What is green coding and how is it done?

Green coding is a term in software development and describes a set of practices used to create programs that consume as little energy as possible.

What is green coding?

Green coding is a programming approach that aims to create software that is environmentally friendly. So, what’s behind it? With increasing digitalization, software plays a bigger role in almost everything we do. However, software that uses a lot of energy contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. One way to combat this issue is with green coding.

Green coding isn’t just about creating energy-efficient software, it’s also about sustainable software development. This can include using renewable energy to power data centres or cloud systems.

Tip

Green coding is just one part of the movement to save resources in IT and communication technology. Read more about other environmentally friendly efforts in our article about green computing.

How does green coding work?

Green coding affects every part of the software development process. This includes both the software’s architecture as well as the development behind it. Convoluted end code that hasn’t been optimized should be avoided in green coded programs. The reason for this is simple: code that isn’t sufficiently optimized will execute commands which aren’t necessary for the program logic. This leads to excess resources being used and energy waste.

When talking about green coding, you’ll often hear about green coding pillars. These form the basis of sustainable software.

What are the four pillars of green coding?

Green coding has four pillars. Each one is crucial to the software development process and by using them you can potentially reduce the amount of energy and resources used.

Green architecture

Software architecture is the first pillar. This is the basic architecture of an application. This can be optimized when it comes to energy use. For example, it’s possible to collate code. This means the hardware isn’t used as much, resulting in a reduction of the power it needs. Having an automatic shutdown system on the software when it’s not being used is also part of green architecture and contributes significantly to reduced energy use when using the applications.

Green logic

Another key factor in green coding is program logic. Essentially, this is the optimization of the program code so that programs are not slowed down by the unnecessary use of commands. Other factors such as the selection of environmentally friendly file types or efficient data structures play a big role when it comes to designing efficient and environmentally friendly code.

Green method

This pillar of green coding has less to do with the code itself, focusing instead on the software development process. Agile software development models are particularly useful for making code and applications energy efficient. The incremental development and testing used in agile programming ensures that program parts that are not energy efficient are recognized early on. As a result, they can be changed so that the end product is as efficient as possible.

Green platform

Green coding doesn’t just focus on software though. It also includes hardware. There are a range of methods that can be used to create environmentally friendly systems. Server loads are a particularly important factor. Servers operating under lower loads will use more energy than they need. Cloud computing can help here since resources can be scaled flexibly and adapted to individual needs. Ideally, the cloud computing server also runs on renewable energy.

Which programming languages are energy efficient?

It’s not only the software design that has an effect on the energy efficiency of a product. Even the choice of the language used in the project can influence energy consumption. Programming languages are very different when it comes to their energy, storage and time usage.

The most energy-efficient programming language is C. C is an embedded language and works with little effect on the abstraction layer, meaning hardware can be used efficiently. Storage management is another area in which C excels. It allows programmers to develop efficient strategies to allocate and deallocate storage (storage reserves). The object-oriented language C++, which is based on C, is a good option for saving resources.

Alongside C, Rust is another language that is particularly suitable for green coding. The language, which is relatively new, has monitored memory management, which allows for efficient memory access. This approach helps prevent unnecessary and energy-wasting memory operations. The wide range of parallelization available on Rust helps it to be energy efficient, ensuring that the use of hardware resources is optimized.

Even though Python is one of the most popular programming languages, it has a particularly bad energy efficiency rating. This is due in part to the fact that at runtime Python programs are interpreted and not compiled. This means that there is not just one compilation process. However, the dynamic typecasting of the language leads to increased run times for programs in Python since the variable types are determined dynamically while the program is being run. For similar reasons, JavaScript is another language which isn’t very efficient and is also less suited to green coding.

What are some green coding best practices?

If you want to make your program greener, follow the best practices we’ve outlined below.

  • Intelligent software architecture: avoid the use of redundant and unnecessary code. Avoid unnecessary loops. If you need to, build programs so that they automatically end when they’re not being used.
  • Choose an efficient language: choose an energy-efficient programming language for your project.
  • Test continuously: test your project’s components at different stages during the development in order to identify elements that use a lot of resources.
  • Data and networks: reduce data usage and the distance the data needs to move across the network, e.g. from caching.
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