Imagine you’re writing a book and you’ve just finished your first draft. This draft represents the code that’s just been written.
Your code is like your story. It has to be coherent, follow certain rules (e.g., syntax in code and grammar in writing), and ultimately achieve its purpose (e.g., to solve a problem or engage an audience).
The code review process is like the editing phase in writing a book. When you’re done writing your draft, you don’t immediately publish it. You give it to someone else to read — this person is like the code reviewer.
Code review is crucial for software development teams to ensure quality output with minimal errors and risks. It’s a collaborative and iterative process, with the coder and team members (called peer reviewers) going back and forth, exchanging feedback, and making changes until all flagged issues are resolved and the code is up to standard.
This process requires careful oversight. From version control management to organizing feedback and following up with subsequent tasks and activities, software teams need proper IT project management tools to manage their work and create a structured, replicable process.
This article discusses all you need to know about how to conduct a code review. We’ll talk about what it is, its top benefits, how to code review, and how a powerful project management platform like Wrike can improve your process for better results.
What is a code review?
A code review is a process in software development where one or more programmers examine another’s code to check for errors, bugs, or deviations from the project’s standards.
Through constructive feedback, the code review process seeks to improve the quality and maintainability of an organization’s codebase. The review cycle repeats until the new code meets set standards and is ready to be shipped or integrated into the main codebase.
Below are a few key aspects of a code review:
- Correctness: Does the new code do what it was designed to do? Does it reflect the requirements that were given to the developer? Does it handle potential edge cases correctly? Does it follow all regulatory and legal requirements?
- Readability: It’s important that the code is clear. Other developers (or even the code author in the future) should be able to understand the written code, even when the author is not available.
- Maintainability: Maintainability focuses on the code architecture and how easy it is to modify, integrate, or extend with the existing codebase in the future.
- Performance: While premature optimization can be a pitfall, a code review is an excellent opportunity to spot potential performance issues.
- Style and consistency: New code should follow a consistent pattern. Many development teams have style guides or use automated linters to enforce a style. Consistent codebases are easier to read and maintain.
It’s important to note that while code reviews can identify many types of problems, they are not a replacement for software testing. Rather, they are one part of a comprehensive software quality strategy.
Why is performing a code review important?
Now you understand what a code review is, let’s discuss why they are essential for every software feature or product launch in development.
Giving feedback and sharing knowledge during code reviews creates an environment where team members learn from each other. When a developer reviews another’s code, they may learn something new about different approaches, algorithms, or techniques that were used.
Reviewers learn from the author’s approach to solving problems, and the author gains insight from reviewers’ perspectives and experiences. Sharing knowledge about the company’s codebase also reduces the “bus factor” — the risk that only one person knows certain parts of the code.
Code reviews allow developers to give and receive feedback, enhancing team collaboration and continuous improvement. The iterative process of writing, reviewing, and revising code also encourages team members to improve their programming, communication, and teamwork skills.
Promoting team ownership
What happens when you contribute to a project you weren’t initially a part of? You become invested in it. Code reviews promote a sense of collective ownership and responsibility.
Everyone on the team gets a chance to provide input on different parts of the codebase, increasing their investment in its success and creating a sense of commitment and accountability, improving both the process and the final product.
Code reviews help ensure consistency in the coding style, which is vital for maintaining a clean, understandable, and transferable codebase. A consistent codebase reduces the build-up of technical debt and makes it easy for new developers joining a team to get up to speed and begin contributing.
Conducting regular code reviews builds confidence in the software’s stability and functionality. Code reviews ensure multiple pairs of eyes examine the code, making it less likely that bugs or errors slip through to the final product. This enhances product confidence internally within the development team and externally with stakeholders and end users.
Reducing testing cycles
Although code reviews are not a substitute for testing, they can help reduce the number of testing cycles required by catching and fixing issues early in the development process. This way, developers save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on lengthy testing and debugging, resulting in a more efficient development process and a higher-quality final product.
Through code reviews, developers can ensure that the code is well documented. Reviewers can check for the presence and quality of comments, making sure they accurately and concisely explain the code’s purpose. This makes the codebase easier to understand and reduces future technical debt.
