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Refactoring Ruby: Bad Smells in Code

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Use this chapter when you're not sure what refactorings to do. Try to identify what it is you're smelling, and then go to the refactorings we suggest to see whether they will help you. You may not find the exact smell you can detect, but hopefully it should point you in the right direction.
  • If it stinks, change it.
  • Grandma Beck, discussing child-rearing philosophy

By now you have a good idea of how refactoring works. But just because you know how doesn't mean you know when. Deciding when to start refactoring, and when to stop, is just as important to refactoring as knowing how to operate the mechanics of a refactoring.

Now comes the dilemma. It is easy to explain how to delete an instance variable or create a hierarchy. These are simple matters. Trying to explain when you should do these things is not so cut-and-dried. Rather than appealing to some vague notion of programming aesthetics (which frankly is what we consultants usually do), I wanted something a bit more solid.

I was mulling over this tricky issue when I visited Kent Beck in Zurich. Perhaps he was under the influence of the odors of his newborn daughter at the time, but he had come up with the notion describing the "when" of refactoring in terms of smells. "Smells," you say, "and that is supposed to be better than vague aesthetics?" Well, yes. We look at lots of code, written for projects that span the gamut from wildly successful to nearly dead. In doing so, we have learned to look for certain structures in the code that suggest (sometimes they scream for) the possibility of refactoring. (We are switching over to "we" in this chapter to reflect the fact that Kent and I wrote this chapter jointly. You can tell the difference because the funny jokes are mine and the others are his.)

One thing we won't try to do here is give you precise criteria for when a refactoring is overdue. In our experience no set of metrics rivals informed human intuition. What we will do is give you indications that there is trouble that can be solved by a refactoring. You will have to develop your own sense of how many instance variables are too many instance variables and how many lines of code in a method are too many lines.

You should use this chapter and the table on the inside back cover as a way to give you inspiration when you're not sure what refactorings to do. Read the chapter (or skim the table) to try to identify what it is you're smelling, and then go to the refactorings we suggest to see whether they will help you. You may not find the exact smell you can detect, but hopefully it should point you in the right direction.

Duplicated Code

Number one in the stink parade is duplicated code. If you see the same code structure in more than one place, you can be sure that your program will be better if you find a way to unify them.

The simplest duplicated code problem is when you have the same expression in two methods of the same class. Then all you have to do is Extract Method and invoke the code from both places.

Another common duplication problem is when you have the same expression in two sibling subclasses. You can eliminate this duplication by using Extract Method in both classes and then Pull Up Method. If the code is similar but not the same, you need to use Extract Method to separate the similar bits from the different bits. You may then find you can use Form Template Method. If the methods do the same thing with a different algorithm, you can choose the clearer of the two algorithms and use Substitute Algorithm. If the duplication is in the middle of the method, use Extract Surrounding Method.

If you have duplicated code in two unrelated classes, consider using Extract Class or Extract Module in one class and then use the new component in the other. Another possibility is that the method really belongs only in one of the classes and should be invoked by the other class or that the method belongs in a third class that should be referred to by both of the original classes. You have to decide where the method makes sense and ensure it is there and nowhere else.

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