In computer programming, self-documenting (or self-describing) source code and user interfaces follow naming conventions and structured programming conventions that enable use of the system without prior specific knowledge. In web development, self-documenting refers to a website that exposes the entire process of its creation through public documentation, and whose public documentation is part of the development process.
Commonly stated objectives for self-documenting systems include:
- Make source code easier to read and understand
- Minimize the effort required to maintain or extend legacy systems
- Reduce the need for users and developers of a system to consult secondary documentation sources such as code comments or software manuals
- Facilitate automation through self-contained knowledge representation
Self-documenting code is ostensibly written using human-readable names, typically consisting of a phrase in a human language which reflects the symbol's meaning, such as numberOfWordsInThisArticle or TryOpen. The code must also have a clear and clean structure so that a human reader can easily understand the algorithm used.
There are certain practical considerations that influence whether and how well the objectives for a self-documenting system can be realized.
- Schach, Stephen R. (2004). Object-Oriented and Classical Software Engineering. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-286551-2.
- "The Myth of Self-Describing XML" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-06-02.
- (See e.g., Use–mention distinction, Naming collision, Polysemy)
- "Self Documenting Websites". Retrieved 2016-01-04.
- Jef Raskin on Self-documenting code: http://acmqueue.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=290&page=1.
- Steve McConnell's High Quality Routines checklist in his book Code Complete helps to facilitate the creation of self-documenting code.