Coding Guidelines

Coding Guidelines

( by Greg Holmes )

Language Syntax 
The general rule of thumb is: built-in features in lowercase, and custom-written functions in mixed case. 
When specifying the complete syntax of a language element in documentation, the input items, parameters, and so on are referred to using the following symbols:

 Symbol  Description
< >  Indicates user input item
( )  Indicates function argument list
[ ]  Indicates optional item or list
{ }  Indicates code block or literal array
| |  Indicates code block argument list
–>  Indicates function return value
 Repeated elements if followed by a symbol
Intervening code if followed by a keyword
,  Item list separator
|  Indicates two or more mutually exclusive options
@  Indicates that an item must be passed by reference
*  Indicates a compatibility command or function

For example:

    len(<cString>|<aArray>) --> nLength

Metasymbols provide a place holder for syntax elements, and they describe the expected data types. A metasymbol consists of one or more lowercase data type designators followed by a mixed case description. This is known as Hungarian Notation.

 Designator  Description
a  Array
b  Code block
c  Character expression
d  Date expression
exp  Expression of any type
id  Literal identifier
l  Logical expression
m  Memo field
n  Numeric expression
o  Object
x  Extended expression

In this example, dnLower and dnUpper can be either date or numeric:

    @...get...range <dnLower>, <dnUpper>
Filenames and Aliases 
All filenames, in any context, are in upper case. Filenames follow DOS naming conventions (preferably limited to letters, numbers, and the underscore).

    use CUSTOMER
    nHandle := fopen('DATAFILE.DAT')

When referring to specific file types in documentation, include the period.
e.g. “A program is stored in a text file with a .PRG extension.” 
Alias names follow the same conventions as filenames, but are limited to A-Z, 0-9, and the underscore. If a filename begins with a number or contains unusual characters, an alias must be specified when the file is opened or an error will result. 
Note that CA-Clipper does not natively support Windows 95 long filenames, although third-party libraries are available to add the capability.

Fieldnames are all uppercase, and always include the alias of the table. Fieldnames may contain underscores, but should not begin with one (because the underscore is generally used to indicate an internal symbol).

    @ 10, 10 say BANKS->BRANCH
Memory Variables 
Memory variables consist of a lowercase type designator followed by a mixed case description (see Hungarian Notation). Although CA-Clipper only recognizes the first 10 characters as unique, variable names may be longer.

    cString := "Hello World"
    nYearlyAverage := CalcYearAvg()

If you use Hungarian Notation for your memory variable names and include the table alias with fieldnames, there will be no conflict between the two.

Commands, Functions, and Keywords 
All built-in commands, functions, and keywords are lowercase. In documentation, the font should be Courier or a similar font. If fonts are not available, then bold or CAPITALIZE the word for emphasis. 
Never use abbreviations — this practice is not necessary with a compiler, although it was common in the early days of dBase (which was an interpreter). 
There should never be a space between the function name and the opening parenthesis. Also, note that the iif() function should never be spelled if().

    replace CUSTOMER->CUSTNAME with cCustName
    nKey := inkey(0)

When specifying commands that have clauses in documentation, separate the keywords with an ellipsis (...) and do not include the to clause, unless it is followed by the file,print, or screen keywords.

Programmer-Defined Functions & Procedures 
These begin with an uppercase letter, followed by mixed case letters as appropriate.

    ? StripBlanks("Hello there, this will have no spaces.")

Function and procedure names may contain underscores, but should not begin with one (they may conflict with internal functions which often start with an underscore). There should be only one return statement per function or procedure, and it should not be indented.

    function SomeFunc (...)
      . <statements>
    return cResult

The return value of a function is not enclosed in parentheses, although parentheses may be used to clarify a complex expression.

    return nValue
    return (nCode * 47) + nAnswer
Preprocessor Directives 
Preprocessor directives are lowercase and are preceded by the # sign.

    #include 'INKEY.CH'

Optionally, you may use single quotes around header files that come with CA-Clipper and double quotes around your own. This convention is purely voluntary, but it helps to distinguish between the two. For example:

    #include 'INKEY.CH'
    #include "MY_APP.CH"

Manifest constants are uppercase.

