.NET Reflector: Your personal X-Ray machine

Have you ever run across a situation where you were trying to debug some code, but you hit a wall when you ran into an object that you don’t own? Happens to me more often than I like. And, before I learned about .NET Reflector, I was stuck using debug.print statements on either side of the object call to figure out what was going on inside.

.NET Reflector changes all that. Need to see the code for an object you don’t own? Crack open any .NET assembly with reflector.exe and disassemble the code. Here the disassembly of a method from a WCF service I wrote recently:

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You can even use this tool to disassemble objects in the .NET Framework!

Plus, .NET Reflector includes a Visual Studio add-in that lets you debug into this disassembled code! So, no more debug.print. Just follow the flow of execution right on into that code you don’t own. Who knows, you may even find someone else’s bug in the process of solving your own!

ReSharper: Don't use Visual Studio without it!

According to IntelliBrains, ReSharper is:

the most intelligent add-in for Visual Studio 2005, 2008 and 2010 that provides a rich set of features to boost individual and team productivity in the world of .NET development.

Ooo! Marketing speak! Allow me to translate:

ReSharper is a Visual Studio add-in that adds over 70 features to the development environment. I linked directly to the feature list on the ReSharper web site, because there are just way too many for me to cover here, and they do a good job of showing you the salient points of each feature. But, I would like to point out a few of my favorite features: (I borrowed the images from the ReSharper web site to save me the time.)

Code Analysis

As I type, ReSharper is analyzing my code, looking for several things:

  • Errors (“that code won’t compile”),
  • Warnings (“that code may cause a null reference exception at runtime”),
  • Suggestions (“the type of that parameter can safely be changed to its parent class”), and
  • Hints (“your code might be easier to read if you invert that if statement”).

ReSharper Hint

This, to me, is the single most valuable feature of ReSharper. I would not code nearly as fast without it.

Navigation & Search

ReSharper offers several “Go To” tools that will significantly speed up your navigation of your code:

  • Go To Type (CTRL+N) takes you to any type in your solution, even by typing just the upper case letters (a feature JetBrains calls “CamelHumps”):

ReSharper Go To Type

  • Go To File (CTRL+SHIFT+N) takes you to any file in your solution – a huge help on huge projects.
  • Go To Symbol (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+N) takes you to any method or variable in your project.

Refactorings

Here’s a picture of a small subset of the refactoring support in ReSharper:

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One particularly interesting one in that list is “Use Base Type where Possible…” which is a very good habit. Using abstract classes and interfaces allows you to break coupling in your code. I could write several blog posts about just this one refactoring. Admittedly, though, my use of the refactorings tends toward smaller scale things like “Extract Method” and “Inline Method”.

 

Code Generation

Advocates of the agile practice called Test Driven Development (like myself) have long derided Visual Studio for offering to write unit tests for code that already exists, but not offering the opposite feature – generating method stubs from tests that were written before the code existed. ReSharper fills that gap quite nicely:

ReSharper method generation

If you do TDD in Visual Studio, this feature alone will pay for ReSharper. (And, if you’re not doing TDD, why not?)

Coding Assistance

Here’s a feature I didn’t even know existed until I started writing this article. It’s called “Complete Statement” and it automatically completes the current statement.

When you reach the end of a statement, like this:

ReSharper Complete Statement 1

Simply press CTRL+SHIFT+Enter and ReSharper completes the statement, and places the insertion point exactly where you’d want it, like this:

ReSharper Complete Statement 2

I think I’ll be trying that one out later today.

Code Cleanup

Ever open a file and discover that whoever created it had their tabs set to 2 spaces, making the text too dense and the indentations too shallow for you to quickly grasp the structure of the document? ReSharper can help you there, too. Simply press CTRL+ALT+F to format the file using your preferred format settings.

Code Templates

ReSharper completely replaces the rather limited Visual Studio “Code Snippets” feature with their own Live Templates feature. Here’s an example of their “foreach” template at work:

ReSharper foreach Template

Notice that ReSharper knew which object you were likely to want to iterate over. Very smart. Very useful. To access the feature, press TAB after typing in the name of a live template, in this case “foreach”.

Unit Testing

ReSharper automatically detects NUnit and MSTest-based unit tests in your projects and allows you to run them directly within the Visual Studio user interface. The runner is not perfect – JetBrains doesn’t always quickly add support for new features as they are added to the unit test frameworks. For example, ReSharper 4.5 does not support the NUnit [TestCase] attribute for creating data driven tests. But, I rarely use the [TestCase] attribute when doing TDD tests, which is primarily how I use the unit test runner.

In Conclusion…

If I still haven’t convinced you to take a look at ReSharper, I recommend taking a look at their website before writing it off completely. There are so many useful features that I didn’t cover here, you’re bound to find half a dozen favorites of your own. Heck, even if you’re already using ReSharper, spending some time on their website will likely show you something you don’t know about the product.

FxCop

It has come to my attention that not everyone knows about or uses all of the development tools I know about and use. As such, I’m going to start a series of posts about development tools you should be using, starting with FxCop.

FxCop is a “static analysis” tool from Microsoft. Here’s how they describe it:

FxCop is an application that analyzes managed code assemblies (code that targets the .NET Framework common language runtime) and reports information about the assemblies, such as possible design, localization, performance, and security improvements.

