Font is Mechanical Pencil

Source: Vadim Suvorov, Tim Ottinger

When can we use abbreviations as names in our source code? Can we ever use abbreviations as variable names? Vadim and I explored this issue, and Vadim in his orderly way of thinking enumerated these these principles. I'm sure that not everyone will find these to his liking, but I think these principles are well-reasoned and sufficient. I think these nest nicely into my naming rules in general, though my preference is to avoid any kind of encodings.

  • Shared, not Personal: the abbreviation should not be something the author has invented, and which other programmers will not recognize on sight.

  • Consistently Used: the abbreviation is not punned, so that it means one thing in one context and another thing entirely in a different context. Note that a very short abbreviation has a greater likelihood of collision (fn = function or filename or ...?).

  • Must Be Justified: If the programmer is to use abbreviations, then he should have clear reasons why the abbreviation is required. If, for instance, the abbreviation helps the reader see the unique part of the name without being distracted by context warts (prefix ofr suffix). My addition here is in the case of parallel names Persistant.User v. Domain.User if only one name is present, then no prefix is justifiable. My partner in this enterprise may not agree (likely with well-considered reason).

  • Special Latitude Given for Domains: in solution domains, some abbreviations are common and it is beneficial for the programmers to know them. If I worked with military jet software and didn't know IFF, or in education and didn't understand ILT, or if I worked in accounting and didn't grasp AP or AR then I would be less effective when communicating with the Business/Customer.

To the extent that your team deems to use abbreviations, we recommend these criteria for your consideration. Clean naming is one of the most important factors in writing understandable code, and has no negative effect upon compilation or runtime speed, and so is very precious to me. Yet, in the appropriate context, I am open to sacrificing the "no encodings of any kind" rule to appropriate use of well-reasoned abbreviations, with the caveats given above.


  1. My favorite abbreviation, btw, is probably "sut" for System Under Test. A number of my tests will use 'sut', and I feel mostly unapologetic about it.

  2. It's my least favorite. Can you show an example of test code that uses sut?


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