Code as poetry. How to write elegant code

Silvia Truta

about 1 year ago

Code as poetry. How to write elegant code

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away

Antoine de Saint-Exupery Image
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
French Writer

Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said: "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. This can also be applied to software development, as many developers strive to achieve perfection in their code. They do this by making it elegant. But what is elegant code, and how can developers write it?

Defining Elegant Code

Elegant code can be defined as code that is correct, succinct, easy to read and understand, performant, and follows established standards. It is code that makes other developers say, "Wow, why didn't I think of that?" Elegant code achieves its purpose with minimal complexity and redundancy.

However, elegance can be subjective. What one developer considers elegant, another might not. Nevertheless, the principles of elegant code can guide developers in creating code that is universally appreciated.

To know if one's code is elegant, a developer should be able to explain why they chose to code it that way. They should be able to explain why other alternatives were not as appealing. Being able to articulate the reasons for coding decisions ensures that the code is elegant.

Qualities of Elegant Code

Correctness is the most important quality of elegant code. No code can be considered elegant if it doesn't work as intended. It is the foundation upon which all other qualities are built.

Succinctness is another quality of elegant code. When there is less code, there is less to go wrong. However, the code must be "just enough," like Goldilocks's porridge, neither too little nor too much.

Ease of readability and understanding is also crucial to elegant code. If the code is easy to read and understand, it is easier to maintain and debug. Code that is hard to understand is more likely to contain errors and bugs.

We should use descriptive names for variables, functions, and classes, and we should organize our code in a logical way. We can also use comments and documentation to explain complex sections of code.

Performance is another important quality of elegant code. It should execute efficiently and quickly. It should not waste system resources or bog down the system.

Finally, elegant code should follow established standards. If there are multiple ways to write code, the developer should choose the one that is closest to the established standards. Consistency in coding style and structure makes code easier to read and maintain.

How to Achieve Elegant Code

Achieving elegant code takes time and practice. Developers should strive to write code in a consistent style that is easy to read and understand. They should focus on eliminating redundancy and re-reading their own code to ensure it meets the standards of elegance.

One technique that can help achieve elegant code is to read one's own code from months ago. If it is difficult to understand, it may be necessary to focus more on the rules and standards that ensure the most elegantly written code possible.

What we found really helps with writing clean code is getting inspired from other developers be it other colleagues or contributors to our favorite frameworks.

Another way to achieve elegant code is to treat code like poetry.

Poetry is an elegant language that says what it has to in fewer words than prose, but in a way that makes you feel something. Similarly, code is the art of writing elegant instructions that a computer can understand and execute efficiently. And just like poetry, good code has the power to evoke emotion, whether it's joy at seeing a well-designed algorithm or frustration at encountering a buggy program. It should use patterns that are consistent and make sense even when broken into smaller patterns.

To practice writing poetic code, start by focusing on clarity and simplicity. Use meaningful variable names and comments to explain your thought process. Break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable sub-problems and write elegant solutions for each one.

Next, experiment with different coding styles and techniques to see which ones feel most expressive to you. For example, you might try writing functional code that emphasizes immutability and composition, or object-oriented code that emphasizes encapsulation and inheritance.

Finally, don't be afraid to play with language and structure to create code that is both functional and beautiful. Use whitespace and indentation to create visual patterns and rhythms that guide the reader's eye. Experiment with poetic devices like alliteration, assonance, and metaphor to imbue your code with a sense of artistry and meaning.

To summarize:

Elegant code is code that is:

  • correct
  • succinct
  • easy to read and understand
  • performant
  • follows established standards.

Achieving elegant code takes time and practice, but by striving for consistency, readability, and simplicity, developers can write code that is universally appreciated. By treating code like poetry and focusing on patterns, developers can create code that achieves its purpose with minimal complexity.

Just like poetry, the best code is the code that resonates with its audience.

Whether you're writing code for yourself or for a team, strive to create code that is not just functional, but also elegant, expressive, and memorable. Happy coding!

A couple of good resources on this topic:


Explore more articles