Dev Word of the Day -- Boilerplate
Here’s my developer word of the day: “Boilerplate”. If you’re a new software developer or a student you’ve probably seen the word everywhere.
But what the heck does it actually mean? Here is what Wikipedia says:
Boilerplate is any text that is or can be reused in new contexts or applications without being greatly changed from the original.
Apparently the term “boiler plate” used to refer to the sheet metal that was used to make boilers, but started to be used to reference printing press templates that were stamped in metal.
In reference to code
Wikipedia also does a pretty good job explaining boilerplate code, but if you’ve been following you should be able to guess what the term ‘boilerplate’ is referring to in a software perspective.
Boilerplate code is similar to it’s printing press cousin: it is some piece of code that can be used over and over again. There is an important difference, however. In software we seek to reduce the amount of repetitive code, mostly because it’s a pain to write and maintain. There is a pressure towards reducing boilerplate, since it often adds more work for developers. In this context, ‘boilerplate’ used in the context of code can have some negative connotations.
Take for example, a typical Java program:
There is some boilerplate here - setting up the class and the function requires us to write some language specific phrases. Now, let’s look at a simple android program:
A little more boilerplate in this case, since there are some extra things that need to be setup in comparison to a standard Java program. Let’s look at a simple Scala program (which runs on the JVM):
One of the features of Scala is that it’s supposed to reduce the amount
of boilerplate that a developer has to write. This is a very simple example, but
look at the class declaration in Java:
public class HelloWorld is a little
object HelloWorld. Similarly, the main method declaration in
Java is a little longer than in Scala:
public static void main(String args)
def main(args: Array[String]).
Hopefully you’ve gotten a good idea what developers are referring to when they’re talking about boilerplate now - it’s a fancy word for referring to code that has to be re-used over and over again.
Personally, I find it pretty fascinating how the software world has taken hold of this word and morphed it to fit a needed description. ‘Boilerplate’ used to refer to something physical, now it references something digital.
Makes you think and wonder how many words have slowly sneaked their way into the 21st century, huh?