Beyond code review checklists: How to improve the code review process

Taylor Bruneaux


A code review is crucial before integrating any code into the main codebase. It’s not just about detecting bugs. Instead, it is about ensuring code quality, security, and maintainability.

While code review checklists have been a traditional tool in this process, there are more comprehensive approaches to elevate code review quality.

This article explores the concept of code review checklists, provides examples, outlines what should be involved in a code review process, and introduces a list of code review checklist alternatives to enhance the effectiveness of code reviews.

What is a code review checklist?

A code review checklist is a structured document or guide used by software developers and code reviewers to evaluate all critical aspects of the code quality before it is integrated into the existing code base.

Code review typically includes items related to coding standards, design patterns, error handling, security vulnerabilities, and more. The purpose of a code review checklist is to standardize the review process and make it more efficient and effective.

What should be involved in a code review process?

An effective code review process is paramount for maintaining high-quality software development. It goes beyond merely ticking off items on a checklist, encompassing several critical aspects, each contributing uniquely to the development lifecycle. Here’s a deeper look into these components:

Code quality

High-quality code is essential for software’s maintainability, readability, and functionality. It ensures that the codebase remains robust against future changes and scalable as the application grows.

This involves reviewing the code for logical soundness, efficiency, and adherence to coding standards. For instance, ensuring that algorithms are optimally designed, resources are appropriately managed, and the code follows the SOLID principles of object-oriented design.

Security review

Security reviews are crucial for protecting sensitive data and maintaining the integrity of the application. Identifying and addressing vulnerabilities early in development reduces the risk of security breaches and data leaks.

This might include checking for SQL injection vulnerabilities, ensuring that user input is sanitized correctly, and verifying the implementation of secure communication protocols. A comprehensive security review helps prevent attacks such as cross-site scripting and cross-site request forgery.

Error handling and exception handling

Practical error and exception-handling mechanisms are vital for an application’s resilience. They ensure the application can recover gracefully from unexpected conditions without crashing or exposing vulnerabilities.

This involves evaluating how the code manages runtime errors, such as network interruptions or file access issues. Good practices include using try-catch blocks appropriately, logging errors for debugging purposes, and providing meaningful error messages to users.

Design pattern and coding style

Consistency in design patterns and coding style enhances the codebase’s readability and maintainability. It ensures that developers can easily understand and contribute to the project, thereby speeding up development and facilitating collaboration.

Reviewing design patterns might involve checking if a Singleton pattern is used appropriately for global access points or if the Factory pattern is implemented correctly for object creation. Consistent coding style includes adherence to naming conventions, indentation, and bracket placement.

Test coverage and unit test

Adequate test coverage and comprehensive unit tests are essential for ensuring the reliability and quality of the code. They help identify defects early in the development cycle, saving time and resources.

This component of code review checks whether all new code changes are accompanied by corresponding unit tests, whether tests cover edge cases, and whether the tests pass successfully. Tools like code coverage analyzers can help identify untested parts of the codebase.


Assessing the impact of code changes on performance is crucial for maintaining a responsive and efficient application. Performance reviews help identify bottlenecks and areas for optimization, ensuring a smooth user experience.

Performance review might involve analyzing the execution time of critical functions, evaluating memory usage, and looking at the efficiency of database queries. Tools like profilers and performance benchmarks are commonly used to assess the impact of code changes on application performance.

Each component plays a vital role in the code review process, contributing to the development of high-quality, secure, and efficient software. By thoroughly evaluating these aspects, teams can ensure their projects are well-designed, robust, and ready for the challenges of the real world.

Basic code review checklists

While basic checklist templates serve as a good starting point, they often provide a simplified view of what constitutes high-quality code. Such checklists might include items related to syntax correctness, adherence to coding standards, and basic performance considerations. However, understanding and ensuring code quality encompasses a much broader spectrum of factors that can’t be fully captured by a single, static checklist.

Java code review checklist example


Checklist Item

Coding Standards and Conventions

Ensure meaningful naming following Java conventions.Adhere to the project's indentation and formatting guidelines.

Error Handling

Proper use of exception handling.Use of custom exceptions where necessary.

Object-Oriented Principles

Use of appropriate design patterns and SOLID principles.Implementation of dependency injection for class dependencies.

Code Quality

Review for potential memory leaks.The efficiency of loops and conditional statements.


Proper handling of sensitive information.Implementation of input validation against SQL injection and XSS.

Secure code review checklist example


Checklist Item

Input Validation

All user input is validated for type, length, format, and range.Use of secure methods to prevent SQL injection and XSS.

Authentication and Authorization

Secure password storage using strong hashing algorithms.Application of the principle of least privilege with appropriate access controls.

Sensitive Data Handling

Encryption of sensitive data in transit and at rest.Ensuring sensitive information is not exposed in URLs, error messages, or logs.

Error Handling and Logging

Error handling that does not reveal sensitive information.Logging mechanisms do not store sensitive information.

