The meaning, importance and main benefits of refactoring

The meaning, importance and main benefits of refactoring

Refactoring plays an important role in development projects. The term refers to the process of transforming code without changing its original functionality, so it does not have a major impact on the user experience, but at the same time facilitates maintenance, enhancement and integration. What is the purpose and benefits of refactoring? How should it be integrated into the life of teams? Read our article to find out!

Refactoring means improving the quality of code for reuse and extensibility.

What is refactoring?

Refactoring is the process of improving or updating code without changing external functionality or non-functional attributes, which serves, among other things, to reduce technological debt. 

Refactoring cleans up the non-functional elements of the software, making it easier to maintain, extend, integrate, adapt to evolving standards and continue to perform at an acceptable speed. 

From the user's point of view, it changes nothing beyond basic functionality, occasional cosmetic changes and overall performance improvements.

One of the aims of refactoring is to reduce technological debt.

The purpose of refactoring

For developers, writing code is like a team of writers working on articles, essays or books. Everyone's writing style is different, and there are unique idiosyncrasies. However, testing and other quality controls still produce code that works. 

In many cases, programmers take shortcuts for speed or write unnecessary code, making the codebase more fragile and customised over time. This can create huge challenges for the team. 

Especially when team members change and the next engineer has to open the hood, try to make sense of the big picture. Over time, small problems accumulate and contribute to the technological debt of the product. Refactoring is one way to reduce this.

Why is reducing technological debt important?

Even the best development team with a seemingly unified mindset cannot avoid the need for a rework. Over time, standards change, new tools emerge, and once beautiful code no longer runs as fast and risks becoming obsolete. Marketing and branding evolves, languages supported, preferred terminology and colour palette. Software needs to reflect this change, even if the core functionality remains the same.

If not properly addressed, technological debt will become a drag on the economy and will cost double in the long run to reduce. Therefore, continuous improvement of code quality is inevitable.

The role of teams in refactoring

The practical work of refactoring is done by the development team, but product management also plays a key role. They have to leave room in the schedule for refactoring work. They also need to work with other stakeholders to drive non-functional changes.

The need for non-functional changes may arise from branding and marketing, including changes to product or feature names, colour palettes, or, for example, the replacement of more angular design elements with rounded ones.

Refactoring is the process of improving or updating code without changing external functionality or non-functional attributes.

The benefits of refactoring

Refactoring is in fact a regular maintenance. It is not a fun task, but it is necessary to maintain value, safety and efficiency. 

Now let's see the main advantages!

Benefit #1: Improves maintainability

What a developer hopes for when looking at the basics of the software being delivered is clean, clear, unduplicated code with elegant simplicity and few dependencies. 

But achieving this state is never a matter of chance. It requires a conscious, dedicated effort. Teams often put refactoring on the back burner until various problems arise. 

Easy-to-understand, clean code makes it easier to maintain and fix problems as they arise, and refactoring improves extensibility and integration. Limited functionality can be extended and both internal and third-party applications can be integrated for smoother operation.

Although extensions and integrations are not part of refactoring - as functionality changes - they are an important precursor to being able to implement and deploy them quickly.

Benefit #2: Improves performance

Performance problems affect revenue, growth and customer satisfaction. The more complex the code - including unnecessary dependencies and long functions with many parameters - the slower it runs over time. The reason is that the underlying structure of the code becomes too complex due to constant changes, which is an obstacle to fast progress.

Routine refactoring of code by simplifying things, renaming and removing dependencies, and breaking longer functions into shorter ones, all contribute to overall performance optimization.

Benefit #3: Adaptation to new standards

The leading-edge standards are steadily losing popularity and are gradually becoming obsolete. Many standards are in the code, so modifying them often requires additional updates to align - but not fundamentally change - the functionality used by the user.

These changes range from replacing the underlying component or plug-in to minor modifications. This could be, for example, changing the colour of a button to match the new branding.

When is refactoring necessary?

Refactoring should always be planned into the overall product roadmap, as it needs to be regularly addressed by the development team. If longer periods are missed, the task becomes much more difficult. Especially if the developers who were working on the code have already left the team.

There are signs when the code definitely needs refactoring, also known as code smells. These can include:

  • the duplicate codes
  • the commented codes
  • the long parameter lists
  • the data sets
  • dead codes etc.

How to prepare a refactoring plan?

Refactoring should be part of the roadmap and the product and development teams should work closely together to ensure project success and cost efficiency.

Now let's look at what to look out for when preparing a refactoring plan!

1. Developing the scope

Refactoring involves many small changes. It is worth starting by identifying the biggest problems that need to be addressed.

There are tools that automate the search for code smells. You may also want to use other inputs to the refactoring log as follows:

  • customer feedback
  • experience of developers from other product teams
  • branding
  • existing log elements
  • performance measurements, etc.

2. Early and rapid testing

Teams must test the code after each change to ensure that the work achieves the desired result. Although this important step can be frustrating for developers who want to get through their to-do list quickly, it prevents major problems from occurring later.

3. Resist the temptation to introduce functional changes

This is not a time for bug fixes or sneaking in new features. To make the refactoring initiative work well, leave these things for later, so the team can concentrate on improving what's already there.

Making functional and non-functional changes at the same time can lead to instability and unexpected results. Teams should focus on simplicity and clarity, not on chasing down brand new bugs.

4. A never-ending process

Refactoring is never over. The very process of writing code creates waste, much like a construction project creates dust and rubbish.

This must be cleaned up before it affects functionality and performance. Technology is constantly evolving, so organisations need to come back again and again to perform this vital but arduous task.

In summary

Refactoring is a very important engineering practice that helps reduce technological debt. It is often said that the sum of good design and development efforts is equal to the sum of bad design, development and operational efforts. It is essential that developers understand the impact of refactoring early in the project and make it a habit in their daily routine, as failure to do so will make processes more difficult and costly. 

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