Sometimes in a programming exercise, boilerplate generation, putting guide rails around the tasks for a junior programmer to implement, etc., it happens that the programmer is presented unimplemented code and told to "fill in the blank." For example, a unit test that may compile, but fails, or a class declaration with empty methods.

Is there a common term for this practice?

  • Not exactly what you're asking, but related. If there are also test scripts in place which show what your code is expected to do, then it's known as Test Driven Development.
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 0:54
  • 32
    To whomever voted to close: sure, "name this thing" might not be an especially interesting question. However, this question does have an objective answer that is not primarily opinion-based. As proof, I present my answer below.
    – user22815
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 6:29
  • 3
    I would say "Terrible coding practice."
    – Euphoric
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 7:33
  • 7
    NotImplementedException :) Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 12:50
  • 3
    "Exercise for the reader" seems to be the textbook approach if you're talking about error handling.
    – Phil Lello
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 22:07

3 Answers 3


You are referring to a stub or skeleton:


This is typically a method or function with a mostly-empty body that simply returns a dummy value so code will compile.


This is a method that has a high-level algorithm implemented, but individual parts are left unimplemented. They may be empty code blocks, or reference stub methods (see above) that will eventually perform subtasks. This is a good way to express a software design for a junior programmer who may struggle with the larger design effort, or for making sure you have the algorithm correct before investing too much time in the low-level details.

The practice of using these code elements would be called stubbing or creating a code skeleton.

  • 3
    Although I like your terms better, I think that the term 'scaffolding' in Ruby on Rails is the same concept.
    – dcorking
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 13:36
  • I also thought stub was the right word for this, but was not sure because I was getting push back from others at my job. Thank you. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 15:29
  • It's a "stub" if done in an academic context. Done in a professional/commercial context, it's "technical debt".
    – aroth
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:09
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    @aroth it is not technical debt if the code does not work - it must be implemented. Technical debt implies poorly written code that ends up being used in a production environment, meaning it requires significant effort to refactor correctly. A stub would ideally have a failing test case, so it must be implemented and tested before being set loose on production.
    – user22815
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:13
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    @BrandonArnold: When talking to your colleges, you should use words they understand. Unless you are the boss. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 8:39

I've seen the term “stub” being used.

For example, I believe that Eclipse automatically inserts a comment

String getName() {
    // TODO: Auto-generated method stub
    return null;

into its infamous auto-generated, well, stubs.

Also note the usage of the term “stub” in the context of unit testing.


In Visual Studio, when writing code intellisense will give you the option "generate a new method stub". When you choose this option, Visual Studio will generate a stub/skeleton of code exactly as you have described.

Microsoft refers to this as a stub, so I would also call these stubs.

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