Conventional Comments

October 02, 2020 • 2 minute read

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

I’ve done a lot of code reviews, over the last month or so.

A lot of code reviews.

Ben has been refactoring — well, rewriting, really — almost the entire RxJS codebase, so my inbox has seen a steady stream of review requests. Since the middle of August, about 60 of these refactor/rewrite pull requests have been opened. And some of them have been whoppers.

Coincidentally, in early August, I read about conventional comments and decided to try them out in my code reviews.

The gist is that a comment is prefixed with a label: praise, nitpick, suggestion, issue, question, thought, or chore — much like the descriptions in conventional commits. The point of the label is to more clearly convey the intention of the comment and to set the the tone.

For example, a comment like this isn’t particularly helpful:

This is not worded correctly.

Whereas, with a label, the author has a better idea what action the reviewer thinks it necessary (maybe none):

suggestion: This is not worded correctly.


nitpick (non-blocking): This is not worded correctly.

I think conventional comments have improved my reviews.

The reality is that open-source contributions aren’t usually a developer’s highest priority. My reviews are often done in between other tasks or late at night, after other tasks have been wrapped up. I know that I have been guilty of writing comments that are too terse or too open to interpretation. Having to choose a label for the comment makes me think more about what I’m saying — e.g. is it a nitpick, a question or a suggestion?

What I like most is that if I mark a review as changes requested, it’s clear to the author what it is that I think needs to be changed: the comments marked with issue labels. The author can address — or debate — the issue comments and can then decide whether or not any nitpick, suggestion or thought comments warrant changes.

It also means that I can leave a bunch of nitpick, suggestion or thought comments and approve the PR, allowing author to address the comments — if warranted — and then do the merge. It’s a more efficient process — than re-reviewing — when developers are in separate time zones.

So are conventional comments worth using in code reviews?

It depends. 😅

I think they’re useful in highly-asynchronous situations in which a miscommunication can take hours or days to resolve, so I’m going to keep using them for open-source reviews. YMMV.

Personal blog by Nicholas Jamieson.
Mostly articles about RxJS, TypeScript and React.

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