Code sample best practices

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Code sample best practices

Summary

Guidelines to follow for developing code samples in Web Platform Docs.

Overview

This topic provides guidance for writing code and markup samples and snippets for documentation published to webplatform.org. It is meant to provide a quality bar for code samples and snippets, and to provide consistency of style across this documentation, not functionality. Sample code serves as a mini-portal to content. Developers use samples as documentation, and they almost always browse code before reading a topic fully. Because of its special regard, code requires special attention.

At the most basic level, effective code samples and snippets should follow these top five guidelines:

  • It must run as intended. While you need not include an entire .html file, code samples should indicate where the code fits in with required elements.
  • Code samples and snippets should be simple and brief. Their purpose is to demonstrate specific functionality, not what a clever programmer you are.
  • Follow coding best practices, where they are clear. For example, use feature detection rather than browser sniffing.
  • Ensure that the text leading up to the sample code has a clear description of what that code accomplishes. List any assumptions the code sample or snippet makes and state prerequisites clearly and completely in its description.
  • List any requirements for each code sample or snippet in its description.

Types of sample code

Broadly speaking, there are two sizes for example code: code snippets and code samples.

Code snippet: A code snippet is any example in the documentation. It shows how to use a specific member or how to accomplish a specific task. It might be a short snippet that focuses on a specific task (for example, how to cause a button to change color using the onhover event), or a longer tutorial or how-to. The code shown may not even compile out of context, but ideally it should be possible to paste the code into an existing project without extensive rewriting. A code snippet is real code; it is not pseudocode.

Code sample: A code sample is intended to demonstrate programming tasks or scenarios, or to demonstrate a particular program architecture that is not easily demonstrated in a code snippet (for example, how to create, populate, and manage a list). A code sample is a complete web page or application, with references to all required source files in its description.

When you approach a code sample, try to put yourself in the readers’ shoes. Ask yourself questions like these to enhance your samples and the content around them:

  • “What do I want to learn from this sample?” (Not “What do I want to see this sample do?”)
  • “What parts would I want to take from this sample, and how do I find them?”
  • “How do I know that specific code blocks do what it looks like they are supposed to do?”
  • “How can I map my own input and output requirements to those demonstrated in the sample code components?”
  • “Can I cut-and-paste most of this into a webpage and successfully implement the code with minimal changes?”
  • “Where do I go to learn more? What OTHER resources are easily available?”

Best practices

Creating code snippets or developing full samples share many best practices:

  • Comment your code well. It can be frustrating to have to determine what a sample is doing at any one point. For example, see http://code.webplatform.org/gist/9011914.
  • Keep it easy to scan the code.
    • Use consistent indenting and other formatting. WPD uses two spaces for each indentation.
    • Ensure the sample flows logically from start to finish.
  • Keep the sample focused. If you find yourself using a lot of code branching, you are probably trying to tackle too much.
  • Use common patterns from the computer science lexicon. For example, use the MVC pattern rather than mingling the modules.

WPD uses some specific guidelines for HTML:

  • Use lowercase letters for element names.
  • Place all attribute values in quotation marks.
  • Replace empty attributes with values, such as defer="defer"
  • Use a valid DOCTYPE, preferably <!DOCTYPE html>
  • Avoid browser-sniffing. Test for feature presence instead.
  • Avoid inline styles. They make the code harder to read.

WPD uses some specific guidelines for JavaScript:

  • Check for errors via exceptions.
  • Remember your semi-colons.
  • Use the following pattern to create Singleton objects:
var Singleton = (function() {
var privateVariable = "…";
  this.publicMethod = function()	{…};
  function privateMethod() {…};
})();
  • Use JavaScript namespaces to isolate variables and functionality from the global namespace for anything beyond simple illustrations. This makes it simpler to copy-paste sample code into other pages.
  • If every member in your namespace is public, use object-notation to create your namespace:
var SampleNamespace = {
  "init" : function() {…},
  "destroy" : function() {…},
  "defaultValue" : "…",
    "NestedNamespace" : {
    "member" : "..."
    }
}
  • If your namespace requires private members, use the singleton pattern. You can combine both patterns as you nest namespaces.
  • All JSON structures should be well-formed and conform to the JSON specification http://www.json.org.
  • Use JSON.parse() and JSON.stringify() to parse and serialize JSON strings.

Creating a live code example

You can create a live code example on code.webplatform.org to add to your content. Live code can be a good addition to in-page snippets. To add code to code.webplatform.org and link to it, follow these steps.

  1. Once on code.webplatform.org, press Ctrl + N or ⌘ + N to get a new example. Delete any boilerplate code.
  2. On each tab - CSS, HTML, and JS - break down your example by language section, and put the code on its respective tab. For the main JavaScript function, you don't need to include a function name. The magic behind code.webplatform.org executes your JavaScript once the HTML has loaded. Additional JavaScript functions that are called, however, do need to be defined with a function and name.
  3. The body and head tags are not needed.
  4. In the first line of code on the CSS tab, add a CSS comment with the title of your example, such as /* Button example */. You must add a comment do regardless of whether you have CSS content or not. This is essentially the same as using title in the head of a webpage.
  5. Click the Result tab to see your example. The title for the page tab should be the same as the title of the CSS comment.
  6. Click the All tab, and then press CTRL + S or ⌘ + S to save the page. By saving from the All tab, users will automatically see your code executed when they land on the page.
  7. Copy the URL from the address bar and paste it into the "Live example URL (optional)" field in your topic.

A special note about using the Save button at the top of code.webplatform.com:

  • To see save options, hover your mouse over the Save button (it has an icon of an arrow pointing up into a cloud). The drop-down menu shows options for saving your code. If you click either the button or the arrow, the site automatically saves your sample.

Some final suggestions: Be simple. Be straightforward. Do not try to impress. Just teach.