Indent style

In computer programming, an indent style is a convention governing the indentation of blocks of code to convey the program's structure. This article largely addresses the C programming language and its descendants, but can be (and frequently is) applied to most other programming languages (especially those in the curly bracket family). Indent style is just one aspect of programming style.

Indentation is not a requirement of most programming languages. Rather, programmers indent to better convey the structure of their programs to human readers. In particular, indentation is used to show the relationship between control flow constructs such as conditions or loops and code contained within and outside them. However, some programming languages (such as Python and Occam) use the indentation to determine the structure instead of using braces or keywords.

The size of the indent is usually independent of the style. Many early programs used tab characters for indentation, for simplicity and to save on source file size. Unix editors generally view tabs as equivalent to eight characters, while Macintosh and Microsoft Windows environments would set them to four, creating confusion when code was transferred back and forth. Modern programming editors are now often able to set arbitrary indentation sizes, and will insert the appropriate combination of spaces and tabs. For Ruby, many shell programming languages, and some forms of HTML formatting, two spaces per indent level is generally used.

The topic issue of using hard tabs or spaces is an ongoing debate in the programming community. Some programmers such as Jamie Zawinski[1] feel that spaces instead of tabs increase cross-platform functionality. Others, such as the writers of the WordPress Coding Standards[2], believe the opposite, that hard tabs increase cross-platform functionality.

There are a number of computer programs that automatically correct indent styles as well as the length of tabs. A famous one among them is indent, a program included with many Unix-like operating systems. These programs work best for those who use an indent style close to that considered "proper" by their programmers; those who use other styles will more likely become frustrated. Furthermore, indent has only been updated once in the past 6 years and does not work well either with C++ or GNU extensions to C.

Contents

K&R style

The K&R style, so named because it was used in Kernighan and Ritchie's book The C Programming Language, is commonly used in C.[citation needed] It is less common for C++, C#, and others.[citation needed]

When adhering to ANSI C each function has its opening brace at the next line on the same indentation level as its header, the statements within the braces are indented, and the closing brace at the end is on the same indentation level as the header of the function at a line of its own. The blocks inside a function, however, have their opening braces at the same line as their respective control statements; closing braces remain in a line of their own, unless followed by an else or while keyword.

In this style a control statement with only a single statement in its scope may omit the braces. The C Programming Language refers to this as fertile soil for bugs (programming logical errors) and discourages it.

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
{
    ...
    while (x == y) {
        something();
        somethingelse();
 
        if (some_error) {
            /* the curly braces around this code block could be omitted */
            do_correct();
        } else
            continue_as_usual();
    }
 
    finalthing();
    ...
}

In old versions of the C programming language, the functions, however, were braced distinctly. The opening function brace of a function was placed on the line following after the declaration section and at the same indentation level as the declaration (header of the function). This is because in the original C language, argument types needed to be declared on the subsequent line (i. e., just after the header of the function), whereas when no arguments were necessary, the opening brace would not appear in the same line with the function declaration. The opening brace for function declarations was an exception to the currently basic rule stating that the statements and blocks of a function are all enclosed in the function braces.

/* Original pre-ISO C style without function prototypes */
int main(argc, argv)
    int   argc;
    char  *argv[];
{
    ...
}

Variant: 1TBS

Advocates of this style sometimes refer to it as "The One True Brace Style" (abbreviated as 1TBS or OTBS) because of the precedent set by C (although advocates of other styles have been known to use similarly strong language). The source code of the Unix kernel was written in this style,[3] as is the Linux kernel.

In this style, the constructs that allow insertions of new code lines are on separate lines, and constructs that prohibit insertions are on a single line. This principle is amplified by bracing every if, else, while, etc.—even single-line conditionals—so that insertion of a new line of code anywhere is always "safe" (i.e., such an insertion will not make the flow of execution disagree with the source code indentation).

Advantages of this style are that the beginning brace does not require an extra line by itself; and the ending brace lines up with the statement it conceptually belongs to. One disadvantage of this style is that the ending brace of a block takes up an entire line by itself, which can be partially resolved in if/else blocks and do/while blocks:

//...
    if (x < 0) {
        puts("Negative");
        negative(x);
    } else {
        puts("Non-negative");
        nonnegative(x);
    }

While this style may make it difficult to scan any source code for the opening brace of a block, it is not usually the opening brace itself that is interesting, but rather the controlling statement that introduced the block. It is easy to find the beginning of the block by locating the first line above the closing brace which is indented to the same level.

While Java is often written in Allman[citation needed] or other styles, a significant body of Java code uses a minor variant of the K&R style in which the opening brace is on the same line as the class or method declaration, largely because Sun's original style guides[4][5][6] used this K&R variant, and as a result most of the standard source code for the Java API is written in this style. It is also a popular indent style for ActionScript and JavaScript, along with the Allman style.

