Saturday, October 07, 2006

VSMDI Files - Continued buginess

One things really bugs me with VSTS is the VSMDI file, it causes all sorts of issues which I've now started reporting to Microsoft.

One of the most annoying issues is that you sometimes get multiple VSMDI files.

Now I'll admit that I was worried about reporting some of the bugs because they're intermittent and I haven't got reliable steps but in the case of this one I found lots of posts on the Web relating to similiar problems so I was sure it was worth reporting.

Microsofts response was to mark it as non-reproducible. Well yes, fair enough, but if quite a few of your customers are reporting it then why not leave it open and just wait till someone gets repro steps?

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Applying Domain-Driven Design and Patterns - Boring Rant

If you haven't read Jimmy Nilssons book on DDD in .NET this will be boring, in fact its probably boring even if you have read it.

I should first say that I like the book but have issues with it as I explained in my Amazon review for it. However there's one part of the book thats annoyed me quite a bit, and I think it displays a problem that seems to happen when the authors in books don't think enough about the readers.

Its the section on "Test-Driving A Web Form" in chapter 11.

First off I won't be rushing out to unit test GUI's left right and center, especially not when it adds to the complexity so much. However its an interesting topic that could have been quite enjoyable to read about...

...except for the fact that the author of that section seemed to be more interested in force feeding the reader his views on unrelated topics.

In particular the author doesn't like prefixing I on interfaces. Fine. However it annoys me that his examples don't use the prefix despite the fact that the majority of his readers and (nearly) the entire FCL uses it. He even goes as far as to stick an entire page in the middle of his discussion describing why he doesn't use the I prefix. Its ridiculous, all he's done is confuse and sidetrack the reader with information that would have been better in an appendix (or at the end of the section, or in the bin).

Anyway I think his argument is questionable, even if every developer now stopped using the I prefix we'd still be stuck with it on all the existing interfaces. Do you really want people reading your code to have to deal with a prefix that is only used on some interfaces? I think not. Anyway interfaces are treated differently in languages that don't support multiple inheritance so I find the seperation useful.

Even if the argument wasn't weak though, and even if I felt the I prefix was the cause of global warming AND the darkness in the hearts of men, I wouldn't want it to be shoved down my throat in the middle of a discussion about something completely different!

On the flipside if you want examples of books that give you lots and lots of information in a relatively concise manner, that are enjoyable to read and that have good code examples then I'd recommend looking at Robert C Martins agile development book and Eric Evans DDD book.

Both are superb. Heck I'd rather read the Java samples carefully chosen by people like Robert Martin or Eric Evans than the C# examples in some C# books. Put it this way would they put code like this in an example:

// using A=NUnit.Framework.Assert
A.AreEqual(SrcPanel, "a> b> c ");

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Saturday, September 30, 2006


One thing that interests me a lot is AOP, I can definitely see the benefits but so far I haven't had time to try it out.
Has anyone out there used it successfully on a real project and how did it affect the complexity of the codebase and performance?

So far I haven't had a good reason to try something like Spring.NET out but I'm hopeful that I will soon. I'm also looking foward to the Aspect Oriented Refactoring book

One project that also looks interesting is:

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Thursday, September 28, 2006


If, like me, you've never heard of Mini-Microsoft then you might find this blog entry very interesting.

I'd always, naively, believed Microsoft would be a great place to work...maybe not.

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TypeMock - Designing For Testability

A while back I posted on the reasons I thought TypeMock was so useful, namely because I thought decoupling your classes to allow mock instances in wasn't a good way to design. Anyway Roy Osherove now has links to interesting posts on the topic in this blog entry.

I must say I'm still not sold on the idea that designing for test is the right way to decouple your classes in ways that are useful.

Since most of the unit testing is going to be of the domain layer let me explain my views on why TypeMock helps there.

Lets say that I want my domain layer has to call out to infrastructure code. My first thought would be is that really a good idea? If it is then I want to decouple my domain from the infrastructure as much as possible. So in that situation an interface/dependency injection might be the way to go and you might do that during testing.

However I've found that when I want to do real unit testing I'll want to mock quite a few different classes that are depended on and in many cases the depended on classes are also in the domain layer. In those situations interfaces/factories seem overkill, in fact if I put them in I'm just over-complicating things. Thats when I use TypeMock.

Another thing I've realised is that these I only do state based unit testing and have given up on the interaction based unit testing that mocking (and things like TypeMock/NMock) support. I guess I should rethink that.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

NHibernate + Generics = Explained a bit better

A friend of mine pointed out my post on "NHibernate + Generics = Small Codebase" was a bit vague so I've added this which might clarify.

What I was trying to say was that combining generics with NHibernate makes writing and testing persistence code very easy. For example here's some code that could save a persistent class using NHibernate.


