Does your program always have bugs that you can’t seem to solve? Is your code hard to read and understand? Are you having trouble solving a coding lab or problem? Programmers of all skill levels face these problems from time to time. The tips included below are intended to help you solve these problems and become efficient at coding.
More often than not, writing a program without making a plan makes the process longer and harder. When you need to create a website or a mobile app, it is more efficient to map out on paper where each element would go. Your diagram can be as complex as a complete interface layout or as simple as a few placeholder boxes. Instead of spending time moving around your design elements in your code, you can save time by simply following your diagram.
Here is an example of a very simple website layout. There are placeholder shapes for each element that you might add to your website. A more complicated example would include the text for each paragraph, the images you plan to add, or even an explanation of each element. For instance, you can add a brief explanation of what color your buttons should turn when pressed in your plan.
You can even use planning methods before solving a lab or coding problem. Labs can usually be broken down into three steps: input, process, and output. By planning ahead on how your program will take in the input, what processing will be done to the input, and how to output the processing, you can efficiently solve the lab in an organized and easy manner. For example, say you are using Python and need to take in a number, calculate the square of the number, and output the square to the screen. It would be incredibly helpful to write down the steps and functions needed.
Step 1: Take in a number
Use the input() function to take in typed user input
Step 2: Calculate the square of the number
Use the ** operator to raise the number to a power. Follow ** with a 2 to raise the number to the second power.
Step 3: Output the squared number
Use the print() function to output the squared number to the screen and str() to convert the squared number to a string, which is a primitive type for words.
Commenting is often overlooked, but it has many important uses. Commenting is especially useful for organizational purposes. Separating lines of code with comments can group certain functions and mathematical calculations together. Commenting can also make understanding code easier. On complicated lines, commenting an explanation can help you understand your code when you go over it quickly or look for an error. If your program takes multiple days to code, reading and writing comments can refresh your memory on what you wrote previously. Even for collaborative purposes, commenting can be useful. If you coded your program with a team, writing comments can help your teammates understand your programming.
When you come across an issue or a bug in your code, instead of spending time manually analyzing your code line-by-line, try using a built-in debugger. A debugger runs the program for you on the parts of code you select, tracking the fluctuating values and states of variables, objects, and elements. For instance, take a program that does a complicated mathematical calculation on a certain variable. An issue comes up in which your program is doing the calculation incorrectly. By debugging, you can see the exact line where the calculation does not change the variable as intended, and, as a result, shows precisely where the problem has occurred.
Here is an example of a Java program that takes in a number and does a series of calculations to it before the final number is printed out. In this instance, the starting number was 74. Each variable and its values are recorded with the help of a debugger. For more complicated programs and calculations, tracking the values of variables with a debugger is very useful.
However, certain IDEs (applications where you code your program) do not have a built-in debugger. In those instances, you can use print statements to help you debug, although they are not as revealing or efficient. Print statements are functions that output specified text or variables to your screen. If you want to keep track of the variables’ values throughout the calculation, add a print statement every once in a while to print out the variables. That way, you can track the values over the course of your running program. Remember to remove the print statements when you're done.
Packages are collections of code organized into classes and modules depending on the programming language. Classes are a part of object-oriented programming languages like Java and describe the features of its objects, which store variables and have characteristics. Modules are a part of languages like Python and serve as a way to group related code. Importing packages can make coding your program easier and give you access to a variety of prewritten code. For example, if you are coding in Java, importing the java.util package gives you access to the Scanner class, which lets you take in typed user input, and data structures like ArrayLists and Stacks, which let you store and manipulate large amounts of data. Using widely known packages also makes understanding your code easier for people you’ve shared it with. While coding with an imported package, it is unrealistic and time-consuming to memorize every class, function, or other detail of the package. Therefore, always keep an API (a resource that describes every function within a class or package) open on a separate tab as you code. When you want to know which methods to use and how they work you can reference the API for quick explanations instead of trying to memorize the whole package.
By following these tips and tricks, your programs will be much easier and faster to code. So the next time you run into any problems with understanding your code or solving a lab, just remember that everyone runs into programming issues, and you can solve them by planning ahead, commenting, debugging efficiently, and importing packages.
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Entering the world of competitive programming can be an exciting moment. The possibility of being awarded for a skill you have honed in on for years is incredibly intriguing, but at the same time, it is the beginning of your competitive programming career, and as always, there are a couple of novice mistakes to be made.
The most difficult part of a good programming project is coming up with a good idea in the first place. Why? Because millions of people know how to code and some of them are very good at it, and there are countless ways to efficiently learn how to code but any tips for coming up with ideas are inevitably vague.