The spaghetti code anti-pattern is one that has become less prevalent in applications.  However, we can still see some excellent examples in the world of scripting and other less structured code.  This anti-pattern typically comes out of short cuts and slapping together a solution.  That makes it easy to avoid.  The cost of repairing this anti-pattern makes avoiding it completely worthwhile.

Defining the Spaghetti Code Anti-Pattern

I am not often a fan of using the Urban Dictionary to find definitions.   Nevertheless, it has an excellent summary of this anti-pattern. [Click Here to See The Page]

“In computer programming, code which flagrantly violates the principles of structured, procedural programming. Usually this means using lots of GOTO statements (or their equivalent in whatever language is being used) – hence the term, which suggests the tangled and arbitrary nature of the program flow.

Spaghetti code is almost impossible to debug and maintain, and rarely works well.

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Programmers who write spaghetti code usually learned to code in an unstructured language such as BASIC, and never bothered to update their technical knowledge when they progressed to more serious languages.

There is a lot to unpack in this definition, and it points to warning signs.  The essential points to absorb are the cost of repairing spaghetti code and its source in unstructured languages.  Professional developers should progress away from this anti-pattern early in their career.  If not, then you need to work on structured code ASAP to become a developer (the “better” qualifier can come later).

Quick and Dirty

We all understand the cost in quality of any task done in a quick and dirty manner.  However, the price of working with spaghetti code can be high enough to ruin the application.  I have seen a tangled mess that is almost impossible to maintain and extend.  Thus, the only fix, at that point, is to start from scratch.  It takes less time to rebuild the solution than to understand and modify it.

Technical Debt

It is hard to avoid situations where there is a need to put together a quick and dirty solution.  That alone is not going to create this anti-pattern.  However, when you let technical debt build up, it can become out of control.  You might be going down the path to this particular anti-pattern.  Fortunately, this is easy to avoid.  Include code reviews, regular attention to technical debt, and time to design your tasks.  These simple steps will make it easy to avoid getting a bad taste in your mouth from this anti-pattern.

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Rob Broadhead

Rob is a founder of, and frequent contributor to, Develpreneur. This includes the Building Better Developers podcast. He is also a longtime student of technology as a developer, designer, and manager of software solutions. Rob is a founder and principle of RB Consulting and has managed to author a book about his family experiences. In his free time, he stays busy raising five children (although a few have grown into adults). When he has a chance to breathe, he is on the ice playing hockey to relax.

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