Feeds

Code scavenging goes formal

Careful what you consume

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

Scott Hackett at SlickEdit has blogged its time to update the time-honored practice of code scavenging. According to Hackett, taking a more formal approach could help to improve developer productivity.

He argues that, while software re-use has historically concentrated on higher level frameworks and larger objects, there are also potential benefits in using code scavenging to fulfill the smaller (and less glamorous) "bite-size tasks" that developers face every day.

Hackett makes some good points, but can scavenging for scraps really turn you into a master programmer, and is it possible - or even desirable - to institutionalize this "make-do" approach?

Code scavenging is seen as the most frequent and least complex way of re-using code and has been common practice at an informal level since programming first began. Programming is difficult to teach and most programmers learn their chops by looking at working code and using it as the basis for building their own programs. In other words, they "scavenge" the good bits and tweak them to a new purpose.

The term scavenging appears to have first surfaced as a formal concept in a 1992 paper by Charles Krueger of Carnegie Mellon University. It was tested by academics in the 1990s but rejected because it yielded few gains for a lot of effort.

According to Hackett, code scavenging is worth re-visiting because the Web makes it easier to find code and re-use it. He points to sites where massive amounts of existing code are available for potential scavenging such as Google code search, Sourceforge, Code Project, Microsoft's Codeplex, and O'Reilly's Code Search. Others include the Free Software Foundation (FSF), FreeVBcode.com, Freecountry and Freshmeat.

He accepts that there are a few problems with scavenging for "bite-size tasks" however. The tools to find code at this level do not yet exist and it is difficult to define and package small-scale code components so they are identifiable. You are unlikely to find what you want with a simple Web search

Techniques such as literate programming could possibly be used to create an appropriate syntax that makes small code components easier to define. But as programming guru Edsger Dijkstra pointed out many years ago, although mastery of language is just as important in good programming practice as mastery of logic and numeracy, it is not as common as it should be.

The biggest barrier to formal code scavenging, however, is the problem of trust. Programmers are, quite rightly, suspicious of code they did not create themselves and any scavenged artifacts will need thorough testing to ensure they do what they are supposed to do - and nothing else. This could be so time consuming as to negate any potential productivity gains.®

Boost IT visibility and business value

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

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
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.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.