Code Survival

August 15, 2006

While Brian and I were pairing today, we also found an offensive bit of code.

property P: Pointer read FP;

This was a public property on a class. It had no meaningful name, and was of the least-specific type in the system. (I’m prefer dynamic languages, but if you’re going to use a type system, use it.)

Some quick grepping revealed that the property was never used, and deleting it and doing a build all confirmed it. We felt much better.

But, simply deleting it was not enough. We had to find out who had put this terrible code into our codebase. Using svn blame to track back the revisions, we discovered it was put in on revision 3 back in 1996 when the file was first added to Visual Source Safe.

We were no longer very surprised at the naming of the variable. The department’s naming standards were not the same ten years ago. What we were surprised to discover is that the property (well, it was a public field back then) wasn’t ever used in revision 3.

The field had never been used.

You know you have a big ball of mud when a public field named P survives for ten years on a class that is a vital part of your system even though it is never used anywhere in the code.

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