New Pluralsight Course - Implementing Feature Toggles in .NET with FeatureToggle

Feature toggles (also referred to as feature flags, flippers, feature switches, etc) are a technique to turn on or off features in applications. One way of categorising feature toggles is whether they are for the benefit of the development team (“release toggles”) or the business/stakeholders (“business toggles”). Release toggles are an alternative/compliment to feature branching and are short lived. Business toggles are long lived and represent application features that are enabled depending on business defined rules.

In my new Pluralsight course Implementing Feature Toggles in .NET with FeatureToggle I talk about the different types of toggles and some general things to consider when using toggles, followed by modules showing how to use the FeatureToggle open source library.

New Pluralsight Course - Introduction to .NET Testing with NUnit

If you are just dipping your toe in the water when it comes to testing .NET applications it can be a bit confusing. In addition to learning how and what to write test, you also have to learn a testing framework such as MSTest, xUnit.net, NUnit, etc.

My new beginner Pluralsight course helps you to get started with testing in .NET and how to use the NUnit testing framework.

Watch the course at the above link or get to it from my Pluralsight author page.

New Pluralsight Course - Automated ASP.NET MVC Testing: End to End

My new Pluralsight course Automated ASP.NET MVC Testing: End to End was just published.

The course looks at tools and techniques to be able to tests models, controller actions, Razor view rendering logic, and implement automated functional UI browser testing.

The course wraps up by showing how to design and implement a continuous integration build in TeamCity that runs the tests created during the course.

Check it out the full table of contents.

Using Cyclomatic Complexity as an Indicator of Clean Code

Cyclomatic complexity is one way to measure how complicated code is, it measures how complicated the structure of the code is and by extension how likely it may be to attract bugs or additional cost in maintenance/readability.

The calculated value for the cyclomatic complexity indicates how many different paths through the code there are. This means that lower numbers are better than higher numbers.

Clean code is likely to have lower cyclomatic complexity that dirty code. High cyclomatic complexity increases the risk of the presence of defects in the code due to increased difficulty in its testability, readability, and maintainability.

Calculating Cyclomatic Complexity in Visual Studio

To calculate the cyclomatic complexity, go to the the Analyze menu and choose Calculate Code Metrics for Solution (or for a specific project within the solution).

This will open the Code Metrics Results window as seen in the following screenshot.

image

Take the following code (in a project called ClassLibrary1):

namespace ClassLibrary1
{
    public class Class1
    {
    }
}

If we expand the results in the Code Metrics Window we can drill down into classes and right down to individual methods as in the following screenshot.

image

More...

The ConditionalWeakTable in .NET

The ConditionalWeakTable class exists in the System.Runtime.CompilerServices namespace and as its namespace suggests is used in compilation processes.

The class allows a key-value pair to be stored (using its Add method), once the key object no longer has any references outside of the ConditionalWeakTable the key can be destroyed during garbage collection as the key is held as a weak reference inside the table, as opposed to a usual strong reference. At this point the key object can be garbage collected. Also at this point, if the value object also has no other references, it too can be collected. Or too quote MSDN: “It does not persist keys. That is, a key is not kept alive only because it is a member of the collection”.

The following code shows a console application followed by its output:

using System;
using System.Runtime.CompilerServices;

namespace ConditionalWeakTableExample
{
    class Program
    {
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            var cwt = new ConditionalWeakTable<SomeKeyClass, SomeValueClass>();

            Console.WriteLine("Creating new instance of SomeKeyClass called key1");
            var key1 = new SomeKeyClass();

            Console.WriteLine("Creating new instance of SomeValueClass called value1");
            var value1 = new SomeValueClass();

            Console.WriteLine("Creating variable anotherReferenceToKey1 referencing key1");
            var anotherReferenceToKey1 = key1;

            Console.WriteLine("Adding key1, value1");
            cwt.Add(key1, value1);




            Console.WriteLine("Press a key to set key1 to null");
            Console.ReadLine();
            key1 = null;
            Console.WriteLine("key1 to null");

