What Is Code Reuse?

As the name implies, code reuse is about using existing code in different software products and not only for the ones that code was originally designed for. By following reusability principles, developers can build different software products without the need of starting from scratch each time they start a new application, giving them the ability to develop applications faster and with more consistency.

This way, code reusability isn’t just good for efficiency and productivity; it also opens organizations up to new levels of innovation.

Why Should You Care about Code Reuse?

Today’s digital systems — from consumer tools to enterprise technology — are dependent on software to operate. A typical software developer produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 lines of code daily. In fact, developers have generated an estimated 2.8 trillion lines of code over the last two decades alone.

The practical challenges of writing, updating, and managing code are enormous. What’s more, applications and systems are becoming more complex, and there’s a growing shortage of developer talent. As a result, many organizations are looking for ways to reuse and recycle code across projects and initiatives.

Code reuse makes it possible to plug in snippets, blocks, and components rather than starting from scratch each time there’s a need for code. This practice saves time and resources by repurposing the same code across different projects. It also allows developers to focus on generating innovative ideas and on ensuring code quality.

Dev teams are equipped to build applications faster and produce more consistent results through code reuse, which contributes to a more agile and flexible enterprise.

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How Does Code Reuse Work? 

representation of code reuse across several apps

Reusing software from past projects offers immense value to businesses. Yet, like any attempt to reuse or recycle components, a framework for code reuse must exist. This typically takes the form of templates, code libraries, and/or repositories that allow developers to find and use snippets of existing code. This framework must help developers match and validate code with various projects, sometimes across diverse hardware and software platforms.

A key requirement for any code reuse framework or application is the ability to address these five crucial elements:

  1. Discovery and usage, preferably through a visual model that works across multiple applications and languages
  2. Reliability across application layers, including UI, business logic, and database
  3. Strong governance features that oversee developer permissions
  4. Insight into network dependencies
  5. Impact analysis data that shows how changes to code will impact existing modules and applications.

Organizations adopting a code reuse framework must ensure that any and all existing code performs in a safe, reliable, and secure way before it’s added to new software. Otherwise, bugs, security vulnerabilities, and other problems will likely pop up across the organization and beyond as the repurposed code is added to new components and applications.

In fact, strict quality standards are essential, especially during the initial software development phase. This typically includes stringent code validation processes along with a need for tools such as static code analysis scanning.

What Are the Benefits of Code Reuse?

From a software development perspective, a well-designed code reuse framework results in more reliable code, improved code structures, and reduced testing efforts.

These characteristics are particularly valuable when agile and rapid development requirements are in place, such as DevOps and DevSecOps. Code reuse can also deliver value for cloud-based containers and object-oriented systems. What’s more, as business or technical conditions change, a code library makes it easier to edit or update code blocks or modules in the future. Additionally, over time, the quality of code usually improves.

From a business perspective, higher quality software applications often lead to enhanced experiences for business partners and customers. As organizations remove repetitive and time-consuming coding tasks and take advantage of existing code, it’s possible to react to business changes and fuel innovation at scale. Businesses can build new applications in hours or days rather than weeks or months.

What Are a Few Practical Examples of Code Reuse?

There’s no limit to how code can be reused. A development team might rely on the same code in different parts of an employee directory or an e-commerce app, or for accessing the GPS system in a device, such as a smartphone.

It’s also possible to add components to smart automation systems in factories to ensure that a process is consistent across the Internet of Things (IoT). These components may take the form of widgets, plugins, connectors, and even full-fledged code libraries.

A good example of a successful use of code reusability practices is STEMCELL Technologies. The global biotech firm was able to build an application to support its COVID-19 response internally within 24 hours. After rolling it out to 1,500 employees globally, the company then took feedback from users to quickly iterate and improve the app to meet its employees’ needs during the crisis. To learn how STEMCELL Technologies made its code reusable, read this blog post.

What Are the Challenges of Code Reuse?

If an organization doesn’t devote adequate time and resources to vet and verify code upfront, lower quality code may result. This can become a problem when the code appears across multiple components and applications.

While an enterprise may be equipped to develop and update software faster, the results can still be disappointing. There’s also risk with third-party applications and open-source components that aren’t adequately inspected. Poorly performing software can lead to reputational damage and other risks.

It's also important to examine how and where existing code will be reused. Within certain platforms and programming languages, the code may not perform well. Another potential problem is local systems that rely on application programming interfaces (APIs). Unoptimized code can result in slowdowns, bottlenecks, and other issues.

Other challenges include:

  • Developing workflows that support code reuse
  • Establishing an administrative framework through GitHub or elsewhere that allows the organization to catalog, archive, and retrieve code
  • Ensuring that tools exist to monitor code reliability, and that any reused components function well — and deliver value.

What Are Best Practices for Code Reuse?

A company looking to adopt a code reuse framework must focus on seven critical factors:

  1. Guidelines and quality control procedures, including the ability to track where reused code is active
  2. Solutions, tools, and practices to manage code libraries and repositories
  3. Ensuring that any new or updated code comes from trusted sources
  4. Authentication and security controls that allow only authorized administrators and users to access a system
  5. Educating developers on how to take advantage of code reuse resources effectively
  6. Addressing any political or practical issues that arise among or across business groups
  7. Developing a knowledge base and support tools to aid developers.

Is Code Reuse the Future?

In recent years, code reuse has moved into the mainstream of enterprise practices. It has emerged as a valuable tool that cuts costs, improves developer productivity, and fuels business gains. Today, it’s possible to reuse code across diverse platforms and systems, including those that rely on cloud containers and object-oriented frameworks.

As organizations look to harness a growing array of digital tools — and move with speed and agility — the ability to reuse existing code is more valuable than ever.

If you’re looking to invest in code reusability, take a look at the OutSystems low-code platform. With OutSystems, you can share and reuse code that is made available for discovery and usage available at all application layers: UI, business logic and database. Plus, OutSystems offers governance, reports to help users understand the network of dependencies between apps, and analysis of the impact of changes.

To learn more about OutSystems capabilities that promote code reuse visit our Evaluation Guide.