beautifier : Java Glossary


a program that tidies up Java source code to some standard format. I does not rigidly follow Oracle’s conventions, but it is quite close.

Advantages of Beautifiers

  1. Beautified code is consistent and hence easier to read.
  2. You will save tens of thousands of keystrokes you would otherwise spend compulsively aligning and tidying code manually.
  3. Beautifiers are 100% consistent. Even team members who have not an anally retentive bone in their bodies will turn out perfectly formatted code. Even fastidious you can never achieve perfect consistency with purely manual alignment.
  4. Beautifiers stop fights in teams where team members have their own preferred style they don’t want anyone else to meddle with. To be a good computer programmer you must be borderline OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This means likely you will develop stylistic formatting quirks that are very important to you, but are meaningless to others. Others can’t follow them even when they want to. Those stylistic details that are so glaring to you, sail right over their heads. Further, it just irritates them to be bullied into following meaningless rules, as if you were telling them they can’t walk on sidewalk cracks. Team members are irked walking on eggs, trying to mimic every other team member’s style when working on their code. Separate idiosyncratic styles for separate classes encourages territorialism.
  5. You settle on a corporate style for checkin and team members are free to beautfy to their personal style when they edit or view a piece of code. They automatically beautify back to corporate standard for checkin. You can make the standard as elaborate and quirky as you like. It does not interfere with anyone’s work. Because it does not matter, there is far less reason to fight over what it should be. The boss can have it 100% his way and expect 100% compliance.
  6. Beautifiers get rid of most false deltas on CVS (Concurrent Versions System) checkin. Since spacing is beautified to a standard, you don’t get CVS deltas registered by a stray space. As part of beautification, I collapse runs of blank lines down to one to avoid that type of false delta.
  7. If you change your mind on what constitutes the optimal format, you can do a bulk beautify on all code you have ever written. That is deeply satisfying to the obsessive perfectionist.
  8. Beautifiers prevent deceptive code, code that is indented to look like it does one thing, but actually does something else.
  9. Beautifiers can be helpful in detecting bugs such as unbalanced or improperly nested {} [] (). You beautify and look at the beautified indent structure to detect anomalies. If you insist on only manually aligning code, you deprive not only yourself, but all team members of this useful tool.

Disadvantages of Beautifiers

  1. It is an extra step. If you forget, you will create hundreds of false CVS deltas on checkin.
  2. You can never find a beautifier that will do things exactly the way you would if you did them by hand with infinite time.
  3. Beautifiers often have bugs. This means they may break lines inappropriately, introduce white space or add superfluous and ever growing blank lines.
  4. They are not manly. Real men do everything manually no matter how much time it wastes.
  5. Be careful when reordering declarations to make code pretty. You can often disturb the order of static or instance initialisation and stop it working. I broke BigDate this way allowing Visual Age to sort all my declarations alphabetically. It really had me scratching my head.

The Ideal Beautifier

I have not yet found a beautifier that is sufficiently anally-retentive about spaces that you never get spurious CVS deltas. You should be able to control how much space there should be before and after () [] ; + - = in various contexts, e.g. method call, cast, empty declaration, nested () depth, /* // etc.

Ideally a beautifier should work two ways:

  1. Inside your editor just a click away.
  2. As a standalone utility so you can batch beautify and routinely beautify before adding to CVS. You want spacing absolutely standard, no judgement at all.
  3. You need a beautifier for each type of text you use in your project such as Java, JSP (Java Server Pages), HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), XML (extensible Markup Language), SQL…
Trita was unusual in that it woould beautify Java, JSP, HTML, CSS, PHP (Pre-Hypertext Processor), JavaScript and even C#. It learned your preferred style by looking as a sample of your formatted code.

A beautifier does not have to understand the full syntax of Java and it also has to handle code with syntax errors. This makes it somewhat simpler than a full parser. In other words, to get the beautifier exactly the way you want, you may have to write it yourself.

Any modern IDE (Integrated Development Environment) will beautify code, e.g. Eclipse, Netbeans or IntelliJ Idea. I use Idea, which has two highly configurable beautifier plugins called Rearranger and code Formatter. For tiny projects I use SlickEdit since it is integrated into the editor, where it is convenient to type quickly/sloppily then beautify frequently.

Arachnophila by Paul Lutus
Artistic Style: command line
coding standards
Emacs: editor
Intellij Idea: full IDE
Jacobe: command line driven
JDisplay: colourised HTML code display
JEdit: editor
JGrasp: a code visualiser
Jindent: elaborate
JPretty: free
JStyle: part of Jedit has very fine space control
JXBeauty: open source
NetBeans: full IDE
Semantic Designs: available for many languagses
SlickEdit: text editor

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