Code by Line

I saw this tweet:

Limiting lines to 80 characters is a great way to ensure that variable names remain cryptically short while lines break in confusing places.

It makes some sense. For example, if I had something like::

put_to_s3(project_bucket, resultant_keyname, use_multipart=True, overwrite=False, confirm=True)

One way to a shorter line would be to make some variables names a bit shorter:

put_to_s3(bucket, key, use_multipart=True, overwrite=False, confirm=True)

Unfortunately, this doesnt’ quite do the trick. A better tact, that has benefits that go beyond 80 characters, is to utilize vertical space. Or in simpler terms, code by lines rather than variables. For example, I would have refactored the original code like this.


I get to keep my more descriptive names and when the signature of the function changes or I have to add another keyword argument, the diff / patch will be much clearer. Also, and this is obviously subjective, if the vertical listing seems to grow large, you have a more obvious “smell” to the code when you are browsing the codebase.

It is understandable to assume that limiting line size could result in cryptic variable names, but more often than not, longer lines end up being more difficult to read and decode. More importantly, you end up fighting the endless suite of line based tools we utilize in version control. The next time you feel limited by the line length, consider the vertical space you have and if that might allow you to have your descriptive variable names along side your line based coding tools.