Clean Code

z80 » Design

Have you ever looked through someone else's source code? Did you understand any of the author's functions or routines? Did you end up realizing that you were the guilty one?

The majority of your programming career will be spent pouring through already written code as opposed to writing new stuff. That is why it is important to make what you're writing understandable to yourself and others, a important concept many programmers today tend to forget.

The whole idea of streamlining code is based upon the idea of simplifying what the reader sees so they think as little as possible about what they are viewing. It should all come natural to them, as if someone were speaking directly to them.

These tips are just that: tips. The way you write your code is an expression of your self and your style. Everyone has their own style and everyone is an individual. If you don't believe me, download some source codes and compare them. Most are drastically different. You don't have to follow these rules. Advanced programmers may already have their set patterns and ways. That's fine, maybe you can improve on a couple of them. However, I strongly urge beginners to take heed of these suggestions and put them to use until you find your own ways. It is easy to get into these habits before bad ones creep in!


If you forget everything else, you must remember one thing: 90% of your source code should have a comment next to it. Comments (delimited by a semi-colon ;) are key to every aspect of programming. Little mnemonics such as cp and ld don't tell us as much as compare or load do. They are similiar but it is easier to read through code seeing load rather than see ld and have to think to realize it means load.

I have gotten myself into the habit of commenting every line of code. The only things that I do not comment on all the time are the actual labels. I leave that up to the function headers to explain.

The time to comment is as you are writing the code. If you think you are going to come back later and comment your whole source for others' pleasure, I'll bet money against you! The chances are slim. Write the comments while the code is fresh in your mind. It's more significant to you that way.

Function Headers

Better known as calls, algorithms, or routines; functions basically take input, manipulate it, and produce some form of output. An example would be _PutC. You load a with the character you want to print (the input), it manipulates it (finds where on the screen the character is to be put), and outputs the character on the screen.

You probably will have functions throughout your code: one to clear the lower-half of the screen, one to draw a space ship on the screen at specified coordinates, or another to check for keypresses using the key port.

One thing you may want to consider is putting a descriptive header at the top of each function. This header should include some of the following:

  1. Name
  2. Author (If other than yourself) and Contact Address
  3. Input
  4. Output
  5. Modified Registers
  6. Clock Cycles
  7. Size in Bytes
Here's an example of a routine that clears the screen. It's faster than the TI86's own routine.
; clear_screen by James Malcolm (
; input:	none
: output:	all bits in video mem reset
; destroy:	bc,de,hl
; clock cycles:	68 t-states
; size:		13 bytes
	ld hl,$fc00	;start of video memory
	ld (hl),l	;l=$00 so we clear (hl)
	ld de,$fc01	;2nd byte in video mem
	ld bc,1023	;size of video mem-1
			; since de is start+1
	ldir		;copy already cleared
			; byte from hl into de
			; then increase so hl
			; points to what was
			; just cleared and de
			; the byte after
	ret		;we're done

* This routine is a widely distributed method of clearing the screen. I cannot take credit for its origins; I am mearly giving an example.

I have trouble following long routines just to see what registers have been modified (destroyed) during execution, so I made a program called Destroy Which will print which registers were modified on the screen after it has called your routine. Just follow the directions in the source code. I use this all the time along with my FlagTest program to help me program.

In the Code Tree section you learn that before you start designing a routine, it is best to outline the routine the same way you would an essay for school. Some programmers paste this code somewhere in the function header, so that readers may get an idea of the esscence of a routine before they even start looking through it. That way they have an idea of what they're looking at.

Descriptive Constants and Labels

Have you ever read through code and seen: ld a,p. What in the world does that mean? Load a with pickles? Purple? Plastic? You don't know what that means because you don't know what I'm thinking. If I were to write ld a,power, you would know right off that I was storing the constant variable of power into a. Constants and variables need to have descriptive names. The number of Enemy Ships should be enemy_ships, not es. Use your brain!

The same goes for labels. A routine that draws the screen should be labeled draw_screen: instead of ds: or draw_s.

Some people recommend having all your constants, address equates, variables, or other names specified by yourself in the program to be all capital letters. While this may look ugly to many, it helps distinguish between TI-OS's variables and your own.

Indents, Margins, and Syntax Highlighters

You probably already know you need to have white space between the margin and the lines of opcodes. TASM won't let you assemble the file without those spaces or tabs.

A suprising number of people don't indent their code like they should. It's good to put an extra tab for inner functions and keep tabbing in for functions so just by looking at the code, you can see the structure.

Make sure to put some space between the actual functions. This will separate them out in your head.

I have now gotten in the habit of tabbing in for pushes and pops. It seems that 99% of crashes are from misshandled stack operations. By indenting these instructions, I can make them visible so problems can be isolated fast. Try it out. Here's the general idea.

	call get_player_position
		call update_coordinates
				push bc
			call read_keypresses
			call move_horizontal
			call move_verticle
				pop bc
		call clear_old_sprite
		jp draw_new_sprite

Assembly Studio version 3.1 gives us a new feature: Syntax Highlighting. Labels are one color, code is another color, and comments are yet another color. This makes our code even more readable; however, I've turned off this feature since it causes a lot of flicker as you're typing while the computer redraws the colorful screen. Later versions may fix this bug. It's a great start. I strongly recommend this feature for beginners.

Be Consistant

Consistancy is key. Don't change your style frequently; it makes reading old code a pain. Don't go from writing in all capital to writing in all lowercase at different points in your code. Those that read your code don't want to have to keep reinterpreting your styles. Keep it simple and the same. You can experiment once in a while but don't overhaul your entire approach.

Keep Your Target Audience In Mind

Ask yourself: Am I intending this code to be read by someone of my skill level or less? This will determine how much effort goes into your commenting. If you're writing a program designed for beginners to get a grasp of asm, then you'll be commenting like crazy. If it's for your peers, then you can skip commenting the basic stuff and only comment things that you yourself won't know offhand.

You will never write code for those above your skill level. You don't know their thinking because they are above your level. You can only write at your level or below.


Code should always be in the following format so it's standardized.
	(include files for aliases)
	    . . .
	    . . .
	(other aliases and defines defined
	 in the program)
	    . . .
	    . . .
.org _asm_exec_ram
	    . . .
	    . . .
	(program code)
	    . . .
	    . . .
	    . . .
	    . . .

This goes along with consistancy. You need to have a set pattern for this. Readers are accustomed to having all aliases at the start, then the code, and the variables at the end. If you mix this order around, things get complicated.


Remember that code is an expression of yourself. It should reflect your personal preferences and feelings. Don't change your ways just because someone says to, you should only change your style if you feel it is to your advantage. There is not a "best style", everyone's different.

Also remember that much of your time spent programming is reading through old code, make it easy on yourself. I'm a lazy programmer; I follow these guidelines so that I don't have to do as much thinking later!

More from z80 » Design
Clean Code // The Design Process