Stories about Software


The Wrong Thing more Efficiently is Still the Wrong Thing

Editorial Note: I originally wrote this post for the Infragistics blog.  Go check out the original post on their site and take a look around while you’re there to see some of the other authors posting interesting things.

Let’s say that, like many folks, one of your first tasks each morning is dealing with your email. You arrive at the office, grab yourself a coffee, and settle in to complete this ubiquitous modern task.

Naturally, the first thing you do is open your inbox. Then you open each unread email, select all, and copy it. Next, you open a new instance of Visual Studio, create a console project, add a text file to it, and paste the email text into that text file. By the end of doing this, you have somewhere between 2 and 20 instances of Visual Studio running, depending on how many unread emails you have. At this point, you’re ready to read the emails, so you alt-tab among the VS instances, closing each one after you’ve read the email.

This system works well for you, but there are two major drawbacks. First of all, it’s a real hassle to have to create a new project and a text file manually, and then open the text file. It’d be awesome if there were a way that you could make Visual Studio do this for you. And secondly, all of those instances of Visual Studio have a tendency to cause your machine to thrash, and they sometimes just crash.


What to do? I’ll come back to that.

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How To Put Your Favorite Source Code Goodies on Nuget

A while back, I made a post encouraging people to get fed up every now and then and figure out a better way of doing something. Well, tonight I take my own advice. I am sick and tired of rifling through old projects to find code that I copy and paste into literally every non-trivial .NET solution that I create. There’s a thing for this, and it’s called Nuget. I use it all the time to consume other people’s code, libraries and utilities, but not my own. Nope, for my own, I copy and paste stuff from other projects. Not anymore. This ends now.

My mission tonight is to take a simple bit of code that I add to all my unit test projects and to make it publicly available view Nuget. Below is the code. Pretty straightforward and unremarkable. For about 5 versions of MSTest, I’ve hated the “ExpectedException” attribute for testing that something throws an exception. It’s imprecise. All it tests is that somewhere, anywhere, in the course of execution, an exception of the type in question is thrown. Could be on the first line of the method, could be on the last, could happen in the middle from something nested 8 calls deep in the call stack. Who knows? Well, I want to know and be precise, so here’s what I do instead:

Now, let’s put this on Nuget somehow. I found my way to this link, with instructions. Having no idea what I’m doing (though I did play with this once, maybe a year and a half ago), I’m going with the GUI option even though there’s also a command line option. So, I downloaded the installer and installed the Nuget package explorer.

From there, I followed the link’s instructions, more or less. I edited the package meta data to include version info, ID, author info, and a description. Then, I started to play around with the “Framework Assemblies” section, but abandoned that after a moment. Instead, I went up to Content->Add->Existing file and added ExtendedAssert. Once I saw the source code pop up, I was pretty content (sorry about the little Grindstone timer in the screenshot — didn’t notice ’til it was too late):


Next up, I ran Tools->Analyze Package. No issues found. Not too shabby for someone with no idea what he’s doing! Now, to go for the gusto — let’s publish this sucker. File->Publish and, drumroll please…. ruh roh. I need something called a “Publish Key” to publish it to nuget.org.


But, as it turns out, getting an API key is simple. Just sign up at nuget.org and you get one. I used my Microsoft account to sign up. I uploaded my DaedTech logo for the profile picture and tweaked a few settings and got my very own API key (found by clicking on my account name under the “search packages” text box at the top). There was even a little clipboard logo next to it for handy copying, and I copied it into the window shown above, and, viola! After about 20 seconds, the publish was successful. I’d show you a screenshot, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to keep the API key a secret. Better safe than sorry. Actually, belay that last thought — you are supposed to keep it a secret. If you click on “More Info” under your API key, it says, and I quote:

Your API key provides you with a token that identifies you to the gallery. Keep this a secret. You can always regenerate your key at any time (invalidating previous keys) if your token is accidentally revealed.

Emphasis mine — turns out my instinct was right. And, sorry for the freewheeling nature of this post, but I’m literally figuring this stuff out as I type, and I thought it might make for an interesting read to see how someone else pokes around at this kind of experimenting.

Okay, now to see if I can actually get that thing. I’m going to create a brand new test project in Visual Studio and see if I can install my beloved ExtendedAssert through Nuget, now.


Holy crap, awesome! I’m famous! (Actually, that was so easy that I kind of feel guilty — I thought it’d be some kind of battle, like publishing a phone app or something). But, the moment of truth was a little less exciting. I installed the package, and it really didn’t do anything. My source code file didn’t appear. Hmmm…

After a bit of googling, I found this stack overflow question. Let’s give that a try, optimistically upvoting the question and accepted answer before I forget. I right clicked in the “package contents” window, added a content folder, and then dragged ExtendedAssert into that folder. In order to re-publish, I had to rev the version number, so I revved the patch decimal, since this is a hot patch to cover an embarrassing release if I’ve ever seen one. No time for testing on my machine or a staging environment — let’s slam this baby right into production!