Here’s what it looks like:

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FxCop comes with a large suite of rules for evaluating software assemblies. To run it, compile your software, open FxCop, select a target (Project / Add Targets…), select the rules you want to include (Rules tab) and click Analyze (on the toolbar).

What you get is a list of all the places your code violated the selected rules (in the right hand pane) and details for each violation (in the lower pane). As you can see from the size of the position indicator in the scroll bar, running FxCop on the new WCF middleware interface (Symetra.Services.Middleware.dll) produced quite a few errors. (Yikes!) Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me before I put that code to bed.

Static analysis tools like FxCop are typically run during an automated build process to ensure that all of the developers on a team are following sound development practices. As Microsoft mentioned (above) FxCop is specific to design, localization, performance and security. Another Microsoft tool called StyleCop can alert the team to violations of the team’s coding standards. But, that’s another post.

For now, I hope you found this post handy. Because, to paraphrase Red Green: “If the developers don’t find us architects handsome, they should at least find us handy.”

UPDATE: I thought of a few more things to point out this morning:

  1. Note that the FxCop bits can be found in AccuRev under the Lib\FxCop folder.
  2. I setup the WCF Middleware Service stream to “include” the latest FxCop bits from the stream entitled sym_Lib_FxCop_1.3.6.
  3. I checked-in .FxCop ruleset file in the same folder as the .sln file. I also added it to the solution in a solution folder, so it would be in my face – and I might remember to run FxCop locally before checking in my code.

The Matrix Reloaded

I wrote this post quite a long time ago – right on the heels of my original test matrix posts. Why I never posted it is beyond me. I’m posting it now to get it out of my “drafts.”

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A few posts back, I discussed The Marick Test Matrix and my minor modifications to the matrix. In those posts, I described how to classify different types of testing into the four quadrants of the matrix. It turns out that you can also use the same matrix to classify testing tools, like this:

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Let’s look at each quadrant, in more detail, starting on the right hand side:

Business/Defects

This quadrant represents those types of tests that identify defects in business (or non-technical) terms. In other words, you don’t need to be a programmer to figure out that there is a defect.

Typically, these tests are not automated. So, there are no automation tools to discuss, here.

Technology/Defects

This quadrant represents those types of tests that identify defects in technical terms. In other words, you probably need to be a programmer to figure out that there is a defect. Therefore, one would expect the tools in this quadrant to be highly technical and to require specialized skills. In fact, there are people who specialize in this work. They are typically called testers; but, their knowledge of programming is often greater than the average developer.

The dominant tool in this space is Mercury LoadRunner. Microsoft also has tools in this space, including the Visual Studio Team Test Load Agent and the Microsoft Web Application Stress tool (MS WAS).

Business/Requirements

This quadrant represents those types of tests that define requirements in business terms. As such, you would expect the tools in this category to be (relatively) non-technical. Business Analysts and end users should be able to use these tools to create automated tests without knowledge of computer programming. In fact, these tests should be written by those team members with the most business expertise.

FIT, FitNesse, STiQ, WebTest and Selenium are all examples of tools that allow tests to be expressed in business terms. All of these tools are well suited to use by Business Analysts.

Technology/Requirements

The testing that takes place in this quadrant defines requirement in technical terms. Therefore, you would expect to see lots of low-level, code-based tools, here. These tools are generally used by computer programmers (e.g. developers and testers).

JUnit and NUnit are the big dogs in this space. Other tools include MSTest, WatiN, MBUnit, xUnit, RSpec (for Ruby), and NUnitASP.

On Source Control and Flow

While working on a new WCF front-end for some legacy software today, I wanted to go look at how another team setup the WIX file for their service. So, I fired up a second copy of Visual Studio and began fighting with AccuBridge. Here’s the sequence of events:

  • Launch Visual Studio
  • Open solution from Start Page
  • Wait...
  • Wait some more...
  • Wait a little while longer...
  • Accept changes that AccuBridge found in the repository
  • Wait...
  • Realize I opened the wrong solution
  • Try to open correct solution
  • No response, just a throbbing AccuRev icon in my status bar

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  • Wait some more...
  • Try to close Visual Studio

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  • Wait a little while longer...
  • Finally, AccuBridge finishes futzing around and allows me to open the correct solution
  • Wait...
  • Wait some more...
  • Wait a little while longer...
  • Accept changes that AccuBridge found in the repository
  • Open the WXS file and find the line of code I need

Without AccuBridge, this process would have taken 2 minutes, tops – even with accidentally opening the wrong solution. With AccuBridge, this process took a rather frustrating 10 minutes. I almost forgot what it was I was looking for.

Some might argue that I should have just popped over to Windows Explorer and viewed the file in Notepad. Others might argue that I should turn off AccuRev integration in Visual Studio. But, neither of those solutions is optimal: one loses syntax highlighting, the other loses source control integration.

It seems to me that the proper solution would be for my source control provider to wait for an explicit command before running off to check the repository for updates. It also seems to me that a plug-in should allow the parent application to close, regardless of what it is trying to do when the end user asks to close the application.

Why these things don’t work this way, I do not know. One thing I do know – it would do wonders for my flow.