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One bite at a time - How to introduce new lint rules in a large codebase

Chris Kohler
November 26th, 2019 · 2 min read

Linters such as ESLint or TSLint can help make your code more readable and maintainable, and help you detect errors earlier. It’s good to use linters from the beginning, but it’s also a good idea to introduce linters into an existing code base.

This article focuses on the introduction of linters into existing code bases.

tl;dr;

  • Use autofix if possible
  • Extend lint config with a second config
  • Add new rules to the second config
  • Run linter with the second config with a precommit hook

The problem

Let’s say the codebase is 1000 files large. You create a linter config, run the linter and you get like 1000000 errors. 🤯😱

Now what can you do?

Autofix

A lot of linting rule can be autofixed. For example the tslint rule

1"no-var-keyword": true

can be autofixed. The autofixer replaces the var keyword with a let keyword.

Tip: All autofixable keywords in the list have the “Has Fixer” tag.

Manually fix

If you can’t fix it automatically, you have to fix it manually. This can be a “Herculean task”. So what often happens is that a rule is simply not used because it’s too much work to fix all existing bugs.

The solution: The Boy Scout Rule

Leave your code better than you found it. …

The boy scout approach to apply new rules is:

  • Fix existing errors when you touch existing code
  • Don’t add new errors

Different Rules for CI/CD and changed files

We need two sets of rules. The main one and one which extends it and adds new rules.

NameUsageRules
tslint.jsonCI/CDRules which apply for all files
tslint.newrules.jsonprecommit hookNew rules which only apply for changed files

Example tslint.json

Used by the CI/CD pipeline.

1{
2 "defaultSeverity": "error",
3 "rules": {
4 "no-empty": true
5 }
6}

Example tslint.newrules.json

Used during the precommit hook.

1{
2 "defaultSeverity": "error",
3 "extends": ["./tslint.json"],
4 "rules": {
5 "no-any": true
6 }
7}

Important: The tslint.newrules.json extends the main ruleset.

1{
2 "extends": ["./tslint.json"]
3}

Enforce tslint.newrules.json with a precommit hook

This part is very easy nowadays thanks to the amazing libraries lint-staged and husky.

So just install lint-staged and then configure the precommit hook to run tslint or eslint with the the correct configuration.

1npm install --save-dev lint-staged@beta
1{
2 "lint-staged": {
3 "**/*.{ts}": ["tslint --project tsconfig.json -c tslint.newrules.json"]
4 },
5 "husky": {
6 "hooks": {
7 "pre-commit": "lint-staged"
8 }
9 }
10}

Summary

It is easy and very little work to set up a “newrule” configuration and enforce the configuration with a pre-commit hook. Now your codebase should get better every day as people work on it. Without the upfront costs, you would have to fix all the bugs in a commit. That’s how you eat an elephant. One bite at a time.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

* I am strongly against eating elephants. It’s a saying. Google it 😉

Hero photo by @keilahoetzel

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