You wouldn’t buy a house without a professional inspection. Houses can look perfect on the surface and still have hidden issues with the infrastructure that need to be addressed. The same thing is true with your code. It can look beautiful on the surface but have significant performance issues under the hood.
That’s why we start technical projects with a code audit. As your business grows, your original code base gets updated and changed along the way. Over time, it can become messy and complicated.
But simplifying code to make it work better for you is one of Ntara’s superpowers. No matter how many people may have contributed to writing your code, a professional audit can identify any critical errors, landmines, security risks, or performance issues. Knowing what is wrong is half the battle; the other half is cleaning it up to make your site, platform, or integration run better.
What exactly is a code audit?
The word “audit” may indicate a painful experience that lasts for weeks on end. But code audits are surprisingly straightforward and can quickly identify opportunities for improvement.
During a typical audit, we look for red flags, such as performance issues, security risks, errors, missing data, or manual processes. We assess the current risks and the maintainability of the current system. Does it do what it’s supposed to do? Does documentation exist? If so, is it accurate and easy to follow?
We don’t need to understand every single thing about your existing code base. All we need are your source files. One check we do is to see if we can click “build” and it works. This is to make sure that there are no mistakes or missing files with how the code was stored in source control. Then we can check for the other kinds of red flags to see if—at a high level—any of those potentially exist.
In one particularly surprising client example, we found that credit card information was being stored as plain text within their code—not at all encrypted and very easy to identify. As you can imagine, our client was stunned when, during the audit review, we were able to recite their credit card information. This is a great example of a critical security risk that can be identified through this process.
Luckily, most audits don’t return such troubling results.
When to conduct a code audit
While anytime is a good time check your code performance, code audits are always recommended when transitioning your digital assets from one agency partner to another. You want to make sure that the maintainability and deployment of code remains seamless. For that to happen, the new agency partner needs to make sure they can build and deploy the source code to the target location without a bunch of manual steps. Performing a code audit will illuminate any such issues and a plan can be put in place to resolve those. This is a critical part of any agency transition, while there is still time for the new agency partner to talk with the previous partner.
Why conduct a code audit?
Businesses need confidence in the integrity of their code to ensure they have clear paths forward for future platform upgrades. Programmers, both internally and externally, must be able to read and understand your code base. Ultimately, it’s about long-term maintainability and scalability of your code, security, efficiency, and performance. Code audits uncover issues with your code and supporting processes that must be addressed for your business to scale in the future.
This is all about reducing and simplifying areas of code. In development, when blitzing through code to solve a problem, programmers sometimes use a technique known as “brute force.” This involves copying and pasting parts of code over and over, creating hundreds or thousands more lines than needed. Later, when updates are required, the code needs to be changed in all those places instead of just a few. This creates opportunity for error. By making the code modular we can eliminate repeating lines and consolidate them.
Manual processes have a greater opportunity for error, which will likely cause bad outcomes over time. How does your code get from source control to the web server, so the world can see your website? How does your code get from source control to another platform to enable all the great features you’re paying for? If these processes are manual, the opportunity for error is extremely high.
We help our clients automate processes wherever possible. Automation not only saves you time, but also reduces headaches from manual deployments and compilations. It also reduces the dependency on your staff to remember and execute these processes, therefore reducing the opportunity for human error.
Looking for performance issues
The only true way to know if something is a performance issue is to use tools to analyze the running of the code and see what is causing the slowness. That said, after having worked on a lot of code over the years, there are some things you can look for that are sure to be issues.
One such example would be a for-loop, or even worse a nested for-loop, with API calls in them. A for-loop executes blocks of code repeatedly. Nested for-loops (something we see a lot) can waste time because they can exponentially increase the number of iterations. If there is an expensive call inside, it will significantly impact performance. However, we can leverage a variety of strategies, such as making bulk calls or aggregating calls ahead of time, to reduce the impact to performance. Additionally, we can store these calls in memory and access them there ahead of time moving forward.
In one case, an API call to the product information management system (PIM) was taking 20 minutes to respond. Within an hour, we identified this error and made some adjustments. Ultimately, we eliminated the over calling of the API, reducing response time to under one minute. That’s a significant time savings.
Typically, code audits are needed to determine whether it makes more sense to clean up the current code base or to start over with new code. It’s a process of assessing current risks and maintainability of the current system.
Sometimes, simple fixes can make a world of difference. But if your code has critical errors, it’s best to know that up front. In many cases, it’s possible to generate a net new code base than to fix an existing mess.
If you would like to learn more about how a code audit could improve your business, get in touch.