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Really Simple Guidelines to Write Great Code Samples

November 24th, 2010 2 comments

When a developer learns a new programming language or API, the first thing is probably to try out a HelloWorld sample. As said, real programmers don’t read documents. Although I don’t fully agree on that, it has some truth in it.

In my own experiences, I normally continue with other samples after HelloWorld one. When something is not quite clear, I check out the API reference or read some tutorials. Anyway, I am not telling you how to learn a new language or API, but trying to make a point here on the importance of code samples for the developers. In my opinion, samples are the most effective way to empower your users.

I think you would agree with me, there are too many bad samples. Here are some typical symptoms:

  1. Too much boilerplate code to a point that the code illustrating the API usage got buried. Typical boilerplate code includes extensive exception handling, GUI, logging, etc. Some samples even have a common library that could confuse your users totally.
  2. Too many API calls in one sample. You may need several APIs for a use case, but don’t aim one sample for multiple use cases.
  3. Too much object oriented. Object oriented programming is a best practice for application development. But it could confuse your developers sometimes.
  4. Dependencies on other APIs. To run the sample, your users need to install other libraries which may or may not need extra configuration or tuning. To understand the sample, users need to understand additional APIs. Extra burden, really!
  5. Of course, typical bad smells of programming which are not unique for samples. For example, bad naming, unnecessary global variables, using object attributes for passing values between methods, etc.

Now, how you can develop great samples? Besides the best practices writing great applications, you want to follow the following guidelines: