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Should You Refactor or Rewrite your Code?

When it comes to maintaining code or taking on legacy projects, software developers often have to ask themselves about best practices for improving the underlying code structure. Refactoring and rewriting are, of course, the most common forms of improving code quality, but it can be challenging to choose the one that works best for the given project.

Each process has advantages and disadvantages, so choosing one depends on the project details, the project’s long-term objectives, and the budget.

If you are facing code that needs to be re-done somehow, then you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons so that you can take your best step forward. There are cons to look out for, which could lead to technical debt and project hiccups down the road. Read on to learn about refactoring and rewriting code and the advances and disadvantages to doing either.

What is Refactoring Code?

Refactoring is a common practice in software development to improve or refine software code. Refactoring allows teams to improve the existing code structure without affecting the external behavior (and often the look) of a software piece. If you have redundant code or code that is breaking an aspect of the software, developers can refactor that section to improve the software’s quality.

Some software dev teams continually refactor their code as a form of coding best practices. This is known as Extreme Programming, merciless refactoring that will allow code to sit pretty more often than not.

There are many reasons why teams might refactor code. The first is to keep the code up to date with the latest improvements and advances. Others include the ability for clients to go in and manage the code themselves. Redundant or messy code may be difficult to handle.

Sometimes refactoring is required, especially if a section of the software breaks. Know that refactoring is always an option, and you can usually go in and improve the code to make for easy work down the road. Inexperienced coders might break sections, but experienced coders should know what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to refactoring.

When to Choose Refactoring

Some advantages to refactoring include:

  • Programmers who have worked on the project or who have access to the back-end don’t need permission for refactoring as it won’t affect the external behaviors
  • Any software type can be refactored
  • Refactoring almost always improves the code, speeding up the performance of the code
  • Unlike rewriting, refactoring can be done in tandem with the development of a project
  • Developers can target a section of the codebase, so they don’t need to do a lot to improve small portions of a code

There are disadvantages too:

  • If the code is written in a dated programming language, then refactoring cannot improve that underlying architectural problem
  • Refactoring only maintains the architectural code, so new functionalities can’t be added during refactoring
  • Skill and discipline are required when refactoring, so unskilled programmers should not venture into refactoring, especially without a test suite, or they risk breaking the code
  • Sometimes refactoring changes complex functions into simple ones, making it harder to manage and unit test

Refactoring is usually a good idea if you have a large piece of software, maybe one with thousands of code lines. Refactoring in this instance makes sense because then a team can continually keep up with code maintenance.

What is Rewriting Code?

Rewriting code that is outdated, blocky, or imperfect is another choice. When you rewrite a code, programmers take the original code and create another codebase. From thee, you can rewrite the code in a more modern programming language, with better functionality, and with cleaner code.

Some teams prefer rewriting when the project gets past a certain point. Eventually, the code will be so broken that refactoring can’t fix it, or refactoring would take too long. Therefore, there are some clear benefits to rewriting.

Unfortunately, rewriting isn’t 100 percent clear. You need a team to maintain the other, original code until the integration can be made, so rewriting requires two teams (or much more time with one team) to seamlessly integrate brand new code into the project. Sometimes this can be a hassle, as there will be duplicate resources, and there could be difficulty in managing two projects of the same name.

When to Choose Rewriting

Some advantages to rewriting are:

  • Rewriting code from scratch provides brands with more flexibility and opportunities. These brands can change how their product functions, provide improved coding and technology and open their doors to new markets, platforms, and users.
  • Sometimes rewriting is necessary if a developer does not know the programming language of the current software. Therefore, the developer can’t adequately maintain the software
  • Rewrites allow the software to adapt to new development technology easily
  • This method banishes legacy code and decreases the gap between older software and newer technologies

Disadvantages of rewriting include:

  • Rewriting takes a considerable amount of time (and therefore resources)
  • It can sometimes be difficult to go through ugly code and replicate a project completely
  • Rewriting still requires a high level of skill
  • Sometimes it can be difficult to implement the right aspects of code into the rewrite, especially if a team is congruously going through and improving (refactoring) its own code
  • Some developers use automated tools that port code to another language as kind of a rewrite work around; therefore, not all rewrites are equal

Things to Consider for Refactor vs Rewrite Your Code

If you have old code or you need to improve your code, you’ll likely want to find not only the most cost-effective but also the most feasible way of improving your code. When considering to refactor or rewrite think of the following options:

  • Identify the programming language of the old code and the one that your developer uses. Sometimes it makes more sense to rewrite if you have an old project from an old developer but want to move forward with a better developer
  • Consider if the language is modern and scalable
  • Consider the range of features that could be implemented into your old code. If it is still a lot then refactoring might work
  • Consider the number of lines that your old code has. A full rewrite of thousands of lines will take a long time
  • Refactoring v rewriting will also depend on the skill of your developer. Some developers only know how to rewrite

Choosing what works best for your business will depend on its specific needs. Work with your developer tounderstand the differences between these two processes and pick one (if you need to) that works with your timelines, costs, and the developers’ skillset.

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