    #define ESCAPE   27
    if lastkey() == ESCAPE

Pseudo-function names should also be uppercase.

    #define AREA(length, width)   ((length)*(width))
Local variables are grouped according to functionality, and may be declared on one or more lines. The declarations appear as the first code at the beginning of a function or procedure.

    procedure Main ( )
    local nTop, nLeft, nBottom, nRight
    local cOldScreen, cOldColor, nOldCursor

Variables may be declared one per line and accompanied by a description.

    local nCount        // Number of records found.
    local nTotal        // Sum of dollars.

The description can be omitted if better variable names are chosen.

    local nRecordCount
    local nDollarTotal

Variables can be initialized when they are declared, although it is often clearer (and safer) to initialize them immediately before they are used.

    local nRecordCount:=0
    local nDollarTotal:=0
The .T. and .F. are typed in uppercase.
The in-line assignment operator (:=) is used for all assignments, and the exact comparison operator (==) is used for all comparisons.

    lContinue := .T.
    nOfficeTotal := nRegionTotal := 0
    lDuplicate := (CUSTFILE->CUSTNAME == cCustName)
    if nLineCount == 4  ...
    if left(PRODUCT->CODE, 3) == left(cProdCode, 3)  ...

Although the compound assignment operators (+=-=*=, etc.) are convenient, they should not be used if readability suffers.

    // The traditional way to accumulate:
    nTotal := nTotal + INVDETAIL->PRICE
    // A good use of a compound assignment operator:
    nTotal += INVDETAIL->PRICE
    // But what does this do?
    nVal **= 2

The increment (++) and decrement (--) operators are convenient, but can lead to obscure code because of the difference between prefix and postfix usage.

    nY := nX-- - --nX        // Huh?
Whenever a list of two or more items is separated by commas, the commas are followed by a space.

    MyFunc(nChoice, 10, 20, .T.)

Spaces may be used between successive parentheses.

    DoCalc( (nItem > nTotal), .F. )
    cNewStr := iif( empty(cStr), cNewStr, cStr + chr(13) )

Spaces should surround all operators for readability.

    nValue := 14 + 5 - (6 / 4)

In declarations, often spaces are not used around the assignment operator. This tends to make searching for the declaration of a variable easier.

    local lResult:=.F., nX:=0

Thus, searching for “nX :=” would find the lines where an assignment is made, while searching for “nX:=” would find the declaration line (such as the local above).

Indenting control structures is one of the easiest techniques, yet it improves the readability the most. 
Indent control structures and the code within functions and procedures 3 spaces.

    procedure SaySomething
       do while .T.
          if nTotal < 50
             ? "Less than 50."
          elseif nTotal > 50
             ? "Greater than 50."
             ? "Equal to 50."

Case statements in a do…case structure are also indented 3 spaces.

    do case
       case nChoice == 1
          ? "Choice is 1"
       case ...
Do not use tabs in source code — insert spaces instead. Tabs cause problems when printing or when moving from one editor to another, because of the lack of a standard tab width between editors and printers. Typically, printers expand tabs to 8 spaces which easily causes nested control structures to fall off the right-hand side of the page. Commonly, a source code editing program will insert the appropriate number of spaces when the <TAB> key is hit.
Line Continuation 
When a line of code approaches the 80th column, interrupt the code at an appropriate spot with a semicolon and continue on the next line. Indent the line so that it lines up in a readable manner.

    set filter to CUSTFILE->NAME  == 'John Smith  ';
            .and. CUSTFILE->STATE == 'OR'

To continue a character string, end the first line with a quote and a plus sign and place the remainder on the next line. Try to choose a logical place in the string to break it, either at a punctuation mark or after a space.

    @ 10, 10 say "The lazy brown fox tripped over " + ;
                 "the broken branch."
Use double quotes for text that needs to be translated (will appear on the screen), and single quotes for other strings.

