Archives / 2003 / December
  • Looking for a New Year's Resolution?

    There are many exciting .NET topics waiting for us in 2004. Simply too much stuff to be tried and understood, too much knowledge to be gained. If you're making plans for 2004, here's one single thing I can fully recommend:

    If you're not already doing it, start writing unit tests using a test framework.

    Unit testing is one of these "I really should be doing this" concepts. Even though I read and heard about unit testing years ago, I only started doing it in 2003. Sure, I always had some kind of test applications for e.g. a library - who hasn't written one of those infamous programs consisting of a form and dozens of buttons ("button1", "button2", ...), each starting some test code. And it's not as if my software was of poor quality. But looking back, unit testing was the thing in 2003 that made me a better developer.

    I'm using NUnit for my unit tests; it's so easy to use that a typical reaction of developers being introduced to NUnit is "What? That's all I have to do?". To get started, visit this page on the NUnit website, and follow the steps in the first paragraph "Getting Started with NUnit".

    When I began writing unit tests in early 2003, I wrote tests for existing code. If this code (e.g. a library) is already successfully in use, this can be pretty frustrating, because the most basic tests are all likely to succeed. My first tests where pretty coarse, testing too much at once - maybe because the trivial tests (e.g. create a class instance, set a property and test whether reading it has the expected result) seemed like a waste of time.

    In the course of time I moved more towards "test driven development", i.e. writing tests along with the code, often even before the implementation is ready. Now, if I create a new project, I always add a test project to the solution. This way my code and the corresponding tests never run out of sync. If I make a breaking change, the solution won't compile - it's that easy.

    If you take this approach (writing test very early), even testing the most basic stuff can be pretty rewarding:

    • Sometime typos or copy/paste mistakes are not caught by the compiler (e.g. when the property getter accesses a different member variable than the property setter) - one bug like this found by a unit test written in 5 Minutes can save you hours of debugging through a complete application.
    • It's a very good test for the usability e.g. of your API. If it turns out that even a simple task requires many lines of code, you definitely should re-design your API (which is less of a problem at that early stage of development).
    • The unit tests is some sort of documentation of how your code is used - don't underestimate how helpful this can be (by the way: I wrote a simple tool for generating examples for online documentation from unit tests).
    • Last but not least: I know that some of the unit-testing folks don't like debuggers, but fine-grained unit tests are very good entry points for single stepping through your code.

    So... what about a New Year's Resolution to start writing unit tests?

  • Dialogs are too much Stupid Code

    If you develop a complicated dialog (editing non-trivial data structures, showing/hiding parts of the dialog), it usually turns out to be a lot of work until everything is working as it should - and this doesn't really surprise anyone. If you use something trivial as a OpenFileDialog or a MessageBox, you know that this is just a matter of minutes.

    But what really gets on my nerves are these "simple dialogs". Imagine a dialog consisting of a couple of text fields and some checkboxes. Some text fields are disabled unless a certain checkbox is checked. And so on, I think you get the idea. Each time I have to write one of these dialogs, I...

    • underestimate the actual time required to "get things right", and
    • ask myself "how often did I write code similar to this?" when I move data in and out the dialog, handling OK and Cancel, enabling/disabling controls.

    Sometimes I feel like a "human code generator" because there's virtually no real thinking involved when writing down the code for such a dialog.

    Is this something I just have to get over with? Any ideas to keep the amount of code as low as possible?

  • My First VS.Net Addin

    GhostDoc is my first VS.Net Addin. To get started, the first thing I did was to run the Addin wizard and look at the code (of course without reading any documentation...) -- and it all seemed pretty obvious. But what I couldn't find was how to define a hotkey in code. The method AddNamedCommand has a lot of parameters, really a lot. But where is the hotkey specified? In case anybody else is wondering: You have to set the Bindings property on the command object returned by AddNamedCommand.

    Usually I'm pretty good at finding stuff using Google, but this took me quite some time to find out. The problem was that my search dug up lots of questions and answers on how to redefine the keys using the dialog of the VS.Net IDE. The actual description of the Bindings property is completely fine, by the way, I just didn't find it at first. Maybe a comment regarding a possible key binding should be included in the code generated by the wizard. Speaking of the generated code for the addin, there's one thing I really want to know: Who came up with the name "Connect" for a class?

  • GhostDoc News

    My project GhostDoc is now a VS.Net Addin. But before I release the next version, there are a couple of things on my ToDo list I want to finish first:

    • A rewrite of the configuration storage code
    • A GUI for editing the configuration

    The actual documentation generation will be the same for the next release; there are already a lot of things that can be done with the existing features, just by using the capabilities of the configuration settings.

    More information on what's planned for GhostDoc after the release (no specific date yet).