Beautiful Code – Back To Basics – Please read this C code quickly

I was just starting to read the very first pages of the great book “Beautiful Code” (by Andy Oram, Greg Wilson) this morning as a refreshment and as an indirect result to Scott Hanselman‘s list of basic must-read books (although it didn’t include this book – BTW, I read parts of it before, and I don’t remember why I stopped), I had to write this post.

To all of you guys thinking in DDD, TDD, MVC, ASP.NET, shiny AJAX and RIA (Flash/Silverlight) controls, GC, SharePoint, Rails, Python, ORMs (NHibernate, SubSonic, Linq2SQL,…), etc.. etc… Please get back to basics and read the PLAIN OLD C CODE I’m quoting in this post. Hopefully it’s not illegal to quote such!

The code is a VERY simple RegEx (Regular Expression) matching. Some code that you send a pattern and text to match. It returns 1 if the text matches the pattern and 0 otherwise. The pattern domain is a very stripped version of RegEx than only includes:

  • c => (Any character) matches any literal character c
  • . => (Period) matches any single character
  • ^ => matches the beginning of the string (meaning there must be beginning, not empty string)
  • $ => matches the end of the string (meaning when tested, there should be no more characters in the string)
  • * => (appearing after a character) matches zero or more occurrences of the previous character in the string

The big story of this code is included in the book “Beautiful Code” (It first appeared in another great book called “The Practice Of Programming“) – Do yourself a favor and get a copy of both if you can afford it! (Or search your company library, otherwise ask them to get that in the next books batch)

Clearly this matches. The character c occurs once in the string and the part xyz as well. It should return 1, but tracing it is the most interesting part.

If you are interested in discussing your trace of this example, or your example, just drop a comment here. I’ll be very excited to share in this discussion, as it’ll not be quoting or repeating the book notes :).

NOTE: This exact code is not the only alternative, you can read more in the book.

So what? I’ve seen  A LOT OF WAY BETTER CODE

It’s not about this specific example, but about CODE READING

OK, if you search in the algorithm specific books with all their more interesting usage of recursion and pointers sometimes and/or advanced data structures, or even in this same book but advanced chapters, you are likely to see WAY MORE IMPRESSIVE EXAMPLES of interesting code. It’s just this is the one I was reading this morning when I thought: We need so many such examples of this kind of old code, as we’re kept far away from all that, and we really should get ourselves a treat by reading such codes.

I’d even go further and say read code in languages you don’t even know. Of course when demonstrated in blogs with clear discussion. Reading the posts like “Doing {..the very big task..} in less than …. lines of code with {..any language..}” is really a very important practice to keep from time to time.

More Modern Code: Reading .NET Open Source Code With Discussions Provided

Scott Hanselman has a series he calls “Weekly Source Code“. In this series he discusses many .NET open source projects that are used in practice, like all the managed DIGG, Facebook,etc…. API wrappers, some Visual Studio and Live Writer Plugins and many other examples. He demonstrates some of the interesting parts of the code and goes into great discussion about such. If you don’t have Hanselman‘s feed in your feed reader list yet, you really should do!!

I’m not sure if I’ll keep posting such examples (from different sources of course), but it really sounds like a good idea! :D :D

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