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When are single-character variable names acceptable?

Generally I don’t like to abbreviate variable names. This answer on Quora lists a few situations where an abbreviation is probably ok.

There is a simple (but unsatisfying) answer to all questions of this form: they are acceptable when they would make the code clearer.

This can happen in a few ways. The most common, as you noted, is convention: i, j, k for loop variables, x and y for coordinates, e for exceptions, f and g for functions and so on.

Another is structure. Often, the broad structure of an expression is more important than its contents. Using shorter variable names makes it easier to read at a glance. I think this is often more important than being easy to read in detail!

If a variable has a very small scope—say one or two lines at most—and it’s easy to see where it comes from, having a long name is just noise.


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. He loves waffles and butterflies.