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Ugh! Your shorthand is too short!

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One of the most annoying things I keep seeing is people who write shorthand code with variables like:

i = true

Where "i" means "initialize" or some miscellaneous other word that starts with an "i." 

 

How will you go back later and debug when the code has reached 1,000,000 lines and you forgot what "i" does?

 

Better yet, even 1,000 lines would throw me for a loop (pun intended). 

 

I mean, C++ code is already cryptic enough, why the extra brevity?

 

Sometimes I truly think people initially write the full names in the code, and then go back and make things cryptic on purpose just to scare away code thieves. In that case I understand, but is the stereotype really true that programmers are just lazy?

 

There is a way to be brief yet descriptive without feeling like you are monologuing in your code. I understand that we can sacrifice a little human readability (according to human language standards) for the sake of "getting it done" but really....

 

Something like:

init = true

would be better, but even then....

 

Anyone else know what I'm talking about (I am a beginner)?

Edited by Tutorial Doctor

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I was trying to learn about b-trees, and so I looked around and found this implementation, full of one letter variable names:

[url]http://attractivechaos.awardspace.com/kbtree.h.html[/url]

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The more annoying thing aboug one-letter variables is about highlighting or finding them (pray you do not have to refactor such code), not so much about understanding what they mean (if the programmer is only somewhat sensible, the purpose of one-letter names is usually still obvious).

 

But once you find out that your editor lets you conveniently highlight all occurrences of greater-than-N substrings (usually N=3) you start shouting at people who use one-letter variables because it doesn't work with the default settings, nor is there a way you could configure it so it works in a usable way without highlighting every frequently occurring letter in every keyword too.

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Since I've switched to DVORAK-DEV I sometimes find myself doing very... sad things.

So, on DVORAK-DEV numbers are really difficult to do. They are... on the row you expect but in a different order, with 0-1 being passable, 2-3 ugh. I still don't remember the position of the others. It turns out 9 is on QWERTY-6.

Ah, and you have to hit SHIFT to do numbers, as default those buttons produce symbols.

 

So, when I don't have expressive names, I end up doing even worse stuff:

void Some::Function(uint argo, uint argi) { ... }

Because you see, o is a small 0. And i is 1. And 2 is... what about t? Cuz it looks like two isn't it? And 3 is e... uuuuh my head!

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So, if 'i' is just some loop variable, that's fine with me.  for i = 0; i < SomeMeaningfulNameHere; ++i

 

If the variable names are used because they are formulas to an equation, that's mostly okay, though I prefer it when at least the signature of the function is meaningful, even if later on in the function, distance is shortened to d, and startPoint is shortened to p0 or whatever.  If a link to the formula is in the code, that's super handy. 

 

I hate it when someone decides to get cute with variable names, there was a guy who had all his packet structures named after anime characters.  Or when every single variable is just a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h and so on, until it wraps around to aa,ab,ac.  (Though that's a sign that the code is probably overcomplicated, when you have more variables than the alphabet.)

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I was trying to learn about b-trees, and so I looked around and found this implementation, full of one letter variable names:

http://attractivechaos.awardspace.com/kbtree.h.html

Hahaha. Wow! I've seen code like this before. I can't tell if that was intentional or not, because there is so much that is off about that code. 

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It's not really off, nor is it even particularly ugly, once you look past the heavy use of complex macros. It's just code from a different time. Looking at the copyright dates, you can see that original versions of it date back to 1997. 1997 was eons ago, in terms of language development. It was written in C first of all, and even if they'd have used C++, template support in C++ compilers of the day was nowhere near what it is now. Like Apoch said, it was just someone trying to write a generic tree type in the C language. To achieve that type of genericity in C took some arcane contortions, as you can see, but in many cases it was well worth the effort; and in fact, an old-school C programmer would not in any way be all that intimidated by that code, being more accustomed to that style of programming. Remember that in C, macros were not the pariahs they are now; in fact, they were quite integral to advanced usage of the language.

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One letter variables are well suited for loops, or simple math formula, otherwise it's best to give an accurate variable name, even if it's long imo.

Edited by Vortez

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I understand single letter variables for constants and loops, but I have seen code like the one posted prior that look like alien language. I just don't get it. 

 

I mean, in math we represent quantities with variables, usually when those quantities are unknown or variable. But in programming we have freedom to give the variable a more descriptive name. I mean, it is useful to use single letter variables for formulas and perhaps this would be a justifiable use of single letter variables also. 

m =
 
x =
xx = x*x
 
b =
a =
c =
 
m*xx + b*x + 4*a*c

 

And if these variables represented numbers that are generated by some arbitrary process, then I can see how code can get real cryptic looking but still be understood easily. 

But it seems sometimes, for the sake of brevity, people use single letter variables or even non descriptive  abbreviations all over the place. I'd have a hard time myself if I didn't make it recognizable for later on. 

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Usually it's people who come from math backgrounds.  They are very used to, and comfortable with using single letter symbols to represent everything.  I would always notice it back when I was in school, and the math teachers would have some programming project, either a framework for us to use or a sample or whatever.  It was always single letter stuff.  While frameworks and samples from programming or game projects teachers, they would use descriptive variable names.

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The more annoying thing aboug one-letter variables is about highlighting or finding them (pray you do not have to refactor such code), not so much about understanding what they mean (if the programmer is only somewhat sensible, the purpose of one-letter names is usually still obvious).

 

But once you find out that your editor lets you conveniently highlight all occurrences of greater-than-N substrings (usually N=3) you start shouting at people who use one-letter variables because it doesn't work with the default settings, nor is there a way you could configure it so it works in a usable way without highlighting every frequently occurring letter in every keyword too.

 

Well, that's only an argument for getting a better editor.  If your editor does not find or highlight single-character variable names out of the box it's already broken.

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I was trying to learn about b-trees, and so I looked around and found this implementation, full of one letter variable names:

http://attractivechaos.awardspace.com/kbtree.h.html

 

then one thinks for a moment "hey, this is where C could use a more powerful preprocessor"...

then thinks for a moment more "I already wrote one before, it didn't help all that much, was inconvinient to use, and generally ended up not really used much...".

 

but, yes, sadly I have done this sort of thing before, just not usually this much at once, in a few cases (typically for statically-typed interpreter logic and similar, where basically otherwise similar logic has to be repeated endlessly for N-way combinations of types).

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Use longer names instead of single letter variables. Consider replacing

 

a with alpha

b with beta

d with delta

 

etc.

I do hope you are being sarcastic

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I do hope you are being sarcastic

 

Nope.  I do the same with indexes:

 

[tt]i[/tt] with [tt]idx[/tt]

[tt]j[/tt] with [tt]jdx[/tt]

[tt]k[/tt] with [tt]kdx[/tt]

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