You want that code to be somewhere outside your domain objects, Evans says to put them in classes called Repositories. You'd have at least one repository per aggregate root, so you are going to end up with quite a few of them.

A base class thus makes sense as all the repositories have a lot of behavior in common. However you want type safety on the methods so putting this in the base class just doesn't cut it:

   public virtual void Save(object toSave)

The solution is obvious, you just use generics with a repository base class:

   public sealed class MyRootRepository : NHibernateRepository<TMyRoot, int>
      .... custom code including extra queries ...

The base class can thus use the type of object its persisting (MyRoot here) and the type of ID field (int here) when it needs it.

I think there is also a big advantage when using generics for persistence testing. For example we have specific tests we want to do for all aggregate roots including concurrency/update/save. We want to do the tests to check the database AND the mapping files are correct but we write the same code each time so we use inheritance from a generic base class:

public sealed class MyRootPersistenceTests : AggregateRootPersistenceTestBase<Myroot, int>

      public void CanPersist()

      public void CanUpdate()

      public void CanHandleConcurrency()

      # region Overridden Members

      protected override MyRoot CreateAggregateRoot()
         // create and return a MyRoot

      protected override void ModifyAggregateRoot(MyRoot original)
         // modify original

      # endregion

We have similar base classes for a few other situations (non-root aggregate parts, read-only reference data). In each case the vast majority of the code is in the base classes (or other classes they call) and we just use the template method pattern by calling into the abstract members (such as CreateAggregateRoot).

Note that the base class can create an instance of the repository, because we decided to make our NHibernateRepository concrete. In addition the whole thing works because we've written an ObjectComparer class that uses reflection to compare the property values of two instances of a type. The TestPersistence in the base class thus boils down to:

  1. Get the object by calling CreateAggregateRoot
  2. Save the object to the database
  3. Reload the object from the database
  4. Use the ObjectComparer to compare the original and reloaded objects.

Unfortunately each test class must have the test methods (CanHandleConcurrency etc) because although NUnit let you have test methods on a base class VSTS doesn't. Drat.

Anyway this has proved to be very useful and has definitely been a big time saver as we've been moving code across to using NHibernate. I've found my current working style is:

  1. Use TDD to develop the new feature.
  2. If the new feature involved the addition of new fields that need to be persisted then run the persistence tests.
  3. The persistence tests should now fail because when we reload the object and pass it to ObjectComparer it will find that the original object had a value in the new field/property whilst the reloaded object will have the default value.
  4. Add the appropriate content to the mapping file so that the new field is persisted.
  5. Run the tests and they should now pass.

Oh and ignore the repository base class name and the method names, we have reasons for keeping them that way the minute.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Team System

I finally got round to reading this blog entry about the whole Mort/Elvis/Einstein thing. I must admit I'm not overly worried about Microsoft using the personas but I do agree that Rockfords article is slightly questionable.

Anyway one thing that definitely chimed with me was part way down:

There's not much value in taking customer feedback if you stop acting on it. Microsoft’s addiction to waterfall planning practices have sent a strong message to customers regarding Microsoft’s responsiveness late in waterfall development phases. Antiquated project and product management practices are hurting the perception that Microsoft is really interested in feedback. You’ve gotta be continuously responsive all the time, not just early in the game. Maybe if there was some effort to “scrum” a service release earlier than mid-2006 the product feedback center would still have the same credibility it did during the pre- and early Whidbey betas.

I couldn't agree with this more, I've been using Team System for 3 months now and two things have surprised me.

I'm not a Microsoft basher, in fact I've always been impressed they can release large scale software projects that are of a high quality. I am also happy to forgive an application for the odd crash or the odd problem. However Team System is without doubt the worst Microsoft application I have ever used. It comes down to quality, which I'll discuss later, and the fact that some of the features seem to me to be badly thought out or are very incomplete.

Its not even one area but large swathes of the features that have problems including source control, check in policies, unit testing and code analysis. In many cases they're hard to use, seem to be badly thought and are quite buggy. Here's some of the issues I seem to end up dealing with:

  1. Some files will not be checked in because I moved/renamed/did something else to the folder they were.

  2. The unit tests will fail/abort. There seem to be many reasons for this, I should really start taking screenshots and just reporting them to Microsoft even though I don't have steps to repro.

  3. I won't be allowed to check in because it wants me to run deleted tests.

  4. The code coverage will run but not report the issues as stopping me checking in.

  5. The code coverage will fail with a stack overflow exception (I had to switch off CA2214 because of that little bug, how much fun do you think I had working out it was that exact rule :))

  6. My pending changes area will show up as empty forcing me to restart.

  7. Visual Studio regularly crashes (often when I'm undoing source control check outs), in some cases it offers to send Microsoft information but in most cases even this doesn't happen.

