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2.2: Identifier Names

  • Page ID
    10621
  • Overview

    Within programming a variety of items are given descriptive names to make the code more meaningful to us as humans. These names are called “Identifier Names”. Constants, variables, type definitions, functions, etc. when declared or defined are identified by a name. These names follow a set of rules that are imposed by:

    1. the language’s technical limitations
    2. good programming practices
    3. common industry standards for the language

    Discussion

    Technical to Language

    • Use only allowable characters (in many languages the first character must be alphabetic or underscore, can continue with alphanumeric or underscore)
    • Can’t use reserved words
    • Length limit

    These attributes vary from one programming language to another. The allowable characters and reserved words will be different. The length limit refers to how many characters are allowed in an identifier name and often is compiler dependent and may vary from compiler to compiler for the same language. However, all programming languages have some form of the technical rules listed here.

    Good Programming Techniques

    • Meaningful
    • Be case consistent

    Meaningful identifier names make your code easier for another to understand. After all what does “p” mean? Is it pi, price, pennies, etc. Thus do not use cryptic (look it up in the dictionary) identifier names.

    Some programming languages treat upper and lower case letters used in identifier names as the same. Thus: pig and Pig are treated as the same identifier name. Unknown to you the programmer, the compiler usually forces all identifier names to upper case. Thus: pig and Pig both get changed to PIG. However, not all programming languages act this way. Some will treat upper and lower case letters as being different things. Thus: pig and Pig are two different identifier names. If you declare it as pig and then reference it in your code later as Pig – you get a different variable or perhaps a compiler error. To avoid the problem altogether, we teach students to be case consistent. Use an identifier name only one way and spell it (upper and lower case) the same way every time within your program.

    Industry Rules

    Almost all programming languages and most coding shops have a standard code formatting style guide programmers are expected to follow. Among these are three common identifier casing standards:

    • camelCase – each word is capitalized except the first word, with no intervening spaces
    • PascalCase – each word is capitalized including the first word, with no intervening spaces
    • snake_case – each word is lowercase with an underscores separating words

    C++, Java, and JavaScript typically use camelCase, with PascalCase reserved for libraries and classes. C# uses primarily PascalCase with camelCase parameters. Python uses snake_case for most identifiers. In addition, the following rules apply:

    • Do not start with an underscore (used for technical programming)
    • CONSTANTS IN ALL UPPER CASE (often UPPER_SNAKE_CASE).

    These rules are decided by the industry (those who are using the programming language).

    Key Terms

    camel case
    The practice of writing compound words or phrases such that each word or abbreviation in the middle of the phrase begins with a capital letter, with no intervening spaces or punctuation.
    Pascal case
    The practice of writing compound words or phrases such that each word or abbreviation in the phrase begins with a capital letter, including the first letter, with no intervening spaces or punctuation.
    reserved word
    Words that cannot be used by the programmer as identifier names because they already have a specific meaning within the programming language.
    snake case
    The practice of writing compound words or phrases in which the elements are separated with one underscore character (_) and no spaces, with each element’s initial letter usually lowercased within the compound and the first letter either upper or lower case.