Woohoo! It worked and compiled! Check it out:


But, there’s still one sort of embarrassing problem — V1.0.1 has the namespace from whichever project I picked rather than the default namespace for the assembly. That’s kind of awkward. Let’s go back to google and see about tidying that up. First hit was promising. I’m going to try replacing the namespace with a “source code transformation” as shown here:


Then, according to the link, I also need to change the filename to ExtendedAssert.cs.pp (this took me another publish to figure out that I won’t bore you with). Let’s rev again and go into production. Jackpot! Don’t believe me? Go grab it yourself.

The Lessons Here

A few things I’ll note at this point. First off, I recall that it’s possible to save these packages locally and for me to try them before I push to Nuget. I should definitely have done that, so there’s a meta-lesson here in that I fell into the classic newbie trap of thinking “oh, this is simple and it’ll just work, so I’ll push it to the server.” I’m three patches in and it’s finally working. Glad I don’t have tens of thousands of users for this thing.

But the biggest thing to take away from this is that Nuget is really easy. I had no idea what I was doing and within an hour I had a package up. For the last 5 years or so, every time I start a new project, I’d shuffle around on the machine to find another ExtendedAssert.cs that I could copy into the new project. If it’s a new machine, I’d email it to myself. A new job? Have a coworker at the old one email it to me. Sheesh, barbaric. And I put up with it for years, but not anymore. Given how simple this is, I’m going to start making little Nuget packages for all my miscellaneous source code goodies that I transport with me from project to project. I encourage you to do the same.


Failed to Open storage.ide

I don’t make a lot of “lessons learned” posts anymore, but here’s hoping this quick post saves some of you out there a headache when you get this message and google it.

A few weeks back, I had an issue with the Git source code provider in Visual Studio and tweeted about it here (though in my haste/ire, I incorrectly described it as “tfs-git”):

It was a weird problem, because I’d been hitting that code base from 3 machines, each with the same version of Visual Studio installed. One of them never had any problems, and the other two always bombed out with this message, forcing me to go into the command line and committing from there, which worked. I have no idea what’s different among these machines and why it would work on one but not the others. Weird.

A long way down in the reply chain, Buck Hodges provided the answer that worked:

Sure enough, I went in and added this to my .ignore file, and it did the trick. This never would have occurred to me, however, as a possible solution. That whole directory and all of the files in it were created by the IDE-Source control apparatus anyway. It’s not like I went in there and created those files, and it’s not like I was using them for anything. I actually would have assumed they would already be in that auto-generated .ignore file. I mean, this is sort of like the IDE saying to me, “I can’t check in your code because this file I created without your knowledge is being used… by me.” (When troubleshooting, I investigated which process was using the file, and the only one was Visual Studio).

Nevertheless, I was grateful for the fast response and the fix that worked, so I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.


Introduction to Unit Testing Part 2: Let’s Write a Test

In the last post in this series, I covered the essentials of unit testing without diving into the topic in any real detail. The idea was to offer sort of a guerrilla guide to what unit testing is for those who don’t know but feel they should. Continuing on that path and generating material for my upcoming presentation, I’m going to continue with the introduction.

In the previous post, I talked about what unit testing is and isn’t, what its actual purpose is, and what some best practices are. This is like explaining the Grand Canyon to someone that isn’t familiar with it. You now know enough to say that it’s a big hole in the earth that provides some spectacular views and that you can hike down into it, seeing incredible shifts in flora and fauna as you go. You can probably convince someone you’ve been there in a casual conversation, even without having seen it. But, you won’t really get it until you’re standing there, speechless. With unit testing, you won’t really get it until you do it and get some benefit out of it.

So, Let’s Write that Test

Let’s say that we have a class called PrimeFinder. (Anyone who has watched my Pluralsight course will probably recognize that I’m recycling the example class from there.) This class’s job is to determine whether or not numbers are prime, and it looks like this:

Wow, that’s pretty dense looking code. If we take the method at face value, it should tell us whether a number is prime or not. Do we believe the method? Do we have any way of knowing that it works reliably, apart from running an entire application, finding the part that uses it, and poking at it to see if anything blows up? Probably not, if this is your code and you needed my last post to understand what a unit test was. But this is a pretty simple method in a pretty simple class. Doesn’t it seem like there ought to be a way to make sure it works?

I know what you’re thinking. You have a scratchpad and you copy and paste code into it when you want to experiment and see how things work. Fine and good, but that’s a throw-away effort that means nothing. It might even mislead when your production code starts changing. And checking might not be possible if you have a lot of dependencies that come along for the ride.