I've reported some of these issues but some are so intermittent and bizarre that I haven't gotten round to it yet, however I'd say that on average I'm hit by atleast 1-3 crashes a week and two of the other issues per day and I know that the developer I work most closely with is also having similiar problems.

Customer Feedback
Like a lot of people I've used NUnit, FXCop, Resharper so when I came to Team System I was very excited. However as I tried to use the refactoring, unit testing, code analysis, class designer and so on I began to find a lot of limitations. What amazed me was that many of these limitations were reported to Microsoft quite some time ago. For example here's three of the issues that bug me:

Unit Testing Inheritance

Class Designer Displaying Dependencies

Compile Time Code Injection

What links these items is that the last replies from Microsoft to them are in 2005 or earlier! For all I know Microsoft are investigating and fixing these issues, for all I know they're being ignored and thats problem...there's no 2 way information sharing going on.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Rolling Back After Database Tests - TransactionScope

For a while now I've been using Roy Osherove's data rollback attribute to ensure that integration tests against the database clear up after themselves.

Unfortunately I ended up having to give up on it because in the move to using .NET 2 and NHibernate I introduced a base class that all our persistence test classes should inherit from. It had the majority of the code needed to do persist/update/concurrency unit tests and was a big time saver. Unfortunately the class used generics, since generics and ContextBoundObjects are a big no-no (see this article) and since the data roll back attribute relied on you (indirectly) deriving from ContextBoundObject I needed to look elsewhere.

In the end I chose to use a TransactionScope, I create it in the test initialize and Dispose of it in the test cleanup method. It seems to work OK though I've occassionally had odd DTC related errors which is a slightly worrying!

Equally annoying is that my test base class idea falls down slightly as VSTS doesn't allow you to put tests in a base class (as described in this feedback item). This means that although I can put the majority of the test code in the base class I need to actually define the tests in the derived class, the tests then call back to the base class which will then call to abstract methods implemented in the derived class (normal template method pattern). What a mess :)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Rolling Back After Database Tests - DataRollbackAttribute

If you do a lot of integration testing against a database and find you want to clean up at the end of each test then I highly recommend you look at the DataRollbackAttribute which is discussed in this blog entry.

I particularly like the way the attribute is used, very elegant and works very nicely. You can also modify the attribute to use TransactionScope, NHibernate transactions or whatever you need.

The only slight problem with it is that some of my tests were causing odd DTC errors when I ran them after applying this attribute, however I'm hoping that it will work properly when we move using NHibernate transactions (simply because we'll have a much simpler transaction management scheme than we do now).

Having said that at some stage I need to look at Ndbunit which also seems like it might be useful.

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NHibernate + Generics = Small Codebase

My company are going to use NHibernate for a few projects we're doing. I was heavily pushing for its usage because I believe it allows OOD, DDD and TDD (all the D's). However I've been amazed to find just how easy it is to use.

Essentially myself and another developer have been putting together a team project that the existing domain classes will move into. The most time consuming part is creating the mapping files for our existing classes, but if there isn't a tool out there to do that then we can write a stupid one that does the simple stuff.

Anyway its when you put generics and NHibernate together that I think things really get good.

For example to write an integration test that tests that persistence is running well you just need to do this:

  1. Create an instance of the class your testing.
  2. Use the NHibernate session to save it to the database and then flush the session.
  3. Evict it from the session. This needs to be done because NHibernate uses an identity map so if we don't evict then it will just return the same object (from memory) when we ask for it in the next step.
  4. Get the object, by ID, from the session. Since we evicted it in the last step this will cause NHibernate to reload it from the database.
  5. Compare the two objects (I wrote a reflection based helper class that does this automatically when passed two objects).

You might ask what the point of this test is, well it verifies that my database and HBM files are correct and that everything is working end to end.

I also think its worth writing these tests because its so easy, other than the first line of code you can reuse everything from one test to another by combining NHibernate with generics. To me this is wonderful and a big advantage of moving to NHibernate.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

NDepend - Analysing Your Dependencies

A while back I started reading Robert Martin's excellent Agile Software Development, Principles, Patterns, and Practices book.

The books very strong on object orientation and a large section is devoted to how to manage dependencies between different parts of your application. Whats great is he gives some metrics you can use to analyse the dependencies in your application, which is a great thing to do.

Anyway the good news is theres a tool for .NET that applies Robert Martins metrics to an arbitrary bunch of assemblies then does a good job of displaying them, namely NDepend.

Unfortunately there are a few problems. Firstly, as many sites point out, it runs over the IL so the cyclomatic complexity figures may be a bit untrustworthy (this is admitted at the Website). No biggy.

Other problems are more difficult to deal with, for example the fact that enums are treated as concrete classes during the analyses so skew the results...which can be a big problem and in fact kind of put the breaks on my evaluations of the tool.

