method from the program. This technique helps streamline the code, making it more readable and maintainable.

Simplifying Methods and Expressions

Simplifying methods and expressions is a technique that focuses on consolidating conditional fragments and expressions, as well as optimizing the interaction between classes to improve code efficiency. By reducing the complexity of conditional expressions and tweaking the interaction between classes, developers can create more efficient and maintainable code.

Some examples of simplifying methods and expressions include consolidating conditional fragments and expressions to reduce complexity and optimizing the interaction between classes to improve code efficiency. This technique can be an effective way to simplify code, making it easier for developers to understand and maintain.

Moving Features Between Objects

The Moving Features Between Objects technique involves creating new classes and transferring functionality between existing and new classes. This method is recommended when a class has become overloaded with responsibilities or is superfluous and contributes nothing to the application.

Various techniques can be utilized to transfer attributes or methods between classes. For example, lazy loading is a technique that optimizes performance by loading objects only when they are required, thereby reducing memory usage. By redistributing functionality between objects, developers can simplify code and improve maintainability.

Preparatory Refactoring

Preparatory refactoring refers to the process of updating code prior to adding a new feature in order to reduce future technical debt. Jessica Simpson. Kerr utilizes the analogy of driving 20 miles north to the highway before going 100 miles east at three times the speed in lieu of simply meandering through the woods to explain preparatory refactoring.

By conducting refactoring while adding new features, developers can decrease potential technical debt, enhance code legibility, and make code more maintainable. However, it can be time-consuming and challenging to pinpoint the portions of code that require refactoring. Therefore, it is crucial to plan and execute preparatory refactoring carefully to ensure its effectiveness.

Automated Refactoring Support

Automated refactoring support involves utilizing tools and IDEs with built-in automation to facilitate the refactoring process. Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA are two IDEs that provide automated refactoring support. These tools can help developers identify and apply refactorings, such as renaming variables or extracting methods, to enhance the structure and maintainability of the codebase.

By leveraging automated refactoring support, developers can streamline the refactoring process and reduce the time and effort needed to optimize their code. Additionally, automation can help minimize human errors and ensure a more consistent coding style across the project.

Best Practices for a Successful Refactoring Project

To ensure a successful refactoring project, it is important to implement best practices such as Agile methodology, planning and setting goals, testing frequently, involving the QA team, focusing on progress, and considering automation. By employing these best practices, developers can effectively manage the refactoring process and improve the quality of their code.

Regression testing and in-depth testing should be carried out for a refactoring project. This ensures that the system is functioning as it should be. Ensuring adequate tests are in place before beginning any refactoring project is essential. Testing during the refactoring process is crucial to prevent any bugs or issues that could impede the product’s functionality.

Summary

In conclusion, code refactoring is a critical practice for maintaining and enhancing the quality, performance, and maintainability of software code. By understanding the importance, benefits, challenges, and essential techniques of refactoring, developers can optimize their code and create more efficient, maintainable, and high-quality applications. Implementing best practices and leveraging automated refactoring support can further improve the refactoring process, ensuring a successful refactoring project that ultimately results in a superior product.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of refactoring?

Refactoring is a process that involves making small changes to improve source code structure. An example of this is the Pull-Up/Push-Down method which promotes code reuse through abstraction.

What does refactor mean in agile?

In agile, refactoring refers to behavior-preserving transformations of existing source code that improve the internal structure while maintaining external behavior.

What is the main goal of code refactoring?

The main goal of code refactoring is to improve the design, structure, and implementation of the software while preserving its functionality.

When is the best time to refactor the code?

Refactoring code is most effective when done prior to introducing new features, post-deployment, and when resolving bugs.

What are some common code smells?

Common code smells include long methods, duplicate code, large classes, and feature envy, all of which can reduce the readability and maintainability of code.

These code smells can be addressed by refactoring the code, which can help improve the readability and maintainability of the code. Refactoring can also help to reduce the complexity of the code, making it easier to write code.

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Kacper Rafalski

Kacper is an experienced digital marketing manager with core expertise built around search engine...
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