Tabs vs. Spaces: The Programmer’s Holy War

The debate of tabs vs. spaces has raged on among software engineers for decades. It’s the closest thing the software industry has to a holy war and the casualties can be real. The tabs vs. spaces debate has ended partnerships, hurt feelings, and crashed programs.

Zack West
alpharithms

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Tabs vs. spaces illustration

The essence of this debate boils down to whether a programmer chooses to insert ASCII character 9 (alt + num 0 > num 9) to insert whitespace into their code vs. using ASCII character 32 (alt + num3 > num2). The debate sounds pedantic at first glance but there are some outstanding considerations that have fueled it for decades.

Quick Intro: Definitions

Before we dive into the tabs vs. spaces debate we need to agree on a shared vocabulary or terms. Part of the reason this debate continues is due to the ambiguity of certain terminology. Below are some key terms one needs to know and recognize to fully grasp the argument of each side:

  • There is a Tab character and a Tab key.
  • The Tab Character is the ASCII #9 character.
  • The Tab Key is a piece of plastic on a keyboard.

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Zack West
alpharithms

Entrepreneur, programmer, designer, and lifelong learner. Can be found taking notes from Mother Nature when not hammering away at the keyboard.