We’ve been writing a lot about refactoring CSS lately, from how to take a slow and methodical approach to getting some quick wins. As a result, I’ve been reading a ton about this topic and somehow stumbled upon this post by Harry Roberts about refactoring and how to mitigate the potential risks that come with it:
Refactoring can be scary. On a sufficiently large or legacy application, there can be so much fundamentally wrong with the codebase that many refactoring tasks will run very deep throughout the whole project. This puts a lot of pressure on developers, especially considering that this is their chance to “get it right this time”. This can feel debilitating: “Where do I start?” “How long is this going to take?” “How will I know if I’m doing the right thing?”
Harry then comes up with this metaphor of a refactoring tunnel where it’s really easy to find yourself stuck in the middle of a refactor and without any way out of it. He argues that we should focus on small, manageable pieces instead of trying to tackle everything at once:
Resist the temptation to refactor anything that runs right the way throughout the project. Instead, identify smaller and more manageable tasks: tasks that have a much smaller surface area, and therefore a much shorter Refactoring Tunnel.
These tasks can still aim toward a larger and more total goal but can be realised in much safer and shorter timeframes. Want to move all of your classes from BEM to BEM(IT)? Sure, but maybe just implement it on the nav first.
This way feels considerably slower, for sure, but there’s so much less risk involved.