    ? "Hello World!"
    cColor := 'W+/B'

This is a simple but extremely effective technique because translation departments often want to see the messages in context (in the source code), so the different quote types indicate which messages are to be translated and which should be left alone.

Comments are structured just like English sentences, with a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end.

    // Just like a sentence.
    /* This comment is longer. As you
       can see, it takes up two lines */

You may encounter old-style comment indicators if you maintain older (Summer’87 and earlier) code.

    && This is an older-style of comment indicator.
    *  The asterisk is also old.

For in-line comments, use the double slashes.

    use CUSTOMER            // Open the data file.
    goto bottom             // The last record.

Note that the ‘//‘ of in-line comments begins at column 40, if possible. This leaves enough room for a useful comment.

Source :

C5 Error Handling

C5 Error Handling Commands, Statements and Funtions

Statement :


Define a sequence of statements for a BREAK

    [BREAK [<exp>]]
    [RECOVER [USING <idVar>]]

Functions :

ALTD() :

Invoke the Clipper Debugger

ALTD( [ <nAction> ] ) --> NIL


Branch out of a BEGIN SEQUENCE…END construct

BREAK( <exp> ) --> NIL


Return the DOS error number

DOSERROR( [ <nNewOsCode> ] ) --> nOsCode


Post a code block to execute when a runtime error occurs

ERRORBLOCK( [ <bErrorHandler> ] ) --> bCurrentErrorHandler


Set the Clipper return code

ERRORLEVEL( [ <nNewReturnCode> ] ) --> nCurrentReturnCode


Determine if a network command has failed

NETERR( [ <lNewError> ] ) --> lError


Write a list of values to the standard error device

OUTERR( <exp list> ) --> NIL


Return the source line number of the current or previous activation

PROCLINE( [ <nActivation> ] ) --> nSourceLine


Return the name of the current or previous procedure or user-defined function

PROCNAME( [ <nActivation> ] ) --> cProcedureName

Error Class :

Provides objects containing information about runtime errors.

Description :

An Error object is a simple object that contains information pertaining to a runtime error. Error objects have no methods, only exported instance variables. When a runtime error occurs, CA-Clipper creates a new Error object and passes it as an argument to the error handler block specified with the ERRORBLOCK() function. Within the error handler, the Error object can then be queried to determine the nature of the error condition.

Error objects can also be returned to the RECOVER statement of a BEGIN SEQUENCE construct with a BREAK statement. Here, the error object can be queried for local error handling. For more detailed information and examples refer to the Error Handling Strategies chapter in the Programming and Utilities guide.

Class Function :

ErrorNew() :

Returns a new Error object.

ErrorNew() --> objError

Exported Instance Variables :

args (Assignable) :

An array of function or operator arguments.

Contains an array of the arguments supplied to an operator or function when an argument error occurs. For other types of errors, Error:args contains a NIL value.

canDefault (Assignable) :

Indicates whether or not default recovery is available.

Contains a logical value indicating whether the subsystem can perform default error recovery for the error condition. A value of true (.T.) indicates that default recovery is available. Availability of default handling and the actual default recovery strategy depends on the subsystem and the error condition. The minimum action is simply to ignore the error condition.

Default recovery is requested by returning false (.F.) from the error block invoked to handle the error. Note that Error:canDefault is never true (.T.) if Error:canSubstitute is true (.T.).

canRetry (Assignable) :

Indicates whether or not a retry is possible after an error.

Contains a logical value indicating whether the subsystem can retry the operation that caused the error condition. A value of true (.T.) indicates that a retry is possible. Retry may or may not be available, depending on the subsystem and the error condition.

Retry is requested by returning true (.T.) from the error block invoked to handle the error. Note that Error:canRetry never contains true (.T.) if Error:canSubstitute contains true (.T.).

canSubstitute (Assignable) :

Indicates if a new result can be substituted after an error

Contains a logical value indicating whether a new result can be substituted for the operation that produced the error condition. Argument errors and certain other simple errors allow the error handler to substitute a new result value for the failed operation. A value of true (.T.) means that substitution is possible.

