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Automated Code Review with Pull Requests

Sasha Rezvina

By Sasha Rezvina March 01

Team at shared work space

Formal code review is a recognized best practice within the software industry, for good reason, including:

  • Providing newer developers an opportunity to receive feedback, ask for help, and make sure they’re on the right track
  • Allowing experienced developers to keep an eye on code as it’s added to the codebase, and ensure it meets their organization’s standards
  • Preserving and transferring institutional domain knowledge

That said, code review also has its issues. It can be cumbersome to perform, challenging to arrange, and difficult to standardize. We certainly found it to be a headache — and we love reviewing code! That’s why we built Code Climate: to automate as much of the review process as we can, in a way that seamlessly integrates with our pull request workflow.

Why build an automated code review process around pull requests? Because they make your life easier. A page with a URL that encompasses the code changes and the technical product discussions around a feature makes the intangible more tangible. It surfaces discussion that can otherwise be hard to access. It archives conversation and can serve as a valuable reference for new team members getting up to speed on how work gets done at your shop.

Previous solutions for this workflow problem would have your artifacts scattered all over the place — code changes in your version control system, comments in an issue tracker, and, of course, tons of email. Pull requests corral everything, and this improved locality is hugely convenient. They also allow you to attach media, engage in illustrative conversation, and signal that you simply like what you see. All of this enhances the code review process by helping to flesh out the impersonal nature of online, asynchronous communication. Plus, every developer knows what a pull request is and how they work.

Our pull request integration automatically scans your PRs for code quality and security issues. After you open a PR, Code Climate will update its status in GitHub, as seen in the screenshot below. Our status update provides a direct link back to the relevant branch comparison page, giving you a detailed analysis of how the PR branch compares to your default branch.

Successful Checks
Failing Checks

Code Climate automatically checks for consistent style, eliminating the need for developers to review this manually. In fact, your team standards will be enforced on every commit — your pull request will be marked “failed” if any new checks are found — ensuring consistency across your codebase.

Having an automated tool deliver information about code quality issues has benefits beyond time-saving. Everyone gets the same treatment from an automated analysis, and that’s a good thing for your team’s morale and for your code, with the kind of feedback that’s dismissed as “nitpicking” when provided by a team member generally well-received when delivered by a “bot”.

Combining the power of automated code review with a GitHub based pull request workflow works. When all communication is centralized, and developers aren’t sidetracked by tasks or feedback that can be automated easily, friction is reduced, confidence increases, and your output improves. Try it with your team — we think you’ll like it!

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