If you want to start a flame war, mention lines of code per day or hour in a developer’s public forum. At least that is what I found when I started investigating how many lines of code are written per day per programmer. Lines of code, or loc for short, are supposedly a terrible metric for measuring programmer productivity and empirically I agree with this. There are too many variables involved starting with the definition of a line of code and going all the way up to the complexity of the requirements. There are single lines that take a long time to get right and there many lines which are mindless boilerplate code. All the same this measurement does have information encoded in it; the hard part is extracting that information and drawing the correct conclusions. Unfortunately I don’t have access to enough data about software projects to provide a statistically sound analysis but I got a very interesting result from measuring two very different projects that I would like to share.

The first project is a traditional client server data mining tool for a vertical market mostly built in VB.NET and WinForms. This project started in 2003 and has been through several releases and an upgrade from .NET 1.1 to .NET 2.0. It has server components but most of the half a million lines of code lives in the client side. The team has always had around four developers although not always the same people. The average lines of code for this project came in at around ninety lines of code per day per developer. I wasn’t able to measure the SQL in the stored procedures so this number is slightly inflated.

The second project is much smaller adding up to ten thousand lines of C# plus seven thousand lines of XAML created by a team of four that also worked on the first project. This project lasted three months and it is a WPF point of sale application thus very different in scope from the first project. It was built around a number of web services in SOA fashion and does not have a database per se. Its average came up around seventy lines of code per developer per day.

I am very surprised with the closeness of these numbers, especially given the difference in size and scope of the products. The commonality between them are the .NET framework and the team and one of them may be the key. Of these two, I am leaning to the .NET framework being the unifier because although the developers worked on both projects, three of elements on the team of the second project have spent less than a year on the first project and did not belong to the core team that wrote the vast majority of that first product. Or maybe there is something more general at work here?