The Code That Made me Cry


A friend of mine recently told me about the kind of problems he’s currently struggling with in the legacy application he’s maintaining. Here’s a sample piece of code to illustrate what I’m talking about:

String q = "select replace('" +
            accountNo +
           "%','- ','-') from dual";
rs = stmt.executeQuery(q);
if (rs.next()) {
    accountNoFormatted = rs.getString(1);
}

It instantly made me cry. As in Code That Made Me Cry, or #CTMMC. If this is just a sample, I can imagine what the rest of the application looks like. As a matter of fact, these problems were the very reason why he thought he needed to sort out a couple of things first, before he could even think about introducing jOOQ or any other new technology in that application. Yes, there’s some serious teaching to be done (or slapping?)

If you’ve read through this article thus far without knowing what I’m talking about, then let me give you some advice. Please follow this advice to keep my friend from jumping out the window:

NEVER send such trivial logic to the database for execution!

I’ve recently blogged about various reasons why you should calculate / execute some stuff in the database. A simple string replacement is not one of those things! Heck, why risk the database round trip / network latency, connection and/or data transfer timeouts, and all sorts of other stuff for something that could be written as such in Java?

accountNo.replace("- ", "-");

The method even has the same name as the SQL function. Heck, why even go through the hassle of using the horrible JDBC API for this? Please, dear developer. Take 1h and study the entire list of methods available to java.lang.String. It’s such an awesome and completely underestimated class!

NEVER reformat previously formatted data

This is the rule of thumb: Once data is formatted, it is eternally lost and unavailable to computing / data processing. There is only one simple reason why anyone would ever format any data. It is for displaying data to human beings. Humans are not good at deciphering or memorizing things like

a56225e0-45ef-11e3-8f96-0800200c9a66

Humans are good at reading and memorizing things like:

My wife's bank account

So repeat after me. Once data is formatted, it is eternally lost and unavailable to computing / data processing. If the formatting was wrong in any way, then fix the formatting where it is wrong. NEVER re-format the previously formatted data. NEVER.

NEVER format data in the data access layer

Just as humans are incredibly bad at operating on long technical IDs, machines are incredibly bad at operating on formatted data. In fact, there are so few reasons to ever format data in the data access layer that it should probably not even occur to you. One acceptable reason is when you have a very very sophisticated, highly tuned report which runs in the DB. But you don’t have that, because you considered using the SQL replace() function to remove a whitespace from a Java string. That isn’t exactly sophisticated reporting.

So read after me. NEVER format data in the data access layer, unless you have a compelling technical reason for it. Your accountNo should remain as untouched and technical and ID-style as long as possible throughout your application. There is absolutely no need to format it for human consumption before the accountNo hits the UI.

OK, to be fair, there’s another exception to this rule. When you choose to sort data in the UI, then you might want to sort the data by the formatted version of the accountNo, as the sorting result will be consumed by a human:

SELECT ..
FROM accounts a
ORDER BY a.account_no_formatted

Be lazy

There is one very simple way to become a better programmer: Be lazy. Be too lazy to write 10 lines of code for a simple replacement of "- " by "-". By being so incredibly lazy, you will always think:

There HAS to be a better way to write this

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. But there’s everything wrong with using the path of least resistance and writing 10 lines of code for something as trivial as this. Believe me. Your life will be so much better, once trivial stuff can be written in one-liners. You can focus again on your business logic.

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8 responses to “The Code That Made me Cry”

  1. Peter Verhas says :

    Old times programmers were measured on lines of codes they produced. Not any more.

    When we refactor something we measure the number of lines eliminated. This is a fairly good indicator. Not absolute, but fairly good.

  2. Lukasz says :

    We should not duplicate DB functionality in our code but this example is like sending a snail-mail from Europe to an uncle from America with one paper sheet inside and asking him for bending it and sending it back. I would not like to be a member of this application’s maintenance team.

    • lukaseder says :

      I’m sure, members of this application’s maintenance team must’ve had a tremendous salary ;-) Nice comparison with the uncle, btw! Spot on!

  3. Mohammad Nafees Sharif Butt says :

    Don”t forget that this code is susceptible to SQL injection as well.

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