But never fear. We can write a unit test. Now, you aren’t going to write a unit test just anywhere. In Visual Studio, what you want to do is create a unit test project and have it refer to your code. So if the PrimeFinder class is in a project called Daedtech.Production, you would create a new unit test project called DaedTech.Production.Test and add a project reference to Daedtech.Production. (In Java, the convention isn’t quite as cut and dry, but I’m going to stick with .NET since that’s my audience for my talk). You want to keep your tests out of your production code so that you can deploy without also deploying a bunch of unit test code.

Once the test class is in place, you write something like this, keeping in mind the “Arrange, Act, Assert” paradigm described in my previous post:

The TestMethod attribute is something that I described in my last post. This tells the test runner that the method should be executed as a unit test. The rest of the method is pretty straightforward. The arranging is just declaring an instance of the class under test (commonly abbreviated CUT). Sometimes this will be multiple statements if your CUTs are more complex and require state manipulation prior to what you’re testing. The acting is where we test to see what the method returns when we pass it a value of 1. The asserting is the Assert.IsFalse() line where we instruct the unit test runner that a value of false for result means the test should pass, but true means that it should fail since 1 is not prime.

Now, we can run this unit test and see what happens. If it passes, that means that it’s working correctly, at least for the case of 1. Maybe once we’re convinced of that, we can write a series of unit tests for a smattering of other cases in order to convince ourselves that this code works. And here’s the best part: when you’re done exploring the code with your unit tests to see what it does and convince yourself that it works (or perhaps you find a bug during your testing and fix the code), you can check the unit tests into source control and run them whenever you want to make sure the class is still working.

Why would you do that? Well, might be that you or someone else later starts playing around with the implementation of IsPrime(). Maybe you want to make it faster. Maybe you realize it doesn’t handle negative numbers properly and aim to correct it. Maybe you realize that method is written in a way that’s clear as mud and you want to refactor toward readability. Whatever the case may be, you now have a safety net. No matter what happens, 1 will never be prime, so the unit test above will be good for as long as your production code is around–and longer. With this test, you’ve not only verified that your production code works now; you’ve also set the stage for making sure it works later.

Resist the Urge to Write Kitchen Sink Tests


When I talked about a smattering of tests, I bet you had an idea. I bet your idea was this:

After all, it’s wasteful and inefficient to write a method for each case that you want to test when you could write a loop and iterate more succinctly. It’ll run faster, and it’s more concise from a coding perspective. It has every advantage that you’ve learned about in your programming career. This must be good. Right?

Well, not so much, counterintuitive as that may seem. In the first place, when you’re running a bunch of unit tests, you’re generally going to see their result in a unit test runner grid that looks something like a spreadsheet. Or perhaps you’ll see it in a report. If when you’re looking at that, you see a failure next to “IsPrime_Returns_False_For_12” then you immediately know, at a glance, that something went wrong for the case of 12. If, instead, you see a failure for “Test_A_Bunch_Of_Primes”, you have no idea what happened without further investigation. Another problem with the looping approach is that you’re masking potential failures. In the method above, what information do you get if the method is wrong for both 2 and 17? Well, you just know that it failed for something. So you step through in the debugger, see that it failed for 2, fix that, and move on. But then you wind up right back there because there were actually two failures, though only one was being reported.

Unit test code is different from regular code in that you’re valuing clarity and the capture of intent and requirements over brevity and compactness. As you get comfortable with unit tests, you’ll start to give them titles that describe correct functionality of the system and you’ll use them as kind of a checklist for getting code right. It’s like your to-do list. If every box is checked, you feel pretty good. And you can put checkboxes next to statements like “Throws_Exception_When_Passed_A_Null_Value” but not next to “Test_Null”.

There are some very common things that new unit testers tend to do for a while before things click. Naming test methods things like “Test_01” and having dozens of asserts in them is very high on the list. This comes from heavily procedural thinking. You’ll need to break out of that to realize the benefit of unit testing, which is inherently modular because it requires a complete breakdown into components to work. If nothing else, remember that it’s, “Arrange, Act, Assert,” not, “Arrange, Act, Assert, Act, Assert, Assert, Assert, Act, Act, Assert, Assert, Act, Assert, etc.”


The gist of this installment is that unit tests can be used to explore a system, understand what it does, and then guard to make sure the system continues to work as expected even when you are others are in it making changes later. This helps prevent unexpected side effects during later modification (i.e. regressions). We’ve also covered that unit tests are generally small, simple and focused, following the “Arrange, Act, Assert” pattern. No one unit test is expected to cover much ground–that’s why you build a large suite of them.


