developer reviewing code
Software Collaboration Workflow Engineering
Apr 2nd, 2021 - Jon Armour

6 Benefits of Getting an External Code Audit

An external code audit allows a third-party to do a comprehensive analysis of an application or website source code. The intent is to discover bugs, security holes, and violations of best practices.

What is the purpose of a code audit?

An audit of a project's codebase is a big undertaking, but under the right circumstances, it more than pays for itself. A code audit could be a lifesaver when:

  • Acquiring a business or division developing or maintaining a software product
  • Figuring out why a project is bogged down and keeps missing deadlines
  • Moving a project to a new development team

Knowing how solid a project's code is and how much needs to be done to bring it up to snuff can be the key to making good business decisions. It can be the first step to turning a floundering project into a success.

Why is an external code audit important?

People aren't very good at spotting their own persistent mistakes. An outside perspective from experienced reviewers is the best way to go. Also, it can give a clear directive to new development teams who are taking over an existing codebase. Here are six benefits that your business can get from bringing an outside team to review a codebase:

The Outside Perspective

An outside team gives an unbiased perspective on the quality of code and any issues it may have. Developers have a long-held set of assumptions. They're used to their code and often blind to its problems. A fresh set of eyes is better able to spot bad practices and weak documentation.

Members of the team who know there are problems may be reluctant to speak out because they think everyone else would disagree. It's easier for a neutral observer to offer constructive criticism.

Spring Cleaning

The prospect of an audit requires the team to put its code together in a presentable form for others to view. It's like having to clean up the house when an important guest is about to arrive. This by itself can help to bring the project into a manageable form. They have to enumerate everything that goes into creating the product, including third-party libraries, build procedures, and tests.

Breaking Old Habits

A good review team is familiar with the best current practices. A team may be stuck in old ways of developing code, just because they've never had time to update. They might be using new techniques without a real understanding of how it's supposed to work. Some teams adopt words like "agile" and "scrum" but misunderstand what they're supposed to do. At its worst, it's "cargo cult agile." Independent reviewers can help them to improve their development process and get the benefits they're supposed to get.

Project Revitalization

A code auditing team presents a greater breadth of understanding. A development team has to focus on the product it works on. In the process, it can miss out on a lot of peripheral information that isn't closely tied to their goal but would still help them to do things better. An independent reviewing team takes the broad perspective, bringing in ideas that, with a bit of adaptation, could revitalize the project.

Reverse Risk Factors

A review can identify anti-patterns in code. Anti-patterns are habitual ways of coding that seem to confer a benefit but introduce risk or inefficiency in the long run. The development team probably doesn't realize they're there; they've just always done it that way. Whether you're using ruby on rails or another framework, the risk is the same. An auditing team can recognize anti-patterns running through the code and propose alternatives.

Update the Technology

The code auditing team can introduce new ideas that will lift stagnant projects out of their stuck state and make successful ones better. The ideas might not fall into any of the categories already mentioned, but just be a better way to attack a particular problem. It could be the use of a different algorithm or a switch to a better software library.

We Practice What We Preach

We don't just perform audits here at Entrision, we have them done on our projects as well. Having your project reviewed isn't a sign of deficiency - but rather a practice that limits risk and can strengthen the quality of your codebase. Having our ruby on rails apps reviewed almost always results in our own team members learning something.

There's no denying that a code audit is a large undertaking, but it can prevent much bigger problems. Sticking with an unmaintainable project can be disastrous for a business; discovering and straightening out the problems can turn it into a huge success. It may be hard on the developers while it's in progress, but in the long run, a constructive review is worth it.


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