Spaghetti code is a pejorative phrase for unstructured and difficult-to-maintain source code. Spaghetti code can be caused by several factors, such as volatile project requirements, lack of programming style rules, and software engineers with insufficient ability or experience.
Code that overuses GOTO statements rather than structured programming constructs, resulting in convoluted and unmaintainable programs, is often called spaghetti code. Such code has a complex and tangled control structure, resulting in a program flow that is conceptually like a bowl of spaghetti, twisted and tangled. In a 1980 publication by the United States National Bureau of Standards, the phrase spaghetti program was used to describe older programs having "fragmented and scattered files". Spaghetti code can also describe an anti-pattern in which object-oriented code is written in a procedural style, such as by creating classes whose methods are overly long and messy, or forsaking object oriented concepts like polymorphism. The presence of this form of spaghetti code can significantly reduce the comprehensibility of a system.
It is not clear when the phrase spaghetti code came into common usage; however, several references appeared in 1977 including Macaroni is Better Than Spaghetti by Guy Steele. In the 1978 book A primer on disciplined programming using PL/I, PL/CS, and PL/CT, Richard Conway used the term to describe types of programs that "have the same clean logical structure as a plate of spaghetti", a phrase repeated in the 1979 book An Introduction to Programming he co-authored with David Gries. In the 1988 paper A spiral model of software development and enhancement, the term is used to describe the older practice of the code and fix model, which lacked planning and eventually led to the development of the waterfall model. In the 1979 book Structured programming for the COBOL programmer, author Paul Noll uses the phrases spaghetti code and rat's nest as synonyms to describe poorly structured source code.
Richard Hamming described in his lectures the etymology of the term in the context of early programming in binary codes:
If, in fixing up an error, you wanted to insert some omitted instructions then you took the immediately preceding instruction and replaced it by a transfer to some empty space. There you put in the instruction you just wrote over, added the instructions you wanted to insert, and then followed by a transfer back to the main program. Thus the program soon became a sequence of jumps of the control to strange places. When, as almost always happens, there were errors in the corrections you then used the same trick again, using some other available space. As a result the control path of the program through storage soon took on the appearance of a can of spaghetti. Why not simply insert them in the run of instructions? Because then you would have to go over the entire program and change all the addresses which referred to any of the moved instructions! Anything but that!
Ravioli code is a term specific to object-oriented programming. It describes code that comprises well-structured classes that are easy to understand in isolation, but difficult to understand as a whole.
Here follows what would be considered a trivial example of spaghetti code in BASIC. The program prints each of the numbers 1 to 100 to the screen along with its square. Indentation is not used to differentiate the various actions performed by the code, and that the program's
GOTO statements create a reliance on line numbers. The flow of execution from one area to another is harder to predict. Real-world occurrences of spaghetti code are more complex and can add greatly to a program's maintenance costs.
1 i=0 2 i=i+1 3 PRINT i; "squared=";i*i 4 IF i>=100 THEN GOTO 6 5 GOTO 2 6 PRINT "Program Completed." 7 END
Here is the same code written in a structured programming style:
1 FOR i=1 TO 100 2 PRINT i;"squared=";i*i 3 NEXT i 4 PRINT "Program Completed." 5 END
The program jumps from one area to another, but this jumping is formal and more easily predictable, because for loops and functions provide flow control whereas the goto statement encourages arbitrary flow control. Though this example is small, real world programs are composed of many lines of code and are difficult to maintain when written in a spaghetti code fashion.
Here is another example of Spaghetti code with embedded GOTO statements.
INPUT "How many numbers to sort? "; T DIM n(T) FOR i = 1 TO T PRINT "NUMBER:"; i INPUT n(i) NEXT i 'Calculations: C = T E180: C = INT(C / 2) IF C = 0 THEN GOTO C330 D = T - C E = 1 I220: f = E F230: g = f + C IF n(f) > n(g) THEN SWAP n(f), n(g) f = f - C IF f > 0 THEN GOTO F230 E = E + 1 IF E > D THEN GOTO E180 GOTO I220 C330: PRINT "The sorted list is" FOR i = 1 TO T PRINT n(i) NEXT i
- Big ball of mud, a piece of software with no perceivable architecture
- International Obfuscated C Code Contest, a competition to produce pleasingly obscure C code
- Write-only language, a language with such bizarre syntax that resulting code is incomprehensible
- Technical debt
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- Go To Statement Considered Harmful. The classic repudiation of spaghetti code by Edsger Dijkstra
- We don't know where to GOTO if we don't know where we've COME FROM by R. Lawrence Clark from DATAMATION, December, 1973
- Refactoring Java spaghetti code into Java bento code separating out a bowl full of code from one class into seven classes
- Objects and Frameworks – Taking a Step Back by Brian Rinaldi
- Programming Pasta - Spaghetti, Lasagna, Ravioli and Macaroni Code
- Pasta Theory of Programming
- Spaghetti Code: Detangling Life and Work with Programmer Wisdom (English Edition)