libcrystfel  0.10.1
CrystFEL coding standards


CrystFEL is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License version 3 or higher. Contributions are very welcome provided they also use this license. If your code is not already licensed compatibly, or if the license if not clear, we will ask you to re-license it.

Whenever you edit a source file, don't forget to update the copyright dates at the top. Add your name and email address if they're not there already. Be sure to add your name to the 'AUTHORS' file in the top level folder, as well.


The remainder of these rules apply to C code in libcrystfel and the core CrystFEL programs. There are currently no specific guidelines for Python, Perl, shell script, CMake files or other parts of the codebase.


Indentation is done with tabs and alignment is done with spaces. For example:

int function(int a, int b)
<-tab-->int p;  /* <--- Tab character used to indent code inside function */
        char *str;

<-tab-->do_something(a, "A long string which takes up a lot of space",
<-tab-->.............str, &p);   /* <--- spaces used to align with bracket */

Rationale: Using tab characters makes it easy to align code correctly, because you can't slip out of alignment by one character. It also makes the code look neat whatever width you configure your editor to display tabs as.

Wrap width

Code should fit into 80 columns (counting tab characters as 8 columns) wherever possible, with exceptions only in cases where not doing so would cause line breaks at ugly positions, such as straight after an opening bracket. The absolute maximum allowable line length is 120 columns, with no exceptions whatsoever.

For example, this is preferred because it fits into 80 columns (just!):

very_long_variable_name = very_long_function_name(even_longer_long_variablename,
                                                  var2, var3);

However, if the variable names are even longer, then the following is preferred, even though it goes over 80 columns:

very_very_long_variable_name = very_long_function_name(even_longer_long_variablename,
                                                       var2, var3);

This is preferred over the following type of thing, which is just plain ugly:

very_very_long_variable_name = very_long_function_name(
                                                       var2, var3);

However, see the point below regarding variable names.

Rationale: Aside from ensuring it's always possible to display two parts of the code side-by-side with a reasonable font size, this is not really about how the code looks. Rather, it is to discourage excessive levels of nesting and encourage smaller, more easily understood functions. I don't think I've yet seen any examples of code where the intelligibility could not be improved while simultaneously reducing the number of levels of indentation.

Variable, function and type names

Shorter variable and function names, with explanatory comments, are preferred over long variable names:

double wavelength_in_angstrom_units;  /* <--- not preferred */


/* The wavelength in Angstrom units */
double wl;

Rationale: Shorter variable names make it easier to see the overall logical or mathematical structure.

"Snake case" is preferred over "camel case":

int model_option;   /* <--- Preferred */
int modelOption;    /* <--- Discouraged */

Capitalisation is used for complex type names:

UnitCell *cell;

Nested loops

When performing a two or three dimensional iteration which could be considered as one larger iteration, for example over image coordinates or Miller indices, it is acceptable to indent as follows:

for ( h=-10; h<+10; h++ ) {
for ( k=-10; k<+10; k++ ) {
for ( l=-10; l<+10; l++ ) {

        /* Do stuff */


In this case, there must be no lines at all, not even blank ones, between each of the "for" statements and also between each of the final closing braces.

Rationale: Large multi-dimensional loops are common in scientific code, with more than three levels not at all uncommon. Any reasonable limit on code width would be overshot by indenting each level separately.


C-style comments are preferred over C++-style, even for one-line comments:

/* Preferred type of comment */

// Discouraged type of comment

Rationale: CrystFEL is written in C, not C++.

Multi-line comments should have stars down one side:

/* This is a multiple-line comment.
 * Here is the second line of the comment */

It's also acceptable to put the closing slash on its own line:

/* Here is another multiple-line comment.
 * Here is the second line of the comment

Bracket positions

The opening brace of a function should be on its own line:

void somefunction(int someparam)
        /* Here is the body of the function */

The opening brace of an if statement should be on the same line as the 'if', unless the condition is very long, especially if it spans multiple lines:

        if ( a < b ) {
        } else {

        if ( a_very_long_condition == structure->wibble.value
          && other_very_long_condition )

Rationale: This keeps the appearance of 'if' statements compact instead of spread out, while allowing some visual separation between long conditions and the conditional code.

Space around parantheses

Parentheses should have spaces after them in 'if' statements, but not in function calls. Function arguments should have spaces after the comma. There should be no space between the function name and the opening bracket. That means:

if ( something < 3 ) {
        do_something(a, b, c);


if ( h>3 && k<3 && l==-1 ) {
        do_something(h, k, l);

instead of:

if (something<3) {
        do_something (a,b,c);

Rationale: I find this guideline helps to encourage good grouping of logical statements. Some flexibility is allowed here, though.


No trailing whitespace at all, even in empty lines.

Rationale: Invisible characters do nothing other than generate VCS conflicts.


Transparent, easily understood solutions are preferred over faster ones, except where you can demonstrate that the code is performance-critical and the benefit is significant. Even in that case, copious comments should be provided.

Use of undefined behaviour, even if "it always works", is absolutely forbidden.

Git/VCS usage

This style of commit message is preferred:

Strip out libfrosticle references and add new function model

This style of commit message is discouraged:

Stripped out libfrosticle references, and added new function model

Rationale: this encourages you to think in terms of small, self-contained changes to the code, rather than successive versions with many different changes combined together. It also matches the conventions used by most other projects.