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How to intelligently manage your technical debt with behavioral code analysis


What’s technical debt? The most efficient clarification of this term, coined by Ward Cunningham, used to be supplied by Marin Fowler. We are unable to evolve IT techniques completely. Each added or modified performance introduces limited deficiencies in utility tremendous. These deficiencies recover from time and produce it more difficult for us to withhold the skedaddle at which we bring our techniques to manufacturing.

Pick into memoir a machine with technical debt. With none debt, it can in all probability perchance pick us 4 days to put in force the given performance, because of debt, it takes 6 days. This plot that the additional 2 days is the eagerness now we must pay. If the time wished to repair the code and pick away technical debt is 3 days, then the total alternate will pick us 7 days and it doesn’t repay. However if we know that right here’s no longer the absolute top alternate now we must introduce in the given utility ingredient, then spending the additional 3 days will rapidly repay. Additionally, be warned, that technical debt tends to hold. Future changes to a ingredient with debt will only aim the debt to prolong and the duration of time required to present original parts will upward push from 6 to 10 or 15 days.

What are the explanations for technical debt? Let’s pick into consideration Lehman’s laws on utility evolution:

Law of fixed alternate​

“A machine must be forever adapted or it becomes step by step less noble”​

Law of growing complexity​

“As a machine evolves, its complexity will enhance unless works are carried out to defend or lower it.”​

​From one facet, now we must add original capabilities, regulate existing ones, for the machine to discontinuance related and helpful. From the different, our actions prolong complexity and unless we pick actions, this complexity will in the raze produce machine evolution impossible because of the missing prick-off dates and excessive trend costs. As all americans knows, utility trend is a learning abilities. This plot that now we devour very limited info in regards to the correct say we strive to resolve and in regards to the alternate domain we’re working in in the origin of the mission. We study along the kind and assumptions, and architectural alternatives we envisioned before all the pieces of the mission, rapidly change into out of date. Industrial necessities alternate, prick-off dates are looming. We on the total sacrifice tremendous for pushing code as swiftly as we can into manufacturing. Technologie choices are on the total biased and lower than optimum. All of these and hundreds of more than a few factors manufacture technical debt.

Managing technical debt

So how will we deal with technical debt? Personally, there are three key aspects to tame the beast: machine structure, team, and course of organization. As we know from Conway’s law (or somewhat from the penalties of it) – all of them must work together, in another case, we’re doomed for failure.

Architecture on every level, from the division of a machine into parts/modules to the inner construction of programs, classes must serene separate things which devour replacement causes to alternate or alternate at a particular price. As we are in a position to peek throughout reading this put up, right here’s compulsory. Mixing replacement responsibilities in the the same ingredient will enhance the chance of defects and extra strengthens the pattern of tremendous decrease.

Architecture must furthermore be like minded with teams’ organizations to decrease course of loss related to extra communication and coordination effort, and to connect away with costly code merges.

We are unable to invent an “righteous” structure and organization that will be ample for the mission for its complete lifecycle. This plot that we must forever display screen our structure’s recount, code tremendous, communication patterns, team’s organization to properly react and belief improvements in the areas where it makes the largest compose.

Many managers ignore the need for such project. They devour an inclination guilty builders only for tremendous deficiencies and to question their skills and involvement. That will not be any longer precise. Accumulation of technical debt is a pure course of and all mission stakeholders are partially guilty.

Exact monitoring, the evolution of machine structure, and the team’s organization are namely significant in initiatives utilizing agile methodologies. In such initiatives, we strive to get our code to manufacturing as rapidly as that you doubtlessly can imagine. Continually teams omit that this must serene be performed with out sacrifices to code tremendous. As we hump to manufacturing, our code is now topic to upkeep, and as most trendy scientific study presentations, 40 to 80% of IT mission’s worth is spent on upkeep. Now now not appearing on elevated machine complexity has a for all mission stakeholders. For administration, it plot missed prick-off dates, elevated lead events, no predictability of the trend course of. For customers, it plot many of bugs that produce their day after day work more difficult and frustrating, reducing alternate effectivity. For the total organization, extra worth, and loss in the aggressive advantage.

