How to Enforce Coding Standards With Automated Static Analysis
A well-defined coding standard improves code quality, and adopting a coding standard is simple. But adhering to and enforcing the rules can be a huge challenge. That's why it's important to use automated static analysis. Here, we explain why adherence to coding standards is important and how to enforce coding standards.
Why Adherence to Coding Standards Is Important
Adherence to coding standards helps to ensure that your code is compliant, readable, and secure.
Adopting a coding standard is important. But it means nothing if your developers don't adhere to it.
Adhering to a coding standard takes resources. You need the right tools and the right people reviewing the code. And, it can be difficult to enforce coding standards.
Even when coding standards are followed, they might be out-of-date. They need to be manually updated to keep up with new features in the language. This can mean that, in practice, they are not enforceable — and exist only on paper.
5 Reasons Why Enforcing Coding Standards Accelerates Development
A recent VDC research study revealed that software projects in full compliance with coding standards are 8x more likely to be ahead of schedule.
1. Coding Standards Cultivate a Culture of Excellence
Coding standards cultivate a culture of excellence where objectives and outcomes are clear for all team members.
Whether you are onboarding junior developers or managing a team of veteran coding warriors, coding standards are independent, documented, broadly understood, and achievable in a clear and demonstrable fashion. It no longer depends on one person’s “style” or understanding of what is ideal or what the current team culture is.
Team members can be brought on faster or moved between teams more seamlessly — particularly if they have previous industry standards experience.
Over time, coding practices become more efficient as the team learns to code to the standard in a unified and systematic way. The culture shifts from being one of “make it work now” to “build it for the future.” Future releases become easier and more achievable with a common foundation and standard.
2. Industry-Accepted Standards Were Developed For a Reason
Industry-accepted standards identify more than issues to avoid. They also provide best practices, which can make your team more efficient.
External coding standards like MISRA and CERT were developed in coordination with literally hundreds of experts with thousands and thousands of years of collective experience in the field, and in research. The standards identify not only security vulnerabilities and potential defects to avoid, but also advise on recommended styles and practices.
In the case of MISRA, these include best practices rules that have been evaluated for effectiveness. These standards continue to be revised, updated, and expanded to cover new issues and scenarios.
Your team can benefit from industry-leading wisdom and the work of thousands of experts to refine your coding practices and produce code of the highest security and reliability. Following these best practices allows you to produce more effectively and faster, and avoid issues.
3. Full Compliance Minimizes Errors, Rework, and Delays
Full compliance avoids costly common errors early in the development process. This in turn avoids rework and last-minute delays.
How crushing is it to be “almost there” with a release, only to discover a defect or security vulnerability that stops your team in its tracks? Even worse, these are often commonly understood and identifiable defects that were not caught in code review, unit tests, or other QA processes. This inevitably requires a return to development and a restart of the process to fix the defect prior to release.
Alternatively, what are the risks of a defect in your software being delivered to your customer? Once identified, will it require your team to drop their current work for an “all hands on deck” effort to patch or update the product? Or will the consequences be even more dire, in the case of safety-critical or highly visible industries? Derailed sprints can delay schedules significantly.
Learn from the lessons of the past — or be doomed to repeat them.
4. Standards Compliance Creates a Positive Feedback Loop
Standards compliance creates:
- A positive feedback loop of reduced defects in the field.
- Greater competitive advantage with a standards adherence (MISRA, ISO 26262, AUTOSAR).
- Decreased time to market for new products.
Teams want to work on innovative new features for dynamic and expanding products. Committing to a recognized coding standard is a competitive advantage. It allows you to open doors to new customers. As software issues and security vulnerabilities become more visible and higher profile, customers look to reduce risks. Reliable partners can help them.
When you deliver more reliable and industry-compliant code, with fewer defects in the field, your team will be able to deliver new features and new products faster. This in turn will improve brand reputation and create more opportunities. Thus, the feedback loop begins.
For many years, the medical device industry was motivated to seek out coding standards for this very reason, relying heavily on the MISRA C standards. Over time, we have now seen the emergence of industry-specific standards like the FDA recognition of UL2900 for security in medical devices and IoT networking.
5. Standards Work — When They're Enforced
Standards aren’t meaningful unless they are broadly and systematically enforced. Full compliance requires more than just code review and unit tests. There are tools to enforce and evaluate variances: static code analysis.
Using recognized standards allows you to seek out tools and processes that can enforce and evaluate how your team is complying to a known standard. If you rely uniquely on internal standards or guidelines, how can you ensure these standards are enforced over millions of lines of code?
Enforcing standards is not about punishing developers or playing “gotcha." It is about harnessing the power of compliance and ensuring that your organization can fully realize the gains offered by this approach. Improvements in delivery, quality, and security can only be achieved with an examination of every line of code. And this is challenging when dealing with legacy projects or large-scale development.
Static code analysis is a powerful method to evaluate and enforce coding standards. Especially when industry standards like MISRA, CERT, and CWE come out of the box and can be easily set up within your existing workflow.
Measurement and reporting become the key to tracking defects in the field, adherence to the standard, and the corresponding gains in productivity. Then you can truly evaluate the ROI of full compliance to standards.
“Until a significantly higher percentage of development teams utilize static code analysis testing, particularly on projects facing compliance mandates, on-time schedule performance will remain poor across the embedded industries.” — VDC Report
How to Enforce Coding Standards
Use a proven coding standard. And pair it with an automated static analysis tool.
This helps you enforce the coding standard automatically.
Proven Coding Standards Have Smart Rules
Each rule of the coding standard has to provide the best trade-off between the scope of the coverage and a formula that can be automatically checked.
Choosing the Right Coding Standard
Choosing the right coding standard is important.
The right coding standard:
- Increases reliability of code by enforcing rules.
- Educates developers on secure coding practices, reducing time and costs of onboarding and training.
- Establishes a consistent approach to code analysis, which can be shared across teams.
- Provides flexibility to adapt to different needs — without building new coding rules from scratch.
There are many proven coding standards, particularly for the C and C++ programming languages.
Some of the most effective coding standards are:
Automated Static Analysis Finds Defects Faster
Static analyzers can check your code against the rules from proven coding standards automatically.
This is important, because defects enter the codebase early on. And if you fix them right away, they’re less expensive.
That’s because the cost to fix defects grows exponentially through the development cycle. And the costs rise even higher if an issue that could have been fixed early in development slips through to production.
So, it makes sense to find and fix defects early. Automated static analysis and a proven coding standard makes it easy to find defects in code earlier.
Benefits of Automated Static Analysis Tools
Faster Defect Detection
An automated static analysis tool processes tens of thousands of files in a few minutes. A human reviewer is typically only able to analyze a few hundred lines of source code per hour. This can reduce the overall lifecycle of the project dramatically, as well as lift the burden on QA teams.
Automated static analysis is less expensive than manual code inspections. It identifies known defects on demand — and never misses. Manual code inspections are less effective, more time consuming, and more expensive. Plus, automation frees up expensive resources to work on more strategic tasks.
Better Code Quality
Automated solutions deliver more accurate results than a human. They eliminate the errors and omissions that occur during manual code reviews. So, it improves code quality. Plus, you’ll get metrics to prove code quality improvements.
By automatically enforcing coding standards, you’ll be able to mitigate risk early on in development. So, you’ll reduce your time to market. And there will be less uncertainty in your project schedules.