Love Thy Neighbour Coder | skybert.net

Love Thy Neighbour Coder


Show that you love thy neighbour coder by 1) making an honest attempt at answering the question yourself, 2) apply markup to code snippets, 3) make sure your message is easy to understand & is logically sound and 4) trim the error messages.

Try to answer the easy questions yourself

Do a search on Google. It's amazingly clever these days and can answer a myriad of things.

After doing that, try to think what your fellow coder will ask you. If you think about it for 10 seconds, you can probably find a couple of questions he/she is bound to ask you like:

Have you checked the log file?

Or:

Where you logged in when this happened?

Now, if you're still out of luck, tell the coder what you've tried when you ask him/her to help you. This shows both that you've made an effort to solve this yourself (which makes it more motivating to help you) and it tells the coder what he/she doesn't need to test as you've already excluded these options.

Apply markup to code examples

It's so much nicer to read code snippets and log excerpts if you apply some styling to it. Most platforms today have markup support, including Slack, Jira, Confluence and Github. Use it to make your message a pleasant read.

Consider this without markup:

if (isValid(getObject()) { List list = new ArrayList<>(); list.add(1); }

and a marked up version:

if (isValid(getObject()) {
  List<String> list = new ArrayList<>();
  list.add(1);
}

Which one would you prefer to read? The markup of the code as code also makes sure that the web browser will not omit characters because they've got special meaning in this context (like <s on a webpage).

Read your message before sending it

Read through your message before you send it. Check that your sentences make sense.

Be specific: there's a difference between the webservice giving you a 404 Not found and than that the server is down. Be as accurate as you can so that your coder can help you as effectively as possible, not having to ping you for questions to clarify what actually is the problem.

Trim error messages

Only include what's relevant. When you've spotted an error that could be relevant to your problem it's helpful that you include it in your message to whoever you want to help you. However, there are often a good few lines you can omit if you take a good look.

Consider this error from a Java application:

java.sql.SQLException: com.myapp.awesome.NoSuchObjectException: No publication with id=0
    at com.myapp.awesome.Doer$8.execute(Doer.java:3131)
    at com.myapp.TransactionSafetyWrapper.execute(TransactionSafetyWrapper.java:41)
    com.myapp.ava:129)
    at com.myapp.content.Manager.doDatabaseAction(Manager.java:151)
    at com.myapp.content.Manager.doTransaction(Manager.java:200)
    at com.myapp.awesome.Doer.execute(Doer.java:3124)
    at com.myapp.awesome.Doer.execute(Doer.java:3117)
    at com.myapp.publication.CreateArt.perform(CreateArt.java:63)
    at com.myapp.base.ActionBase.execute(ActionBase.java:55)
    at org.apache.struts.action.RequestProcessor.processActionPerform(RequestProcessor.java:431)
    at org.apache.struts.action.RequestProcessor.process(RequestProcessor.java:236)
    at org.apache.struts.action.ActionServlet.process(ActionServlet.java:1196)
    at org.apache.struts.action.ActionServlet.doPost(ActionServlet.java:432)
    at javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet.service(HttpServlet.java:650)
    at javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet.service(HttpServlet.java:731)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.ApplicationFilterChain.internalDoFilter(ApplicationFilterChain.java:303)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.ApplicationFilterChain.doFilter(ApplicationFilterChain.java:208)
    at com.escenic.servlet.TopFilter.doFilterImpl(TopFilter.java:136)
    at com.twelvemonkeys.servlet.GenericFilter.doFilter(GenericFilter.java:206)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.ApplicationFilterChain.internalDoFilter(ApplicationFilterChain.java:241)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.ApplicationFilterChain.doFilter(ApplicationFilterChain.java:208)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardWrapperValve.invoke(StandardWrapperValve.java:220)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardContextValve.__invoke(StandardContextValve.java:122)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardContextValve.invoke(StandardContextValve.java)
    at org.apache.catalina.authenticator.AuthenticatorBase.invoke(AuthenticatorBase.java:505)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardHostValve.__invoke(StandardHostValve.java:170)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardHostValve.invoke(StandardHostValve.java)
    at org.apache.catalina.valves.ErrorReportValve.invoke(ErrorReportValve.java:103)
    at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardEngineValve.invoke(StandardEngineValve.java:116)
    at org.apache.catalina.valves.AccessLogValve.invoke(AccessLogValve.java:957)
    at org.apache.catalina.connector.CoyoteAdapter.service(CoyoteAdapter.java:423)
    at org.apache.coyote.http11.AbstractHttp11Processor.process(AbstractHttp11Processor.java:1079)
    at org.apache.coyote.AbstractProtocol$AbstractConnectionHandler.process(AbstractProtocol.java:620)
    at org.apache.tomcat.util.net.JIoEndpoint$SocketProcessor.run(JIoEndpoint.java:316)
    at java.util.concurrent.ThreadPoolExecutor.runWorker(ThreadPoolExecutor.java:1142)
    at java.util.concurrent.ThreadPoolExecutor$Worker.run(ThreadPoolExecutor.java:617)
    at org.apache.tomcat.util.threads.TaskThread$WrappingRunnable.run(TaskThread.java:61)
    at java.lang.Thread.run(Thread.java:745)

