“Code bloat” is probably not something you hear about often, but it can wreak havoc on your websites and applications.
Many developers have different definitions of what constitutes bloated software or bloated code, but for the most part, bloating happens when too many features or too much code is included in a project, leading to adverse effects.
Bloating could include code that is perceived as unnecessarily long, slow, or otherwise wasteful, or inadequacies in the language in which the code is written.
Christian Heilmann, senior program manager at Microsoft, describes it like this: “Code bloat happens when you try to make your code do everything that is even remotely possible instead of allowing it to do one thing right.”
But is bloating really that big of a deal? And how do you prevent it?
Bloated software manifests itself in several ways, including slow websites, overloaded servers, and maintenance difficulties, which can cause serious headaches not only for the developer, but for the end user, too.
Let’s take a look at some of the causes of bloated software and code and what you can do to help prevent overload…
Reasons for Bloated Software
While it may seem that having an overabundance of features is a good thing, both developers and end users often complain of the effects of bloating.
Having too many features in software that never get used, that makes the user interface overly complicated, or that prevents users from getting things done quickly can be a real problem. When the user has to spend too much time turning off automated tasks or searching to find their desired feature, it causes impediments in overall usability.
Bloat is also problematic for developers because as inflates the time it takes to build, add, or maintain that software or application. But sometimes bloat happens by accident due to neglectful practices on the developer’s side.
There are a few primary reasons you may be experiencing overloaded or bloated software, including:
- Inefficient HTML
- Not using CSS cascades or shorthand notation
- CMS using bloated themes
But aside from the general annoyance of having to dig through extra code, is bloating really that big of a deal?
Why It’s a Problem
There are a few main reasons you really don’t want to have bloated software, ranging from minor annoyances to serious hindrances. Here are a few of the top reasons bloated software is such a big deal:
- Slow loading speeds. The more effort your site takes to load, the less it will convert. Your SEO will also suffer, as search engines like Google place high importance on loading speeds for ranking purposes.
- Higher bandwidth usage. Bloated software means larger file sizes, which takes up more bandwidth, limiting your site and potentially costing you more money depending on your hosting services.
- Slow mobile speeds. Mobile usage is also increasing, and if users have to wait for several minutes while your 1MB site loads, that could lead to reduced conversions and an overall negative user experience.
- More development time. Sorting through extra code or unnecessary code can be a massive time-waster, and for clients paying by the hour, that can mean extra costs for them, or potentially less pay for the developers.
- User dissatisfaction. As mentioned before, having a complicated user interface with too many features that aren’t actually being used can cause confusion and frustration from an end user’s perspective. If you’re looking for a five-star rating for your site or software, you don’t want unnecessary features holding up the show.
So what are some of the ways you can prevent these things from happening?
What to Do About It
Bloating often happens when you least expect it, and can be caused by poor coding habits or simply a lack of vigilance when it comes to monitoring your software’s performance.
Here are a few things you can do to correct any bloating and to prevent further issues from arising:
Use Performance Tools to Spot Problems
One of the biggest indicators of bloat is slow loading speeds, but performance is also one of the easiest things to monitor. Taking advantage of tools like Google Performance Tools can help optimize your code, while PageSpeed Insights can help monitor your site for any major performance roadblocks.
You also want to watch your overall memory usage and browser scrolling speeds, as they are each key aspects to performance. You can also use tools like Firefox’s Firebug extension to help highlight code that is either nonessential or being used inefficiently.
Remove Unnecessary Code or Features
Sometimes a client will ask you to include a feature in your project that you don’t feel is necessary, or perhaps another developer will have included something in the code that was helpful at the time but no longer remains.
While it can seem like a hassle to explain to clients why they may not want to use a feature, or to go through your code and look for elements that shouldn’t be there, both can be helpful in reducing performance issues associated with bloated software.
Remove Templates or Plugins from Your CMS
Templates and plugins can be extremely helpful for building websites quickly, but they can also potentially come riddled with unnecessary elements that cause further bloating.
The key it to use templates that are streamlined for performance and to delete any plugins or third-party applications that you aren’t using (don’t just deactivate… delete!).
Optimize Sites for Speed and Functionality
Finally, be sure that other areas of your site are optimized so you can spot any slowdowns that might be caused by code or software overload. Make sure your images are optimized, minimize HTTP requests, enable browser caching, and optimize your CSS delivery.
While it can be easy to overlook bloated software, it’s important to make sure that your code isn’t causing your site or application to be overloaded.
Overload can cause slow downs that result in lost conversions and dissatisfaction for end users as well as more obstacles for developers looking to get things done in a timely manner.
Some keys to minimizing bloat include removing anything that shouldn’t be in your code, compressing files and images, and using templates and hosting services that are designed to handle the needs of your project.