How Code Reviews can Improve your DevOps Code Maintainability

by Riversafe

What is Code Maintainability?

Code maintainability is all about how easily code can be changed, corrected, or enhanced across the span of its use. The more maintainable the code, the simpler it is to adapt and manage throughout its lifecycle.

Creating maintainable code means writing code in a way that it can be read (and understood) by others. Clean and readable code is much more straightforward to modify, repurpose, or fix after a round of testing—without the need for significant rewrites, or long hours spent trying to decipher the original developer’s thinking.

Code maintainability is a crucial part of developing software that’s not only high quality, but high-performance, sustainable, and long-lasting.

There are several key factors that go into making code maintainable:

  • Readability
  • Clarity
  • Simplicity
  • Consistency
  • Modularity
  • Testability

Why is Code Maintainability Important in DevOps?

The core purpose of DevOps is to create quality software fast. DevOps teams are constantly rolling out new features, making improvements, responding to feedback, and adapting to a dynamic market.

Being able to operate effectively as a DevOps practice requires agility—and nothing hampers your ability to keep pace with changes like poor code. Code that’s been written without maintainability in mind takes time and effort (read: money) to amend, update, and preserve and generally slows the otherwise swift process of DevOps down.

Putting a focus on maintainability throughout the development process reduces the amount of technical debt accrued throughout the SDLC, optimising costs and freeing up developers to work on creating new features rather than fighting fires.

Benefits of Code Maintainability

Faster delivery
Better collaboration is what powers DevOps. Sharing knowledge, providing regular feedback, and unity between the development and the operational phases of software delivery means DevOps teams can produce good products faster.

This cohesion helps DevOps teams get all hands on deck to address issues quickly; the more maintainable the code, the faster developers can access, review, and suggest changes to it so that bottlenecks can be eliminated as soon as possible.

More stable products
Again, the idea here is that maintainability=speed of delivery. If there’s an incident, maintainable code can be rapidly inspected and tweaked, which in turn improves the stability and availability of the product.

Better quality code
Built to be readable, simple, and consistent, maintainable code is just better code. Writing code that’s sustainable and easy to refactor boosts the likelihood that it’ll perform well in the longer term, and that any necessary maintenance can be done with minimal effort and resource.

The Best Practice: Code Reviews

There are many best practices you can implement to improve the maintainability of your team’s code.

Good source code management, for example, is vital for making sure everyone on the team has access to the codebase so that they can propose changes, and reuse code to speed up the development process.

Using a single version control platform for all code will help with source code management. Even if your team is using more than one repository, centralising code within one version control tool will make it far easier for everyone to find the code they need.

But the most effective tip for ensuring code maintainability is also the simplest: code reviews.

While they can be done in a lot of different ways, essentially code reviews are as simple as the name suggests. A code review is when someone other than the original developer or author of the code manually checks it over. It’s a humble but effective way to review code for errors, inconsistencies, and overall quality.

Code reviews can be carried out by another member of the team, or shared around a group of colleagues to get additional pairs of eyes on the code. Like many DevOps practices, parts of the code review process can be automated.

A robust review should examine the code across several key areas, including:

  • Functionality Does it do what the end user requires it to do? How does it perform?
  • Design Is it logical and well-structured? Can it be easily modified with minimal disruption?
  • Style Does it adhere to any style guidelines that your team or organisation has?
  • Complexity Is there a simpler way to achieve the goal of the code?
  • Naming Are any naming conventions used consistent, descriptive and understandable to others?
  • Testing Are tests appropriate, comprehensible, and cover all code?

Not only does reviewing code against these pillars reduce bugs and support better code, but this practice is also great for disseminating knowledge between team members, sharing best practices, and improving collaboration.

How to Implement Code Reviews

If you’re thinking about implementing code reviews, or want to improve the review process you have in place currently, there are a few steps you can take.

Establish best practices (and share them).

Failure to establish coding standards and guidelines will wreck your code review process before it starts.

Start your process implementation by establishing best practices for code development and management, like refactoring, automated testing, and CI/CD. Document everything so that practices are consistent and accessible, ensuring everyone is on the same page. (A code review checklist wouldn’t go amiss while everyone is settling into the process.)

Once these processes have been nailed down, communicate them. Provide training for all on your DevOps team about why you’re implementing code reviews, what the procedure is, and what to look for.

Consistency is key here. Establish, if not a schedule, then at least expectations around when code reviews should be conducted. Reviews and refactorings should be carried out regularly to be most effective at catching any potentially costly errors, and generally adhering to the ‘little and often’ ethos of DevOps.

Set up source control reports.

To help your team easily pinpoint the code that needs to be reviewed, you can set up reports within your source control platform to highlight all the changes that have been made since the last review, however often you want to execute them. These reports should be repeatable and accessible to everyone who might find themselves involved in a code review.

Invest in tools.

Give your team the best chance of success with code reviews by implementing tools that help maintain code quality. These can include tools for static code analysis, code coverage analysis, and tracking of code metrics.

Code maintainability is a capability that requires organisation-wide coordination since it relies on being able to search, reuse, and change other teams’ code. But when working in large organisations or with sizable code bases, managing dependencies can become a challenge. Consistent tooling helps avoid problems with dependencies and flags the potential consequences of code changes. This in turn will improve design decision-making for all engineers, and boost code quality to create more stable, reliable software.

Automate where possible.

Don’t overlook the importance of automated testing and code coverage analysis. You can simplify (and speed up) code reviews while upholding quality by automating the more tedious, time-consuming stages.

You certainly don’t want to waste valuable time or demoralise your reviewers by having them do tasks that could be done just as effectively through automation. Things like notifying team members when a code review is due, branch coverage, and compliance with your pre-agreed tech stack can and should be left to the robots.

Make approval part of the deployment process.

If you’ve already implemented continuous integration, continuous delivery, and/or continuous deployment, that doesn’t mean you can’t still conduct manual code reviews during that process.

Build a code review step into your automated production deployment process so that you can be sure all code generated for deployment has been checked for quality and maintainability before it goes out into the world. This will improve your overall code maintainability, and reduce the need to address errors and bugs further down the line.

Need some help?

At RiverSafe, we can help you improve the quality and maintainability of your codebase.

Our experienced DevOps engineers work closely with you to conduct a thorough review of your code, identify areas of improvement, and develop a customised plan for enhancing code quality and maintainability.

We use a combination of manual and automated testing and analysis techniques to ensure that your codebase meets industry standards for quality and maintainability. Our goal is to help you reduce technical debt, accelerate development cycles, and improve the overall sustainability of your software applications.

Find out how we can optimise your DevOps practice: get in touch


By Riversafe

Experts in DevOps, Cyber Security and Data Operations