So your mobile app is finally ready to be released to a large number of users? But is your code ready to run at scale?

As you develop your mobile app over time, make changes, and add new features, your code can start to degrade. While your app may function well, the utility of your code may decrease as changes and shortcuts cause unnecessary code complexity and inefficiencies.

Refactoring is an important process to restructure your existing code without changing its external behavior. Refactoring can help identify problems and simply your code so your developers are more productive and maintenance and new features are easier. This is particularly important for mobile apps running at scale or preparing to scale up their users. Refactoring may also be critical before making any major changes to your app.

Here is some guidance for refactoring to get your prototype, minimum viable product, or completed mobile app refactored and ready for a worldwide release.

Code Degradation is Inevitable

No matter what development stage your app is currently at, code can easily become overly complex or problematic as requirements shift or corners are cut. There are two main causes for code becoming degraded:

  • Requirement Shifts: Part of building a prototype or MVP is to get a better understanding of what the requirements of your application are and what problems you can solve in the market. This means your mobile app can often change requirements due to consumer demand, device compatibility, accessibility, or a number of other reasons. If your framework doesn’t support these changes, or when these shifts start to add up, problems can occur.
  • Tech Debt: Most mobile apps are built with some constraints in terms of time, budget, or resources. While you should never cut corners, mistakes and shortcuts do happen as a way to save time and money. However, when a short development cycle, lack of organization, and numerous workarounds build up, code degradation occurs.

Measure Your Codebase Starting State Before Refactoring

So how bad is it in there? Before planning your refactoring, begin by measuring your code’s starting state. There are a number of quantitative and qualitative ways to measure code complexity. Rather than performing just one, choose a mix of strategies to gain a complete picture of your code.

  • Measuring Code Complexity: There are several quantitative measures for understanding the volume, complexity, and number of bugs in a set of code. Use Halstead Metrics, Cyclomatic Complexity, NPath Complexity, or Lines of Code as measurement techniques.
  • Documentation: Review the formal and informal documentation for your code, including technical specs, email transcripts, bug tracking systems, and project management software.
  • Version Control: Review commit messages and commits in aggregate for a view of changes to the files you’re interested in.
  • Reputation: A more qualitative measure is collecting information from developers who have worked on the code. Ask them questions about potential improvements, difficulties working with the code, and perceived complexities.

Build and Execute Refactoring Plan

Now that you understand the current state of your code and the main causes of degradation, you can begin to build your refactoring plan. 

First, define your end state based on your goals for scalability, performance, new features, accessibility, or whatever your reason for the refactor. What does your code need to look like in order to achieve the desired goal of your mobile app?

Next, map the shortest distance to bring your current code to this new state. Obviously, completely rebuilding your codebase is almost never possible or practical. In fact, refactors are often a necessary detour before you can get your project back on track. So you are most likely short on time and will benefit from finding the simplest way to refactor your code. As part of this roadmap, identify strategic milestones to aid in the execution of your plan.

One of the most important parts of executing your refactoring plan is to clean-up items as you go and keep track of every change you’ve made. Ensure that your code is less complex when you finish refactoring so you aren’t left performing this same process again in the near future.

While you will most likely run into further degrading in your code in the future, there are steps you can take to make your refactor last as long as possible. Look at the steps you’ve already taken and learn from them. If you struggled to find documentation during this process, work to improve your documentation processes in the future. Also work to create a culture of improvement and aim to perform smaller optimizations so you don’t end up with another large refactoring project in the future.

If you need help with refactoring for enterprise mobile app development to prepare for new features or users, feel free to reach out to NineTwoThree for help.

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