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 Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The balance among types of feedback drives some weird interpersonal dynamics and balances.  For instance, consider the rather trite (if effective) management technique of the "compliment sandwich."  Managers with a negative piece of feedback precede and follow that feedback with compliments.  In that fashion, the compliments form the "bun."

Different people and different groups have their preferences for how to handle this.  While some might bend over backward for diplomacy others prefer environments where people hurl snipes at one another and simply consider it "passionate debate."  I have no interest arguing for any particular approach -- only in pointing out the variety.  As it turns out, we humans find this subject thorny.

To some extent, this complicated situation extends beyond human boundaries and into automated systems.  While we might not take quite the same umbrage as we would with humans, we still get frustrated.  If you doubt this, I challenge you to tell me that you have never yelled at a compiler because you were sure your code had no errors.  I thought so.

So from this perspective, I can understand the frustration with static analysis feedback.  Often, when you decide to enable a new static analysis engine or linting tool on a codebase, the feedback overwhelms.  28,326 issues the code can demoralize anyone.  And so the temptation emerges to recoil from this feedback and turn off the tool.

But should you do this?  I would argue that usually, you should not.  But situations do exist when disabling a static analyzer makes sense.  Today, I'll walk through some examples of times you might suppress such a warning.

False Positives

For the first example, I'll present something of a no-brainer.  However, I will also present a caveat to balance things.

If your static analysis tool presents you with a false positive, then you should suppress that instance of the false positive.  (No sense throwing the baby out with the bathwater and suppressing the entire rule).  Assuming that you have a true false positive, the analysis warning simply constitutes noise and not signal.  Get rid of it.

That being said, take care with labeling warnings as false positives.  False positive means that the tool has indicated a problem and a potential error and gotten it wrong.  False positive does not mean that you disagree with the warning or don't care.  The tool's wrongness is a good reason to suppress -- you not liking its prognosis false short of that.

Non-Applicable Code

For the second kind of instance, I'll use the term "non-applicable code."  This describes code for which you have no interest in static analysis warnings.  While this may sound contradictory to the last point, it differs subtly.

You do not control all code in your codebase, and not all code demands the same level of scrutiny about the same concepts.  For example, do you have code in your codebase driven by a framework?  Many frameworks force some sort of inheritance scheme on you or the implementation of an interface.  If the name of a method on a third party interface violates a naming convention, you need not be dinged by your tool for simply implementing it.

In general, you'll find warnings that do not universally apply.  Test projects differ from your production code.  GUI projects differ from data access layer ones.  And NuGet packages or generated code remain entirely outside of your control.  Assuming the decision to use these things happened in the past, turning off the analysis warnings makes sense.

Cosmetic Code Counter to Your Team's Standard

So far, I've talked about the tool making a mistake and the tool getting things right on the wrong code.  This third case presents a thematically similar consideration.  Instead of a mistake or misapplication, though, this involves a misfit.

Many tools out there offer purely cosmetic concerns.  They'll flag field variables not prepended with underscores or methods with camel casing instead of Pascal casing.  Assuming those jive with your team's standards, you have no issues.  But if they don't, you have two options: change the tool or change your standard.  Generally speaking, you probably want to err on the side of complying with broad standards.  But if your team is set with your standard, then turn off those warnings or configure the tool.

When You're Buried in Warnings

Speaking of warnings, I'll offer another point that relates to them, but with an entirely different theme.  When your team is buried in warnings, you need to take action.

Before I talk about turning off warnings, however, consider fixing them en masse.  It may seem daunting, but I suspect that you might find yourself surprised at how quickly you can wrangle a manageable number.

However, if this proves too difficult or time-consuming, consider force ranking the warnings, and (temporarily) turning off all except the top, say, 200.  Make it part of your team's work to eliminate those, and then enable the next 200.  Keep at it until you eliminate the warnings.  And remember, in this case, you're disabling warnings only temporarily.  Don't forget about them.

When You Have an Intelligent Disagreement

Last up comes the most perilous reason for turning off static analysis warnings.  This one also happens to occur most frequently, in my experience.  People turn them off because they know better than the static analysis tool.

Let's stop for a moment and contemplate this.  Teams of workaday developers out there tend to blithely conclude that they know their business.  In fact, they know their business better than people whose job it is to write static analysis tools that generate these warnings.  Really?  Do you like those odds?

