Archive for April, 2011

Prefixing private variables with an underscore in AS3

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

A coworker and I had a discussion about using underscores for private variables in AS3.
I’ve always added an underscore before my private variables, like so:

private var _myVariable:int;

While he wanted to only use underscores for when you have a variable which has a getter/setter:

private var _myGetAndOrSetVariable:int;
private var myPrivateVariable:int;

public function get myGetAndOrSetVariable():int {
	return _myGetAndOrSetVariable;

This was a little alien to me and I didn’t get the point of it. Why should you only sometimes use an underscore? He answered that then you know that private variable has a getter/setter if it has an underscore.

Well, that’s not a bad reason. I googled around and it sounds like Adobe actually enforces this kind of rule in their Coding Conventions document; “Give the storage variable for the getter/setter foo the name _foo.”.
They don’t say anything about if the other variables shouldn’t have underscores though, so I dived into the source code of the Flex SDK to see what they were using.
Turns out, both! In some classes every single private variable had an underscore, and in other ones only variables with a public getter/setter had one.
In this poll, majority of AS3 developers always use underscores.

I thought long and hard, and I came up with these reasons for why one should always use underscores for private variables:

  • It can be confusing “sometimes and sometimes not” putting an underscore.
  • You can see immediately if the variable is accessible to another class when you always prefix private variables with underscores.
  • Most of the in-house code and frameworks always use underscores (consistency).
  • Pressing ctrl+space for IDE code completion shows you all the local private variables if you type an underscore first, if you don’t you get every single variable in the class with every class in the project together in one gigantic list.
  • Most other coders and their frameworks online use it.
  • If you are going to create a getter/setter for the variable, you have to rename it first to include the underscore.
    • Also, if you rename it without refactoring, all references in the class will now pull from the getter (possible calling extra code) when maybe they were only supposed to get the raw data.
  • If the other method is used I will know much less about the variable just from looking at it, possible making debugging harder. It could be a local variable, a class function, a function parameter, a private variable without a getter/setter, a getter/setter function or a public variable.

Personally, I don’t really care when I’m writing code in a class if a variable has a getter/setter. That’s encapsulation, and I think mostly of it when working in/thinking of other classes that interact with the current one. I much more care knowing if I’m working with a variable or calling a getter function (it could be a public variable too, but still less complicated).
I also prefer to write “_id = id” instead of “ = id”.

Also, adding an underscore just to avoid a name conflict doesn’t sound proper to me. It sounds like you had to make a workaround to make the code do what you want (read: a shit mix).

So far these are enough reasons for me to stick with prefixing my private variables with underscores. I have an open mind though, a comment can easily change my mind if it has the right arguments.

What is your method, and why? Please do share =)