The Pleasure of deleting code

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Good Code is Deleted Code

The only code without bugs is no code. And the less code you have, the less mental load as well. This is why it is often a pleasure to delete a lot of code.

In IPython we recently bumped the version number to 7.0 and dropped support for Python 3.3. This was the occasion to clean, and remove a lots of code that insure compatibility with multiple minor Python version, and while it may seem easy it required a lot of thinking ahead of time to make the process simple.

Finding what can (and should be deleted)

The hardest part is not deleting the code itself, but finding what can be deleted. In many compiled languages, the compiler may help you, but with Python it can be quite tougher, and some of Python usual practices make it harder.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare your code (when you write it) for deletion.


Python tend to be more on the Easier to ask Forgiveness than Permission, than Look Before You Leap. It is thus common to see code like:

     from importlib import reload 
except ImportError : 
     from imp import reload

In this particular case though, why do we use the try/except ? Unless there is a comment attached, it is hard guess that from imp import reload was deprecated since python 3.4, the comment can easily get out of sync with the actual code.

A better way would be to explicitly check sys.version_info

if sys.version_info < (3, 4):
     from imp import reload 
     from importlib import reload

(Note, tuple from unequal length can be compared in python).

It is now obvious which code should be removed and when. You can see that as "Explicit is better than implicit" rule.

Deprecated code

Removing legacy deprecated code is also always a challenge, as you may be worried of other library might be still relying deprecation. To help with that let's see how we can improve typical deprecation, here is a typical deprecated method from IPython::

def unicode_std_stream(stream='stdout'):
    warn(" is deprecated", DeprecationWarning)

How much are you confident you can remove this ? A few question should pop into your head: - Since when has this function been deprecated ?

def unicode_std_stream(stream='stdout'):
    warn(" is deprecated since IPython 4.0", DeprecationWarning)

With this new snippet I'm confident it's been 3 versions and I am more willing to delete. This also helps downstream libraries to know whether they need conditional code or now. I'm still unsure downstream maintainer have updated their code. Let's add a stacklevel (to help them find where the deprecated function is used, and add more informations about how they can replace code uses this function:

def unicode_std_stream(stream='stdout'):
    """DEPRECATED, moved to"""
    warn(" has moved to since IPython 4.0", DeprecationWarning, stacklevel=2)

Well with this information I'm even more confident downstream maintainer have updated their code. They have an actionable item: replace one import for another, and are more likely to do that, than dig for 1h in history to figure out what to do.


  • Be explicit in your conditional import that depends on version of underlying python or library.

  • take time to write good deprecation warning with :

  • Stacklevel (=2 most of the time)
  • Since When it was deprecated.
  • What should replace deprecated call for consumers.

The time you put in these will greatly help your downstream consumers, and benefit you later to simplify getting rid of lots of code easily.