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What is the Ostrich Algorithm?

2 Mins read

Software engineers encounter several issues and bugs while writing codes. Some of these bugs are tackled and crushed before proceeding to the next section of development, usually. However, some just “leave word.”

Now, picture a situation when a web developer is creating a dashboard page of a web app, but instead of the page showing user avatar after an avatar is selected, the page keep showing the default avatar, but only shows the uploaded avatar in some other sections of the all.

This is a bug that ought to be fixed, but the developer decides to overlook the error, and continues to build the app like nothing happened – hello ostrich.

The “ostrich algorithm” is a term used in computer science and technology to describe an approach to problem solving where difficult problems are ignored or avoided rather than addressed head on. The name comes from the common myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when threatened, hoping to avoid danger by pretending it doesn’t exist.

In computing, the ostrich algorithm refers to coding practices where developers do not properly handle edge cases or exceptions, choosing instead to ignore potential issues. For example, an ostrich algorithm might check if a file exists before opening it but fail to include any error handling if the file is missing. Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, this approach masks complexities rather than dealing with them.

The ostrich algorithm is considered an anti-pattern – something to be avoided when writing quality software. Burying your head in the sand rarely makes problems go away. At best, it creates buggy systems prone to crashes or unexpected behavior. At worst, it sweeps serious flaws under the rug, creating massive technical debt and security vulnerabilities.

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While it’s tempting to ignore tricky special cases when you’re up against a deadline, don’t be an ostrich! Addressing edge cases properly is a hallmark of expert programming. Take the time to think through potential failure modes up front. Leverage tools like exception handling and defensive coding practices to make your code more robust. Careful attention to detail will pay off in the long run with software that gracefully handles unexpected situations.

The next time you’re tempted to gloss over a thorny bit of code, stop and ask yourself: “Am I sticking my head in the sand like an ostrich?” Don’t ignore the hard parts – tackle them directly. Your users will thank you for software that’s thoughtfully engineered to handle anything.

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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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