There are many of tools and techniques that most organizations are in the intervening time utilizing to fight technical debt. Let’s enumerate basically the most traditional ones and their deficiencies:

  • Assessments: unit tests, integration tests, e2e tests – they all serve us fetch bugs earlier than we hump to manufacturing. They also are very significant because, with out it, huge scale machine trend is almost impossible. The flexibility to forestall computerized tests enables us to alternate the construction of our techniques to present trend and upkeep more straightforward and lower technical debt. With out tests, likelihood is you’ll perchance maybe very effectively be doomed to the excessive worth of handbook regression tests of the total machine. However computerized tests are code. This plot that it must hold technical debt. Poorly designed and maintained tests will rapidly change into extra of a burden than a serve.
  • Static code prognosis: it must study many violations of easiest practices and patterns in our codebases. It doesn’t pick into consideration any context, therefore cannot tell us how severe by the usage of costs for added machine trend given complications is. It’ll tell us how worthy technical debt now we devour, however no longer, which share of it is some distance the correct threat for us.
  • Complexity metrics: replacement them are programming language dependent and costly to calculate, they furthermore plot no longer pick into consideration context or social info, which as we are in a position to be aware later are compulsory to belief if a given share of advanced code is a wretchedness for us or no longer.
  • Code opinions: a costly handbook course of that entails our senior engineers, however is extraordinarily significant, as it promotes info sharing and early say detection. As viewed in apply, opinions on the total focal level on a given alternate, introduced by a developer, no longer on the recount of code after the alternate.

Behavioral code prognosis

All of these tools are helpful however we want extra info to properly arrange technical debt. In our R&D team, we stumbled on a extraordinarily fascinating original formulation developed by Adam Tornhill – behavioral code prognosis. He described his conception in two books: “Your Code as a Crime Scene” and “Tool Attach X-Rays”. His formulation broadens static prognosis with two original dimensions: time and americans. As a scientific doctor cannot diagnose a patient successfully merely in maintaining along with his most trendy recount and symptoms, however needs historical and project info (patient’s scientific historical past, genetic threat, bodily project, nutrition habits, and heaps others.), to diagnoses our machine, we want info about code evolution in time and the ways builders devour interaction with code. Happily for us, we collect your total required info for years in our source withhold watch over techniques like git or svn.

Let’s review what insights we can get from our repositories utilizing behavioral code prognosis and the plot in which it helps us arrange technical debt.

Hotspots prognosis

Step one we want to select to properly deal with technical debt is finding locations in code, where improvements will give us the absolute top payoff.

In huge initiatives, with many of of hundreds of lines of code, developed in replacement programming languages, it will not be forever an effortless project utilizing historical tools. However hotspot prognosis is right here to serve us. A hotspot is a ingredient of our codebase (a file) which is on the the same time advanced and has been incessantly changed in the analyzed duration. As a measure of complexity, we are in a position to exhaust basically the most efficient that you doubtlessly can imagine one – replacement of lines of code. As a measure of alternate frequency, we are in a position to exhaust the replacement of commits altering the given file. The checklist below presents conception to be one of the that you doubtlessly can imagine visualizations of hotspots: the simpler the circle, the extra advanced the given ingredient is, extra red circle plot elevated alternate frequency.

code hotspot visualisation - circles

Can any such easy metric work? Analysis in accordance to many of of initiatives, of more than a few sizes, developed in replacement applied sciences utilizing replacement trend processes, all result in the the same distribution of alternate frequencies.

code change frequency

Most efficient a limited share of code is modified incessantly. A kind of the code is actual and rarely changed. Statistics veil that actual unmodified code is plot less error-vulnerable than code recently changed. As an illustration, the chance of a defect in code actual for a year is ⅓ lower than in code recently changed. This plot that actual, however advanced code will not be any longer our wretchedness (unless we know, that there would possibly be work planned that will require changes to such code). Yet replacement study confirms the correlation between alternate of frequency and decrease of tremendous. Based utterly totally on statistics, a mix of the replacement of lines of code and alternate frequency proved to be better at defect price prediction than any replacement combination of additional advanced metrics.

I will only verify that we observed the the same distribution in initiatives we produce and defend right here at Altkom Tool & Consulting.

Hotspot prognosis helps us attach away with better than 90% of code from our extra investigations. However we want to dig deeper as being a hotspot doesn’t basically mean a wretchedness. No doubt, a fancy ingredient with excessive alternate frequency is maybe a wretchedness, however changes would possibly perchance very effectively be a results of already started improvements.

As already stated, most frequently hotspot plot now we devour a wretchedness, that no lower than needs some extra investigation. An incredible, incessantly changed file would possibly perchance very effectively be gathering many responsibilities and must serene be split into smaller, extra cohesive parts.

To settle whether or no longer a given hotspot is a wretchedness or no longer, we want to dive into the significant parts of it. The first heuristic that we must serene apply is extraordinarily easy, we want to ascertain the title of a class that used to be marked as a hotspot. Nondescriptive, identical previous names, names with suffixes give us a clue that we must serene analyze the case fastidiously. Names like Teach, Helper, Service, Manager are on the total a signal that a given class has better than one accountability and maybe must serene be divided into smaller extra cohesive parts. Naming things in code is compulsory to the code readability and ease of upkeep. Code is plot extra on the total read than modified and the working reminiscence of our brains is particular therefore it’s worthy more straightforward for fogeys to navigate the code if names are descriptive and steal the class or characteristic aim. The study has shown that we americans starting up building a psychological model of code from names of classes and capabilities. Nondescriptive or too identical previous names invent a downside on our solution to love the code.