Below the surface, disagreement with the tool often masks resentment at being called "wrong" or "non-compliant."  Turning the warnings off thus becomes a matter of pride or mild laziness.  Don't go this route.

If you want to ignore warnings because you believe them to be wrong, do research first.  Only allow yourself to turn off warnings when you have a reasoned, intelligent, research-supported argument as to why you should do so.

When in Doubt, Leave 'em On

In this post, I have gingerly walked through scenarios in which you may want to turn off static analysis warnings and guidance.  For me, this exercise produces some discomfort because I rarely find this advisable.  My default instinct is thus not to encourage such behavior.

That said, I cannot deny that you will encounter instances where this makes sense.  But whatever you do, avoid letting this become common or, worse, your default.  If you have the slightest bit of doubt, leave them on.   Put your trust in the vendors of these tools -- they know their business.  And steering you in bad directions is bad for business.

Learn more how CodeIt.Right can automate your team standards, makes it easy to ignore specific guidance violations and keep track of them.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 4:19:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Tuesday, October 11, 2016

More years ago than I'd care to admit, I took a software engineering course as part of my graduate CS program.  At the time, I worked a full-time job during the day and did remote classes in the evening.  As a result, I disproportionately valued classes with applicability to my job.  And this class offered plenty of that.

We scratched the surface on such diverse topics as agile methodologies, automated testing, cost of code ownership, and more.  But I found myself perhaps most interested by the dive we did into refactoring.  The idea of reworking the internal structure of code while preserving inputs and outputs is a surprisingly complex one.

Historical Complexity of Refactoring

At the risk of dating myself, I took this course in the fall of 2006.  While automated refactorings in your IDE now seem commonplace, back then, they were hard.  In fact, the professor of the course considered them to be sufficiently difficult as to steer a group of mine away from a project implementing some.  In the world of 2006, I suspect he had the right of it.  We steered clear.

In 2016, implemented automated refactorings still present a challenge.  But modern tool and IDE vendors can stand on the shoulders of giants, so to speak.  Back then?  Not so much.

Refactorings present a unique challenge to tool vendors because of the inherent risk.  They can really screw up users' code.  If a mistake happens, best case scenario is that the resultant code fails to compile because then, at least, it fails fast.  Worse still is semantically and syntactically correct code that somehow behaves improperly.  In this situation, a refactoring -- a safe change to code -- becomes a modification to the behavior of production code instead.  Ouch.

On top of the risk, the implementation of refactoring anywhere beyond the trivial involves heady concepts such as abstract syntax trees.  In other words, it's not for lightweights.  So to recap, refactoring is risky and difficult.  And this is the landscape faced by tool authors.

I Don't Fix -- I Just Flag

If you live in the US, you may have seen a commercial that features a funny quip.  If I'm not mistaken, it advertises for some sort of fraud prevention services.  (Pardon any slight inaccuracies, as I recount this as best I can, from memory.)

In the ad, bank robbers hold a bank hostage in a rather cliché, dramatic scene.  Off to the side, a woman stands near a security guard, asking him why he didn't do anything to stop it.  "I'm not a robbery prevention service -- I'm a robbery monitoring service.  Oh, by the way, there's a robbery."

It brings a chuckle, but it also brings an underlying point.  In many situations, monitoring alone can prove woefully ineffective, prompting frustration.  As a former manager and current consultant, I generally advise people that they should only point out problems when they have also prepared proposed solutions.  It can mean the difference between complaining and solving.

So you can imagine and probably share my frustration at tools that just flag problems and leave it to you to investigate further and fix them.  We feel like the woman standing next to the "robbery monitor," wondering how useful the service is to us.

Levels of Solution

Going back to the subject of software development, we see this dynamic in a number of places.  The compiler, the IDE, productivity add-ins, static analysis tools, and linting utilities all offer us warnings to heed.

Often, that's all we get.  The utility says, "hey, something is wrong here, but you're going to have to figure out what."  I tend to think of that as the basic level of service, or level 0, if you will.

The next level, level 1, involves at least offering some form of next action.  It might be as simple as offering a help file, inline reading, or a link to more information.  Anything above "this is a problem."

Level 2 ups the ante by offering a recommendation for what to do next.  "You have a dependency cycle.  You should fix this by looking at these three components and removing one mutual dependency."  It goes beyond giving you a next thing to do and gives you the next thing to do.

