The importance of code documentation in software development


Imagine you had to draw a picture of a house without ever having seen one. Imagine someone telling you to define a word you have never heard of. This is what working on a software project without proper code documentation looks like. Code documentation is the sore spot of every software development company.

Ok, but what is software code documentation?

Code documentation is one of the core parts of a software project. Basically, it is the guide to the code – it shows what the code is, what it does, and how it does it. It also helps other developers in case they need to modify or fix the code in the future.

Now, we will dive a little deeper into the topic.

Why do we need code documentation?

Let’s look back and try to remember how many junior developers we have seen in utter confusion and panic because they’ve been assigned to a project where they did not understand the code. And this is not just junior developers’ problem. Even seniors and highly experienced industry professionals have trouble joining a project, modifying, or fixing a code without documentation. Proper documentation offers easier onboarding of new team members, easier collaboration when multiple developers work on the same project, easier maintenance, and all-around better long-term management.

What types of code documentation are there?

There are two types of documentation – internal and external.

Internal code documentation is done directly in the code as short comments that explain the code or the algorithm. This is also known as inline documentation, which is usually concise, simple, and aimed at other developers.

External code documentation exists outside the code, and it’s more comprehensive than inline comments. External code documentation gives a complete system description, including its architecture, interfaces, and functionality. Besides informing other developers, external documentation is often used for a wider audience, like project managers and clients.

What are the long-term positive effects of code documentation within the company?

As previously mentioned, prioritizing code documentation within the company is extremely important. By having all the puzzle pieces and a clear image of the project scope, people work more efficiently and effectively, thus minimizing the potential for mistakes. Setting standard documentation procedures and processes helps collaborators catch up quickly, keep track of changes, and work more autonomously. This, in turn, increases independence and promotes self-confidence among employees. It also helps managers rest assured, knowing that the flow of projects will not be interrupted when onboarding new people. There are also significant financial benefits when we consider the fact that code documentation prevents unnecessary waste of resources – rather than spending a portion of their workday searching for information, developers can be productive and efficient with their time.

Ultimately, when we look at the big picture, it might even be safe to presume that code documentation is almost as important as the code itself, as prioritizing comprehensive documentation brings companies a step closer to ensuring a seamless workflow.

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