The substitution is performed by returning the new result value from the code block invoked to handle the error. Note that Error:canSubstitute is never true (.T.) if either Error:canDefault or Error:canRetry is true (.T.).

cargo (Assignable) :

User-definable variable.

Contains a value of any data type unused by the Error system. It is provided as a user-definable slot, allowing arbitrary information to be attached to an Error object and retrieved later.

description (Assignable) :

Character description of the error condition.

Contains a character string that describes the error condition. A zero-length string indicates that the subsystem does not provide a printable description for the error. If Error:genCode is not zero, a printable description is always available.

filename (Assignable) :

Name of the file associated with the error

Contains a character value representing the name originally used to open the file associated with the error condition. A zero-length string indicates either that the error condition is not associated with a particular file or that the subsystem does not retain filename information.

genCode (Assignable) :

Error code number.

Contains an integer numeric value representing a CA-Clipper generic error code. Generic error codes allow default handling of similar errors from different subsystems. A value of zero indicates that the error condition is specific to the subsystem and does not correspond to any of the generic error codes. The header file,, provides a set of manifest constants for generic error codes.

operation (Assignable) :

Character description of the failed operation.

Contains a character string that describes the operation being attempted when the error occurred. For operators and functions, Error:operation contains the name of the operator or function. For undefined variables or functions, it contains the name of the variable or function. A zero-length string indicates that the subsystem does not provide a printable description of the operation.

osCode (Assignable) :

Operating system error code number

Contains an integer numeric value representing the operating system error code associated with the error condition. A value of zero indicates that the error condition was not caused by an error from the operating system. When Error:osCode is set to a value other than zero DOSERROR() is updated with the same value.

Error:osCode properly reflects the DOS extended error code for file errors. This allows proper distinction between errors which result from sharing violations (e.g., opening EXCLUSIVE when another process has already opened the file) and access violations (e.g., opening read/write when the file is marked read-only).

For a list of DOS error codes please look at here 

severity (Assignable) :

Indicates error severity

Contains a numeric value indicating the severity of the error condition. Four standard values are defined in

Error:severity Values
------------------------------------------------------------        Meaning
ES_WHOCARES     The condition does not represent a failure;
                the error is informational.
ES_WARNING      The condition does not prevent further
                operations, but may result in a more serious 
                error later. 
ES_ERROR        The condition prevents further operations without 
                corrective action of some kind. 
ES_CATASTROPHIC The condition requires immediate termination 
                of the application.

Note that the Clipper runtime support code only generates errors with severities of ES_WARNING or ES_ERROR

subCode (Assignable) :

Subsystem-specific error code number.

Contains an integer numeric value representing a subsystem-specific error code. A value of zero indicates that the subsystem does not assign any particular number to the error condition.

subSystem (Assignable) :

Character description of the subsystem generating the error.

Contains a character string representing the name of the subsystem generating the error. For errors with basic CA-Clipper operators and functions, the subsystem name “BASE” is given. For errors generated by a database driver, Error:subSystem contains the name of the database driver

tries (Assignable) :

Number of times the failed operation has been attempted.

Contains an integer numeric value representing the number of times the failed operation has been attempted. When Error:canRetry is true (.T.), Error:tries can be used to limit the number of retry attempts. A value of zero indicates that the subsystem does not track the number of times the operation has been tried.

Examples :

. This example demonstrates how a file open operation might be handled in an error handler replicating the default CA-Clipper behavior. When, for example, an attempt to open a database file with a USE command fails, control returns to the statement following the offending command:

#include ""
#command RETRY => RETURN (.T.) // Retry operation
#command RESUME => RETURN (.F.) // Default recovery
FUNCTION MyError( objError )
   // Handle file open error
   IF objError:genCode == EG_OPEN .AND.;
      objError:canDefault .AND.;
  . <other error statements>

. This example retries an operation within an error handler a specified number of times:

 #include ""
 #command RETRY => RETURN (.T.) // Retry operation
 #command RESUME => RETURN (.F.) // Default recovery
FUNCTION MyError( objError )

