ASP.NET vNEXT, Docker, and the Future of Application Development and Deployment

by Oliver 3. November 2014 09:16

It's been an impressive year so far in the realms of software development and deployment, especially with ASP.NET vNEXT enabling per-application bundling of not only the .NET runtime but even the CLR needed for your app Docker standardizing the software delivery process by use of Linux containers (runs on Windows in a VM), (here's A Docker ‘Hello World' With Mono) and now Microsoft announcing native Docker Support for Windows Server Now, it took me a while to understand that we're witnesses of nothing less than a revolution in software development. The Vision: Build Your App Anywhere, Bundle It, and Run It Anywhere (Else) The clouds have been with us for a couple of years now and have started to provide real benefit beyond "moving your stuff to somewhere else". What's emerging now, with Docker and also the new ASP.NET runtime bundling, is something completely new: Application Containers. They don't have either specific OS requirements – Docker will be supported natively on Windows Server soon, ASP.NET runs on Linux today – nor need they a specific technology stack installed on the target machine (as with PaaS) because they bring all of the necessary runtime along. But they're also not large VMs bundled with your application, which carry a significant maintenance overhead (when using IaaS). Virtualized application containers are the sweet spot between IaaS and PaaS. Go ahead and read that post – it's eye-opening.

Visual Studio 2013 Hidden Gems

by Oliver 17. October 2014 23:13

This post is one of several summarizing some of the sessions I attended during the .NET Developer Days conference in October 2014. Check out the rest of them. Here are my notes from a whole day of sessions diving deep into Visual Studio and its possibilities, lead by Kate Gregory: Window positioning When drag'n'dropping windows you can drop them in any place you like, even in a place where VS suggests to dock it to another window group, by holding down the CTRL key and then releasing the mouse button. Using the Start Page Probably 3% of all developers use it but it's gotten better over the years. You can now pin projects to it so they won't fall of the most recently used list, you can remove unneeded projects by right clicking or open its folder if you forgot where you keep it. Also, the start age hides itself once you open a project or a file so you don't have to close it by hand anymore. Navigating Code If you want to go to the definition of a symbol just get your cursor on it and press F12 which is the shortcut for Go To Definition. That will open the file that contains the definition of given symbol. Now, if you want to drill down into a deeper hierarchy and don't care for the intermediate definitions, give Alt+F12 a try – it's the shortcut for Peek Definition and it will open the definition of the given symbol in an iframe type of window right inside the code you're looking at. You can then use that window to follow further definitions without leaving the current point of interest. [Can't find that menu item in the Express edition, though.] Also, give bookmarks a try! There's a bookmark manager where you can give your bookmarks a name, group them into folders and the like. Quite helpful to quickly find your way around a large codebase or for presentations. Finding things There's great inline find window by now in VS that you can control from your keyboard in no time. Use Ctrl+F to open it with the word prefilled that your cursor is currently on or use Ctrl+F3 to search for the next occurrence of the word your cursor is on. This little tool is really worth getting to know well because it can save you a lot of time when looking for stuff or replacing it. Have you noticed the search text box at the top of the Solution Explorer? There's even a shortcut to get there so you don't have to take your hand off the keyboard. Be prepared to find even more search boxes here and there, e.g. the Error List has one, too! Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) Visual Studio Online is a new one-stop solution for hosting projects and collaborating on them in the cloud. It basically offers cloud-based TFS instances. The basic plan is free for up to 5 users in a project with an unlimited number of stakeholders, who are allowed view burndown charts, backlogs, Kanban, and task boards, and may even create new Work Items. It supports, of course, TFVC but also Git for source control. In Visual Studio, use the Team Explorer window to work with your remote TFS, e.g. your Visual Studio Online account, but you can choose to manage your project through a web browser just as well. There's powerful work item editor available online, have a look and take a minute to grasp what all it offers: I'd call it impressive. There's really a ton of features here, and no doubt there are other tools out there to do the same thing. What really cuts it for me: Visual Studio Online is free for up to 5 users and an unlimited number of stakeholders. The integration with Visual Studio is seamless. [You can do pretty much all of the management work either in VS or online.] Sign out of If you're logged into you can log out by opening the drop-down menu next to your login name, choosing "Account settings…" and there clicking "Sign out". Beware that you have to be logged in with a Microsoft account if you want to use the Express version for longer than 30 days. Debugging I'll just put stuff into a list here for better readability: Have you  met the Autos window? Seems not to be included in the Express version but when hitting a breakpoint it offers insight into all variables used on the current line, the previous line and after exiting a function, shows its return value even if you didn't assign to any variable! The Locals window captures the values of all variables defined in the current scope without the need to add them to the Watch window. Press the CTRL key to temporarily hide the variable inspector popup window: -> Pin values from the above window so you'll keep their values in view – even during the next debugging session! Set your cursor on a line of code and choose Run To Cursor from the context menu to continue running your code up until the line with the cursor. Wow! Or choose Set Next Statement to skip all code from the current breakpoint onwards and jump to the selected line. Wow²! Edit + Continue is also great but works only in 32-bit mode :-| IntelliTrace (in the Ultimate edition) allows you to capture execution traces of your software on a client machine and debug (through replaying) the same set of instructions inside your local VS – Kate Gregory called it Time Travel Debugging ;-) That's it from the first day. Happy developing!

