What is Pair Programming? [Types, Pros, and Cons]

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What is Pair Programming? [Types, Pros, and Cons]

Tuba Sarosh
Last updated on August 1, 2022

    You must have heard the proverb, “two heads are better than one.” Pair programming is built on the same concept.

    Programming is easier said than done. You face several challenges that make the tasks at hand seem impossible to do. In addition, programming not only involves writing code but also many other activities, including code reviews, error checking, and the list goes on. So, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had someone with you to help all the time?

    In this article, we will discuss everything about pair programming, including its features, challenges, and best practices.

    So, let us start our discussion!

    What is Pair Programming?

    Pair programming is an agile software development practice in which two equally skilled people sit on a single computer to do development work. In this setup, one developer acts as the driver while the other developer acts as the navigator.

    Out of two programmers, the one who is responsible for writing the code is the driver, while the other is the navigator responsible for reviewing the code for errors and discrepancies. This helps in avoiding issues later in the product development stage. The roles are not strictly defined, and they can swap their roles from time to time.

    Pair programming is not something every developer can pull off. It requires skills like teamwork, great communication, and collaboration. However, not every developer has these skills.

    Yet, when implemented well, pair programming can give way to excellent, more effective, error-free, and simpler solutions and products.

    How does Pair Programming Work?

    Pair programming works on the principle of four eyes. This means that four instead of two eyes will review the code. As the driver writes the code, he keeps an eye on the code itself. On the other hand, the navigator analyzes the code for quality and errors and also gives the direction to the driver accordingly.

    All it requires is a work desk, two sets of keyboards, and a mouse.

    Once they receive a task, they decide on small goals to accomplish. As an example, before proceeding to write the program, they may want to discuss it thoroughly. After accomplishing each goal, they discuss, analyze, and correct things to avoid interruptions during the coding. They may also keep rotating their roles to ensure a better output.

    Different Types of Pair Programming

    Generally, there are three types of pair programming.

    1. Unstructured style
    2. Driver and navigator styles
    3. Ping-pong style

    Let us discuss each of these types in detail below.

    1. Unstructured Style

    This is the most common type of pair programming. In this type, two skilled programmers work in an ad-hoc manner. Such a pairing can also be done with a skilled and a novice coder. In this, the roles are not clearly defined, and both the programmers can write and review the program. Such pair programming is usually not done for longer projects.

    2. Driver/Navigator Style

    This is the most popular type of pair programming. As already mentioned, in this type of pairing, a ‘driver’ is responsible for all the coding work while a ‘navigator’ is responsible for review as well as planning work. The roles can be switched from time to time to ensure a better product.

    3. Ping-Pong Style

    This type of pair programming is preferred when there is no need for defined roles. In this type, one coder writes the program, and then the other coder makes the test pass. Both the developers switch between coding and test passing roles. This style is usually ideal for test-driven development.

    Advantages and Disadvantages of Pair Programming

    Let us now throw light on significant advantages and disadvantages of pair programming:

    Advantages

    • Reduce Error

    When there are two people working on one project, it is bound to reduce the number of errors. This is because while one person writes the code, the other person constantly scrutinizes the code for errors and corrects it instantly.

    • Increased Efficiency

    You may wonder why to put two good developers to work on one project when you can have them work on separate ones. Wouldn’t that ensure that you have two different developed programs instead of one in the same amount of time?

    Well, that’s not true.

    In fact, many expert programmers prefer pair programming because it makes coding ‘more than twice as fast.’ This can be attributed to the fact that the code is under constant scrutiny, so errors get resolved as you go. Moreover, if they come across a coding issue together, they can think of a solution in a better and faster way.

    • Mutual Learning

    Since two people with different work and learning experiences collaborate on a single project, it opens them to several learning opportunities. Both the programmers can learn new things from each other.

    • Better Resiliency

    Thanks to pair programming, if a code breaks and something goes wrong, you won’t have to depend on a single person to correct it. This is because you have two developers who thoroughly know the code.

    Disadvantages

    • Poor Team Fit

    You may not always choose the perfect fit for pair programming. Also, most coders prefer to have minimal interactions during work. They may not like the idea of sitting through an entire work day with another colleague. There may also be disagreements which can lead to bigger arguments.

    • Reduced Sustainability

    Two people may have different requirements for breaks, which will reduce productivity and increase disagreements.

    • Economics

    For most managers, paying two people for doing the same work might not always sound lucrative. They’d rather have one person working on one computer rather than two.

    Pair Programming Best Practices

    Here are a few best practices that will help you make pair programming more effective and efficient.

    • Choose the Right Partner

    Choosing the right partner is crucial to avoid any disagreements at later stages. Moreover, it improves the work environment as well as increases productivity.

    • Communicate Consistently

    The entire concept of pair programming is built on communication. Therefore, it is important to keep communicating during the development work to ensure the continuity of workflow and avoid inconsistencies.

    • Switch Roles

    Switching roles is important because it helps you share your skills while learning new ones.

    • Be Familiar with Work Environments

    A very important part of pair programming is that both the developers must be comfortable with the work environment at hand. Else, it will become difficult to balance the workflow and develop a code.

    Conclusion

    Hopefully, you have understood everything about pair programming. While it does have its challenges, it helps in the creation of better codes.

    Today, remote pair programming is becoming extremely common due to the current COVID-19. This is done using real-time video tools like Zoom or Skype, and the two coders have to keep communicating to ensure a good outcome constantly.

    Still, if you have any questions related to the topic, you can reach out to us via the comments.

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    FAQs


    Pair programming is mostly used in agile development. Also, when there is a need to develop code faster while maintaining its quality and reducing risks, pair programming is employed.

    In pair programming, one programmer is a driver who writes code, while the other is an observer or navigator who reviews the code.

    The types of pair programming include unstructured, driver/navigator, and ping pong.

    The three different pairing combinations in pair programming are: 1. Noice-Novice 2. Novice-Expert 3. Expert-Expert.

    Pair programming is primarily used in agile development, which is one of the oldest practices. With the increased popularity of Scrum and Kanban, pair programming is less common these days.

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