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Are Coding Standards Futile?

Unless the visual layout of a program's code affects its execution, there will always be programmers who circumvent the established coding standards. I admit, I've done it myself from time to time. There's no scientific survey that such standards really reduce cognitive friction when reading someone else's code as far as I know, and aesthetic matters are generally subjective. Make the argument for tabs over spaces until you're blue in the face; someone will just come along touting the benefits of spaces.

I warned achieving a consensus on PHP Coding Standards as PSR-1 would be difficult and that the group's efforts would be better spent discussing more "meatier" topics, such as object caching. Two months later, the proposal failed to garner enough votes for a simple majority and has now been split.

And let's not forget the "Beat Up on Crockford" festival over bootstrap and JSMin. His comments were a bit harsh, yes... but then again he only made two comments in the entire (quite lengthy) discussion and ended up immortalized in the (admittedly funny) Dangerous Punctuation.

Novelists don't all write in the same style; noting the formatting in a section of code might give a heads up on who wrote it or insight into the coder's way of thinking. Maybe it's a clue as to who we can go to for help when something doesn't work. Weak arguments, sure. But maybe so is "consistency breeds success" when applied to code formatting.

Most coding standards seem to target only low-hanging fruit anyway: capitalize something this way, place your braces in this manner, space something that way, etc. None of that really matters, does it? Standards that enforce good architectural design, specific interoperability concerns, etc. have more merit. After all, standards should help make things work, not squash creativity. And if Joe Programmer's self-expression manifests itself as 5-space indenting, who am I to judge?


  1. We can say coding standards are less futile, if everyone who write code (that will be read by others) got the same sense of organizing the code they writes and name the variable they use. But in practice that's not the case. I write things in a most convenient way for me, which will be entirely different from someone else. Some peoples may be accessing it from a different platform or IDE. So when I write a code that I'm not sure I'll be the only person reading it, it makes some sense to follow a coding standard.

    In other cases like when I write code that I (and only me) will need to read in future, I should make it easily understandable, clearly formatted and properly named.

    To summarize, coding standards are low hanging fruites when we write code, but is certainly not when I read it. It will be lot more easy to understand someone's code if he wrote it in the same way I should write. My take is, if someone can't code by following a common standard, he should probably consider deleting that after usage :).


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