            ForceGc();




            Console.WriteLine("Press a key to set anotherReferenceToKey1 to null");
            Console.ReadLine();
            anotherReferenceToKey1 = null;
            Console.WriteLine("anotherReferenceToKey1 to null");

            ForceGc();            




            Console.WriteLine("End of program - press any key to exit");
            Console.ReadLine();
        }


        private static void ForceGc()
        {
            Console.WriteLine("Forcing garbage collection and waiting for finalizers");
            GC.Collect();
            GC.WaitForPendingFinalizers();
        }
    }


    class SomeKeyClass
    {
        ~SomeKeyClass()
        {
            Console.ForegroundColor = ConsoleColor.Red;
            Console.WriteLine("****** SomeKeyClass Destroyed");
            Console.ResetColor();
        }        
    }

    class SomeValueClass
    {
        ~SomeValueClass()
        {
            Console.ForegroundColor = ConsoleColor.Red;
            Console.WriteLine("****** SomeValueClass Destroyed");
            Console.ResetColor();
        }
    }
}

image

 

So here, even though the cwt contains an entry using key1, it is held in a weak way so it will not prevent garbage collection.

Also notice in this example, the value object has not been destroyed as we still have a reference to it in the variable value1.

If we change the code to also set value1 to null, when the Garbage Collector runs it will destroy the key object as before, but now there are also no references to the value object, so it too can be destroyed:

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    var cwt = new ConditionalWeakTable<SomeKeyClass, SomeValueClass>();

    Console.WriteLine("Creating new instance of SomeKeyClass called key1");
    var key1 = new SomeKeyClass();

    Console.WriteLine("Creating new instance of SomeValueClass called value1");
    var value1 = new SomeValueClass();

    Console.WriteLine("Creating variable anotherReferenceToKey1 referencing key1");
    var anotherReferenceToKey1 = key1;

    Console.WriteLine("Adding key1, value1");
    cwt.Add(key1, value1);




    Console.WriteLine("Press a key to set key1 to null");
    Console.ReadLine();
    key1 = null;
    Console.WriteLine("key1 to null");

    ForceGc();




    Console.WriteLine("Press a key to set anotherReferenceToKey1, value1 to null");
    Console.ReadLine();
    anotherReferenceToKey1 = null;
    value1 = null;
    Console.WriteLine("anotherReferenceToKey1 & value1 to null");

    ForceGc();            




    Console.WriteLine("End of program - press any key to exit");
    Console.ReadLine();
}

 

image

 

So even though this is not a class we’d use in everyday coding, it’s one of the many interesting things in .NET that are hidden away in namespaces we don’t usually use. It also should be noted that it doesn’t really behave as a “normal” dictionary, for example it doesn’t contain GetEnumerator method.

To learn some cool C# Tips, check out my free C# Tips eBook or my Pluralsight C# Tips and Traps course.

An Alternative to SQLite in Windows Store Apps

SQLite is a popular embedded database in use in Windows Store and Windows Phone apps, thought it can sometimes be tricky to get setup: there are a few different choices of NuGet packages / Visual Studio extensions to get up and running with.

An alternative embeddable database to use in Windows Store apps is BrightstarDB.

BrightstarDB is embeddable like SQLite but one big difference is that it’s a NoSQL database based on RDF. It still remains accessible to .NET developers via its entity framework like layer that supports niceties such as LINQ. BrightstarDB can also be used in desktop/web applications in addition to Windows Phone (Silverlight) apps.

Usage

First, in a Windows Store project install the NuGet packages: “BrightstarDB” and “BrightstarDB.Platform”

This will install the relevant libraries and will also create a file called “MyEntityContext.tt” which will generate a strongly typed data context for us to work with.

To define an entity, an interface is used and marked with the [Entity] attribute:

[Entity]
interface IToDoItem
{
    string Id { get; }
    string Description { get; set; }
}

Now when the MyEntityContext.tt file is right clicked and the option Run Custom Tool is selected, the MyEntityContext.cs file will be generated that knows how to save and retrieve ToDoItems. Entities can also be defined with relationships.

