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Definition and Guide

Why you should use a linting tool

What does a linter do, and what are the benefits of using one? From ensuring error-free code that is secure, consistent, and maintainable, to the impact on developers themselves a linting solution is an invaluable tool for every developer.

Table of Contents

  • What is a Linter?
  • Benefits of Linting Tools
  • Summary




In the realm of software development, maintaining high code quality is crucial for project success. One tool that aids in this endeavor is a linter. Let’s dive into why you should use a linting tool.

What is a Linter?

Essentially, a linter is a static code analysis tool that scans source code for issues. A linter will examine the code looking for errors, defects, stylistic issues, and questionable constructs, all with the objective of uncovering these issues before they are pushed to production. 


This proactive approach allows developers to catch issues early in the development cycle, and ensure that the code they are delivering is clean code.

Benefits of Linting Tools

Linting tools offer several benefits:

Error-free code: 

Linting tools offer a crucial benefit in error prevention by identifying issues as they are created, even before code execution. This proactive approach significantly improves code reliability and reduces the likelihood of issues ever turning into bugs. 


By diagnosing and fixing technical issues, such as code smells, in the code, linting tools ensure that fewer defects make their way to production.


When a linter scans through the code, it flags sections that are either erroneous, suboptimal or don't adhere to style guidelines. 


This meticulous examination allows developers to address potential issues promptly. 


Depending on the configuration, the linter may either offer to automatically fix the flagged issues via a ‘quick fix’ or require the developer to manually intervene to resolve the issue.


Running a linter in the IDE and before committing code brings individual productivity gains by identifying and highlighting issues early in the creative process. 


This preemptive feedback loop not only saves time but also fosters a habit of writing cleaner, issue-free code from the outset. 


By catching and rectifying issues early in the development process, linting tools contribute significantly to maintaining high code quality and reducing the time and effort spent on debugging during later stages of development.

Code Consistency:

Consistent code is code written in a uniform and idiomatic way where all code looks similar and follows a regular pattern, even with multiple contributors at different times. A key benefit of consistent code is that it reduces differences between authors' coding styles and makes code easier for peers to review. 


Consistent code is seen as an important contributor to clean code.

A linter contributes to code consistency by enforcing coding standards and stylistic conventions across the codebase in a number of ways:


Enforcement of Coding Standards: 

Linters are configured with rulesets that define coding standards, including formatting conventions, naming conventions, and other stylistic guidelines. 


By scanning the code and flagging sections that deviate from these standards, linters ensure that all developers follow consistent coding practices.


Identification of Stylistic Inconsistencies: 

Linters analyze the code for stylistic inconsistencies, such as inconsistent indentation, variable naming conventions, or spacing. 


By highlighting these inconsistencies, a linter will prompt developers to adhere to a uniform style throughout the codebase.


Automated Correction or Guidance: 

Depending on the specific tool, a linter may offer automated or ‘quick fixes’ for detected issues. 


This ensures that any deviations from the established coding standards are corrected promptly, and in a manner that follows the pre-defined guidelines, maintaining code consistency across files and modules, and independent of the contributors.


Integration with Version Control Systems and CI/CD Pipelines: 

Linters can be integrated into the development workflow, often as pre-commit hooks or continuous integration checks. 


For example, when SonarLint is connected to either SonarQube or SonarCloud, and integrated into the development pipeline, rules and analysis settings are synchronized between developers on a team. 


This has the benefit of aligning the team around a single, agreed standard, and helps enforce coding standards, maintaining code consistency.

Secure Code: 


Code that is free from vulnerabilities and that is responsible and trustworthy is secure code. When code exhibits these qualities it’s accountable for the downstream impacts it might have. 


An example of responsible and trustworthy code is when it is free of hard-coded secrets or passwords, protecting stakeholders from malicious parties that might exploit sensitive information. 


Linters can play an important role in ensuring code is secure. 


They can flag issues that may lead to potential security vulnerabilities, contributing to a more secure application. There are a number of ways linters achieve this:


Security-focused Rulesets: 

Linters can be configured with rules specifically designed to detect common security vulnerabilities, such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), improper input validation, insecure cryptographic algorithms, and more. 


These rulesets are based on established security best practices and guidelines, including those from organizations like OWASP. 

Detection of Vulnerable Patterns: 

Linters can detect patterns in the code that are indicative of security vulnerabilities. 


For example, they can flag instances where user input is directly concatenated into SQL queries without proper sanitization, or where sensitive data is transmitted over unencrypted channels.

Identification of Potentially Risky Code: 

Linters can identify potentially risky code constructs that may lead to security vulnerabilities, such as the use of deprecated or vulnerable libraries, insecure random number generation, or insufficient access control mechanisms.

Secrets detection: 

Some linters have the ability to detect secret patterns, enabling these to be flagged and taken care of in the IDE, and before they leak into a Git repository.

Over and above the direct benefits that linters bring to the code quality are the advantages that using a linter delivers to developers themselves. 


Developer Productivity: 

Developer productivity is crucial in software development as it directly impacts the efficiency, speed, and quality of the development process. It also contributes to happier developers.


Linting tools ensure Developers receive the value of real-time feedback by flagging issues while they're coding. 


When developers address issues as they arise, they stay focused on the same task, avoiding the productivity loss associated with switching between tasks. 


This allows for faster progress and can lead to a more efficient development process overall. 


In addition, by fixing issues as they are created, developers can prevent technical debt from piling up, leading to a healthier codebase and reducing the risk of future productivity slowdowns.

Happier developers:

When developers feel like their only purpose is to uncover issues in their code or worse, someone else's, the story is not starting well. 


Developers are creative beings after all, and fixing does not usually feel part of the creative process.


This is where linters can help. 


Leaving the detection and fast resolution of issues to a linter ensures that developers are made aware of their own issues as they are created, enabling them to eliminate them as part of the creative flow. 


Even if a linting tool is disabled during the early creative process, subsequently ensuring that a linter takes a look through newly created code is crucial, as fixing issues is easier, and less time-consuming in the IDE. 


This leaves developers time to create, and focus on building cool stuff. 


Leading in turn to the developer's creative instincts being fulfilled.

Growing developers:


For many developers, continuous learning and growth contribute to job satisfaction and personal fulfillment. Becoming a better, more proficient developer is a natural desire on the journey to expressing their creativity.


Linters can help with this by providing real-time feedback on code quality and highlighting areas for improvement. 


This constant feedback loop serves as an educational tool for developers, helping them learn about best practices and coding conventions. 


Some linters will even act as a mentor, or teacher, not only flagging issues in the code, but proactively offering deeper insights into why it is an issue, the implications of not fixing it, and even providing examples of compliant code. 


These more advanced linters act as an ever-present Sensei, waiting discretely in the wings, but always available.

Summary

The benefits linked to using a linting tool are compelling. 


Not only will they help ensure code is secure, consistent, and error-free, but they will also positively impact developer productivity, happiness, and growth. 


Furthermore, an advanced linting tool will offer contextual education, an extensive library of quick fixes, and secrets detection across a wide range of IDE and languages, frameworks, and IaC platforms.

SonarLint

next level linting with SonarLint

Up your coding game and discover issues early. SonarLint takes linting to another level empowering you to find & fix issues in real time.

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