What Is a Code Explainer? 

A code explainer is a tool or resource that helps elucidate the complex nature of code to make it more comprehensible to programmers and non-programmers alike. It breaks down the lines of code, explaining the logic and purpose behind each line, and often provides a visual representation for even better understanding.

Code explainers are not just about explaining what a piece of code does, but also why it does it, and how it does it. They provide context, which is crucial for understanding any piece of code. Whether it’s a simple script or a complex application, a code explainer can help you decipher the intricacies of the code.

In today’s programming world where different languages, frameworks, and libraries are used to write code, a code explainer can prove to be an invaluable asset. It can help in understanding a new technology or language, debugging an existing code base, or even in learning how to write better code.

This is part of a series of articles about AI tools for developers

In this article:

How Companies Can Use Code Explainers for Employee Training 

Onboarding New Employees

In the software development industry, new hires are faced with the daunting task of understanding an existing codebase. A code explainer can help new employees navigate through the codebase, understand its structure, and get up to speed quickly.

Not only does it help the new employees understand the code, but it also helps them understand the logic and thought process behind it. This leads to a better understanding of the company’s coding practices and standards, and aids in their overall induction process.

Enhancing Understanding of Existing Codebase

Even experienced developers in an existing development role often face the challenge of entering a new project or joining a team, which requires them to understand an unfamiliar codebase. Code explainers can be of great help here. They can help make sense of the complex web of interdependencies, functions, variables, and classes that make up the codebase.

With a good code explainer, even the most complicated code can be understood with relative ease. It provides a roadmap to navigate through the codebase, highlighting the key components and explaining their role in the overall functionality of the code.

Skill Development

One of the most important aspects of a programmer’s job is to constantly learn and update their skills. A code explainer can be a powerful tool for skill development. By explaining complex code in a simple and understandable manner, it helps programmers learn new concepts, languages, and techniques.

Furthermore, seeing how experienced programmers write and structure their code can provide invaluable insights. It allows programmers to see best practices in action, understand how to write clean and efficient code, and learn how to solve complex problems.

Components of a Good Code Explanation 

Clear and Concise Language

A good code explainer uses clear and concise language. It avoids jargon and overly complex terms, and instead uses simple and straightforward language that can be understood by both programmers and non-programmers.

This is crucial, as the purpose of a code explainer is to make code more understandable, not to make it more complicated. Therefore, it’s important that the language used is as simple and clear as possible.

Logic and Flow

A good code explainer also explains the logic and flow of the code. It breaks down the code into smaller parts, explains the purpose of each part, and then shows how they all fit together to form the overall functionality.

This is an important aspect of a code explainer, as understanding the logic and flow of code is often the most difficult part of understanding code.

Purpose of the Code

A code explainer should also explain the purpose of the code. It should not just explain what the code does, but also why it does it. This provides context, which is crucial for understanding any piece of code.

Code Comments

Code comments are an integral part of any code explainer. They provide additional information and context about the code, making it easier to understand. A good code explainer includes detailed comments that explain not just the what, but also the why and how of the code.

Visual Aids

Visual aids can greatly enhance the effectiveness of a code explainer. They can help visualize the flow of the code, the relationships between different components, and the overall structure of the codebase. By providing a visual representation of the code, a code explainer can make the code more tangible and easier to understand.

Examples and Demonstrations

Examples and demonstrations are another important component of a good code explainer. By showing how the code works in practice, they help reinforce the concepts and ideas explained in the code explainer. They also provide an opportunity to see the code in action, which can be very helpful for understanding how the code works.

Types of Code Explainers 

Text-Based Code Explainers

Text-based code explainers are the most common type of code explainers. They use text to explain the code, often accompanied by code comments. They are simple, straightforward, and can be very effective.

Video Code Explainers

Video code explainers use video to explain the code. They often include a voiceover explaining the code, along with a visual representation of the code and its execution. They might also include a screencast showing how to work with related systems or user interfaces. 

Interactive Code explainers

Interactive code explainers allow the user to interact with the code as it’s being explained. They can modify the code, experiment with it, and see the results in real-time. This hands-on approach can greatly enhance understanding and retention.

AI-Powered Code Explainers

AI-powered code explainers use artificial intelligence to explain the code. They can analyze the code, understand its structure and functionality, and then generate a detailed explanation. AI-powered code explainers have the potential to revolutionize the way we understand and learn code.

Learn more in our detailed guide to AI code assistant (coming soon)

Code Explainer Technologies 

Technical Writing Tools

Technical writing tools are commonly used to create code explainers. They are software that helps with the creation of clear, concise, and well-structured documentation. While they do not explain the code directly, they facilitate the creation of explanations by providing features such as templates, formatting tools, and integration with codebases and other documentation tools.

Some of these tools are also capable of automatically extracting information from code and code comments, which can then be used to generate explanations. Additionally, they provide collaboration features that allow multiple team members to work on the same documentation, making it easier to maintain and update explanations as the codebase evolves.

IDE Plugins

Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) provide a single platform where developers can write, debug, and test their code. IDE plugins are additional tools that can be installed within an IDE to enhance its functionality. In the context of code explainers, IDE plugins can provide real-time explanations as you write your code.

For instance, some plugins can provide immediate feedback about possible errors, performance issues, or potential improvements as you type your code. Others can give you insights into how functions or classes are used across your codebase. These plugins are beneficial for beginner developers as they provide instant feedback and explanation, aiding faster learning and understanding.

Documentation Generators

Documentation generators are tools that automatically generate documentation from code. They use comments and annotations in your code to generate human-readable documentation that explains the purpose and operation of your code. Most commonly, these tools are used to generate API documentation. Automatically generated API documentation can be a useful form of code explainer.

Code Visualization Tools

Code visualization tools can provide visual maps of the codebase. They generate graphs and diagrams that represent the structure of the code, illustrating how different components and modules of the codebase are related and interact with each other. By visualizing the code’s structure, these tools help developers better understand the codebase’s organization and relationships.

There are different types of visualization, including static and dynamic. Static visualizations represent the codebase as it is, while dynamic visualizations show how the code changes over time or during its execution. These visual aids can be particularly useful when working with large and complex codebases, providing a bird’s eye view that text alone cannot achieve.

Generative AI Tools

Generative AI tools use artificial intelligence to analyze and understand the code, and then generate explanations based on this understanding. Unlike traditional code explainers, which require human input, generative AI tools can create explanations autonomously.

These tools use machine learning algorithms trained on vast amounts of code and documentation to understand the semantics and purpose of the code. They can then generate detailed, human-readable explanations that provide insights into how the code works.

In addition to explaining existing code, some generative AI tools can also provide code suggestions and improvements, making them a valuable tool for code review and quality assurance. While still in their early stages, these AI-powered code explainers hold significant potential to revolutionize the way we understand and work with code.

Learn more in our detailed guide to AI code review (coming soon)

Code Explainer with Swimm

Swimm is a prime example of how cutting-edge technology can be harnessed to provide intuitive and effective code explanations. Integrating seamlessly into your development environment, including your IDE and CI/CD, Swimm offers a dynamic and interactive approach to understanding codebases.

For companies looking to improve their onboarding processes and knowledge sharing initiatives, Swimm serves as an invaluable asset. It bridges the gap between experienced developers and new hires, fostering an environment of knowledge sharing and collaborative growth. 

Furthermore, Swimm’s ability to integrate with popular IDEs and other development tools means that explanations and insights are readily available at the developer’s fingertips. It fosters a proactive approach to understanding code, ensuring that learning and development are integral to the coding process.

Learn more about Swimm today