It should be noted that The C Programming Language does not explicitly specify this style, though it is followed consistently throughout the book. Of note from the book:

The position of braces is less important, although people hold passionate beliefs. We have chosen one of several popular styles. Pick a style that suits you, then use it consistently.

Allman style

The Allman style is named after Eric Allman. It is sometimes referred to as "ANSI style"[7] for its use in the documents describing the ANSI C standard (later adopted as the ISO C international standard).[8] It is also sometimes known as "BSD style" since Allman wrote many of the utilities for BSD Unix (although this should not be confused with the different "BSD KNF style"; see below). Proponents of this style often cite its use by ANSI and in other standards as justification for its adoption.

This style puts the brace associated with a control statement on the next line, indented to the same level as the control statement. Statements within the braces are indented to the next level.

while (x == y)
{
    something();
    somethingelse();
}
 
finalthing();

This style is similar to the standard indentation used by the Pascal programming language and Transact-SQL, where the braces are equivalent to the begin and end keywords.

Advantages of this style are that the indented code is clearly set apart from the containing statement by lines that are almost completely whitespace, improving readability, and the closing brace lines up in the same column as the opening brace, making it easy to find matching braces. Additionally, the blocking style delineates the actual block of code from the associated control statement itself. Commenting-out the control statement, removing the control statement entirely, refactoring, or removing of the block of code is less likely to introduce syntax errors because of dangling or missing brackets.

For example, the following is still syntactically correct:

//while (x == y)
{
    something();
    somethingelse();
}

As is this:

//for (int i=0; i < x; i++)
//while (x == y)
if (x == y)
{
    something();
    somethingelse();
}

A disadvantage of this style is that each of the enclosing braces occupies an entire line by itself without adding any actual code. This once was an important consideration when programs were usually edited on terminals that displayed only 24 lines, but is less significant with the larger resolutions of modern displays. Since the motivation of this style is to promote code readability by visually separating blocks from their control statements, screen real estate is only a secondary concern.

This style is used by default in Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and later versions. Microsoft has since then adopted the style throughout all of its documentation (MSDN) and internal programming methodologies for its C-based languages, namely C++ and C#.

BSD KNF style

Also known as Kernel Normal Form style, this is currently the form of most of the code used in the Berkeley Software Distribution operating systems. Although mostly intended for kernel code, it is widely used as well in userland code. It is essentially a thoroughly-documented variant of K&R style as used in the Bell Labs Version 6 & 7 UNIX source code.

The hard tabulator (ts in vi) is kept at 8 columns, while a soft tabulator is often defined as a helper as well (sw in vi), and set at 4.

The hard tabulators are used to indent code blocks, while a soft tabulator (4 spaces) of additional indent is used for all continuing lines which must be split over multiple lines.

Moreover, function calls do not use a space before the parenthesis, although C language native statements such as if, while, do, switch and return do (in the case where return is used with parens). Functions which declare no local variables in their top-level block should also leave an empty line after their opening block brace.

Here follow a few samples:

while (x == y) {
        something();
        somethingelse();
}
finalthing();

 

if (data != NULL && res > 0) {
        if (JS_DefineProperty(cx, o, "data",
            STRING_TO_JSVAL(JS_NewStringCopyN(cx, data, res)),
            NULL, NULL, JSPROP_ENUMERATE) != 0) {
                QUEUE_EXCEPTION("Internal error!");
                goto err;
        }
        PQfreemem(data);
} else {
        if (JS_DefineProperty(cx, o, "data", OBJECT_TO_JSVAL(NULL),
            NULL, NULL, JSPROP_ENUMERATE) != 0) {
                QUEUE_EXCEPTION("Internal error!");
                goto err;
        }
}

 

static JSBool
pgresult_constructor(JSContext *cx, JSObject *obj, uintN argc,
    jsval *argv, jsval *rval)
{
 
        QUEUE_EXCEPTION("PGresult class not user-instanciable");
 
        return (JS_FALSE);
}

Whitesmiths style

The Whitesmiths style, also called Wishart style to a lesser extent, is less common today than the previous three. It was originally used in the documentation for the first commercial C compiler, the Whitesmiths Compiler. It was also popular in the early days of Windows, since it was used in three influential Windows programming books, Programmer's Guide to Windows by Durant, Carlson & Yao, Programming Windows by Petzold, and Windows 3.0 Power Programming Techniques by Norton & Yao. Symbian Foundation continues to advocate this as the recommended bracing style for Symbian OS C++ mobile phone applications.

