Working with Legacy Code: Tips and Best Practices

Photo by Joel Moysuh on Unsplash

Working with Legacy Code: Tips and Best Practices

Jul 30, 2022·

4 min read

Play this article

Table of contents

No heading

No headings in the article.

Legacy code refers to code that was written using older technologies or programming languages, or code that was written a long time ago and has not been updated in a while. Working with legacy code can be challenging, as it may not be well-documented, may not have been written with modern coding practices in mind, and may not be easily understood by new team members. However, with the right approach, working with legacy code can be a rewarding experience. In this blog, we'll share some tips and best practices for working with legacy code.

  1. Understand the Codebase

Before making any changes to the code, take the time to understand how it works. This can be a daunting task, especially if the code is poorly documented or written in a language you are not familiar with. Start by reading through the code and identifying key sections, functions, and classes. Once you have a basic understanding of the code, try running it and experimenting with different inputs to see how it behaves.

  1. Test the Code

Legacy code may not have been well-tested, which means there may be hidden bugs lurking in the codebase. To ensure that any changes you make don't introduce new bugs, create a comprehensive test suite that covers all aspects of the code. This can be time-consuming, but it will save you time in the long run by reducing the risk of introducing new bugs.

  1. Refactor the Code

Once you have a good understanding of the codebase and have created a comprehensive test suite, it's time to start refactoring the code. Refactoring means making changes to the code without changing its external behavior. This can be a long and arduous process, but it is essential for improving the maintainability and reliability of the code.

  1. Document the Code

Legacy code is often poorly documented, which makes it hard for new team members to understand. Take the time to document the code as you work on it, including comments in the code, documentation in external files, and diagrams to help visualize the code structure.

  1. Don't Rewrite the Code

It may be tempting to rewrite the entire codebase from scratch, but this is rarely a good idea. Rewriting code is time-consuming and risky, and it may introduce new bugs or break existing functionality. Instead, focus on refactoring the code gradually over time, and only rewrite sections of the code that are absolutely necessary.

  1. Use Modern Tools and Techniques

Legacy code may have been written using outdated technologies or programming languages, but that doesn't mean you have to work with outdated tools and techniques. Use modern IDEs, version control systems, and code analysis tools to make your work easier and more efficient. This will also help make the codebase more accessible to new team members who may not be familiar with the older technologies.

Here are details on tools that can be helpful.

a. Static Code Analysis Tools: These tools analyze code without actually executing it and can help identify potential bugs, code smells, and other issues. Some popular static analysis tools include SonarQube, Checkstyle, and PMD.

b. Refactoring Tools: Refactoring tools can help automate the refactoring process, making it easier and faster to make changes to the code. Some popular refactoring tools include ReSharper for .NET and IntelliJ IDEA for Java.

c. Version Control Systems: Version control systems (VCS) are essential for managing changes to the codebase and collaborating with other team members. Git is a popular VCS that is widely used in the industry.

d. Code Coverage Tools: Code coverage tools help measure how much of the code is covered by tests and can identify areas that need more testing. Some popular code coverage tools include JaCoCo and Emma.

e. IDEs: Modern IDEs can be a huge help when working with legacy code, providing features like code navigation, debugging, and refactoring tools. Some popular IDEs include Eclipse, Visual Studio, and IntelliJ IDEA.

f. Dependency Management Tools: Legacy code may have outdated or unsupported dependencies, which can lead to compatibility issues and security vulnerabilities. Dependency management tools like Maven and Gradle can help manage dependencies and ensure that they are up-to-date and secure.