If you've got knowledge about the application, myapp in this case, you'll know that you can trim this stack trace significantly. Include just one line from code outside of myapp so that the coder is sure you didn't cut too much of the trace (of course, if you're unsure about where to cut the stacktrace, it's better to include too much than too little):

java.sql.SQLException: com.myapp.awesome.NoSuchObjectException: No publication with id=0
    at com.myapp.awesome.Doer$8.execute(Doer.java:3131)
    at com.myapp.TransactionSafetyWrapper.execute(TransactionSafetyWrapper.java:41)
    at com.myapp.AbstractDataConnector.doTransaction(AbstractDataConnector.java:129)
    at com.myapp.content.Manager.doDatabaseAction(Manager.java:151)
    at com.myapp.content.Manager.doTransaction(Manager.java:200)
    at com.myapp.awesome.Doer.execute(Doer.java:3124)
    at com.myapp.awesome.Doer.execute(Doer.java:3117)
    at com.myapp.publication.CreateArt.perform(CreateArt.java:63)
    at com.myapp.base.ActionBase.execute(ActionBase.java:55)
    at org.apache.struts.action.RequestProcessor.processActionPerform(RequestProcessor.java:431)

There, that's much easier to read (11 vs 39 lines). I'm sure your coder will appreciate your effort to trim it down to the essential lines 😃

Here's another example. Because of a badly configured system, the dpkg-reconfigure command produces a lot of locale related errors:

user@prod1:~$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure fooapp-web-2.2 
perl: warning: Setting locale failed.
perl: warning: Please check that your locale settings:
    LANGUAGE = (unset),
    LC_ALL = (unset),
    LC_PAPER = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_ADDRESS = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_MONETARY = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_NUMERIC = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_TELEPHONE = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_IDENTIFICATION = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_MEASUREMENT = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_TIME = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LC_NAME = "nb_NO.UTF-8",
    LANG = "en_US.UTF-8"
    are supported and installed on your system.
perl: warning: Falling back to the standard locale ("C").
locale: Cannot set LC_ALL to default locale: No such file or directory
Generating new /etc/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/app.config.js ...
Creating symlink /var/www/html/fooapp-web → /usr/share/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/www ...
Creating /var/www/html/fooapp-web/Configuration/app.config.js → /etc/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/app.config.js
Updating plugins for fooapp-web-2.2 ...
Adding plugin: /usr/share/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/www/Plugins/Live → /usr/share/bar/fooapp-plugin-live-center-2.1
✔ Foo should now be accessible: http://prod1/fooapp-web

However, these are not interesting for the problem at hand. Fix your environment (e.g. by setting export LC_ALL=C) or remove these lines manually, so that only the real command messages are visible:

user@prod1:~$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure fooapp-web-2.2 
Generating new /etc/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/app.config.js ...
Creating symlink /var/www/html/fooapp-web → /usr/share/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/www ...
Creating /var/www/html/fooapp-web/Configuration/app.config.js → /etc/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/app.config.js
Updating plugins for fooapp-web-2.2 ...
Adding plugin: /usr/share/bar/fooapp-web-2.2/www/Plugins/Live → /usr/share/bar/fooapp-plugin-live-center-2.1
✔ Foo should now be accessible: http://prod1/fooapp-web

This is much faster to read and it's much easier to identify what's wrong. 7 vs 30 lines to read.

Final words

Most people like helping others and doing so can both be an educational, fun and rewarding experience. Take a moment to ask in such a way to show that you indeed love thy neighbour coder.


Licensed under CC BY Creative Commons License ~ gmail torstein.k.johansen @ gmail ~ twitter @torsteinkrause ~