Great post. Very clear and a great sample of starting points to up your CI game! Great to see attention paid to the idiosyncrasies of firmware.
I realise that auto-format is so prevalent in the web-dev space as to be largely beyond why and largely now concerned with how. But it’s always seemed so fundamentally concerning and I’ve never got any traction when I raise those concerns. This seems like a great forum to discuss. I figure web-dev is different enough from embedded-dev that the concerns are outweighed by the “stop the PR style-war pain” north star that seems to drive much of web-dev, and for that matter, distributed, open dev in general.
But posts like these show that we’re going to see these ideas merge with embedded-dev eventually, and I wonder if we can be judicious in how that merge occurs? Generally, I’m extremely excited about bring web-dev innovation to embedded-dev, but much more excited about cherry-picking and doing it empathetically, lest we bog things down instead of accelerating them.
With that framing out of the way, my concern is that formatting (by which I mean use of whitespace) is a significant factor in the maintainability of code. We really only have three levers when it comes to writing readable code: structure, naming and formatting. Are we really prepared to give up one of those?
In firmware, perhaps uniquely, whitespace is an extremely powerful tool. Let me demonstrate with some random samples from code I have handy.
Now imagine those code snippets after auto-formatting, with all the programmer-supplied whitespace removed.
The point of including so many examples is to demonstrate that this is very much not an auto-thing, it’s a programmer-thinking thing. Many of these examples highlight cases where the “usual” convention was broken to aid readability instead. Using robots to format code seems to make as much sense as asking humans to pick passwords with lots of symbols and mixed case. Great for robots, not so good for humans.
And just like passwords, the problem to be solved remains (encouraging hard to hack passwords), but the right solution might not be the obvious one (use a memorable phrase instead).