Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Microsoft want to know if Rapid XAML Toolkit functionality is useful


The Rapid XAML Toolkit is a developer tool I've been working on but haven't been very good (yet) at promoting.

It does a few things, including providing the ability to generate XAML for a [view]model and provide additional issue detection with code fixes, the way Roslyn Code Analysis does with C# (& VB.Net).

Anyway, as they do from time to time, Microsoft is currently carrying out a developer survey relating to Data Binding to data in Windows Desktop Applications.

There's a very interesting option for an answer to one of the questions (image below)

Which, if any, of these items would help with application development? [ ] Generation of XAML templates from data model with bindings to properties

That's one of the things that you can already do with the Rapid XAML Toolkit!
And the Rapid XAML Toolkit is hosted in a Microsoft owned repository!

Clearly, RXT needs better promotion within the Visual Studio tooling team. I'll get on that, and you can help too.


If you develop Desktop apps, build with XAML, or otherwise work with databases on Windows, please fill out the survey, and be sure to select the option above.


Friday, October 25, 2019

How testing helps - a real world example

I've been thinking about software testing recently and found the number of real-world examples of how it's been used to be lacking. So, here's an example with real numbers to show the difference that having tests makes.

I have a project (Rapid XAML Toolkit) that does some complicated things. I've often said that I couldn't have built the functionality that's there without having tests for it. To back that up, I want to share some stats and show how having tests has helped over time.

The functionality in question uses Roslyn Code Analysis to look at C# and VB.Net code and generates XAML based on it.

The current functionality only generates XAML based on properties and ignores methods. To meet a new requirement, the tool now needs the ability to be able to generate XAML for some methods too. Testing to the rescue.

Background

The current functionality might seem quite simple, look at the code file, find the properties, and generate some XAML. At that level, it is, but there are some configurable options for what is generated that add complexity, and there are probably more ways to write properties in code than you may at first consider.

It's not the most complicated thing in the world, but it's definitely more complicated than something I can keep entirely in my head and not a group of scenarios I'd want to manage or have to repeatedly test by myself.

I've known business logic much more complicated.

Before making this new change, there were 744 tests on the code.
I created these tests when writing the original functionality. The value of these tests is that they document what the correct behavior of the code should be. These were mostly created before the feature was fully implemented, and it provided a way of knowing when the code correctly did everything it should when all the tests passed.

How these tests helped in the past

These tests contain many examples of input for different scenarios and the output they are supposed to produce when everything works correctly.

If I didn't have executable [unit] tests, I could have created documents that explained how to test everything manually, but the documentation requirement would have come with its own management overhead. Running the tests would have been time-consuming and error-prone because, well, I'm human.

In addition to the tests mentioned above, I also have a separate test process that crawls all the code files on my machine and ensures they can be processed without any unexpected scenarios being encountered that could cause the code to fail.
This has found a couple of instances where code was structured in a way I'd never encountered before. These examples became test cases, and then I changed the code to fix them. This was done in the knowledge that I could tell if my changes made to cover the new scenario changed any existing functionality because the current tests would start failing.

There have been a couple of times where other people have found scenarios I'd not considered and were not covered by the code. You might know these as bugs. How did I fix them quickly? Well, by adding new tests to document the correct behavior for the new input scenario, then changing the code to make the latest (and all existing) tests pass.

Adding new functionality

Getting back to the new functionality I need to add.
The requirements are:
  1. Add the ability to generate XAML for some methods in C# code.
  2. Add the ability to generate XAML for some methods in VB.Net code.
  3. Don't break any of the existing functionality.
Having the existing test suite makes point 3 really easy and quick to verify. If any existing tests start failing, I know I've broken something. They only take a few seconds to run, and I don't have to worry about making any mistakes when running the tests.

The first thing I encountered was that there were four existing tests related to the new functionality. These dictated what should previously be done when a method that will now be treated differently is encountered. As this functionality is changing, these tests no longer served any use and so were deleted. I'm always very cautious about deleting tests, but as these would be replaced with new tests that defined the new desired functionality, so that's ok.

I was able to define all the requirements for the C# version of the new functionality by creating tests for each of the new requirements.
This meant 14 more tests were added.
I then changed the code to add the required functionality.
Once all the new tests were added and passing (which took a few days worth of work), I knew all the new functionality worked correctly.

Adding the VB version was even easier.
I took a copy of the new C# tests and converted them to VB.
With a complete set of VB tests and a reference implementation in C#, implementing the VB functionality, verifying it was correct, and all other functionality still worked in the same way (i.e. I hadn't accidentally broken anything) took less time than writing this blog post!