 // Handle printer not ready error
 IF objError:genCode == EG_PRINT .AND.;
    objError:canRetry .AND.;
    objError:tries < 25

 . <other error statements>

. This code fragment returns an error object from an error handler to the RECOVER statement for further processing:

LOCAL objLocal, bLastHandler
// Save current and set new error handler
bLastHandler := ERRORBLOCK({ |objErr| ;
MyHandler(objErr, .T.)})
   . <operation that might fail>
   . <send messages to objLocal and handle the error>
// Restore previous error handler
ERRORBLOCK( bLastHandler )
FUNCTION MyHandler( objError, lLocalHandler )

    // Handle locally returning the error object
    IF lLocalHandler
       BREAK objError
    . <other statements to handle the error>

Files: Header file is, default error handler is in Errorsys.prg.

File Terms

Binary File :

A file that contains an unformatted sequence of bytes. Carriage return, linefeed, or end of file characters have no special meaning in a binary file. Binary files include executable files, graphics files, or data files.

See Also: Text File

Delimited File :

A text file that contains variable-length database records with each record separated by a carriage return/linefeed pair ( CHR(13) + CHR(10) ) and terminated with an end of file mark ( CHR(26) ). Each field within a delimited file is variable length, not padded with either leading or trailing spaces, and separated by a comma. Character strings are optionally delimited to allow for embedded commas.

See Also: Database, SDF File, Text File

Directory :

The major operating system facility for cataloging files. A directory contains a list of files and references to child directories (subdirectories), and is identified by name. Directories can be nested forming a hierarchical tree structure. The operating system provides a number of facilities that allow users to create and delete directories.

See Also: Disk, File, Path, Volume

Drive :

A disk drive or a letter (normally followed by a colon) that designates a disk drive. On most computers, the letters A and B refer to floppy disk drives; other letters refer to fixed disk drives or logical drives (e.g., fixed disk partitions or network drives).

Extension :

A filename extension normally used for identifying the type or originating program of a file.

See Also: Drive, Filename, Path

File :

A file is an organized collection of bytes stored on disk, maintained by the operating system, and referenced by name. Its internal structure is solely determined by its creator.

See Also : Binary File, Database, Text File

File Handle :

An integer numeric value returned from FOPEN() or FCREATE() when a file is opened or created. This value is used to identify the file for other operations until it is closed.

Filename :

The name of a disk file that may optionally include a drive designator, path, and extension.

See Also: Drive, Extension, Path

Path :

A literal string that specifies the location of a disk directory in the tree structured directory system. A path specification consists of the following elements: an optional disk drive letter followed by a colon, an optional backslash indicating that the path starts at the root directory of the specified drive, the names of all the directories from the root directory to the target directory, separated by backslash () characters. Example: C:CLIPPERINCLUDE. A path list is a series of path specifications separated by semicolons.

SDF File :

A text file that contains fixed-length database records with each record separated by a carriage return/linefeed pair (CHR(13) + CHR(10)) and terminated with an end of file mark (CHR(26)). Each field within an SDF file is fixed-length with character strings padded with trailing spaces and numeric values padded with leading spaces. There are no field separators.

Separator :

The character or set of characters that differentiate fields or records from one another. In Clipper language, the DELIMITED and SDF file types have separators. The DELIMITED file uses a comma as the field separator and a carriage return/linefeed pair as the record separator. The SDF file type has no field separator, but also uses a carriage return/linefeed pair as the record separator.

See Also: Delimiter

Subdirectory :

See : Directory

Text File :

A file consisting entirely of ASCII characters. Each line is separated by a carriage return/linefeed pair (CHR(13) + CHR(10)) and the file is terminated with a end of file mark (CHR(26)).

See Also: Delimited File, Program File, SDF File

Volume :

A unit of disk storage uniquely identified by a label and of fixed size. A hard disk can be partitioned into one or more volumes by an operation system utility. Volumes are subdivided into one or more directories organized in tree structure.

See Also: Directory, Disk