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Code Reading: The Open Source Perspective (v. 1)

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0201799408
ISBN-10: 0201799405
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

If you are a programmer, you need this book.

  • You've got a day to add a new feature in a 34,000-line program: Where do you start? Page 333
  • How can you understand and simplify an inscrutable piece of code? Page 39
  • Where do you start when disentangling a complicated build process? Page 167
  • How do you comprehend code that appears to be doing five things in parallel? Page 132

You may read code because you have to--to fix it, inspect it, or improve it. You may read code the way an engineer examines a machine--to discover what makes it tick. Or you may read code because you are scavenging--looking for material to reuse.

Code-reading requires its own set of skills, and the ability to determine which technique you use when is crucial. In this indispensable book, Diomidis Spinellis uses more than 600 real-world examples to show you how to identify good (and bad) code: how to read it, what to look for, and how to use this knowledge to improve your own code.

Fact: If you make a habit of reading good code, you will write better code yourself.


About the Author

Diomidis Spinellis has been developing the concepts presented in this book since 1985, while also writing groundbreaking software applications and working on multimillion-line code bases. Spinellis holds an M.Eng. degree in software engineering and a Ph.D. in computer science from Imperial College London. Currently he is an associate professor in the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional (June 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201799405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201799408
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #506,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diomidis Spinellis is a Professor in the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece. His research interests include software engineering, programming languages, IT security, big-data processing, and optimization methods. He holds an MEng in Software Engineering and a PhD in Computer Science both from Imperial College London.

Spinellis has published two books in Addison-Wesley's "Effective Programming Series": in 2004 Code Reading: the Open Source Perspective, which received a Software Development Productivity Award in 2004 and has been translated into six other languages, and in 2006 Code Quality: the Open Source Perspective, which also received a Software Development Productivity Award in 2007. Both books use hundreds of examples from large open source systems, like the BSD Unix operating system, the Apache Web server, and the HSQLDB Java database engine, to demonstrate how developers can comprehend, maintain, and evaluate existing software code. Spinellis has published more than 200 technical papers in journals and refereed conference proceedings, which have received more than 2000 citations. He has also contributed a chapter to the bestselling book Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think (O'Reilly, 2007). From 2015 he has been serving as Editor in Chief for IEEE Software.

Spinellis is the author of many open-source software packages, libraries, and tools and has contributed to the FreeBSD operating system as a committer (2003-2010). His implementation of the Unix sed stream editor is part of all BSD Unix distributions and Apple's Mac OS X. Other tools he has developed include the UMLGraph declarative UML drawing engine, the CScout refactoring browser for C programs, the sgsh scatter gather shell that constructs directed graph process pipelines, the ckjm tool for calculating Chidamber and Kemerer object-oriented metrics in large Java programs, the Outwit suite for integrating Windows features with command-line tools, the fileprune backup file management facility, and the socketpipe network plumbing utility. Dr. Spinellis serves as an elected member of the IEEE Computer Society Board of Governors (2013-2015), and is a senior member of the ACM and the IEEE, and a member of the Usenix association. He is four times winner of the International Obfuscated C Code Contest and a member of the crew listed in the Usenix Association 1993 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I purchased the book to help me out with the recurring task of quickly understanding the nature of unfamiliar large software projects. Kudos to Mr. Spinellis for tackling this subject, which is a large part of the everyday work of programming.

Unfortunately, I feel that this book was of very limited use to me as an experienced programmer, and suffers from a rather basic flaw (as a topic). The problem is that the art of code reading is really the intersection of a deep and/or broad understanding of programming, in conjunction with a deep and/or broad understanding of the tools and practices employed. One could well assert that this book is about *debugging* unfamiliar codebases as much as it is about *reading* them, since code comprehension is a component of code debugging. This is a rather apt analogy, since many have attempted to describe the black art of debugging just as Mr. Spinellis has attempted with reading, and with no definitive "must-have" coverage to date.

The result is that I felt the book rushed through important programming concepts that were either extremely basic (global variables, while loops, conditionals, blocks), or language-specific (C typedef, arrays, function pointers), or too deep for the book to address adequately (trees, stacks, queues, hashes, graphs). With regard to the latter, I found it odd to be reading a lot of text about basic data structures, when it seemed to me that I should be assumed to already have this knowledge if I wanted to read code that used it. And if I did NOT know about basic data structures, I should be reading a book about data structures rather than a book about code reading. Software patterns are also presented (though not by the name, I think).
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Format: Paperback
Programmers need to be able to look at code and analyze what it does in order to change it or fix it. The concept behind this book is to use many of the open source code samples to discuss how to read code and how to spot potential trouble areas in code. Unfortunately the book doesn't stay focused on this single goal and that detracts from its overall value. The book spends too much time explaining the basics of programming instead of concentrating on reading code. It also bounces around from one language to another, from C to C++ to Perl to Java, which is very confusing. For example, if you are a Java programmer do you really care how the C compiler optimizes strcmp calls? And what does that have to do with reading code?
Some of the advice is fairly basic such as try to realign indentations properly and replace complex code structures with simple placeholders when doing analysis. Although there are parts of the book that are excellent, too many of these good parts are wrapped under what should be basic concepts to anyone reading code. How can you debug a Java program, for example, if you are unfamiliar with abstract classes, libraries, or polymorphism? Do you really need a book on code reading to explain basic object oriented programming?
Overall, the book seems very unfocused and I really can't recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
This book is exactly what I was looking for to lead a seminar in bioinformatics at UNC Chapel Hill that brings together bio-chem-phys students with computer science students to try to raise the level of programming sophistication of the former, and raise the level of biochem/biophys sophistication of the latter. It collects examples of why and how to read code, pointing out lessons about the idioms and pitfalls that can help you write, maintain, or evolve code under your control. Full of good ideas, drawn from a lot of experience, and written with humor.
The only problem is that inexperienced programmers, who would benefit most from this book, are unlikely to pick up a book on how to read C programs unless someone tells them to. Experts will find that they have already learned most of these things from their experience, although they may still enjoy this book for confirming what they know. But I think that experts will also enjoy being able to loan this book to inexperienced programmers to transmit the wisdom distilled from experience.
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A valuable resource for best practices, do's and don'ts, what works and why, what you should do in various situations of project, code, and architecture evaluation, and everything in between. In one phrase, this book depicts Software Engineering's best practices for the real world. No heavy-duty processes to follow, no reading of Software Engineering text books that are over a 1000+ pages. More importantly, everything in this book is REAL. References are given to open source projects where the author took the examples from, and the CD-Rom includes the complete code examples given in the text.
The author starts off by giving a background on the most popular programming languages used in the open-source community such as C/C++ and Java. Some scripting languages such as a PHP and Perl are also covered, but the main focus of the book is on C and C++. Data types, data structures and control flow are covered respectively and various best practiced of "what to-do" is given for each topic. These topics are somewhat basic, and if you are an advanced programmer, you can read thru these chapters in an hour or so. Even though these chapters are basic, they contain valuable to-do's and best practices that everyone of us will surly benefit from. They style of the book and its structure is nothing like I have seen before and it takes a couple of chapter to get used to it.
Chapter 4 is one of my favorite chapters in this book. It talks about C Data Structures. Towards the end of the chapter, the author talks about Graphs and Trees. These two rather complex topics (books have been written on these two topics) are covered so well that with about 20 pages, the reader can get a very good understanding of the topics at hand.
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Code Reading: The Open Source Perspective (v. 1)
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