Legacy code is a source code that businesses inherit from an older software version or another person. A legacy code can also be a difficult code or hard to change. Generally, legacy code is inevitable unless you intend to start your software development from scratch. 

This makes it particularly hard to work effectively with a legacy code. One of the greatest challenges of working with a legacy code is assumptions about the code. Most people have an assumption that legacy code is not good. They believe that whoever wrote the code had no idea what they were doing. 

However, this is not why legacy code is challenging to work with. And, if someone has not written it, they might not know this reason. That’s the reason why you should be extra careful when handling legacy code. You cannot simply fix one part of the code and ignore the rest. You might realize that there are certain dependencies you were not aware of. 

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So, what do you do with your legacy code? The following tips will help you handle your legacy code. 

Test the Code Before Making Any Changes

Testing the code is one of the most important things you need to do when working with a legacy code. You can use unit testing or integration tests to make sure that your changes will not cause problems with other parts of the software. It is also recommended that you automate the process as much as possible. 

If You Must Change Something, Look for Small and Quick Wins

If you want to improve a legacy code, there’s no way better than this one. The only thing you need to do is find an easy and quick modification and test it thoroughly before proceeding with more complex tasks. There are several advantages to doing so: 

  • Taking small steps reduces the risk of failure
  • It takes less time
  • It is easier to find and fix bugs
  • The code will not be as hard to understand. 

Try Solving One Problem at a Time

Solving one problem at a time might seem like an obvious thing to do, but many developers ignore this practice for some unknown reason or because of their laziness. Having several problems on your plate and trying to solve them can lead to conflicts, new errors appearing unexpectedly, and quickly becoming overwhelmed with too much work. 

Don’t Believe What You Read, See, or Hear

There’s only one way of knowing if the information about your legacy code is correct – by testing it yourself! You need to make sure that documentation is accurate since it might not be helpful in all cases. And, even if it is accurate, it might only apply to a certain version of the code you are working with right now.

Keep in Mind That Everything Can be Changed

Your legacy code was created for a specific purpose. It might have been something that had not been done before and therefore did not have a clear way to write. But, everything can be changed. Remember this! As long as you are the person who has the power to change it, then there is nothing that cannot be improved or fixed! 

Keep an Open Mind Before Making Any Changes

When you begin your journey to deal with legacy software maintenance issues, it is easy to simply blame someone else. However, once you start spending time on it and making changes, you may notice that the coding standards were not that bad after all. You just had too many other things on your mind at the time! 

Do Not Forget About Refactoring

Your initial aim might have been just fixing bugs in an abandoned project written by someone else. But do not forget about this important practice – refactoring. Your code can become better and more organized while also easier to read and understand if you follow some simple guidelines while refactoring.

Keep in Mind That You Cannot Understand the Code by Looking at It Once

Even if your legacy code is written in a language you know very well, it does not mean that the rest of your team feels the same way. You need to make sure that everyone on your team understands what’s happening and why they change certain parts of the system. Otherwise, there will always be conflicts and discussions about how things should look, which can take unnecessary time and effort. Also, this will put too much pressure on individual developers and introduce psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, or burnout into your workplace description. 

Make Decisions Based Only on Facts:

You cannot know for certain whether or not a particular change will break something in your system until you test it. You need data and statistics to make an accurate decision – good or bad, right or wrong! Stop relying on intuition only because this usually leads to mistakes, especially if you work with large teams where they might have different opinions about how things should be done.

Bottom Line

By following these tips, you will significantly improve your ability to work with a legacy code, whether it is old or new. Just keep in mind that your assumptions about legacy system problems might lead you astray and make you overlook important details while testing various parts of it. You also need to test all parts thoroughly because there’s always a chance some part of the code relies on other pieces that you are not aware of. This is why it is recommended to test the code instead of relying on assumptions and general logic.