Level 3 rounds out the field by actually performing the action for you (following a prompt, of course).  "You've accidentally hidden a method on the parent class.  Click here to rename or click here to make parent virtual."  That's just an example off the top, of course, but it illustrates the interaction paradigm.  "We've noticed a problem, and you can click here to fix it."

Fixes in Your Tooling

blog-dont-just-flag-it-fix-it-irWhen evaluating your own tools, look to climb as high up this hierarchy as you can.  Favor tools that identify problems, but offer fixes whenever possible.

There are a number of such tools out there, including CodeIt.Right.  Using tools like this is a pleasure because it removes the burden of research and implementation from you.  Well, you can always do the research if you want, but at your own leisure.  But it's much better to do research at your leisure than when you're trying to accomplish something else.

The other, important concern here is that you find trusted tooling to help you with this sort of thing.  After all, you don't want something messing with your source code if it might mess up your source code.  But, assuming you can trust it, this provides an invaluable boost to your effectiveness by automatically resolving your problems and by helping you learn.

In the year 2016, we have far more tooling available, with a far better track record, than we did in 2006.  Leverage it whenever possible so that you can focus on solving the pressing problems of your day to day work.

Tools at your disposal

SubMain offers CodeIt.Right that easily integrates into Visual Studio for flexible and intuitive "We've noticed a problem, and you can click here to fix it." solution.

Learn more how CodeIt.Right can automate your team standards and improve code quality.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 8:41:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Thursday, October 6, 2016

Before I get down to the brass tacks of how to do some interesting stuff, I'm going to spin a tale of woe.  Well, I might have phrased that a little strongly.  Call it a tale of corporate drudgery.

In any case, many years ago I worked briefly in a little department, at a little company that seemed to be a corporate drudgery factory.  Oh, the place and people weren't terrible.  But the work consisted of, well, drudgery.  We 'consulted' in the sense that we cranked out software for other companies, for pay.  Our software plumbed the lines of business between client CRMs and ERPs or whatever.  We would write the software, then finish the software, then hand the software over, source code and all.

Naturally, commenting our code and compliance with the coding standard attained crucial importance.  Why?  Well, no practical reason.  It was just that clients would see this code.  So it needed to look professional.  Or something.  It didn't matter what the comments said.  It didn't matter if the standard made sense.  Compliance earned you a gold star and a move onto the next project.

As I surveyed the scene surrounding me, I observed a mountain of vacuous comments and dirty, but uniform code.

My Complex Relationship with Code Comments

My brief stay with (and departure from) this organization coincided with my growing awareness of the Software Craftsmanship movement.  Even as they copy and pasted their way toward deadlines and wrote comments announcing that while(x < 6) would proceed while x was less than 6, I became interested in the idea of the self-documenting code.

Up to that point, I had diligently commented each method, file, and type I encountered.  In this regard, I looked out for fellow and future programmers.  But after one too many occasions of watching my own comments turn into lies when someone changed the code without changing the comments, I gave up.  I stopped commenting my code, focusing entirely on extractions, refactoring, and making my code as legible as possible.

I achieved an equilibrium of sorts.  In this fashion, I did less work and stopped seeing my comments become nasty little fibs.  But a single, non-subtle flaw remained in this absolutist approach.  What about documentation of a public (or internal) API?

Naturally, I tried to apply the craftsmanship-oriented reasoning unilaterally.  Just make the public API so discoverable as to render the issue moot.  But that never totally satisfied me because I still liked my handy help screens and IntelliSense info when consuming others' code.

And so I came to view XML doc comments on public methods as an exception.  These, after all, did not represent "comments."  They came packaged with your deliverables as your product.  And I remain comfortable with that take today.

Generating Help More Efficiently

Now, my nuanced evolved view doesn't automatically mean I'll resume laboriously hand-typing XML comments.  Early in my career, a sort of sad pride in this "work harder, not smarter" approach characterized my development.  But who has time for that anymore?

Instead, with a little bit of investment in learning and tooling, you can do some legitimately cool stuff.  Let me take you through a nifty sequence of steps that you may come to love.

GhostDoc Enterprise

First up, take a look at the GhostDoc Enterprise offering.    Among other things, this product lets you quickly generate XML comments, customize the default generation template, spell check your code, generate help documentation and more.  Poking through all that alone will probably take some time out of your day.  You should download and play with the product.

