Throwing away code

2 minutes to read

Ever get an idea in your head, and it seems like it will solve all your problems in your app? If you could just do this one thing, rainbows will sprout and unicorns will prance and sing?

Ideas turn into requirements, requirements sprout into little code snippets, code snippets grow together into features. The problem, as you might discover, is that sometimes these requirements can be too numerous or sometimes just flat out wrong.

It’s ok to throw away code when you figure out your requirements are wrong. Let me give you a recent example from tweet hopper:

Sharing is nice

Tweet hopper has two pieces two it, a twitter job running daemon and the website. There is a lot of classes that overlap from one app to the other, and I am trying to keep test coverage up. The natural thought was to move the shared models and shared specs to submodules and keep them in sync. The more I thought about this, the more it sounded like a win-win, I mean how could code sharing go wrong?

I soon found out why separation of concern is an important thing! As I moved one class and specs over, I soon realized that callbacks and tight couplings were going to be a nightmare. I was committed at first that this was the right path, and I should work to decouple and test pieces better. Moving and separating code can be a deep, dark rabbit hole.

Know when to fold em…

After two and a half days of moving code, running tests, finding failures, moving more code, rinse and repeat - I decided that this wasn’t the best approach. While decoupling code is a great thing, I didn’t have the test suite to back up my work. I decided before I was too deep into the project that it was a good time to scrap things and re-examine the approach to the issues I wanted to solve. Be skeptical of your solutions until they work 100% for you.

Submodules had already been setup, code commits were in the master branch, so this was a wee bit more of a cleanup job than normal. In the end, it was better to revert things and spend more time doing research on other ways to approach my core requirement of getting all the code working together in one spot.


When I looked at the code base and took daemon-kit and AMQP out of the equation, I started to look for better queue options. By looking for something more integrated into a rails app, I would be able to move all my code into one easily tested spot.

After a week of research and reading, I realized resque ^1^ might fit the bill. Since resque integrates more directly into the rails app, I can submit jobs from the web interface now - allowing new features I want. With multiple queue support and easy command line priority setting, I can now easily prioritize jobs and maybe increase run frequence on slow jobs.

The single biggest gain is that the resque system had a worker forking system in place to keep memory leaks at a minimum - an issue I’ve been fighting unsuccessfully in my tweet hopper daemon code for months now. By tossing out other ideas and previous code, I found a possible new solutions. Ask me again once is out of alpha for user authenticated calls!

The moral of the story

Don’t be afraid to question assumptions and requirements, even if they mean you might have to start over on a lot of code. Less code, one git repo, or easier testing can all make coding smoother in the end, despite initial time loss for tossing out code.


[1] Resque blog post

Josh Owens

It all started with an Atari 800XL, but now Josh is a ruby and javascript developer with 10 years of professional experience. His current love is React.js, which he works with daily.