This is another post in our Code Health series. A version of this post originally appeared in Google bathrooms worldwide as a Google Testing on the Toilet episode. You can download a printer-friendly version to display in your office.

By Chris Lewis and Bob Nystrom


It’s easy to get carried away creating long identifiers. Longer names often make things more readable. But names that are too long can decrease readability. There are many examples of variable names longer than 60 characters on GitHub and elsewhere. In 58 characters, we managed this haiku for you to consider:

Name variables
Using these simple guidelines
Beautiful source code

Names should be two things: clear (know what it refers to) and precise (know what it does not refer to). Here are some guidelines to help:

• Omit words that are obvious given a variable’s type declaration.

// Bad, the type tells us what these variables are:
String nameString; List holidayDateList;
// Better:
String name; List holidays;

• Omit irrelevant details.

// Overly specific names are hard to read:
Monster finalBattleMostDangerousBossMonster; Payments nonTypicalMonthlyPayments;
// Better, if there's no other monsters or payments that need disambiguation:
Monster boss; Payments payments;

• Omit words that are clear from the surrounding context.

// Bad, repeating the context:
class AnnualHolidaySale {int annualSaleRebate; boolean promoteHolidaySale() {...}}
// Better:
class AnnualHolidaySale {int rebate; boolean promote() {...}}

• Omit words that could apply to any identifier.
You know the usual suspects: data, state, amount, number, value, manager, engine, object, entity, instance, helper, util, broker, metadata, process, handle, context. Cut them out.

There are some exceptions to these rules; use your judgment. Names that are too long are still better than names that are too short. However, following these guidelines, your code will remain unambiguous and be much easier to read. Readers, including “future you,” will appreciate how clear your code is!