As a basic user interface that allows creation of a to do and loading existing todos in alphabetical order:

<Page
    x:Class="ToDo.MainPage"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    mc:Ignorable="d">

    <Grid Background="{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}" Width="300">
        <StackPanel>
            <TextBox PlaceholderText="New task description" Name="NewDescription"></TextBox>
            <Button Name="Create" Click ="Create_OnClick">Create</Button>
            <Button Name="Load" Click ="Load_OnClick">Load</Button>
            <ListView Name="Tasks" DisplayMemberPath="Description"></ListView>
        </StackPanel>
    </Grid>
</Page>

To implement the code that saves a new ToDoItem to the embedded database:

private const string _connectionString = "type=embedded;storesDirectory=data;storename=tasksdb";

private void Create_OnClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    using (var ctx = new MyEntityContext(_connectionString))
    {
        var newTask = ctx.ToDoItems.Create();

        newTask.Description = NewDescription.Text;

        ctx.SaveChanges();
    }
}

This click handler creates an instance of the generated MyEntityContext, creates a new entity, sets some property values, and finally calls SaveChanges() to write the changes to the underlying database store. Also note the BrightstarDB connection string field.

To retrieve data:

private void Load_OnClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    using (var ctx = new MyEntityContext(_connectionString))
    {
        Tasks.ItemsSource = ctx.ToDoItems.OrderBy(x => x.Description);                                
    }
}

Here we’re using some LINQ to sort by description and assign the result to the list in the UI.

So if we add the values in the order “Zulu”, “Tango”, “Foxtrot”; when we retrieve them they will look like the following screenshot:

Windows Store app using BrightstarDB

 

For more information check out the documentation or my Introduction to BrightstarDB Pluralsight Course.

Tracking Technical Debt with TechDebtAttributes

Technical debt can build up over time, slows down development speed, and could increase the risk of defects.

If you work in situation where it’s not always possible to create clean code or you’ve inherited a legacy application you may wish to start cataloguing where and how painful tech debt is.

Introducing TechDebtAttributes

image

I just released an initial NuGet version of an open source project called TechDebtAttributes.

It allows attributes to be used to mark classes, methods, etc as containing technical debt.

When the [TechDebt] attribute is applied you need to specify 2 mandatory values: pain and effort to fix.

Pain is a relative measure of how painful the tech debt is; for example how much it slows you down when changing code, how unhappy you are with it, how many defects are caused by it, etc.

Effort to fix is also a relative measure of the ease, amount of effort/time it will take to fix and remove the debt.

Optionally a description of the debt can also be specified.

Once attributes have been applied, a (string) report can be generated:

***Start of Tech Debt Report - finding all [TechDebt] attribute usages

Benefit to fix: 4999.5  AnotherExampleUsageAssembly.Mango Pain:9999 Effort to fix:2
Benefit to fix: 1666.7  Void .ctor() Pain:5000 Effort to fix:3
Benefit to fix: 5 Quick fix to stop stupid stuff happening sometimes Void SomeMethod() Pain:5 Effort to fix:1
Benefit to fix: 2  ExampleUsage.SillyEnum Tomato Pain:47 Effort to fix:23
Benefit to fix: 0.5 What kind of cheese is this? ExampleUsage.Cheese Pain:3 Effort to fix:6
Benefit to fix: 0.4 What exactly is inner cheese ExampleUsage.Cheese+InnerCheese Pain:3 Effort to fix:8
Benefit to fix: 0.3 This really is silly ExampleUsage.SillyEnum Pain:2 Effort to fix:6
Benefit to fix: 0.2 This is dumb, we should remove it ExampleUsage.ISomeDumbInterface Pain:10 Effort to fix:44
Benefit to fix: 0.1 This should be moved to it's own interface Void Y() Pain:10 Effort to fix:100
Benefit to fix: 0 There's a lot of work to fix this whole class for not much gain ExampleUsage.SomeThing Pain:1 Effort to fix:200

***End of Tech Debt Report.

You can also use a method to specify the maximum total pain you’re willing to accept, if the total pain from all [TechDebt] attributes exceeds this an exception will be thrown and your test will fail.