Turn Off / Remove Ads in Skype's Chat Window On a Windows OS

by Oliver 19. August 2014 21:37

I've got quite annoyed by seeing the same ad in my Skype chat window and today I simply had enough of it. Going to Google lead me to this Youtube video which shows how to block ads in Skype by denying access to in Internet Explorer. Here's a screen shot, just follow the steps below and you're done: Open Internet Options Switch to the Security tab Select Restricted Sites Click the Sites button Type into the text box Click Add Click Close Click OK For those changes to take effect in Skype you need to leave your chat window e.g. by clicking on your profile in the upper left corner. Now, when you open a chat window no ads will show. There are other ways to stop Skype from showing ads, and here's a really thorough post on that topic. Happy Skype'ing!

Learning Powershell

by Oliver 30. May 2014 21:34

Today, I finally decided that I want to get to grips with PowerShell and have it available in my toolbox for those everyday developer tasks. For a fresh start, I wanted to make sure I'm running the latest and greatest of PowerShell, but how do I find out which version I have installed? What version am I running? Just fire up a PowerShell instance and type $psversiontable or $host.version: PS C:\Windows\system32> $psversiontable Name                           Value ----                           ----- PSVersion                      4.0 WSManStackVersion              3.0 SerializationVersion  CLRVersion                     4.0.30319.18444 BuildVersion                   6.3.9600.16406 PSCompatibleVersions           {1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0} PSRemotingProtocolVersion      2.2 PS C:\Windows\system32> $host.version Major  Minor  Build  Revision -----  -----  -----  -------- 4      0      -1     -1 Actually, when I ran this I didn't have the 4.0 version installed yet. So where did I get it? How to install Powershell 4.0 (the newest version as of mid 2014)? Go here and choose the right link for you: How to Install Windows PowerShell 4.0. That's it. Make use of great tooling: use the ISE Last but not least, especially for those of you who like me are just getting started, make sure you're using the great Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) that comes bundled with PowerShell: Now, get scripting!

Productivity boost with MSBuild: use /maxcpucount

by Oliver 28. January 2014 21:24

This is embarrassing. For the n-th time during the past couple of years I've felt an unease waiting for our projects (read: solutions) to compile. I kept seeing this: This is MSBuild using 1 (!), yes, one!, of the 8 CPU cores I've sitting in my machine to get my work done. What about the other 7? Why don't you use them, MSBuild? With that single core, currently my simple local build of our project discoverize takes around 36 seconds: Tell MSBuild to use all cpu cores Well, it's as easy as adding /m or /maxcpucount to your msbuild command line build to boost your build times:   Down to 8 seconds with 3 additional characters: [space]/m. That's easily a 4.5 times improvement! Your mileage may vary Of course, every project is different, so your speed increase might be higher or a lot lower than what I've seen. But it's an easy measure to get at least some improvement in build times with very little effort. Don't trust Visual Studio on that one, though – the solution builds slowly there, still. For reference, let me tell you, that the /maxcpucount switch can actually take a parameter value like so: /maxcpucount:4. So if you lots of other stuff going on in the background or I don't know for what reason, really, you can limit the number of cpus used by MSBuild. Props to the Orchard team for a highly parallelizable build One of the specifics of the Orchard source code that's the base for discoverize is the very loose coupling between the 70+ projects in the solution. This allows MSBuild to distribute the compilation work to a high number of threads because there are almost no dependencies between the projects that MSBuild would have to respect. Great work! Happy building!