I now have 767 tests that document all the current, correct behavior.
Not only have these saved me development time while adding features by avoiding the need for me to repeatedly manually verify that everything created previously hasn't been accidentally changed.
But they also have value for the future.

The Future

The next time I need to add a feature, fix a bug, or ensure an edge-case I hadn't accounted for before is handled correctly, I can make sure that I don't break (or change) any existing functionality in just a few seconds.

If I didn't have tests, any future changes would require that I manually verify that all existing functionality still all worked the same way. The reality of performing such tests myself is that the following would happen.

  • It would take ages. (I estimate a couple of days--at least.)
  • I'm not confident I wouldn't make mistakes and so not test everything accurately.
  • I'd get bored. Which would diminish my enthusiasm for the project, future changes, and responding to support issues.
  • I'd be tempted to skip some tests. This could lead to changes in functionality, accidentally getting into the software.

It's not that I'm too lazy to test manually; I just value my time and the quality of the software too much to not create automated tests.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Deserializing generic interfaces with System.Text.Json

.Net Core 3.0 introduces new JSON (de)serialization classes in the System.Text.Json Namespace.

These are high-performance classes for working with JSON. If you really don't want to use JSON.Net or need to get the most from your serialization performance you may want to consider them.

As they're new, documentation isn't a thorough as other JSON solutions and some things work a bit differently.

One thing that's particularly non-obvious is how to deserialize to a generic interface of interfaces.
e.g. an `IList<ISomething>`.

This is a problem I was recently challenged with.

It's easy to use a converter to deserialize a single interface to a concrete type with an attribute on the property.


   [JsonConverter(typeof(InterfaceConverter<FormattedDate, IFormattedDate>))]
   public IFormattedDate Opened { get; set; }


   ...

   class FormattedDate : IFormattedDate
   {
       public string DateValue { get; set; }
   }

   interface IFormattedDate
   {
       string DateValue { get; set; }
   }

   public class InterfaceConverter<M, I> : JsonConverter<I> where M : class, I
   {
        public override I Read(ref Utf8JsonReader reader, Type typeToConvert, JsonSerializerOptions options)
        {
            return JsonSerializer.Deserialize<M>(ref reader, options);
        }

        public override void Write(Utf8JsonWriter writer, I value, JsonSerializerOptions options) { }
   }

However, this doesn't work with generic interfaces.

For this, we need to use a converter factory. Actually, we need two, but first, what is a converter factory?

A converter factory takes a type (class, property, etc.) and can return a converter to use to serialize (write) or deserialize (read) instances of that type.

Rather than use attributes to tell when to use the converter, the factories are passed to the serialization methods.

    var serializerOptions = new JsonSerializerOptions
    {
        Converters = {
            new InterfaceConverterFactory(typeof(FormattedDate), typeof(IFormattedDate)),
            new IListInterfaceConverterFactory(typeof(IFormattedDate)),
            }
    };

    var goodObj = JsonSerializer.Deserialize<GoodObject>(json, serializerOptions);

Above, you can see two converter factories and this is what we need for our particular problem.
During the [de]serialization of a type, the serializer will ask the factory if there is a converter for the type.

    class GoodObject
    {
        [JsonConverter(typeof(Converters.InterfaceConverter<FormattedDate, IFormattedDate>))]
        public IFormattedDate Opened { get; set; }

        public IList<IFormattedDate> ImportantEvents { get; set; }
    }

The handling of types during [de]serialization happens at the broadest level first, so to deserialize the `ImportantEvents` in the above class the serializer will look for a converter for `GoodObject`, `IList`, and `IFormattedDate` in that order, assuming that the type has not already been handled by an earlier converter. This knowledge is enough to solve the problem.

Adding a converter to deserialize an `IList<I>` into a `List<I>` is the first step.

    public class ListConverter<M> : JsonConverter<IList<M>>
    {
        public override IList<M> Read(ref Utf8JsonReader reader, Type typeToConvert, JsonSerializerOptions options)
        {
            return JsonSerializer.Deserialize<List<M>>(ref reader, options);
        }

        public override void Write(Utf8JsonWriter writer, IList<M> value, JsonSerializerOptions options)
        {
            throw new NotImplementedException();
        }
    }

Then we need an appropriate factory to create this converter.

