Using formatters and linters to manage a large codebase

At Kraken Tech we have a large global development team with over 500 developers,
the majority of which work on the same monolithic codebase comprising 3 million
lines of Python code. We release new code over 100 times a day, running hundreds
of thousands of tests in the process.

So how can we ensure high coding quality in a distributed team, with such
frequent changes? And how can we make it easier for new joiners to slot right
in and contribute?


Not long after I joined the company, my first professional job as a programmer,
we introduced Black. There was one
giant refactor pull request to format the codebase with Black, admittedly
something that would be much harder to do now that the codebase has grown to
many times its original size. At the same time, we also introduced
isort (which has now been superseded
by Ruff in our setup). For me as a brand new
dev, this was much needed and very helpful.

Before this change, I never really knew what the preferred structure was.
In code reviews, you might get competing advice regarding “best practice”
and general feedback on style. Having consistent formatting greatly reduces
the mental load and decision-making needed when writing new code. Instead,
you can just concentrate on the task at hand.

Not only that, it’s also much easier to find what you’re looking for. Ordered
imports mean that you can immediately identify module imports and hence dependencies.
Having consistent formatting also means it’s much easier to spot function arguments,
doc strings, and the like.

We run Black and Ruff as part of our CI checks. This means that new code is
not merged unless it conforms with our formatting standards. As you can
configure your editor of choice to run formatting against changed files on
save, this is not an additional hassle for developers. Everyone wins.


Another great tool at our disposal is linting. We use a variety of linters to
reduce bugs and ensure developers conform to our conventions;
we have many of them and we can hardly expect everyone to know them off by heart!

As the codebase is so large, we run some of our linters on changed files only.
This allows us to introduce new rules and achieve gradual improvement, rather
than putting the burden of fixing existing code on a single developer and
causing a mass of merge conflicts. An alternative is to add ignores to the
code base in one go and then rely on developers to fix things as they see
it (silence-lint-error is a
great package for that). Which approach is best depends on the situation.

Type checking

For type checking we use mypy.
Type checking helps in finding bugs before they happen in production and
hence prevent annoying errors at best, and costly outages at worst. We’ve
had mypy enabled for many years. However, since Python isn’t traditionally a
typed language, we had very few type hints in place in our early years and
hence didn’t gain much value from running mypy.

This only changed when we introduced a custom linter, which forced all
developers to add at the very least a return type to any function they
touched. This is as mypy doesn’t actually type check a function
unless there is at least one type annotation in the function signature;
using the return type seemed like a good choice as a start. This has now
been extended to enforce typing on all function arguments for changed functions.

Since that change, we’re actually seeing the benefits. It’s not only
helpful in preventing bugs but also in simply understanding what the function
does. Type hints are part of the documentation. We’ve also seen particular
value when transitioning between legacy and new sytems, as proper typing can
make it clear which system is supported.

Of course, sometimes wrangling mypy can be a bit of a challenge, and there
are particularly curious issues due to bugs in django-stubs, but the benefits
by far outweigh the cons.

We track our missing type annotations and #type: ignores with a dashboard to
hold ourselves accountable; only that way do we know we’re making progress and
that our approach is working.

Making things better, one commit at a time

We also use custom linters within Fixit
to enforce some of our other conventions. This could be around readability of
code, documentation, or good practice around security. Examples are

ensuring our test module paths mirror that of the module they are testing
ensuring we’re correctly asserting mocks in tests
prohibiting the use of deprecated functions
enforcing naming conventions for certain Django field types

and many more. Whenever we spot a potential issue that can be prevented with a
simple linter, we just add one.

As with mypy, we typically only check changed files. This means that each
developer contributes a little bit to reducing technical debt with every
pull request that touches non-conforming code. With our
pull request conventions,
this usually just means a small clean up commit on a module before introducing a functional change.

We have found this approach really works for us. We don’t overload our devs
with what some may call boring clean up work. We also have a nice automatic
way of ensuring the conventions we really care about are adhered to. As the
linters live in the code, you can always go back to the original pull request
introducing them to find a helpful discussion on why we introduced it or
perhaps a link to a ticket or slack post.

Application layer linting

One of our developers, David Seddon, developed
Import Linter which we use for
ensuring our application conforms to prescribed layering, i.e. module imports
are only allowed in a certain direction. This is an incredibly helpful tool
for a large codebase like ours, as it prevents circular imports creeping in
and ensures a clear separation of responsibilities. For more on this, you can
read his blog post.


I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of some of the tools we use to manage
to keep our code quality high. These tools are essential for a large team
working on a single code base as we do at Kraken. We’re constantly evolving
our tools to improve code quality as we grow. If you’re interested in helping
us build better systems, check out our careers page.

Source:: Kraken Technologies