What's Wrong With Our Specification By Example Tests

by Oliver 25. July 2013 11:44

We've been working on our customizable portal software discoverize for about two years now using Orchard CMS. From the beginning we were convinced to use Specification By Example to build up a live documentation of the functionality of our software. This has been very important to us since we plan to drive tens if not hundreds of portals using the same code base. Last year, I've already written about how we do our integration testing. I've also written about why we do browser based testing as opposed to some lower level testing that is in place e.g. in the Orchard.Specs project inside the Orchard source solution. But here we are, a year has passed, and we're still not happy with our approach. Problems we're facing The biggest problem is really that to write an acceptance test for a new feature takes nearly as much time as it takes for the feature to implement. This might be tolerable for mission critical software used in banks or space shuttles, but it's just over the top for a consumer website. On the other hand, we want an insurance that the software we ship contains as few bugs as possible. Development speed down by 50% The websites we generate using our software are quite complex and interactive. This has repeatedly posed challenges on writing robust browser based tests. We chose Coypu over Selenium because it has a cleaner API and handles asynchronous postbacks really well, but its API has still been limiting to us so we regularly find ourselves hacking around those limitations. All of which has to be tested, of course, which takes a noticeable amount of time. Another problem we face is that we need to change our HTML to accommodate for testing. For example, we keep adding id attributes to elements just so we have an easy and reliable way of accessing those elements in our specification tests. This seems not right but that's how we get stuff to work. Test Execution speed too high for continuous feedback The spec test execution time is too high. We're talking about 50-90 seconds per test case if they pass, add another 20-30 secs if they fail (because of the browser automation timeouts). That's a real bummer because it's so easy to loose focus during that time. Additionally, before executing a test suite (or a single test, if that's what you want) we compile and publish our code to a separate destination which the specs run on. This process takes another 45-50 secs which is ok if you run all specs at once but adds significant overhead when working on a single acceptance test. Related to this, we keep having trouble in quickly finding the cause for a broken test because not all of our commits are being pushed through the acceptance tests pipeline since a single run sometimes takes longer than the time between commits. This makes finding the cause for a breaking test harder. Test Fragility keeps us busy Another reoccurring problem are breaking tests due to UI changes. This might be a simply change of CSS, HTML or a JavaScript snippet, but it happens all the time. Also, there are usually at least a couple of tests that break simultaneously because they reuse certain steps which is not only annoying but often misleading as to where the error really comes from. Demoralization All of the above lead to decreases morale both in writing new tests and in fixing broken ones. Which in turn adds even more overhead to the development process. Looking for success stories This post came into existence because we believe in Specification by Example and we also believe that other teams are successfully running integration tests, even by the use of an automated browser. If you're part of such a team, or have any other valuable feedback to share, please do so in the comments. Happy testing!

Get all target names from an MsBuild script – with Powershell

by Oliver 31. July 2012 17:27

Developing our web application using Orchard CMS, I often find myself at the command prompt to run different sets of build actions: in place compilation packaging for stage deploying to a local app instance running spec tests … Sometimes I have trouble remembering the correct target name, so today I set out to attack this simple problem (displaying the names of all target defined in our build script) using Powershell. I’ve long waited for a good occasion to get my hands on it – today was finally the day. Following this inspiring walk-through by the Windows Scripting guy to parse an XML file, I made my first firm steps in Powershell, and after some guesswork I came up with this one-liner that omits the definition of a variable: [xml](Get-Content C:\Projects\discoverize\Discoverize.proj) | Foreach-Object {$} | % {$_.Name} | sort It might help to know that % is an alias for the Foreach-Object cmdlet, and $_ references the item currently piped in. I saved this into a file that from now on I can simply call to get an up-to-date list of build target names.