    public class IListInterfaceConverterFactory : JsonConverterFactory
    {
        public IListInterfaceConverterFactory(Type interfaceType)
        {
            this.InterfaceType = interfaceType;
        }

        public Type InterfaceType { get; }

        public override bool CanConvert(Type typeToConvert)
        {
            if (typeToConvert.Equals(typeof(IList<>).MakeGenericType(this.InterfaceType))
             && typeToConvert.GenericTypeArguments[0].Equals(this.InterfaceType))
            {
                return true;
            }

            return false;
        }

        public override JsonConverter CreateConverter(Type typeToConvert, JsonSerializerOptions options)
        {
            return (JsonConverter)Activator.CreateInstance(
                typeof(ListConverter<>).MakeGenericType(this.InterfaceType));
        }
    }

Because this will return a concrete list of interfaces and the serializer doesn't know how to handle those interfaces, it will ask the registered factories if they can provide a converter. We can use the converter we originally used in an attribute, we just need to add a factory to create it.

    public class InterfaceConverterFactory : JsonConverterFactory
    {
        public InterfaceConverterFactory(Type concrete, Type interfaceType)
        {
            this.ConcreteType = concrete;
            this.InterfaceType = interfaceType;
        }

        public Type ConcreteType { get; }
        public Type InterfaceType { get; }

        public override bool CanConvert(Type typeToConvert)
        {
            return typeToConvert == this.InterfaceType;
        }

        public override JsonConverter CreateConverter(Type typeToConvert, JsonSerializerOptions options)
        {
            var converterType = typeof(InterfaceConverter<,>).MakeGenericType(this.ConcreteType, this.InterfaceType);

            return (JsonConverter)Activator.CreateInstance(converterType);
        }
    }

Now we can deserialize a provided string.

    var json = "{\"Opened\":{\"DateValue\":\"2019-10-21T13:35\"}, \"ImportantEvents\":[{\"DateValue\":\"2019-10-21T13:36\"},{\"DateValue\":\"2019-10-21T13:37\"}]}";

    var serializerOptions = new JsonSerializerOptions
    {
        Converters = {
            new InterfaceConverterFactory(typeof(FormattedDate), typeof(IFormattedDate)),
            new IListInterfaceConverterFactory(typeof(IFormattedDate)),
            }
    };

    var goodObj = JsonSerializer.Deserialize<GoodObject>(json, serializerOptions);

Yay!






Thursday, September 19, 2019

Rapid XAML Toolkit - Now in preview!

Oh, the joy when a side project reaches a release milestone.

The Rapid XAML Toolkit is a collection of tools (hence the name) for helping with XAML development. The idea is to help fill some of the gaps in the current, MS provided tooling.

Today I'm in Montreal at #UnoConf (actually on stage as this post goes live) talking about this project and the great news is that there's now a preview version available that you can download and try it out yourself. Get it in the Visual Studio Marketplace now.

VS Extension search results showing the Rapid XAML (Preview) entry

This is an official-unofficial preview. There will be an official (signed by Microsoft*) version shortly.

So, what does it do?

There are two main things it does: XAML Generation and XAML Analysis.

It can create a stub UI from the ViewModel based on the types, names, and accessibility of the properties. Highlight the properties, copy them (as XAML) and then paste them on the view, where you want. Or just drag the VM (from solution explorer) onto the designer.
If you write your ViewModels before the Views, this should save you some time. It won't be the final UI for your app, but it's a big step in the right direction.

Additionally, it can perform analysis on XAML in the same way that Roslyn Code Analyzers do for C# and VB. You'll see squiggly lines under issues or places for improvement like in the image below. As you'd expect, you can press ctrl+. and access suggested actions to automatically make the proposed changes.

Screenshot showing XAML analysis errors

It works with UWP, WPF, and Xamarin.Forms.

If you use XAML to build apps in Visual Studio (on Windows), I'd love if you could try it out and share your thoughts, experience, suggestions, comments, or anything else on GitHub.


Sound good?


* There's a complicated relationship with Microsoft and me regarding this project. The code is all open-source on GitHub (MIT Licensed) under the Microsoft org account. I've written most of it. They're (eventually) going to publish it. The long term situation is still under discussion.

---

Fun bonus image that also relates to something I showed in my UnoConf talk, which I'll leave open to your interpretation.

Cross-Platform Template Studio - name TBC


Thursday, July 18, 2019

UWP inline design-time data - helper library v1.1

Over the weekend I announced my library to enable inline design-time only data in UWP apps.

Now, I've released an update (v1.1) which allows it to work with the supported properties on any control.
This removes the limitation of only working on default classes and you can use it on any object with the relevant property. This could be your own (custom) control or one from a 3rd party library.

The source is also now available at https://github.com/mrlacey/UwpDesignTimeData