Discussing the nuts and bolts of software development

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Software Metrics : What are they, and what can they do for you

What are software metrics?

This might be a term you have heard before. Simply put, they are a way to quantify aspects of source code.

These aspects vary, and each have a different significance. ... it will make more sense if you see some examples:

This is only a partial list of some software metrics that can identify weak spots in your code base. It is also certainly possible to dream up software metrics of your own, such as the number of preprocessor "#if" statements used.

How to harness software metrics

All these numbers are quite meaningless without context. What is needed are tools. An ideal tool should run the software metric calculator on every file that is checked into a software repository. The metrics could then be stored and compared per file, and an action could be taken when a particular metric threshold has been crossed. From that trigger an appropriate action could be applied, such as sending out an email to the project manager, or creating a JIRA task to refactor the file. By using the type of metric, a list of possible refactoring remedies could be supplied to steer the developer on the right track.

Another desirable feature would be instant red/yellow/green status on projects and individual files, and trend when refactoring will be needed as metric counts increase. This would be the real power of such a system, being able to see instantly when a project is becoming "design sloppy" and being able to forecast early and schedule time for the issues to be refactored.

Most managers don't like refactoring. It's unpredictable, and has no immediate beneficial output. Experienced managers know that refactoring early is key to keeping a large code base manageable, and will save them time down the road. Using software metrics, you can take such abstract and intangible notions, and turn them into hard numbers. Those hard numbers can then be used for prediction, and prediction is the key to getting software estimates right. This is the most vital step to get right for a software outsourcing company.

Some useful tools for generating software metrics:

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