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Guide: Code Sniffers: What’s their purpose in Web Development?
Code optimization is similar to the editing phase of a writing. You may need to code your ideas first, but your code should be optimized with tools such as code sniffers to produce the best possible product.
Code sniffing is a term that describes control code for compliance with regulatory standardsThese rules can specify the number of spaces to use for indentation, placement of braces, or how to name variables. Standards are not essential to build a web application, but standards are important for internal consistency and code maintenance
This is where code sniffing comes in handy for all developers, frontend to backend. I would like to investigate the process of code sniffing and offer some tools that help analyze code standardsback to menu ↑
What is code sniffing?
The action of sniffing code is usually automated to save time and reduce errorsCode sniffers will check source codes for compliance with standards set up by internal development teams or regulators.
Code sniffing is similar to code linting but more pedantic. Primary fluff formation checks for bugs and syntax errors while poking around for problems the way code is writtenA PHP file can still function properly, but will fail a code sniffing test if a variable name does not meet the standards (eg. $ myVariable vs $ my_variable
A similar bit of terminology is code smell which checks for design flaws in the code that could lead to bigger bugs. This can relate to code standards but also to higher level architectures for writing homogeneous code
All of these areas are worth covering and are relevant to code sniffing. Just keep that sniff code in mind will not always find runtime bugs because its priority is maintaining strict adherence to standards
By now you may be wondering if standards even matter? The truth is, they matter, but more for optimization and up Many developers agree that standards are essential for programming and web development – especially on large team projects.
Here’s a quote from developer Paul Jones explaining why code standards are useful.
“The point of a coding style standard is not that one style is objectively better than another … Instead, it’s all about up known expectations about what code will look like. “
If you’re building a small web app for yourself, it may not be worth spending time on WCAG 2.0 or PSR-2 standards. But take a look at the hundreds of developers working on Adobe Photoshop source code. It would be chaotic if each person wrote their own style and combined everything.
While teams rely heavily on standards, these rules can be useful for single developers as well. You can find code standards for everything from CSS to WordPress, so there’s no excuse for not trying to see if your code quality improves.back to menu ↑
The value of code standards
Standards will, of course keep your code clean and organizedDevelopers know exactly how to write code and how to follow each other’s work.
Code standards also aid in open source development by providing rules for others to follow. Files can be retrieved up by anyone months or years later and still easy to read
A strict coding style is a good idea even if you choose to create up Your ownThis takes a lot of effort, but as projects grow, this type of documentation is invaluable.
Here are some coding standards to keep in mind that span the spectrum of different web languages.
- PEAR encoding standards (PHP)
- Google standards for HTML / CSS
- Django Coding Style (Python)
- Rails style Guide(Ruby)
- WCAG 2.0 (UX)
Best Resources for Sniffing Codes
It is now possible to find free code sniffers for everything from HTML / CSS to backend languages such as PHP and SQL. You don’t have to use these sniffers or follow the standards for each language, but it’s worth exploring the options to see what could improve your performance.back to menu ↑
Frontend Code Sniffers
While HTML doesn’t require a code sniffer that didn’t stop Squiz from building one. It is completely open source and hosted on GitHub with the options to copy / paste code in the browser or save a bookmarklet to run on individual web pages.
This sniffer tests against WCAG’s three levels of A, AA, and AAA accessibility standards, along with the Section 508 guidelines that primarily apply to government websites.
CSS developers may like this free CSS code sniffer, which is also open source and hosted through the Node Package Manager.
jQuery users should check out JSCodeSniffer built by Dmitry Sheiko. This is another free web app hosted on GitHub that conforms to jQuery’s code style guide
For the record, it is also possible to check JS / CSS standards directly with PHP_CodeSniffer.back to menu ↑
The PHP Code Sniffer
PHP_CodeSniffer is an indispensable tool in your toolbelt if you want to comply with PHP code standards. The package contains a few PHP scripts that analyze PHP, JS and CSS code for compliance with your choice of code style documentation.
PHP_CodeSniffer creator Greg Sherwood wrote a wonderful backstory on how the idea came about and what problems it tries to solve (worth a read if you have the time).
This is great for PHP developers because the language is very loose with mandatory style requirementsFrameworks like Laravel are stricter, but developers can (and should) set their own code standards without relying on a third-party framework.
Various standards such as PSR-0, PSR-1 and PSR-2 are all popular and come with the PHP snoop library.
But you can find plenty of other pre-made code standards for PHP CMS such as WordPress, Magento and Drupal. Developers on the Drupal core have even released an official code sniffer module called Coder.
PHP is undoubtedly the easiest language to optimize with code sniffers. If you are looking for a list of PHP code standards check out this GitHub entry.back to menu ↑
Other backend code sniffers
Backend developers work with a variety of languages beyond PHP and the number is growing every year. With alternate languages we also have alternate code sniffing libraries such as code sniffer for Python.
It is possible to check other scripts online or use tools such as PyLint. But this is another methodology that requires patience to work in your development flow.
Ruby developers also have a range of choices when it comes to code linting and analysisThe best are always free and open source, such as Ruby Lint, a static code analyzer built for modern Ruby code.
I have yet to find a special Node.js code sniffer, but I hope a project will emerge over time. There are JS code sniffers that support Node standards, but it is still a newer backend language and takes time to grow.
Finally, we have SQL syntax used for databases. This code can be trickier because it is difficult to find well-supported syntax standards for SQL source code. But I did find a web app for SQL markup that should be immensely helpful in optimizing database queries.back to menu ↑
The best place to start with code sniffing is with one language and one default. HTML / CSS is an easy place to start for frontend developers, while PHP is often a favored choice among backend developers (especially WordPress developers).
And if you want to check out these related posts on code sniffing, linting, and automated code analysis for optimization.
- Why you need coding standards
- Code Smells by Jeff Atwood
- PHP Code Sniffer: Installation and configuration
- Introduction to CodeSniffer (Part 1)
- GitHub Showcase: Clean Code Linters
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