Dependency Management

Use of up-to-date third-party libraries free from known vulnerabilities.

Performance optimization code review checklist example


Checklist Item

Efficiency of Algorithms

Algorithms are efficient in terms of time and space complexity.

Database Queries

SQL queries are efficient and optimized.<br>- Use of indexes to speed up query execution.

Memory Management

Proper memory use, checking for memory leaks or unnecessary memory allocation.


Safe and efficient use of threading and concurrency mechanisms.


Appropriate use of caching to optimize performance for frequently accessed resources.


Code review checklist alternatives

While checklists are essential in the code review process, they are just one part of a broader set of practices that can enhance software development. By incorporating automated tools, fostering collaborative environments, emphasizing secure coding practices, and encouraging a culture of continuous feedback and improvement, development teams can achieve higher levels of quality and efficiency in their projects.

Here are some elements to implement into a robust code review process:

Automated code review tools

Automated tools represent a significant advancement in code review practices, offering a way to analyze source code for various issues without systematic manual oversight. Static analysis tools, for instance, can effortlessly identify code duplication, potential vulnerabilities, and inconsistencies in coding style. Test automation helps maintain a high code quality standard while freeing developers to focus on more complex and creative problem-solving tasks.

Pair programming

Pair programming is a collaborative approach in which two developers work together at one workstation. This method is effective in catching errors early in the development cycle and serves as a valuable opportunity for knowledge transfer between more experienced and less experienced developers. It fosters a learning environment that can improve overall team competence and cohesiveness over time.

Secure coding practices training

Proactively educating developers on secure coding practices addresses security concerns at their source. Integrating security considerations into the development process can identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities before they reach the code review stage. Training sessions can cover various topics, from input validation to securely handling sensitive data and building a solid foundation for developing safe and reliable software.

Code readability sessions

Sessions dedicated to enhancing code readability and maintainability play a critical role in software development. These sessions can guide developers in writing code that is not only functional but also clean and understandable. A focus on readability ensures that code can be easily maintained and updated by anyone on the team, reducing the likelihood of bugs and facilitating faster development cycles.

Feedback loop

Creating a constructive feedback loop within the development team encourages a culture of continuous improvement and learning. Regular, constructive critiques of code and development practices help identify areas for enhancement, promoting personal and team growth. This ongoing dialogue ensures that best practices are shared and adopted throughout the team, leading to a more efficient and effective development process.

Dependency scanning

Automated scanning tools can identify outdated or vulnerable dependencies before they become problematic. This preventative measure is crucial in maintaining the software’s security and compatibility, ensuring that the application is built on reliable and up-to-date components. Dependency scanning can automate keeping track of external libraries and frameworks, helping teams focus on their core development work.

How developer experience impacts the code review process

Developer experience, also known as DevEx, plays a crucial role in shaping the code review process, which can have a significant impact on the final product’s speed, ease of delivery, and quality. A well-considered approach to DevEx can transform code reviews from a routine obligation into a valuable step in the development cycle, fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and high performance.

Here are some of the ways that DevEx intersects with code reviews:

Speed and efficiency in code reviews

A positive DevEx streamlines code reviews, making them faster and more efficient. Automated tools play a crucial role here, reducing the time developers spend on repetitive tasks and focusing on complex issues requiring human judgment. Automation accelerates the review process and catches potential problems early, reducing costly fixes later in the development cycle. A smooth, efficient review process keeps projects moving swiftly, preventing bottlenecks that can delay delivery.

Ease of delivery

Ease of delivery is closely tied to the developer experience during the code review process. Platforms and tools that integrate seamlessly into the developer workflow can significantly reduce friction, making it easier for developers to submit code for review, address feedback, and make necessary adjustments.

Clear guidelines and a supportive environment enhance this further by reducing misunderstandings and rework. When developers understand what’s expected and feel supported by their peers, the path from development to deployment becomes smoother, facilitating a quicker and more straightforward delivery process.

Ensuring high quality

The quality of the final product is the most significant aspect influenced by developer experience in code reviews. A positive experience is built on clear communication, constructive feedback, and a culture that values learning and improvement.

This environment encourages developers to produce their best work, confident that their contributions will be thoughtfully evaluated and any feedback will be aimed at refinement and enhancement.

Additionally, access to clear coding guidelines and best practices helps ensure the code meets the project’s quality, maintainability, and security standards. High-quality code reviews, in turn, lead to high-quality software that meets or exceeds stakeholder expectations.


Improving the code review process is crucial for maintaining high code quality, ensuring secure applications, and fostering a healthy development environment. While code review checklists serve as a fundamental tool in this process, exploring alternatives like automated tools, pair programming, and secure coding practices can offer additional layers of scrutiny and improvement.

By incorporating these practices, teams can adhere to software development best practices, tackle potential vulnerabilities, and maintain a high standard of code review best practices. Ultimately, the goal is to make every code review a valuable learning experience that contributes positively to the code base, developer skill sets, and the quality and security of the final product.

March 19, 2024

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