Trends in Technical Syntax Hyphens and Underscores

July 23rd, 2009

I always wrestle with annoyances. One annoyance I especially like to wrestle with is the choice between hyphens and underscores.

Let me cut to the chase and share what I've been noticing:

  • Hyphens and underscores are used as spaces in URLs, but for some reason, wikis (mediawiki, ikiwiki) tend to use underscores and blogs tend to use hyphens (MovableType, Wordpress).
  • Text editors usually treat hyphens as word separators, rather than parts of words. If a double click is made on a section of text that contains a hyphen, only the section of text which was clicked on is selected, whereas if it were a section of text containing an underscore, the entire span of text would be selected. I believe this is because regular expression processors consider the hyphen punctuation and the underscore actual text.
  • CSS classes and identifiers usually use hyphens, I presume due to the fact that many selectors use hyphens, not underscores.
  • Domain names may contain hyphens, but not underscores.
  • Email addresses can contain both, but most often hyphens are used for hyphenated names, not as word separators. Underscores or periods are primarily used as word separators.
And my personal practices:
  • For URLs and web accessible files, I try to use underscores on "real" files and paths, and hyphens on virtual paths. Inasmuch, I try to only use underscores within file names (as well as all lowercase, but that's besides the point).
  • I'm not a fan of camelCase, so I try to just stick with lowercase and underscore formatting for code as well, but it gets a little awkward when working with javascript and perl. In the case of perl, the capitalization of the first letter in module names is so prevalent I don't want to stray from the pack.
Any thoughts to contribute? We'll talk about lowercase versus uppercase, and tabs versus spaces next time!
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