In computer programming, self-documenting (or self-describing) source code and user interfaces follow naming conventions and structured programming conventions that enable use of the system without prior specific knowledge.
Commonly stated objectives for self-documenting systems include:
- Make source code easier to read and understand
- Minimize the effort required to maintain or extend legacy systems
- Reduce the need for users and developers of a system to consult secondary documentation sources such as code comments or software manuals
- Facilitate automation through self-contained knowledge representation
Self-documenting code is ostensibly written using human-readable names, typically consisting of a phrase in a human language which reflects the symbol's meaning, such as numberOfWordsInThisArticle or TryOpen. The code must also have a clear and clean structure so that a human reader can easily understand the algorithm used.
There are certain practical considerations that influence whether and how well the objectives for a self-documenting system can be realized.
- Jef Raskin on Self-documenting code: http://acmqueue.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=290&page=1.
- Steve McConnell's High Quality Routines checklist in his book Code Complete helps to facilitate the creation of self-documenting code.
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