J. Software Engineering & Applications, 2008, 1:88-91
Published Online December 2008 in SciRes (www.SciRP.org/journal/jsea)
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSEA
Complying with Coding Standards or Retaining
Programming Style: A Quality Outlook at Source Code
Yanqing Wang, Bo Zheng, Hujie Huang
School of Software, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin 150001, P. R. China
Email: {yanqing, hjhuang}@hit.edu.cn
Received October 22
, 2008; revised November 10
, 2008; accepted November 21
, 2008.
In order to make most software engineers and managers pay more attention to software quality at source level, two
confusing terms-coding standard and programming style-were reviewed and compared. An evolutionary model of
quality assurance at source code level was proposed, which implies that coding standard should be better accepted and
more emphasized than programming style. Our current researches on evaluating the compliance with coding standards
will likely make the strategy of quality assurance at source code level more operable.
Coding Standard
, Programming Style, Source Code, Quality Assurance (QA), Evaluation Index System
1. Introduction
How to raise the international competitive capability of
software industry and how to improve software quality
are new challenges for software companies and software
engineers. The research on coding standard and
programming style presents a quality notion of software
engineering at source code level, while writing high
quality code is a required skill to a software engineer. In
this situation, how to make most software engineers and
college students to pay more attention to quality at source
level became an important subject in software industry
and software engineering education field. In fact,
complying with coding standards when programmers are
writing computer programs is beyond the readability
issue, it actually is an issue of quality assurance at source
level. Since about 67% of workload in software lifecycle
is at maintenance stage [1], coding standards can
indirectly determine the quality of a whole project (see
Figure 1).
Publications on this topic often focus on a set of rules
on coding standards [2], taxonomy [3] and paradigm of
programming style [4], and the approaches to teach
coding standards [5]. These researchers upgraded the
coding standard and programming style to high position
at source code level. However, coding standard and
programming style are not distinguished clearly in the
above researches. Many software practitioners are always
taking coding standard as the synonym of programming
style and often use them alternatively. So it is very
necessary to review, distinguish and compare these two
confusing terms at first.
In this paper, the understanding of coding standard and
programming style was presented in Section 2 by
analyzing their difference and relationship. In Section 3,
an evolutionary model of quality assurance at source
code level was constructed and put forward. The
increasing importance of coding standards was
emphasized in Section 4. In Section 5, our practices
supporting the coding standards strategy were briefly
2. Understanding of Coding Standard and
Programming Style
2.1 Explanation
(1) Programming style. It is also named code style or
coding style. As we know, programming style is an
intuitive and elusive concept that shows the style of
writing code. It’s highly individual and easily recognized,
yet difficult to define or quantify. The goal of
programming style is to make a program clear, easy to be
understood, and thereby easy to work with [4], but the
extreme personal programming style which is different
from other team members’ often degrades the readability
of source code.
(2) Coding standard. Different from programming
style, coding standards are a set of industry-recognized
best practices that provide a variety of guidelines for
developing software code. There is evidence to suggest
that compliance with coding standards in software
development can enhance team communication, reduce
program errors and improve code quality [6]. The coding
standards are not only assuring the readability, but also
Complying with Coding Standards or Retaining Programming Style: A Quality Outlook at Source Code Level 89
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSEA
Figure 1. The relationship between coding standard and software quality
creating a helpful circumstance of teamwork. Working
under a set of coding standards will make team members
to comprehend colleague’s programs much more easily
and disabuse the injection of unworthy defects.
2.2 Difference
Programming style is not an equivalent of coding
standard. Software engineers should understand their
difference so that they can really control the quality of
the programs they write.
(1) Different times. At early stage of software industry,
software size was small, so one programmer can finish a
whole project independently. The style of writing programs
by individual programmer was called programming style.
The programs at that time were more like crafts than
engineering products, while the programmers were more
like artists than engineers. With the rapid development of
global IT industry, it was almost impossible for a single
programmer to finish a whole software product. The
production of software became the activity of teams,
organizations or professional software companies. In
software companies, various programming styles were
combed and summarized to build up a set of rules-coding
standards-to control the maintenance cost and software
quality as well.
(2) Different measurability. The compliance with
coding standards can be measured and evaluated but the
programming style cannot be. Anyone who has different
programming style from others can announce that he
creates a new programming style. The elegance or style
of a program is sometimes considered a nebulous attribute
that is somehow unquantifiable; a programmer has an
instinctive feel for a good or bad program [3]. It was
believed that programming style is a multi-faceted
concept that is not captured by a collection of rules or by
a single style score [4]. It means that a program cannot be
judged good or bad only by programming style or
everyone can evaluate a program’s style while he or she
likes. On the contrast, the coding standards should be
industry-recognized and almost software engineers
recognized it [5]. Whether programmers complying with
coding standards or not can be judged by human or by
software programs.
(3) Different objective. The programming style focuses
on more personal habits than readability. Some programmers
retain a certain programming style because they are happy
to do so. Different programmers may retain different
programming styles. While coding standards emphasize
readability and it prefers teamwork to individual. Writing
program with coding standards improves the appearance
of source code. Coding standards serves the teams and
companies that care about the software quality at source
code level.
2.3 Relationship
Coding standards are the evolution of programming
styles. The programming style is an individual concept.
As a programming style become popular and has been
well accepted by many teams, companies, and even
software industry, it will be upgraded to coding standards.