Your next step is checking the complexity traits of our hotspot. This time we’ll calculate complexity extra elaborately. We are going to count indents in code. This plot we can effortlessly detect code with advanced structures, code that comprises advanced logical expressions, and multi-branch withhold watch over structures. Such constructs are on the total the source of many errors. As an illustration, advanced logical expressions are accountable for roughly 20% of all errors. Taking a peek on the complexity pattern we can produce determined if builders devour already started taking care of technical debt and complexity began to decrease. If complexity keeps growing, namely if it will enhance quicker than the total replacement of lines, now we devour a wretchedness we want to deal with.

code complexity chart

We prefer to gape at some level of the given class and fetch areas we want to select care of. We can exhaust the hotspot prognosis on the characteristic level. It would possibly perchance tell which capabilities are basically the most advanced and that are most incessantly changed.

x-ray code analysis

We pick the the same formulation as with file-level hotspots. If now we devour a fancy characteristic that has no longer been changed for months, we plot no longer prefer to develop any actions. However finding a fancy characteristic that is on the total modified is a signal that it needs refactoring. Presumably the characteristic is simply too tremendous and will be modularized. Presumably it comprises some advanced expressions that will be refactored into separate capabilities. Hotspot prognosis can furthermore be aware us which capabilities have a tendency to alternate together. That can perchance very effectively be a signal of copy and paste or a missing abstraction.

After inspection of suspected capabilities, we can belief our improvements.

Hotspot prognosis helps us produce counseled choices, in accordance to info and scientific study and intelligently arrange technical debt.

As we can peek, we can kind of scale the hotspot prognosis – we can apply it on the file/class level, we can hump deeper and analyze capabilities inner a given file/class. However we can furthermore apply it to the architectural level. We can peek hotspots amongst machine structure parts. It would possibly perchance also be extraordinarily helpful when likelihood is you’ll perchance maybe very effectively be building microservice-primarily based utterly techniques or any roughly modular machine. With the hotspot prognosis, we can fetch modules (services) which would possibly perchance perchance perchance be too tremendous and alternate incessantly. All as soon as more, most frequently, the motive in the aid of any such wretchedness is that code in a given module takes too many responsibilities.

module health code analysis

We must serene analyze such modules and pick a peek at to divide them into smaller and extra cohesive aspects, merely like on the class level. As we talked about before all the pieces of this put up, it is very significant for machine effectively being, to separate code that can alternate for varied causes and with replacement frequencies. As now we devour viewed on the alternate frequency distribution diagrams – the separation of actual code from unstable code decreases the placement where the accumulation of technical debt is basically the most unhealthy.

Temporal coupling

Any other significant conception that will be analyzed utilizing our original tools is temporal coupling (aka. Change coupling). The temporal coupling plot that two parts X and Y alternate together. We can analyze how incessantly that occurs. With temporal coupling info, we can peek sudden dependencies between machine aspects and for dependencies that develop too sturdy.

temporal coupling - dependencies

In some cases temporal coupling is pure and there would possibly be nothing disagreeable with it. As an illustration, after we add a brand original characteristic to a ingredient, we on the total add a test to its test module. That is an instance of a temporal coupling that is desired. However if we ogle that many changes to inner implementation significant parts of a ingredient furthermore result in its test code changes, this implies that test code doubtlessly relies on the implementation significant parts of our module, which is a extraordinarily depraved thing.

If two parts that must be honest of each and every replacement be aware indicators of excessive temporal coupling, we want to analyze the case: fetch which classes and capabilities have a tendency to alternate together. There will be a missing abstraction or a complete original separate ingredient must serene be refactored. Presumably it is excessive time to revise our architectural assumptions and to plan original architectural boundaries between parts to raised toughen extra machine evolution.

Temporal coupling is furthermore extremely related to defects chance. A excessive level of temporal coupling on the total ends in a excessive defect price. The study presentations that temporal coupling is extra healthy for defects prediction than any of the complexity metrics.

Records of temporal coupling helps us belief refactorings and furthermore helps us belief tests. Vivid that changes to performance X aim changes in code related to Y, we can belief regressions test of each and every modules in case any of it changes.

The most efficient space to starting up temporal coupling prognosis is modules with the righteous alternate frequency.

Temporal coupling prognosis, because the hotspot prognosis, will be susceptible to hump from the modules level to class level, and then to operate level.

Temporal coupling extends our prognosis from person parts to family between them and helps us fetch code that, if left unattended, can lead to sudden and no longer easy to diagnose bugs. All of us know these scenarios when any individual adds performance to module A, module A is examined and works completely, we hump to manufacturing to search out out that modules B and C all of sudden pause working.