This style puts the brace associated with a control statement on the next line, indented. Statements within the braces are indented to the same level as the braces.

while (x == y)
    {
    something();
    somethingelse();
    }
 
finalthing();

The advantages of this style are similar to those of the Allman style in that blocks are clearly set apart from control statements. However with Whitesmiths style, the block is still visually connected to its control statement instead of looking like an unrelated block of code surrounded by whitespace. Another advantage is that the alignment of the braces with the block emphasizes the fact that the entire block is conceptually (as well as programmatically) a single compound statement. Furthermore, indenting the braces emphasizes that they are subordinate to the control statement.

A disadvantage of this style could be that the braces do not stand out as well. However this is largely a matter of opinion, because the braces occupy an entire line to themselves even if they are indented to the same level as the block.[editorializing]

Another disadvantage could be that, if certain convenience grammar elements, such as 'else if', are employed, the ending brace no longer lines up with the statement it conceptually belongs to, although others[who?] argue that the closing brace belongs to the opening brace and not to the control statement.

An example:

if (data != NULL && res > 0)
    {
    if (!JS_DefineProperty(cx, o, "data", STRING_TO_JSVAL(JS_NewStringCopyN(cx, data, res)),
                           NULL, NULL, JSPROP_ENUMERATE))
        {
        QUEUE_EXCEPTION("Internal error!");
        goto err;
        }
    PQfreemem(data);
    }
else if (!JS_DefineProperty(cx, o, "data", OBJECT_TO_JSVAL(NULL),
        NULL, NULL, JSPROP_ENUMERATE))
    {
    QUEUE_EXCEPTION("Internal error!");
    goto err;
    }

However, if one adopts the styling rule that braces will be provided to every level of 'scope', then the above code could be written to replace the 'else if' with a separated 'if' in the scope of a clearly roped-off 'else' portion of the statement.

if (data != NULL && res > 0)
    {
    if (!JS_DefineProperty(cx, o, "data", STRING_TO_JSVAL(JS_NewStringCopyN(cx, data, res)),
                           NULL, NULL, JSPROP_ENUMERATE))
        {
        QUEUE_EXCEPTION("Internal error!");
        goto err;
        }
    PQfreemem(data);
    }
else
    {
    if (!JS_DefineProperty(cx, o, "data", OBJECT_TO_JSVAL(NULL),
        NULL, NULL, JSPROP_ENUMERATE))
        {
        QUEUE_EXCEPTION("Internal error!");
        goto err;
        }
    }

Following the strategy shown above, some[who?] would argue the code is inherently more readable, however issues arise in readability as more conditions are added, shown in this pseudo-code (although usually in this case, a switch statement would suffice)

else
    {
    if (stuff is true)
        {
        Do stuff
        }
    else
        {
        if (other stuff is true)
            {
            Do other stuff
            }
        else
            {
            if (its still not true)
                {
                Do even more other stuff
                }
            }
        }
    }

GNU style

Like the Allman and Whitesmiths styles, GNU style puts braces on a line by themselves, indented by 2 spaces, except when opening a function definition, where they are not indented.[9] In either case, the contained code is indented by 2 spaces from the braces.

Popularised by Richard Stallman, the layout may be influenced by his background of writing Lisp code.[9] In Lisp the equivalent to a block (a progn) is a first class data entity and giving it its own indent level helps to emphasize that, whereas in C a block is just syntax. Although not directly related to indentation, GNU coding style also includes a space before the bracketed list of arguments to a function.

static char *
concat (char *s1, char *s2)
{
  while (x == y)
    {
      something ();
      somethingelse ();
    }
  finalthing ();
}

[9]

This style combines the advantages of Allman and Whitesmiths, thereby removing the possible Whitesmiths disadvantage of braces not standing out from the block.

The GNU Emacs text editor and the GNU systems' indent command will reformat code according to this style by default. It is mandated by the GNU Coding Standards and is used by nearly all maintainers of GNU project software, but is rarely used outside the GNU community. Another disadvantage is that the ending brace no longer lines up with the statement it conceptually belongs to.

Those who do not use GNU Emacs, or similarly extensible/customisable editors, may find that the automatic indenting settings of their editor are unhelpful for this style. However, many editors defaulting to KNF style cope well with the GNU style when the tab width is set to 2 spaces; likewise, GNU Emacs adapts well to KNF style just by setting the tab width to 8 spaces. In both cases, automatic reformatting will destroy the original spacing, but automatic line indentation will work correctly.

