Programs are written by people, and thus segments of code are vulnerable to errors. This is exactly where code reviews come in: to help catch those errors before the code becomes part of a public-facing program. A well-executed peer-based code review can help catch snags that range beyond style notes or pointing out an odd variable. This blog comprises a code review checklist recommended by industry experts that would help you in writing meticulous and commendable codes.

Your teammates and other software programmers are some of the best assets you have. Putting your code up against a rigorous series of automated tool-based tests can be a routine help—it is no substitute for the detailed oversight of another programmer, no matter how extensive or strenuous the tests.

The primary parameters for writing a good piece of code are functionality and accessibility. Your fellow programmers need to be able to go right into your codebase and utilize what you have provided, without you being there to help guide them through. 

Code Review Checklist for 2021

Now more than ever, it is important for teams to stay in touch in this new era of work from home, or “WFH.” There are a myriad of new methods and tools that teams are using to stay connected and communicating while they aren’t going to the office.

Even before everyone worked remotely, modern team coding methods had begun to shift away from formal review processes and have instead evolved toward practices that incorporate regular, change-based reviews, which as a result are more frequent but ultimately make reviews less time consuming than they have been in the past. 

Just like the rest of the world, the tech-based fields continue to make big adjustments to how large-scale collaborative efforts are being continued in the face of so many obstacles, with some trends likely to become permanent fixtures of the industry. 

This means your new remote peer review sessions may be the handful of times you have a chance to spend time with your team on a virtual face-to-face basis. So, before we dive into how to approach your first review with the help of a code review checklist, let’s cover some of the immediate benefits of well-constructed code review sessions.

The Importance of Peer Code Reviews

code review checklist

When you’re just getting started, you’ll notice that there are many tool-assisted code review software kits that have become widely used and popular amongst the professional team coding community: such as Crucible, Gerrit, Collaborator, and Review Board. These tools are useful for providing a shared space for coders to trade notes, compare code versions, and generally manage team progress. That being said, these tools are an assist – not a substitute for – consistent peer code reviews – here’s why:

  • Code reviews save time. When reviews are scheduled effectively and executed with care, they save programmers and engineers a significant amount of time. Locating and spot-checking bugs during the course of the development process are faster and simpler than finding bugs during an application’s test phase—and far less expensive. After a codebase and an application are merged, it is a bigger challenge to make the necessary changes after the fact.
  • They generate team camaraderie. Peer reviews also allow for much-needed community space amongst team members. Reviews are an opportunity for greener engineers to have access to mentorship. They offer a chance for more veteran team members to provide seasoned advice. Likewise, the younger developers can issue fresh takes and new perspectives to dated parts of the programming process. 
  • They make you a better programmer. Building the foundational codebase for a successful program application requires you to see your code the way others will see it, and vice versa. Code reviews are a routine opportunity to learn from your peers, get excited about new developments, and ultimately improve the codebase. They are a crucial step on the way to becoming a better coder. 

Code review checklist (101) – To ensure that your code works before you head to review, a systematic series of checks should be conducted – and it’s important to make sure that you’re prepared to tackle these checks not just technologically, but also as a member of a team. Next, we will touch on a few different techniques and soft skills that will help you assess your code for basic things like bugs, structural errors, and immediate red flag issues – all while remaining a successful team player and coworker. 

Code Review Checklist: Understand Your Coding Approach to Simplify Code Reviews

During the course of your software engineering career, you will encounter a variety of methods for code review depending on what your team is responsible for building. But a majority should follow a similar pattern that you can use to guide your preparation. The most typically practiced style of code review is tool-assisted. But before we tackle the technical, we’re going to focus on how to approach the hands-on face-to-face elements of code review. 

Handling a code review successfully from start to finish requires multiple angles of approach. Of course, having a good grasp of technical features and your proficiency in your team’s chosen language is important, but you cannot overlook the fundamentals. Remember, good communication, not technical proficiency makes or breaks team productivity in the end. 

Here are some general standard procedures and best practices that you can utilize when preparing.

Code Review Checklist – Step 1: Create a framework 

  • Help your reviewer help you. Imagine what guidelines you would expect to be given if your roles were reversed. If you annotate your code with clear indications and notes of which particular files your reviewers should prioritize, you save both you and them a lot of time. Use this as an opportunity to provide some context to them about your process and workflow up to that point.
  • Manage expectations. Ahead of your review, provide your reviewer a list of required features and typical errors. This saves both of you time as it provides you guardrails to keep you on track. A clear-cut set of goals around development and testing helps structure the flow of your review and ensures that nothing crucial is overlooked.
  • Make time. Again, communication is key. Make time to talk through the dilemmas and issues you are facing. Make sure you give yourself and the person executing your review enough time to process all the information you have laid out to be covered. Remember legibility and accessibility – your reviewer did not write the code. You did. 

Code Review Checklist – Step 2: Practice good etiquette 

  • Engage with your language game. When you comment on a person’s code, it helps to be diplomatic about your language. Instead of saying “your code has a problem” or “my code worked better,” suggest changes that are open-ended and non-accusatory, such as “consider this change that we’ve made work before.”
  • Stay goal-oriented. The person reviewing your code is your teammate. Remember that they are there to help you, not to offend you or thrash your work! Keep in mind that you have a shared goal and that the end result that matters is ensuring that the codebase that you have created functions in its application stages—not who is the superior programmer.
  • Kill your darlings. Managing the obstacles of peer reviews with grace can be tricky. Bear in mind that at the end of the day, the code needs to work, and getting picky about subjective aesthetic changes or design formatting will slow your whole team down. You need to make sure that you, either as a reviewer or a reviewee, do not fixate on trivial concerns. You may have to sacrifice personal preference for the success of the team. 

Code Review Checklist – Step 3: Go slow to go fast

  • The tortoise and the hare. It is easy to succumb to the pressure of expecting to get as much accomplished as quickly as possible- but rushing a code review can prove to diminish the results. When you are approaching your own coding—and especially when you are reviewing the code of another person—practice patience.
  • Load management. When you start out, you can structure your review sessions into frameable chunks that will help keep you focused. Take your time: it takes about an hour to get through 500 lines of code. Limit your review time to an hour per session. Take breaks regularly to mitigate the onset of fatigue to avoid overlooking something you otherwise might have spotted. 
  • Hug the problem. You are going to encounter errors and problems, in your own code and the coding of others. It can be frustrating when you find issues repeatedly within your work. You must embrace these obstacles as an opportunity to make your code better, rather than see them as evidence of failure while you were coding. 

If you utilize this checklist you can not only benefit yourself but assist your peers in vastly improving the execution of subsequent reviews. As previously mentioned, another great way to shore up your code leading up to a heavy review or audit is to run automated tests. 

So, What are the Most Crucial Code Review Tips?

As you prepare your code for your first peer review or prepare to overlook someone else’s, keep these things in mind to get the most out of your time with the team: 

  • Learn together. The overwhelming majority of software engineers got into the field for at least some quantity of love for the game, so coming away with a better approach, or a time-saving shortcut can be energizing. Use your time together as a team as a learning experience. 
  • Try to avoid the negative “code review as exam” mindset. If you focus on good techniques and cool things that your team has done, the code review becomes a chance to share praise and trade approaches with the wider team. Create situations where each person comes away having learned something.

Learn to code like a pro with Springboard’s software engineering career track program. To find out more about software engineering careers, job guides, and salary information, check out Springboard’s comprehensive guide to becoming a software engineer.