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Coding Standards

Revision as of 01:26, January 18, 2011 by Daniel Robbins (talk)
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Basic Coding Standards In A Nutshell

  • word wrap at 160 characters
  • use tabs, not spaces, for indentation
  • use a tab size of 4 characters (tab size can be adjusted but it affects when you reach the magic 160 char wrap limit)
  • comments on separate lines, at same indent level as code (sections can be marked by 'outdented' comments)

Word Wrap

Modern editors do a good job of displaying very long lines of text, and modern displays have sufficient resolution for displaying much more than 80 characters per line, even at 1024x768 resolution. You should definitely not split an elegant single-line piece of code into multiple lines just for the sake of keeping the whole thing under 80 characters. It's especially bad if you take, say, a 100-character line and split it into more than two lines just for the sake of keeping it under 80 characters in length. But you need or want to use multiple lines to keep your code readable, more power to you. Don't just do it to maintain "Apple IIe with 80-column card compatibility" for any reason. That's just silly.

Tabs vs. Spaces

Tabs and spaces had a fight. Tabs won. They're easier to deal with and allow configurable indentation for those who require it. I don't care what some other group or organization says the convention is. If you don't want to use tabs because you want all your end-of-line comments to line up beautifully, then I have a solution: don't use end-of-line comments (see the next section) and you'll be fine.


Add comments that provide some insight into your code, and that help to provide context. Also, because we use tabs, place comments on their own lines, separate from source code, ideally separated by a blank line above and below unless you are verbosely commenting every line of code. This also encourages longer, more descriptive comments that may span multiple lines. If you span multiple lines, use a consistent right margin of 160 characters. Comments help you understand your code when you come back to it a year later, so you are adding descriptive comments for yourself as much as for others. Include information you would find helpful if you had a sudden case of amnesia. They are especially important for free/open source software that needs to be maintained by various people over the years.


Do not place any profanity in source code comments or variable names. It just makes you look unprofessional, silly and incompetent.