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NDepend 4 – First Steps

Introduction

Thanks to Patrick Smacchia I had the chance to test NDepend 4. I can only say: awesome!

This will be the first of a series of posts on NDepend, where I will talk about my discoveries. Keep in mind that I am just starting to use it, so more experienced users may find these too basic, I just hope I don’t say anything foolish! Smile

I must say that I am in no way affiliated with NDepend and I never actually met Patrick.

Installation

No installation program – a curious decision, I’m not against it -, just unzip the files to a folder and run the executable. It will optionally register itself with Visual Studio 2008, 2010 and 11 as well as RedGate’s Reflector; also, it automatically looks for updates. NDepend can either be used as a stand-alone program (with or without a GUI) or from within Visual Studio or Reflector.

Getting Started

One thing that really pleases me is the Getting Started section of the stand-alone, with links to pages on NDepend’s web site, featuring detailed explanations, which usually include screenshots and small videos (<5 minutes). There’s also an How do I with hierarchical navigation that guides us to through the major features so that we can easily find what we want.

Usage

There are two basic ways to use NDepend:

  • Analyze .NET solutions, projects or assemblies;
  • Compare two versions of the same assembly.

I have so far not used NDepend to compare assemblies, so I will first talk about the first option.

After selecting a solution and some of its projects, it generates a single HTML page with an highly detailed report of the analysis it produced. This includes some metrics such as number of lines of code, IL instructions, comments, types, methods and properties, the calculation of the cyclomatic complexity, coupling and lots of others indicators, typically grouped by type, namespace and assembly.

The HTML also includes some nice diagrams depicting assembly dependencies, type and method relative proportions (according to the number of IL instructions, I guess) and assembly analysis relating to abstractness and stability. Useful, I would say.

Then there’s the rules; NDepend tests the target assemblies against a set of more than 120 rules, grouped in categories Code Quality, Object Oriented Design, Design, Architecture and Layering, Dead Code, Visibility, Naming Conventions, Source Files Organization and .NET Framework Usage. The full list can be configured on the application, and an explanation of each rule can be found on the web site. Rules can be validated, violated and violated in a critical manner, and the HTML will contain the violated rules, their queries – more on this later - and results. The HTML uses some nice JavaScript effects, which allow paging and sorting of tables, so its nice to use.

Similar to the rules, there are some queries that display results for a number (about 200) questions grouped as Object Oriented Design, API Breaking Changes (for assembly version comparison), Code Diff Summary (also for version comparison) and Dead Code. The difference between queries and rules is that queries are not classified as passes, violated or critically violated, just present results.

The queries and rules are expressed through CQLinq, which is a very powerful LINQ derivative specific to code analysis. All of the included rules and queries can be enabled or disabled and new ones can be added, with intellisense to help.

Besides the HTML report file, the NDepend application can be used to explore all analysis results, compare different versions of analysis reports and to run custom queries.

Comparison to Other Analysis Tools

Unlike StyleCop, NDepend only works with assemblies, not source code, so you can’t expect it to be able to enforce brackets placement, for example. It is more similar to FxCop, but you don’t have the option to analyze at the IL level, that is, other that the number of IL instructions and the complexity.

What’s Next

In the next days I’ll continue my exploration with a real-life test case.

References

The NDepend web site is http://www.ndepend.com/. Patrick keeps an updated blog on http://codebetter.com/patricksmacchia/ and he regularly monitors StackOverflow for questions tagged NDepend, which you can find on http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/ndepend.

The default list of CQLinq rules, queries and statistics can be found at http://www.ndepend.com/DefaultRules/webframe.html. The syntax itself is described at http://www.ndepend.com/Doc_CQLinq_Syntax.aspx and its features at http://www.ndepend.com/Doc_CQLinq_Features.aspx.

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