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Compliance to Corporate Coding Standards

November 12th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In software shops, code compliance is a big deal. Most of the places I have worked in, I often have found managers (and indeed, myself) say: I don’t care what coding standards we use, let’s just be consistent, use one set and be done with it!

But there’s more to that statement than meets the eye. Timing is an issue. How to propagate the ‘chosen’ configuration amongst the developer groups is another. And lastly, how do we enforce compliance.

Here’s how I overcame this last problem, recently.

The tool I used is jacobe. It is a pretty comprehensive code ‘beautifier’, judging from the default configuration file that it runs off of. Very broadly, jacobe is passed a configuration file and based on parameters specified in it, it recursively steps through all java files specified in the input parameter and formats each according the the configuration passed. It either overwrites the existing java file (if the -overwrite flag is set), or produces a file with a ‘.jacobe’ extension in the same directory as the original file.

Jacobe can be invoked in several ways:

From the command line.

By specifying as input the root directory of your java code, jacobe picks up all the *.java files under it and format’s them.

C:\jacobe\jacobe.exe -cfg=C:\jacobe\sun.cfg
-overwrite C:\projects\AcmeProject/src/main/java/com/nayidisha/plugins/jacobe

Note that there is no way we can enforce that developers will invoke this command during development.

Using the Eclipse-Jacobe Plugin

Another way to format files is to use the eclipse jacobe plugin from within the eclipse IDE. As of the current release of the plugin, the Jacobe eclipse plugin causes an icon to appear on the eclipse toolbar which the developer has to explicitly press to format files.


There is a good chance that developers will omit to press the format button and press the (regular) save button instead. And then there’s always the issue of those folks who do not use Eclipse or (gasp) any IDE at all!

Using the Maven-jacobe Plugin

Yet another way to format files is to use the maven-jacobe-plugin. This is invoked at build time and can be applied to the entire code base in one go. The plugin is configured in the pom and then the following command can be issued from the project root.

mvn jacobe:jacobe

Again, there is no systematic way to ensure that developers will invoke this plugin during development time. It can be systematically invoked at build time, but formatting at build time doesn’t have any discernible advantage.

Using a Pre-commit trigger to Source Control

Jacobe can be invoked by configuring a pre-commit trigger on CVS, SVN, P4 (or similar source control system). However,checking code compliance on a pre-commit trigger to a source control system is not a good idea for many reasons, the main one being that what get’s checked in is different from what the developer has on her machine. Also, I doubt checking inĀ  modified code without testing is going to pass many audits ;)

So, what is the solution?

All the above techniques (save the last) rely on developer discipline and are highly error prone. And the last, is unsavory for many reasons.

So here’s a process that I used recently that does the trick. It involves the use of yet-another-maven-plugin called the maven-ndjacobe-plugin that I wrote. This plugin has, in addition to the format goal, a check-compliance goal too. You can download that plugin from here, and it’s documentation is here.

First, as a one-time process, find a time when your project is reasonably stable, that is, not too much churn is going on in the code base. Then run the process in the picture below:


Here, in the green box, we have run the format goal of the plugin. By doing that, jacobe will format/beautify your entire code base (as configured in the plugin configuration). Build it and test it, to make sure that nothing unexpected has happened to the code during formatting. After checking in the ‘beautified’ code, you are ready for the development process shown below:

Here, we see that developers may (or may not use) the Jacobe plugin in their IDE to format code before/while saving their code. But during the build process, binding the ndjacobe plugin’s check goal to the early phase of the build lifecycle can enforce compliance of the formatting of the code.

The ndjacobe:check plugin can be configured to fail (failOnError=true, default) if the check does not pass. This configuration can be specified in the corporate pom, or in the project’s pom and can be bound to the validate or initialize phases (pre-compile).

Another parameter that is useful, if the check fails is the keepJacobeFileForFailedMatches flag (default=false). Setting this to true will also keep the Jacobe generated .jacobe file that can then be used for comparison to see what part of the formatting failed and address it accordingly.

Using the ndjacobe:clean goal will remove any spurious .jacobe files from the codebase.

Since there is no way of getting around a build-time check, we can enforce compliance to the corporate coding standards of all java code going into source control. This proves to be a valuable on-going development process that ensures that your code is 100% compliant with the corporate standard as specified in the jacobe configuration file.

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