Introduction to Web API: Yes, It’s That Easy

REST Web Services Are Fundamental

In my career, I’ve sort of drifted like a wraith among various technology stacks and platforms, working on web sites, desktop apps, drivers, or even OS/kernel level stuff. Anything that you might work on has its enthusiasts, its peculiar culture, and its best practices and habits. It’s interesting to bop around a little and get some cross-pollination so that you can see concepts that are truly transcendent and worth knowing. In this list of concepts, I might include Boolean logic, the DRY principle, a knowledge of data structures, the publish/subscribe pattern, resource contention, etc. I think that no matter what sort of programmer you are, you should be at least aware of these things as they’re table stakes for reasoning well about computer automation at any level.

Add REST services to that list. That may seem weird when compared with the fundamental concepts I’ve described above, but I think it’s just as fundamental. At its core, REST embodies a universal way of saying, “here’s a thing, and here’s what you can do to that thing.” When considered this way, it’s not so different from “DRY,” or “data structures,” or “publish/subscribe” (“only define something once,” “here are different ways to organize things,” and, “here’s how things can do one way communication,” respectively). REST is a powerful reasoning concept that’s likely to be at the core of our increasing connectedness and our growing “internet of things.”

So even if you write kernel code or Winforms desktop apps or COBOL or something, I think it’s worth pausing, digressing a little, and understanding a very shallow-dive into how this thing works. It’s worth doing once, quickly, so you at least understand what’s possible. Seriously. Spend three minutes doing this right now. If you stumbled across this on google while looking for an introduction to Web API, skim no further, because here’s how you can create your very own REST endpoint with almost no work.

Getting Started with Web API

Prerequisites for this exercise are as follows:

  1. Visual Studio (I’m using 2012 Professional)
  2. Fiddler

With just these two tools, you’re going to create a REST web service, run it in a server, make a valid request, and receive a valid response. This is going to be possible and stupid-easy by virtue of a framework called Web API.

  1. Fire up Visual Studio and click “New->Project”.
  2. Select “Web” under Visual C# and then Choose “ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Application”
    MVC Project
  3. Now, choose “Web API” as the template and click “OK” to create the project.

  4. You will see a default controller file created containing this class:
    [gist id=”5167466″]
  5. Hit F5 to start IIS express and your web service. It will launch a browser window that takes you to the default page and explains a few things to you about REST. Copy the URL, which will be http://localhost:12345, where 12345 is your local port number that the server is running on.
  6. Now launch fiddler and paste the copied URL into the URL bar next to the dropdown showing “GET” and add api/values after it. Go to the request header section and add “Content-Type: application-json” and press Execute (near top right)
    (Note — I corrected the typo in the screenshots after I had already taken and uploaded them)
  7. A 200 result will appear in the results panel at the left. Double click it and you’ll see a little tree view with a JSON and “value1” and “value2” under it as children. Click on the “Raw” view to see the actual text of the response.

  8. What you’re looking at is the data returned by the “Get()” method in your controller as a raw HTTP response. If you switch to “TextView”, you’ll see just the JSON [“value1″,”value2”] which is what this thing will look like to most JSON-savvy parsing tools.

So what’s all of the fuss about? Why am I so enamored with this concept?

Well, think about what you’ve done here without actually touching a line of code. Imagine that I deployed this thing to http://www.daedtech.com/api/values. If you want to know what values I had available for you, all you’d need to do is send a GET request to that URL, and you’d get a bare-bones response that you could easily parse. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for me to get rid of those hard-coded values and read them from a file, or from a database, or the National Weather Service, or from Twitter hashtag “HowToGetOutOfAConversation,” or anything at all. Without writing any code at all, I’ve defined a universally accessible “what”–a thing–that you can access.

We generally think of URLs in the context of places where we go to get HTML, but they’re rapidly evolving into more than that. They’re where we go to get a thing. And increasingly, the thing that they get is dictated by the parameters of the request and the HTTP verb supplied (GET, POST, etc.–I won’t get too detailed here). This is incredibly powerful because we’re eliminating the question “where” and decoupling “how” from “what” on a global scale. There’s only one possible place on earth you can go to get the Daedtech values collection, and it’s obviously at daedtech.com/api/values. You want a particular value with id 12? Well, clearly that’s at daedtech.com/api/values/12–just send over a GET if you want it. (I should note you’ll just 404 if you actually try these URLs.)

So take Web API for a test drive and kick the tires. Let the powerful simplicity of it wash over you a bit, and then let your mind run wild with the architectural possibilities of building endpoints that can talk to each other without caring about web server, OS, programming language, platform, device-type, protocol setup and handshaking, or really anything but the simple, stateless HTTP protocol. No matter what kind of programming you do at what level, I imagine that you’re going to need information from the internet at some point in the next ten years–you ought to learn the basic mechanics of getting it.