Tabs versus Spaces in Source Code

Edward Elliott nobody at
Mon May 15 05:28:29 CEST 2006

Eli Gottlieb wrote:

> Actually, spaces are better for indenting code.  The exact amount of
> space taken up by one space character will always (or at least tend to
> be) the same, while every combination of keyboard driver, operating
> system, text editor, content/file format, and character encoding all
> change precisely what the tab key does.

What you see as tabs' weakness is their strength.  They encode '1 level of
indentation', not a fixed width.  Of course tabs are rendered differently
by different editors -- that's the point.  If you like indentation to be 2
or 3 or 7 chars wide, you can view your preference without forcing it on
the rest of the world.  It's a logical rather than a fixed encoding.

> There's no use in typing "tab" for indentation when my text editor will
> simply convert it to three spaces, or worse, autoindent and mix tabs
> with spaces so that I have no idea how many actual whitespace characters
> of what kinds are really taking up all that whitespace.  I admit it
> doesn't usually matter, but then you go back to try and make your code
> prettier and find yourself asking "WTF?"

Sounds like the problem is your editor, not tabs.  But I wouldn't rule out
PEBCAK either. ;)

> Undoubtedly adding the second spark to the holy war,

Undoubtedly.  Let's keep it civil, shall we?  And please limit the
cross-posting to a minimum.  (directed at the group, not you personally

Edward Elliott
UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall)
complangpython at eddeye dot net

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