Hotspots, Temporal Coupling, Code Ownership, and Communication Patterns

All of us consider Brooks’s law from “The Mythical Man-Month”: “adding manpower to a gradual utility mission makes it later”​. This occurs because of the additional worth of communication and coordination that is elevated than the worth of work created by original team members. Any other thing is that machine structure limits the replacement of builders that can effectively work on the mission. Too many builders or builders no longer properly assigned to architectural parts will result in concurrent work on the the same share of code, performed by replacement builders and teams. There would possibly be a correlation between the replacement of authors, that concurrently regulate the the same ingredient and the replacement of defects in a given ingredient. Analysis on Linux source code presentations that modules with the replacement of authors elevated than 9 devour 16 events extra defects than the the relaxation of the codebase.

We can exhaust behavioral code prognosis to detect such complications. We now devour already viewed hotspot prognosis. In initiatives with suboptimal teams’ organization, there would possibly be a audacious connection between hotspots and modules modified by many builders. Using info from our source withhold watch over we can test how many builders modified a given module in the analyzed duration. If there are replacement builders enhancing hotspot code, chance is it has too many responsibilities, which in connection to frequent modifications carried out by replacement persons will doubtlessly result in a code of lesser tremendous, inconsistencies, defects, and time misplaced on costly merges. All as soon as more we peek the significance of the single accountability theory.

In his books, Adam Tornhill presents three identical previous patterns of code ownership and describes their penalties.

three typical patterns of code ownership

In the first case, all or most of the code in a given ingredient used to be developed by one particular person. Right here we plot no longer devour any extra costs related to communication and coordination. The ingredient’s code is fixed and its tremendous is mostly related to the author’s technical skills.

In the second case, now we devour many builders working on a ingredient, however conception to be one of them has carried out most of the work. On this case, the percent of code created by the principle contributor is a honest tremendous predictor. Analysis presentations that the elevated share of code contributed by the principle author, the lesser replacement of bugs. There would possibly be furthermore a honest stronger relationship between bugs and the replacement of more than a few contributors. The replacement of bugs will enhance with the replacement of additional contributors.

The final case is excessive fragmentation – many authors with a limited amount of changed code. This code would require cautious prognosis and tests as this will be the source of many bugs.

We can furthermore combine info about authors and temporal coupling. First, we want to search out the principle author of each and every module. We can plot it by finding a developer who added most of the code to the module. However on the total a better heuristic is to peek the replacement of deleted lines. This plot we are in a position to doubtlessly fetch a developer who is taking care of a given ingredient, cleans it up and reduces complexity utilizing refactoring techniques. We can combine an inventory of main authors per module or ingredient with the results of temporal coupling prognosis. If modules temporarily coupled devour the the same main author or author work closely together (for instance they are on the the same limited team), then we attach no longer need any complications. If they attach no longer seem to be, then we doubtlessly stumbled on a costly communication and coordination sample, when builders from replacement teams must work on tightly coupled code.


As acknowledged before all the pieces of this put up, technical debt will not be any longer a wretchedness of builders only. It affects the effectiveness of the total organization. If we don’t fight the technical debt results are: elevated costs, lack of predictability of our starting up course of, techniques with excessive defect charges that won’t allow you to enact your alternate needs.

Technical debt must serene be forever monitored and handled on a day after day foundation. We must serene arrange it in accordance to proper info and experts’ opinions.

Technical debt is in the code of our techniques, however to select care of it we must serene gape beyond the code itself. Intention structure and team organization are compulsory. We must serene display screen each and every and alter it to the mission’s needs. Architecture and organization must evolve to present optimum toughen for machine evolution.

Frail tools serve us a lot and produce helpful info about technical complications, however they plot no longer serve us fetch locations where investments will rapidly repay. They furthermore won’t serve us fetch organizational complications. We must serene add techniques from behavioral code prognosis to our toolbelts to withhold watch over technical debt intelligently.

This put up presents some of the behavioral code prognosis techniques described by Adam Tornhill: hotspots, temporal coupling, code ownership. There are extra of them: we can exhaust info maps to display screen the facts of our machine, code churn to analyze the kind builders devour interaction with the code, and hundreds of additional. There are tools that automate the course of. One of them is Code Scene, a commercial product created by Adam in maintaining along with his books. We exhaust it at Altkom Tool and Consulting on a day after day foundation, it is constructed-in into our CI/CD pipelines and helps in many ways to invent better techniques. In tell so that you can strive these original techniques I extremely recommend starting up with Adam’s books and participating in with Code Maat, a free open-source instrument that accompanies these books.

Author: Wojciech Suwała, Head Architect

Altkom Tool & Consulting

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