See the Readme on GitHub for more info.

Design Principals in Practice: Source Code Formatting

(This article is part of the Design Principals in Practice series)

We often take for granted, design principles that are in use in the real world; even in source code these principles affect out ability to comprehend the meaning.

I’m not talking specifically about clean code ideas such as well-named Booleans but rather source code at a higher, more visual level.

Let’s take a look at some design principles and how we can (mis)use them.

Proximity

The Gestalt principle of Proximity states that things that are closer to each other seem more related.

Take the following code, there is an automatic sense that method A and B feel related to each other:

public class Class1
{
    public void A()
    {
        //
    }

    public void B()
    {
        //
    }




    public void C()
    {
        //
    }
}

This is because they are in closer proximity to each other, method C feels more distant and unrelated.

The principle of Proximity can be used when declaring varaibles:

public void SomeMethod()
{
    bool isVipCustomer;
    int years;

    string x;

    decimal y;
}

Here,we get a sense that isVipCustomer and years are related, though years should be renamed to something like yearsAtVipStatus rather than relying on Proximity.

Proximity also applies to where variable are declared, for example the traditional approach of declaring them all at the top of the method (low proximity), versus declaring them throughout the method when the are needed (high proximity).

Similarity

Things that are similar in some way seem more related, this similarity could be in shape, size, color, texture, etc.

IDEs such as Visual Studio use similarity of color to help us perceive what a piece of code is; blue for keywords, green for comments etc.

Naming conventions in source code can increase or decrease the level of similarity to other pieces of code. For example, take the following code:

_firstName = "Sarah";
_lastName = "Smith";            
fullName = _firstName + " " + _lastName;

Here we get a sense that _firstName and _lastName are similar somehow (they are fields in the containing class) Also notice here that I’ve deliberately removed whitespace, if we add some whitespace in we also get the principle of Proximity activated:

_firstName = "Sarah";
_lastName = "Smith";       
     
fullName = _firstName + " " + _lastName;

Uniform Connectedness

We can strongly increase the feeling of relatedness using Uniform Connectedness. For example:

image

In this image the dots enclosed inside the line feel strongly related.

In C#, code blocks contain groups of (hopefully) functionally cohesive code. So lines of code are contained inside sets of braces {}.

So, whilst this may be stretching the comparison a little, in some sense the braces are containing and increase the feeling of relatedness. Take the following example:

bool a;
bool b;
bool c;
bool d;

These Booleans feel related due to their proximity, but if we contain them in some additional braces:

{
    bool a;
    bool b;
}
{
    bool c;
    bool d;
}

We now see two strongly distinct groups.

In the age-old argument about one line code blocks in if statements:

if (true) Console.Write("true");

if (true)
    Console.Write("true");

if (true)
{
    Console.Write("true");
}

Whilst people have different opinions on the style here (I currently favour the explicit bottom approach), the bottom example exhibits strong demarcation of the logical condition and the code that gets executed. Though it’s also interesting to note the principle of Proximity in effect in the first example.

Symmetry

Humans tend to like the appearance of symmetry. One style of C# code that always appears jarring to my eyes is the use of unbalanced (asymmetrical) braces. In the code below the first if statement feels less symmetrical than the second:

if (true) {
    Console.Write("true");
}

if (true)
{
    Console.Write("true");
}

If you glance at these two versions (try to ignore the actual code) the bottom example feels more natural, more symmetrical; feel how your eyes are naturally drawn to the centre of the braces. There may of course be an aspect of conditioning here, if you read mostly C# code in the first style (you of course have my condolences) your mind may have become accustomed to it.

Conclusion

Out of all these principles, probably the easiest one to use is that of Proximity. Simply use whitespace to increase or decrease the relatedness of code. It’s amazing sometimes what a simple empty line can do to improve the readability of source code.