When is the software too complex?

Gone are the days of simple software programs used to accomplish one or two tasks to make life easier for users. In today’s software landscape, complexity is more in demand than ever. Brands, businesses and even individuals want their new applications to act like the swiss knives of technology with complex, layered feature sets and a wide range of functions as well as a beautiful and intuitive user interface.

With the introduction of the native cloud era and many advancements in the tech world, the current landscape has already migrated from massive software architectures with real physical servers to breaking things down into containers in a cloud environment. distributed computing. These changes, along with the expectation that each piece of software deliver rich, user-interface-driven experiences, make development incredibly complex.

What is software complexity?

Software is an intangible product, which makes it notoriously difficult to measure in terms of metrics, but its complexity is one aspect that is easily quantifiable. Software complexity is how developers describe a specific set of characteristics in their code. These features focus specifically on how pieces of code interact with each other in the code base.

Complexity acts as a software quality level for code and is a measure of these characteristics. There are, of course, a multitude of ways to measure these characteristics and therefore their complexity, but there are a few main methods and metrics in use today to assess code complexity:

  • Cyclomatic complexity – Certainly the best known method, it is even common for the interchangeable use of software complexity and cyclomatic complexity as terms. Cyclomatic complexity measures the number of linearly independent paths in a piece of code. This “linear path” refers to a single path with loops counted once. Developers use a control flow graph to calculate it.
  • Lines of Source Code (SLOC) – A more literal way of judging complexity, SLOC counts the number of lines in the source code. This is the easiest metric or method used to determine complexity.
  • Halstead volume – It measures how much information resides in the source code by evaluating the number of variables and how often they are used in functions and programs.
  • Maintainability index – This useful metric calculates the overall long-term maintainability score of a program to a more empirical extent. It weighs Halstead volute and cyclomatic complexity against the number of lines of code in a program.

When does complex software get too complex?

It’s understandable that customers want the most “bang for their buck” when it comes to new software. However, this comes at a cost both to the development team and to the customer themselves. In addition to taking care of the cloud aspect of development, the development team is also starting to deal with technical debt over time and quality loss in some cases.

When left unchecked, code complexity becomes a kind of technical debt. Developers obviously never want to “owe” their customer something like this, but it happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the client asks for a very complex feature set to be added or even just a last minute addition to the code. This then leads to problems such as huge code bases filled with thousands of lines of “spaghetti code” instead of sleek, clean and easy to understand code.

In many cases, the developers recognize this problem and intend to come back and clean up those messy lines. However, they do not always have the opportunity to do so as they are overwhelmed with other tasks, have not received training in the art of quality coding, or simply do not understand the importance of coding. code quality. Sometimes they just don’t have enough time to go into the market. This creates “debt” which developers then have to pay off and repair.

When code is messy and reaches a point of over-complexity where it is unreadable or unmanageable by developers, it is too complex. This leads to difficulty for other developers to read the code, a horrible maintenance experience, and a much higher probability of bugs, crashes, and glitches.

How to avoid overly complex code

All software development projects contain some degree of complexity in their code bases, and sometimes it is not possible to refactor or scale down too complex code without rewriting an entire project. However, the way to manage these features is to identify the aspects of complex code that have the greatest impact on end users and focus their resources and efforts on them.

Project managers and client liaison officers should also use their roles to empower their development teams to help customers understand what is reasonable and doable when complex additions arise. The development team should also make sure that their timelines are fair enough to handle any overly complex areas before going into production.


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