Posts Tagged ‘clean code’

Can’t tell you how frustrating it is to find the context of a variable stripped away by a meaningless re-assgiment (login required).

From Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship:

The name of a variable, function, or class, should answer all the big questions. It
should tell you why it exists, what it does, and how it is used

// doing this totally strips away any meaningful context
$my_temp_variable = $employee_salaries[$an_employee_name];
$gross_salary = $bonus_factor * $my_temp_variable;

// hopefully the language constructs allow full variable interaction
$gross_salary = $bonus_factor * $employee_salaries["Fred"]

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Sending html e-mails opens a whole can of worms on the many ways e-mail can be viewed. There is also no guarantee your e-mail will look as intended.

Instead of linking to a remote css file that may be blocked, or prompt the user with a scary ‘prevented external content to load’ error message, we can use PHP to pull the file directly. This adheres to the DRY principle and keeps the code base clean.

Use the file_get_contents function in place of linking a style sheet via an html style element.

I would also recommend a try/catch block in case the file_get_contents command fails.


In head section:

<style type="text/css" media="screen">
	<!-- we do this to embed the file contents into the e-mail.
	<?php echo file_get_contents("../common/css/blueprint/screen.css"); ?>

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Not really a big deal, but could save resources on larger arrays. Is also a clean code practice to avoid awkward traversing array and assigning to ‘itself’ from what is essentially a sub routine.

Does it really matter? Likely not. Using the below script on my 2.66 Core i7 with 8gigs of ram passing by reference is roughly 3-4 times faster. At 100000 array key value pairs the difference is still in microseconds (less than half a millisecond).

More information here: http://php.net/manual/en/language.references.pass.php


// want to loop over an array
$an_array = array();

// lets populate it with random values
for ($i=0; $i < 100000; $i++) { 
	$an_array[$i] = md5(uniqid(uniqid("",true),true));

// start

// now lets maniuplate the 'old' way
foreach ($an_array as $key => $value) {
	// this modifies the value at the index using the array and key
	$an_array[$key] = "ref original array and key";


// lets do it the 'new' way, notice we are passing &
foreach ($an_array as $key => &$value) {
	// $value is a reference to the $an_array[$key]
	$value = "changes source array";
// finish


Sample Executions

Object Pass reference
445 123
455 122
443 122
452 119
446 129

*Note* times in microseconds

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Allow NULL values in 4DB engine

Developers need to be able to use nulls if using SQL engine and 4DB engine in 4D. As of this writing the concepts of NULL values are very loosely integrated with 4D.

NULL Values in 4D

The NULL values are implemented in the 4D SQL language as well as in the 4D database engine. However, they are not supported in the 4D language. It is nevertheless possible to read and write NULL values in a 4D field using the Is field value Null and SET FIELD VALUE NULL commands.

Never mind the very logic of a null value is to indicate not set. Mapping null values to ‘blank’ values only mucks up the data. Does a widget inventory level of 0 indicate ‘not yet set’ or ‘depleted to zero’? Yes business logic will clear these things up, but integration of null values with the 4D native engine would be better.

// http://doc.4d.com/4Dv11.6/help/command/en/page965.html
// This is a useless command, and is only used by the SQL kernal of 4D
SET FIELD VALUE NULL([Table_1]Field_1)

// having a null keyword would be useful

For example, you cannot search null values using the standard query window. Also, variables cannot accept null values. Null comparisons are limited to Is field value Null which can only look at fields.

Seems as if 4D is not giving developers all the tools to make a hybrid deployable solution. Its been my experience to code solutions that either go 100% native 4D code or go 100% SQL engine, because integrating both together is a pain.

4D does annoying things like convert null values to blank values when trying to display them in an object, or puts into object property definitions display attributes to control how null values are rendered.

See my comments on float data types.

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Standard installation of 4Dv11 comes with a set of macros to use in design mode.

The one I find most useful is the Header macro. This macro takes my name, date time stamp, the method name and places it directly into whatever type of method I’m working in.

Most analogous to function/class/package documentation blocks in other languages, they are also an excellent starting point for other developers looking at your code. In 4D specifically, header blocks also serve as insurance against a corrupted structure file.

After repairing a corrupted structure file, orphan method(s) can appear without context. The orphan methods are not linked to the original code, and the type of method (object/form/project) and original method name are lost.

Worse, the repair process could have replaced the original code in it’s entirety with a comment “automatically repaired method“.

The method_name tag of the macro generates the text as shown in the title portion of the method editor. So a project method will render Method: Project_Method while form and object methods will render Method: Form Method [Table]Form and Method: Object Method [Table].Form.Object respectively.

A header documents all the missing information to find the original code location and the confidence to delete or restore the orphan code. Having the headers in place has definitely saved me lots of time analyzing and recovering from a structure corruption.

Example Macro

<macro name="Header">
<text>` ----------------------------------------------------
` User name (OS): <user_os/>
` Date and time: <date format="0"/>, <time format="0"/>
` ----------------------------------------------------
` Method: <method_name/>
` Description
` <caret/>
` Parameters
` ----------------------------------------------------

Note The above macro is formatted for v11. 4D v12 has // for commenting out lines

A tech tip on creating header content automatically.
4D Tech Tip – Header Macro

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Generic 4D error catcher

In 4D v11/12 there is not a strict concept of try/catch blocks. Instead there is ON ERR CALL that can be used to trap errors.

