Feeds

Shall I compare thee (code) to a summer's day?

Beauty that's code deep

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Book review Beautiful code? Well, we've all seen plenty of ugly code in our time. If we're being honest, we'd probably even admit to have written some dog-ugly code at one time or other (no doubt with every intention to refactor it later so that it's a bit less brutally repulsive). But code that's beautiful? What does that even mean?

Code that's simple and easy to understand? Code that expresses an elegant and counter-intuitive algorithm? Code that's terse, powerful, and too clever for mere mortals to comprehend?

Of course, there's no one definition of beauty in any sphere of life, and software's no different in this respect. But while there's not a single definition of beauty that emerges from this collection of essays on "beautiful code", there are some common themes that do emerge repeatedly. But more of that later.

This is a fairly eclectic collection of writings about code, covering different types of software (from deep within the guts of operating system kernels, to fundamental sort algorithms, to processing gigabytes of data in bioinformatics), to different languages (from C to Java to Ruby to assembler), to different domains (from data mining to gene sorting to XML parsers).

While all the authors are noted experts or hackers, some are better known than others, and some write with greater skill than others. What all of the authors share is a notion that code itself can be interesting and beautiful – it isn't just the algorithm that's important, it's the code itself.

There are some stand-out pieces that deserve mention. Tim Brays piece on searching through log files using Ruby and Java does a great job of showing the strength of those languages; Brian Kerninghan discourses on regular expressions; Michael Feathers writes about the unusual API design of the Framework for Integrated Testing; and, writing unit testing code is considered beautiful by Alberto Savoia. There are plenty of other good articles, and while some of them really didn';t grab this reader, overall the 33 chapters present a high standard of writing, technical excellence, and interest.

While this isn't a book that covers the latest programming fad or the latest-and-greatest programming language, framework or methodology, it's certainly one that will appeal to those of us who are interested in coding.

And the idea of beautiful code is one that ultimately has a distinctly utilitarian value. Beautiful code is code that encapsulates an elegant algorithm, or that uses the natural features of a language well; it's code that isn't encumbered with special cases or clunky data structures. These ideas of elegance and simplicity emerge in many of the examples described by the different authors. Beautiful code is also code that is flexible, powerful, and efficient. And if we all wrote code that was beautiful, our software (and our users) would benefit from it directly.

And if all that doesn,t convince you that this is ideal holiday reading for developers, then it's worth pointing out that all the profits from this book are pledged to Amnesty International.

Beautiful Code

beautiful codeVerdict: Consistently interesting and highly readable.

Edited by Andy Oram and Greg Wilson

Publisher: O'Reilly

ISBN: 0596510047

Media: Book

List Price: £31.99

Current Reg price: £22.71 inc. VAT (discount 29%)

Buy this book at Register Books at Reg Developer's special discounted price (subject to change).

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.