Horstmann style

The 1997 edition of Computing Concepts with C++ Essentials by Cay S. Horstmann adapts Allman by placing the first statement of a block on the same line as the opening brace.

while (x == y)
{   something();
    somethingelse();
    //...
    if (x < 0)
    {   printf("Negative");
        negative(x);
    }
    else
    {   printf("Non-negative");
        nonnegative(x);
    }
}
finalthing();

This style combines the advantages of Allman by keeping the vertical alignment of the braces for readability and easy identification of blocks, with the saving of a line of the K&R style. However the 2003 edition now uses Allman style throughout. [1]

Pico style

The style used most commonly in the Pico programming language by its designers is different from the aforementioned styles. The lack of return statements and the fact that semicolons are used in Pico as statement separators, instead of terminators, leads to the following syntax:

stuff(n):
{ x: 3 * n;
  y: doStuff(x);
  y + x }

The advantages and disadvantages are similar to those of saving screen real estate with K&R style. One additional advantage is that the beginning and closing braces are consistent in application (both share space with a line of code), as opposed to K&R style where one brace shares space with a line of code and one brace has a line to itself.

The banner style can make visual scanning easier for some, since the "headers" of any block are the only thing extented at that level (the theory being that the closing control of the previous block interferes with the header of the next block in the K&R and Allman styles). In this style, which is to Whitesmiths as K&R is to Allman, the closing control is indented as the last item in the list (and thus appropriately loses salience).

function1 () {
  dostuff
  do more stuff
  }
 
function2 () {
  etc
  }

or, in a markup language...

<table>
  <tr>
    <td> lots of stuff...
      more stuff
      </td>
    <td> alternative for short lines </td>
    <td> etc. </td>
    </tr>
  </table>
 
<table>
  <tr> ... etc
  </table>

Lisp style

A programmer may even go as far as to insert closing brackets in the last line of a block. This style makes indentation the only way of distinguishing blocks of code, but has the advantage of containing no uninformative lines. This could easily be called the Lisp style (because this style is very common in Lisp code) or the Python style (Python has no brackets, but the layout looks very similar, as evidenced by the following two code blocks).

 // In C
 for (i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
     if (i % 2 == 0) {
         doSomething (i); }
     else {
         doSomethingElse (i); } }

 

 # In Python
 for i in range(10):
     if i % 2 == 0:
         doSomething(i)
     else:
         doSomethingElse(i)

 

 ;; In Lisp
 (dotimes (i 10)
   (if (evenp i)
       (do-something i)
       (do-something-else i)))

Compact Control Readability style

This style makes it easy to skim the left edge of the code for control statements (whereas styles like 1TBS make statements such as "else" harder to see because they are after an end bracket on the same line). However it keeps the code more compact than styles like the Allman style, by putting opening brackets at the end of lines (as opposed to on their own lines).

// In JS
if (x == y) {
    doSomethingA();
    doSomethingB();
}
else {
    doSomethingC();
    doSomethingD();
}

Other considerations

Losing track of blocks

In certain situations, there is a risk of losing track of block boundaries. This is often seen in large sections of code containing many compound statements nested to many levels of indentation - by the time the programmer scrolls to the bottom of a huge set of nested statements, he may have lost track of which control statements go where.

Programmers who rely on counting the opening braces may have difficulty with indentation styles such as K&R, where the beginning brace is not visually separated from its control statement. Programmers who rely more on indentation will gain more from styles that are vertically compact, such as K&R, because the blocks are shorter.

To avoid losing track of control statements such as for, one can use a large indent, such as an 8-unit wide hard tab, along with breaking up large functions into smaller and more readable functions. Linux is done this way, as well as using the K&R style.

In Unix- or Linux-style systems, where vi or vim are often the default text editors, one method for tracking block boundaries is to position the text cursor over one of the braces, and pressing the '%' key. Vi or vim will then bounce the cursor to the opposing brace. Since the text cursor's 'next' key (viz., the 'n' key) retained directional positioning information (whether the 'up' or 'down' key was previously pressed), the dot macro (the '.' key) could then be used to place the text cursor on the next brace,[10] given an appropriate coding style. Alternatively, inspection of the block boundaries using the '%' key can be used to enforce a coding standard.

Another way is to use inline comments added after the closing brace:

for (int i = 0; i < total; i++) {
    foo(bar);
} //for (i)

 

if (x < 0) {
   bar(foo);
} //if (x < 0)

However, maintaining duplicate code in multiple locations is the major disadvantage of this method.

Another solution is implemented in a folding editor, which lets the developer hide or reveal blocks of code by their indentation level or by their compound statement structure. Many editors will also highlight matching brackets or braces when the caret is positioned next to one.

Statement insertion

K&R style prevents another common error suffered when using the standard UNIX line editor, ed. A statement mistakenly inserted between the control statement and the opening brace of the loop block turns the body of the loop into a single trip.

for (int i = 0; i < total; i++)
    whoops(bar);   /* repeated total times, with i from 0 to (total-1) */
{
    only_once();   /* Programmer intended this to be done total times */
} //for (i) <-- This comment is no longer valid, and is very misleading!

K&R style avoids this problem by keeping the control statement and the opening brace on the same line.

References

External links


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