A common challenge in production environments is identifying errors and reporting them without user initiative. The following code when included with the ON ERR CALL procedure is valuable in tracking down these problems.

The sample code builds a string with all the relevant error information. Additional information is added for each type of error. Here it displays an alert box, but this starting point could easily be written to database, or passed into an e-mail.

Feedback welcome, sound off in the comments, what do you do for error handling?

  ` ----------------------------------------------------
  ` User name (OS):
  ` Date and time: 
  ` ----------------------------------------------------
  ` Method: Generic_Error_Proc
  ` Description
  ` Specify with ON ERR CALL(&quot;Generic_Error_Proc&quot;) to
  ` capture and report 4D errors. This method can handle
  ` 4D Engine Errors, SQL Engine Errors and Trigger Errors
  ` It also collects some information about the execution context
  ` The diagnostic information included is intended for developers, not end users.
  ` Parameters
  ` ----------------------------------------------------
  ` 4D does not pass in params to this function instead it sets
  ` System Variables Error, Error method, and Error Line (the latter two only in v12 http://kb.4d.com/search/assetid=76150)




SQL GET LAST ERROR($errCode;$errText;$errODBC;$errSQLServer)

ARRAY INTEGER($codesArray;0)
ARRAY STRING(50;$internalCompArray;0)
ARRAY STRING(255;$textArray;0)

GET LAST ERROR STACK($codesArray;$internalCompArray;$textArray)

  ` general 4D error stack only if there is an error
If (Error#0)
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;General Message(Error Stack):&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Error: &quot;+String(Error)+Char(Carriage return )
	  ` Available in 4Dv12 is Error Line and Error method process variables
	For ($i;1;Size of array($codesArray))
		  ` Do something with the element
		$Message:=$Message+String($codesArray{$i})+Char(Tab Key )+$internalCompArray{$i}+Char(Carriage return )+$textArray{$i}+Char(Carriage return )+Char(Carriage return )
	End for 
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
End if 

  ` return information if it is a trigger based error too
$tLevel:=Trigger level
If ($tLevel#0)
	TRIGGER PROPERTIES($tLevel;$dbEvent;$tableNum;$recordNum)
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Trigger Message: &quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Table Name - Record Number: &quot;+Table name($tableNum)+&quot; - &quot;+String($recordNum)+Char(Carriage return )
	` Choose is 0 based, Database event is 1 based. so pad the results with a blank string
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Event: &quot;+Choose($dbEvent;&quot;&quot;;&quot;Saving New&quot;;&quot;Saving Existing&quot;;&quot;Deleting&quot;)+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+Char(Carriage return )
End if 

  ` 4D SQL error stack (thrown by new SQL engine)
If ($errCode#0)
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;SQL MESSAGE: &quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Data Source: &quot;+Get current data source+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Error Code: &quot;+String($errCode)+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Error Text: &quot;+$errText+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Error ODBC: &quot;+$errODBC+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;Error SQL Server: &quot;+String($errSQLServer)+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
	$Message:=$Message+Char(Carriage return )
End if 

  ` Finally lets collect some user information and timestamps
$vp_ParentTable:=Current form table
If (Not(Nil($vp_ParentTable)))
	$vl_RecordNum:=Record number($vp_ParentTable-&gt;)
	$vt_TableName:=Table name($vp_ParentTable)
End if 

$Message:=$Message+Char(Carriage return )+&quot;Client Information: &quot;+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;Current User: &quot;+Current user+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;Current Machine: &quot;+Current machine+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;Current form table: &quot;+$vt_TableName+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;Current record num: &quot;+String($vl_RecordNum)+Char(Carriage return )
  ` only in 4D V12
  ` $Message:=$Message+&quot;Error method: &quot;+Error method+Char(Carriage return )
  ` $Message:=$Message+&quot;Error line: &quot;+String(Error Line)+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;Date:  &quot;+String(Current date(*);Internal date long )+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;Time:  &quot;+String(Current time(*);HH MM AM PM )+Char(Carriage return )
$Message:=$Message+&quot;_____________________________________&quot;+Char(Carriage return )

  ` alert this to the user. or store it in the database in the above for loops.

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Part of working with any code base is understanding what is already developed. Luckily shields help show actions associated with objects in the form editor. However, an object method shield will show for empty (‘blank’) object methods. We should clear any empty object methods to avoid confusion and optimize the code base.


Two objects on a form, both with an object method shield indicating the presence of an object method.

two objects with method shield

The last developer removed the object method content from the variable input area but did not explicitly clear the object method. This falsely indicates object method content, and worse yet 4D will execute the blank object method for each event enabled on that object.

The best approach is to clear the object method so that no shield displays, and reduce the number of lines the 4D engine executes.


Select the object to clear the method from, then from the Object drop down menu select Clear Object Method


No misleading shields and no more tracing through empty object method.
Object method cleared

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