Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don't Give Variables Negative Names

Sometimes programmers get caught up in the absence of something. Don't let that leak over into the name of a variable or data member:

bool Job::acceptable(const JobCandidate &applicant) const
{
  bool noFelonyConvictions = findFelonyConvictions(applicant);
  return noFelonyConvictions && qualified(applicant);
}
The noFelonyConvictions variable documents the code in a readable way, but it gets silly if the code ever changes so that you have to initialize it, or if someone ever wants to know if there are felony convictions. Things become less readable:
  bool noFelonyConvictions = true;
  if (applicant.findRecords(FELONY)) {
    noFelonyConvictions = false;
  }
  return applicant.qualified(!noFelonyConvictions);
It all makes more sense if you name the variable felonyConvictions, which initializes naturally enough to false, can be set to true if one is found, and can be negated to show absence. Also, if you later become interested in the number of convictions, there will be fewer code changes if the variable changes from a bool to an int.

Whenever you notice yourself putting a "no" into a variable name, get rid of it.


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