From batch string replacement to date time formatting – a list of often used web resources

by Oliver 27. June 2012 14:40

This is only the beginning… Batch String replacement: Date formatting T-SQL, using CONVERT or CAST: .NET: Custom Date and Time Format Strings, Standard Date and Time Format Strings Windows Open recent window from taskbar when clicking on icon instead of showing list of open windows: Logging Filters for log4net:

Creating a new module in ‘discoverize’ – using multi-file templates and good ol’ batch scripts

by Oliver 15. July 2011 09:07

For our portal software discoverize I was looking for a way to create new modules faster and more reliably. The basic structure would always be the same, so a Visual Studio multi-file template seemed appropriate: Well, unfortunately I didn’t find a way to create new folders with that approach. Multi-file templates really do what they say: they create multiple files from templates. Nothing else. So I put together a short batch script that would create the directory structure needed for any new module: I can quickly open a new command line window by using any one of several Visual Studio extensions (e.g. PowerCommands for Visual Studio 2010): … and simply run: Now going back to Visual Studio we have to include the new Feature folder in the project: Then hit Ctrl + Shift + A to open the Add New Item dialog, select ‘Discoverize Module’ and type Feature in the Name textbox (unfortunately, there seems to be no easy way to automatically put the name of the folder inside that textbox): This step will generate three code files, that are the backbone of every module: FeatureConfig.cs, FeatureModule.cs, and FeatureViews.cs. Finally, our multi-file item template comes into play! Handling the multi-file template The multi-file item template for a new module consists of four files: the template definition file Module.vstemplate and the template code files Config.cs, Module.cs, and Views.cs: Those four files have to be packed into a zip file and copied to a folder underneath %UserProfile%\My Documents\Visual Studio 2010\Templates\ItemTemplates\ – I put this one into Visual C#\Code. That’s how it appeared under the Visual C# –> Code section in the Add New Item dialog. Since it is somewhat cumbersome to zip and copy updated versions of the template (especially during early development where I keep adjusting and tuning the template code), I put together another batch file that does that for me. It basically does three things: Get the name of current folder to use as name for the zip file (found the solution here) Use 7-zip to zip the four files. Copy the zip file to the VS custom template directory. The real script contains some safety nets and more output so that in case it won’t work across all developer machines I can get quick feedback as to what exactly didn’t work instead of just “it didn’t work”. Happy Coding!

The Teamaton tool belt: a collection of small but useful tools for every day development and administration

by Oliver 26. January 2011 20:30

Today: a simple hosts file editor Today I set up a new project on GitHub: the Teamaton tool belt! It shall serve us as a central store for small tools, probably mostly command-line, built for a single purpose. The first tool in our new tool belt is: HostsEditor. I wrote this small command line utility after reading this blog post: We were looking for an easy way to edit the Windows hosts file from a script for a larger development environment setup that we wanted to fully automate including IIS website, bindings and new entries in the said hosts file. Of course, for a one-timer echo does the job, but don’t try to run the setup script twice on the same maching – you’ll get duplicate entries very quickly. Reading about how other people are asking the author of the above post how to avoid the duplicates or how to erase entries from the hosts file, I set out to simply write such a utility myself and share it with the rest of the world. If there is one other person out there to whom it will be useful I will be happy. So, HostsEditor does the following: Adds and removes entries to and from the Windows hosts file. Automatically backs up the original hosts file to hosts.bck. Does not add duplicate entries; instead prints a warning. For usage in automation scripts there is /q switch to suppress all info messages. That’s all there is to it for now. But there’s more to come! Stay tuned, Oliver

About Oliver code blog logo I build web applications using ASP.NET and have a passion for jQuery. Enjoy MVC 4 and Orchard CMS, and I do TDD whenever I can. I like clean code. Love to spend time with my wife and our daughter. My profile on Stack Exchange, a network of free, community-driven Q&A sites

About Anton code blog logo I'm a software developer at teamaton. I code in C# and work with MVC, Orchard, SpecFlow, Coypu and NHibernate. I enjoy beach volleyball, board games and Coke.