What is Code Refactoring and Why Should You Do It? Part I of V Mini-Tech Series

Sometimes code can go bad faster than guacamole left on the table after a couple of hours. Code refactoring is the process of cleaning up and revamping the underlying code behind the curtain so it runs cleaner without changing how it functions for end-users.

Everything on earth tends to decay after a certain amount of time. Bananas turn to mush. Bread turns moldy. Guacamole turns brown. At least you can make bread out of those mushy bananas, but even that can also go bad after a certain amount of time. Software code can also turn after a while and start to “smell” musty. In fact, the term “code smell” is an actual thing. Old, long-winded, unnecessarily-repetitive lines of code can start to malfunction, decay, and cause problems. And because of the increasing complexity of interactions between various lines of code in different apps, this process of code decay can happen quickly. This is why regular software updates to improve and streamline code are so important. And that is just where code refactoring comes in.

What is Code Refactoring?

For a proper definition, Martin Fowler's Refactoring: 

Refactoring(noun): a change made to the internal structure of software to make it easier to understand and cheaper to modify without changing its observable behavior. 

Code refactoring is the process of reconstructing existing backend code so that its structure is cleaner, more durable, and more agile; yet users should not notice any change in the app's external functionality. It’s more than just adding more salt and lime juice to the guacamole, however (which will obviously change the flavor). End users shouldn’t notice changes when using the software. Code refactoring can be a complex process that modernizes the code so that it can be more easily scaled and maintained over time. In addition, code refactoring also strives to bolster security and improve performance. During the process, developers can find and remove vulnerabilities, squash pesky bugs, and create more agile code that remains relevant over a longer life span. 

Why Choose Refactoring?

Refactoring your code keeps it fresh longer. As organizations strive to modernize their software systems, they have several different motivations for refactoring. First of all, cleaner, fresher code can reduce operating and maintenance costs. This is especially important with the ongoing shortage of mainframe workers with the skills to manage both older and newer system interactions. Refactoring also facilitates better interoperability and integration between apps and newer technologies. To go a little more granular:

Code Refactoring

a. A cost-effective solution

Many organizations choose code refactoring because it can optimize your return on investment. Although it isn’t the least expensive way to go, it is a good middle ground between two extremes: a total code rewrite or a “lift and shift” strategy. On the one hand, a total rewrite is so risky that even some big names in IT have struggled with that method—to disastrous results. On the other hand, the “lift and shift” method takes the exact same code from the mainframe environment and shifts it into the cloud. This still doesn’t weed out existing problems and can expose weaknesses in the current code. Refactoring refreshes the code and eliminates redundancies and potential vulnerabilities, all while making the code easier to integrate into the cloud. It’s a reasonable middle-ground with more manageable risks and costs than either of the extremes. All the while, this method can help your organization move more smoothly toward full digital transformation. 

b.The generational change of technologies  

Not only is there a current shortage of programmers skilled with mainframe technologies, but the next generation of programmers will probably not see a need to develop those skills either. The next generation's push is to innovate, transform and modernize, not look back at obsolete code structures. So it makes logical sense to refactor current code, making a gradual, controlled renovation of the code structure using languages that the next generation of programmers will be comfortable with. Cleaner, revamped code will make it easier to bring new talent into the mix, all while shutting down security risks that tend to find holes to exploit in older code structures.

c. Code refactoring supports your digital transformation efforts

The software structures of the past are becoming obsolete by the moment. While it was once the norm to isolate mission-critical software applications in silos with limited interactions between other silos, digital transformation demands more openness and integration through the cloud. Modern software architectures require a demanding mix of scalability, connectivity, and security, which usually calls for considerable restructuring. Again, a total code rewrite often leads to loss and catastrophe (not for lack of trying), while the "lift and shift" option doesn’t take the best advantage of cloud-native architecture while also bringing security vulnerabilities with it. Refactoring prunes the deadwood, tightens the screws, and leads you further down the road to digital transformation than either of the extremes. 

Refactoring is Essential to Building Great Products

Refactoring allows the development team to change and clean up code in a way that doesn't modify the behavior of the system. It makes code more maintainable and easier to understand. It enables developers to keep complexity under control and allows you to embrace change and build an evolutionary architecture that you can constantly improve. 

An analogy we like to use for this is "If you don't tend your garden, it'll decay over time until every feature takes forever to build. You'll be left wondering how it ended up like this."

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