Javadoc

In our current project there is a guideline that all of the public API must have Javadoc. I disagree with this guideline. Our project does not have a public API, since we’re the only team that works on this project and no other team is allowed to use the codebase. Public classes and methods are not the only criterium for a public API.

So I asked, how many times is the Javadoc actually read, versus looking at the actual code to see what the method does? Personally, I never look at the Javadoc, and I suspect I’m not alone in this practice.

So why don’t I read Javadoc in our project? I don’t trust it. We’re using IntelliJ Ultimate, and this IDE also finds errors in Javadoc. And there are lots and lots of errors. So I don’t trust it.

When you’re working on the code, you’re not updating the accompanying Javadoc. The reason for this is the same as why you don’t write unittests – unless you’re using TDD: you’re solving a problem, and you need your attention there.

Javadoc is useful when you’re writing a library, and actually want third parties to use it. They need this form of documentation.

As for our project, there are other ways of documenting the code. You can (and must, in my opinion) factor the code to be as clear as possible. Good naming practices are a good step towards self-documenting code.

Another way of documenting, is writing clear unittests. You don’t need to write them first, though that is often the easiest way to write them. As long as you run them, you have a form of documentation that fails if incorrect.

For the same reason, you can use the assert keyword. To enable this, you need a runtime JVM argument, by default it is disabled. This means assert statements are not executed in production, but neither is Javadoc. However, during development, asserts can provide a treasure of information and verify the correctness of your program. The assert keyword IS documentation.

A nice Stackoverflow thread about assert can be found here: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1208404/do-you-use-assertions

No documentation is bad, wrong documentation is worse. Javadoc tends to turn wrong when the codebase changes, and should therefore be avoided if possible.

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