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Code Golf

When starting out programming many developers are quite happy when their code just works.  More seasoned programmers know that making working code is just a first step. Not improving your initial code will lead to professional suicide (not my phrasing, I’m sure I’ve read this in a book at some point).

In an article on his blogColin DeCarlo demonstrates how an initial solution can be vastly improved in just a few iterations.

From time to time a friend and I play a programming game that I consider to be a version of Code Golf. Typically, the goal of Code Golf is to solve some challenge using as little bytes as possible. In the version of the game we play however, the limitation is the use of certain language features. Specifically, we try to use as little variables, conditionals and explicit loops as possible.

My method to accomplishing these challenges is to first write the algorithm in the simplest, most straight forward manner and then chip away at that solution until I’ve satisfied the challenge conditions.

The focus in the article is on removing conditionals, and limiting the use of variables. Keep in mind that, in most cases, this shouldn’t be your main goal. Maximizing the readabilty is what your should pursue. Don’t try to be too clever or terse. In some cases limiting conditionals and variables goes hand in hand with improving readability, in other cases not. It all depends on context.

Freek Van der Herten is a partner and developer at Spatie, an Antwerp based company that specializes in creating web apps with Laravel. After hours he writes about modern PHP and Laravel on this blog. When not coding he’s probably rehearsing with his kraut rock band.