With the development of software industry and
outsourcing, the notion of coding standards has been
taken on by more and more software enterprises. Over
the past decades, with the international competition and the
growing popularity of software outsourcing, international
and industrial programming capabilities also have the
unprecedented requirements for programmers. This
was proved by the successful experience of software
outsourcing to India [7]. As a result, coding standards
usually need to be implemented through a formal
process in industry [8] to assure the quality of source
Meanwhile, some scholars and engineers use these two
terms alternatively. In [9], Kernighan and Plauger defined
programming style as a set of rules or guidelines used
when writing the source code for a computer program.
They said, “It is often claimed that following a particular
programming style will help programmers quickly read
and understand source code conforming to the style as
well as helping avoid introducing faults.” From the above
discussions in this paper, it is no doubt that the
programming style in [9] is equivalent to coding
3. Evolutionary Model of QA at Source Level
The software quality assurance contains five attributes:
functionality, reliability, usability, performance,
supportability [1]. Every attribute relates with source
code. The quality of source code affects the quality of the
software in large measure. To enhance the quality
assurance at source level, an evolutionary model was
constructed from the viewpoint of coding standard and
programming style (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Evolutionary model of coding standard and
programming style
no coding standards or programming style
syntactic-level programming style
syntactic-level coding standards
semantic-level programming style
software quality
a senior engineer
an engineer in a team
an abecedarian
a programmer
Maintainability High Quality
90 Complying with Coding Standards or Retaining Programming Style: A Quality Outlook at Source Code Level
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSEA
Figure 2 embraces the process from lowest level no
coding standard or programming style to the highest
level semantic-level programming style. It also indicates
the programmers who have the ability at corresponding
level. The evolution is not only the time period concept
but also a skill enhancement issue. Software quality will
increase while its writer becomes a senior engineer from
an abecedarian.
(1) Stage 1: no coding standards or programming style
At the very beginning of computer programming age,
there was no coding standards or programming style.
Programmers wrote programs as they wished. So did the
students in colleges. The source code at this level was
always confusing and had low readability. The software
quality at this stage was hard to control.
(2) Stage 2: syntactic-level programming style
With the development of software engineering, the
programming style was used to publicize the named good
habits [9]. And the syntactic-level programming style had
been used to assure the readability or efficiency of
programs. The programming style helped the beginners
become programmers. But as it stands, the programming
style is too individual to be widely used.
(3) Stage 3: syntactic-level coding standards
With the industrialization of software development,
piles of programming styles had to be summarized and
upgraded to assure the team working more successful.
Then the syntactic-level coding standards were
implemented in some software companies such as IBM
and Sun. The syntactic-level coding standards are the
coding standards we defined above.
(4) Stage 4: semantic-level programming style
Moreover, while complying with coding standards,
some experienced software engineers might write their
programs in their own ways, e.g. inputting from or
outputting to files, handling the connection with database
and controlling the virtual memory etc., to make
programs more efficient, reliable and portable. This level
of programming style is defined as semantic-level
programming style, which is based on syntactic-level
coding standards and beyond them.
4. Role of Coding Standards in Software
4.1 Coding Standards Help Assure the Quality
of Software
Coding standards can assure the software quality at
source code level, and will release testers’ workload. A
defect in source code level would cost about 4 times
money to remove when it remains at testing stage [1].
The coding standards can help the white-box tester read
the program easily and save the testing time. The less
time and more efficient, the higher quality the software
would be. When more engineers concern source code
quality and comply with coding standards, the quality of
the softwares they produce would be assured.
4.2 Advices on Quality Assurance at Source Code Level
When the student starts to learn a new programming
language or software engineers does their daily coding
work, there are some advices based on the evolutionary
model shown as above.
(1) If you are a student or novice software engineer,
comply with coding standards and not retain
programming style at syntactic level. Complying with
coding standards is a basic skill of software engineer,
especially working in a big company or developing an
outsourcing project.
(2) If you are a teacher of a preliminary programming
language, ask students to obey coding standards, educate
tomorrow’s qualified engineers at today’s colleges.
(3) At the basis of complying the coding standards,
develop your own semantic-level programming style
when you are adequately experienced and you like. That
is the highest realm of a programmer.
5. Conclusions and Future Work
Coding standard and programming style is a pair of
terms at source code level. With the globalization of
software cooperation and popularity of software
outsourcing, the quality assurance at source level remains
a pressing concern. Quality assurance at source level is
much more economical and scientific than testing even
though it is hard to operate. In this paper, coding
standard and programming style were compared and an
evolutionary model base on their relationship was
proposed. Coding standards were more recommended
than programming style. If we would like to retain our
programming styles, the high level programming style
beyond coding standards was strongly recommended.
To better support our ideas about complying with
coding standards, we made some preliminary researches
such as (1) we proposed an AHP-based evaluation index
system on complying with coding standards [10,11]; (2)
in order to make sense how many students were ready to
write quality programs complying with coding standards,
we did a case study and found that the results were not so
satisfactory [12] because of the lack of consistent training
and timely feedback; (3) a web-based evaluating platform
was constructed, with which students can upload their
programs anytime and get benchmarking results and
detailed shortcomings of their programs on coding
standards; (4) based on our previous work, a teaching
model of coding standards based on evaluation index
system and evaluating platform was proposed [13]. Even
though we have made some progress, there are still lots
of works to do in this subject. For example, a
questionnaire designed for software industry should be
delivered to make the evaluation index system more
practical. Also, the teaching model should be refined with
the accumulation of our experiences on programming
languages teaching. Programming is a kind of art [14] so
that it takes time for every engineer to reach the apogee
of software quality.
Complying with Coding Standards or Retaining Programming Style: A Quality Outlook at Source Code Level 91
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSEA
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