This is probably a case where the tool needs to be changed to use more knowledge about the language its analysing.

Anyway I suggest you have a look at the tool and book, in fact might be worth getting the C# version of the book which is out now (reminds me to go buy it!).

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Saturday, August 12, 2006


We've been looking at this framework at my work for a while as we believed NHibernate + CSLA could allow us to get the advantage of an approach like .netTiers but with a few advantages:

  1. No need to generate large amounts of code.
  2. We would only use the features we need.
  3. Seperate, to a large extent, the design of the domain and database.
Anyway although CSLA seems like a good framework if your not going to use the mobile objects approach, and we aren't, then it adds a lot of complexity for very little gain. In particular for a Web application I'm not sure how realistic CSLA is. In our case we didn't like the delegate based rule code, we don't need multiple level undo, we don't need dirty tracking....

Having said that the binding code and a few other bits could be useful.

One bit I did find very odd in my reading about CSLA was the fact that call your persistence code from your domain objects was justified for encapsulation reasons and to avoid using reflection as it can hurt performance.

The reflection argument seems pretty redundanct as CSLA itself uses reflection quite widely and the cost of reflection isn't likely to be noticable compared to things like database or network calls.

Likewise the encapsulation argument seemed a bit questionable, there are certainly good arguments for not putting your data access code in your domain/business objects and indeed for not accessing the data access code from your domain objects.

Anyway so far we've used CSLA pretty sparingly and even the bits we have used, like the validation framework, are slowly being engineered out.

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Microsofts Guidance Explorer

I've been using the Guidance Explorer from time to time and I have to say its quite good.

I find its quite an easy way to access the patterns and practices content, though one problem I do have is that some of the guidance isn't necessarily of the quality I'd expect.

In particular I found some of the exception related advice highly questionable, however I would hope this will improve over time.

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ASP.NET Provider API's - Just how good are they?

A while back we looked at using the provider pattern in our ASP.NET application and I was a little unimpressed with the API so I reported it.

To me lack of consistency seems to be an unfortunate feature of the class libraries Microsoft provide and I hope at some point they try to address it.

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TypeMock - Helps Improve Your Designs?

If anyone ever reads this blog, and if they've used TypeMock, then I'd be interested in what they thought of it. For those of you who haven't used it you should take a look if your doing TDD as it allows you to use mocking without redesigning your code.

For me the question is whether designing your code for testability is actually a good idea, if so using TypeMock too much is a bad idea.

Personally I'm much in favor of TDD but I think I disagree with most of the books/Websites because I don't think that decoupling your code to allow mocking necessarily results in particularly good designs.

Say I want to test a class that relies on a concrete Foo class . One way to get a mock Foo in for testing would be to create an IFoo interface, implemented by Foo and a new MockFoo class. To get the MockFoo into the class being tested I'd use something like IOC or a factory. An alternative would be to use NMock to create a dynamic mock for Foo, again its up to me to get the mocked object into the class being tested.

In the past I've tried doing this sort of decoupling for testability but my view is now that it adds unnecessary complexity. I also found that the interfaces/designs I was producing didn't necessarily decouple the software in ways that were later useful.

Thats where I think TypeMock is strong, I can use TDD to design the interfaces of my classes for normal usage and use TypeMock to mock out depedencies of the class being tested. Then once my class is in real usage I can look to decouple when and if its needed.

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DLinq - How it fits into TDD/DDD

For a while theres been a discussion at my company about what way to improve the development of a few applications. The applications are all quite data-driven but some of them will also need to have relatively complex business log in them.

I've only just joined and my joining coincided with the the company starting to use agile development (hurrah), it also coincided with a move to reducing the amount of code written. In particular to avoid writing the boring CRUD code to access the database.

Although its a small team we were split into people who think that, for the less data centric applications, we should use NHibernate/TDD/DDD/OOD and people who want to refactor the database and then use it as the starting point for the object model (using netTiers/CodeSmith to generate everything with a set of "OO" classes on top).

My view was that the NHibernate approach was very strong, it allows good seperation and the creation of a proper domain model. However its been an interesting discussion and I'll be interested to see how Linq fits into it all, though it seems to me it will support the data-centric design approach AND the more behavior (object-oriented) approach.

Time to start playing with DLinq methinks.

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The Edinburgh Fringe

Living in Edinburgh the month of August involves muttering under your breath about how busy everywhere is and taking advantage of all the comedy shows that are on (muttering under your breath whilst sitting in the audience ofcourse).

Anyway I went to see Richard Herrings show ménage à un last week and its highly recommended. I'm a big fan anyway but this show is superb, balancing perfectly between trying to offend the audience and keeping them going along with him. Hurrah for Herring.

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