What are the steps to a good code review process?
Now let’s get into the practicals — how to code review. Below are steps to follow for a good code review process.
1. Determine the purpose
Before beginning a code review, clarify why you’re reviewing the code. Are you looking to find bugs and errors? To check if the new code meets the project’s coding standards? To understand how well a new feature fits in with the codebase? Knowing the purpose will guide team members on what to look for during the review.
2. Use project management software
Using code review tools within project management software can make the process more efficient. This allows you to annotate code with comments, assign to team members, keep track of unresolved issues, and mark them as resolved when addressed.
A project management platform like Wrike, for example, integrates with software development tools such as GitHub, making it easy to streamline your team’s workflow, automate incoming IT work requests, and create more time for developers to focus on the most important tasks.
3. Review the code as a “code breaker”
The idea here is to approach the code review as if you’re trying to find ways it might break or fail. Look for edge cases that the code might not handle correctly. Consider how the code might perform under various conditions or with different input data. Also look for logical errors, unclear or duplicated code, shortcuts, and non-obvious code dependencies.
4. Determine if the code can be maintained
Good code is easy to maintain. Ensure your code review covers the following aspects:
- Readability: Is the code easy to understand?
- Modularity: Is it well structured, with functionality neatly divided into functions or classes?
- Extensibility: Is it easy to add new features or change existing ones?
5. Vet for security
This step involves reviewing the code to identify any potential security vulnerabilities. This could include checking for issues like SQL injection vulnerabilities, improper error handling, hard-coded sensitive data, or inadequate encryption. Specialized tools like static analyzers can help but having at least one human reviewer is essential.
6. Communicate with the coder
Open and clear communication with your team is vital to a successful code review. Deliver feedback, both good and bad, constructively and respectfully. Remember that the goal is to improve the code, not to criticize the coder.
Giving feedback on things the coder did well can help balance any negative criticism and make the code review process a positive one. Once the code is reviewed, communicate the findings to the programmer and give them a chance to respond and make necessary changes. You can leave comments in a GitHub pull request or use your chosen IT project management software.
Why should you always do a code review?
Apart from the benefits above, it’s advisable to conduct code reviews to:
Discover issues early
Reviewers often spot issues the code author misses. This may be as little as syntax errors or major, e.g., architectural problems and non-compliance with project specifications. Detecting issues early helps maintain the codebase’s stability and reduces the cost (in terms of time, money, and user trust) of fixing bugs late in the development process or after deployment. It can also prevent potential cascading problems that might have occurred if the issue were left unchecked.
Code reviews are immensely useful for checking new code for security flaws or potential vulnerabilities. This is especially important for applications that handle sensitive user data. Exposures may include poor error handling, inappropriate use of system resources, insecure communication, or potential areas for malicious injection attacks. A well-conducted code review by a developer who’s knowledgeable about security best practices helps ensure security is built into every feature and product from the start, reducing the risk of a breach later on.
Improve overall code quality
Code reviews not only help identify potential issues but also allow developers to suggest improvements and optimizations. The collective knowledge of the reviewing team leads to code that is more logical, robust, and suited to the organization’s needs.
Improve your code review process with Wrike
There you have it — the foundational details about code reviewing. Before you get started on your own review, let’s recap:
Just like publishing a book without proofreading or editing will likely lead to a book full of unnecessary mistakes, shipping or merging code that hasn’t been reviewed can lead to avoidable flaws and shortcomings in your software project.
This can be avoided by ensuring your code passes through multiple eyes and rounds of reviews to guarantee the best output possible. Conducting code reviews significantly elevates the quality of work delivered by a development team.
Paired with a powerful enterprise project management platform like Wrike, IT project managers can perform code reviews, monitor software performance, identify gaps for improvement, and assign accountability for those tasks, all on one platform.
Collaboration and project management go hand in hand as Wrike integrates with many IT apps and tools. Start with our PMO template to tailor your Wrike IT workspace to match how your team works.
Whether you’re a scaling team now incorporating code reviews into your workflow or an enterprise looking for a better solution to manage IT projects, Wrike’s platform, features, and templates fit the bill.