Once you are done with that, though, consider how you might get more efficient at beefing up your API.  For the rest of this post, I will use as an example my Chess TDD project.  I use this as a toy codebase for all kinds of demos.

I never commented this codebase, nor did I generate any kind of documentation for it.  Why?  I intended it solely as a teaching tool for test-driven development, and never packaged it for others' consumption.  Let's change that today.

Adding Comments

Armed with GhostDoc enterprise, I will first generate some comments.  The Board class makes a likely candidate since that offers theoretical users the most value.

First up, I need to add XML doc comments to the file.  I can do this by right clicking in the file, and selecting "Document Type" from the GhostDoc Enterprise context menu.  Here's what the result looks like.


The default template offers a pretty smart guess at intent, based on good variable naming.  For my fellow clean code enthusiasts out there, you can even check how self-documenting your code is by the quality of the comments GhostDoc creates.  But still, you probably want to take a human pass through, checking and tweaking where needed.

Building Help Documentation

All right.  With comments in place for the public facing API of my little project, we can move on to the actual documentation.  Again, easy enough.  Select "Tools -> GhostDoc Enterprise -> Build Help Documentation" from the main menu.  You'll see this screen.


Notice that you have a great deal of control over the particulars.  Going into detail here is beyond the scope of my post, but you can certainly play around.  I'll take the defaults and build a CHM help file.  Once I click "OK", here's what I see (once I go to the board class).


Pretty slick, huh?  Seriously.  With just a few clicks, you get intelligently commented public methods and a professional-looking help file.  (You can also have this as web-style documentation if you want).  Obviously, I'd want to do some housekeeping here if I were selling this, but it does a pretty good job even with zero intervention from me.

Do It From the Build

Only one bit of automation remains at this point.  And that's the generation of this documentation from the build.  Fortunately, GhostDoc Enterprise makes that simple as well.

Any build system worth its salt will, of course, let you hook command line invocations into your build.  GhostDoc Enterprise offers one up for just this occasion.  You can read a succinct guide on that right here.  With a single command, you can point it at your solution, a help configuration, and a project configuration, and generate the help file.  Putting it where you want is then easy enough.

Tying this in with an automated build or CI setup really ties everything together, including the theme of this post.  Automating the generation of clean, helpful documentation of your clean code, building it, and packaging it up all without human intervention pretty much represents the pinnacle of delivering a professional product.

Learn more about how GhostDoc can help simplify your XML Comments, produce and maintain quality help documentation.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Thursday, October 6, 2016 6:54:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Thursday, September 29, 2016

In professional contexts, I think that the word "standard" has two distinct flavors.  So when we talk about a "team standard" or a "coding standard," the waters muddy a bit.  In this post, I'm going to make the case for a team standard.  But before I do, I think it important to discuss these flavors that I mention.  And keep in mind that we're not talking dictionary definition as much as the feelings that the word evokes.

blog-case-for-team-standardFirst, consider standard as "common."  To understand what I mean, let's talk cars.  If you go to buy a car, you can have an automatic transmission or a standard transmission.  Standard represents a weird naming choice for this distinction since (1) automatic transmissions dominate (at least in the US) and (2) "manual" or "stick-shift" offer much better descriptions.  But it's called "standard" because of historical context.  Once upon a time, automatic was a new sort of upgrade, so the existing, default option became boringly known as "standard."

In contrast, consider standard as "discerning."  Most commonly you hear this in the context of having standards.  If some leering, creepy person suggested you go out on a date to a fast food restaurant, you might rejoin with, "ugh, no, I have standards."

Now, take these common contexts for the word to the software team room.  When someone proposes coding standards, the two flavors make themselves plain in the team members' reactions.  Some like the idea, and think, "it's important to have standards and take pride in our work."  Others hear, "check your creativity at the gate, because around here we write standard, default code."

What I Mean by Standard

Now that I've drawn the appropriate distinction, I feel it appropriate to make my case.  When I talk about the importance of a standard, I speak with the second flavor of the word in mind.  I speak about the team looking at its code with a discerning attitude.  Not just any code can make it in here -- we have standards.

These can take somewhat fluid forms, and I don't mean to be prescriptive.  The sorts of standards that I like to see apply to design principles as much as possible and to cosmetic concerns only when they have to.

For example, "all non-GUI code should be test driven" and "methods with more than 20 lines should require a conversation to justify them" represent the sort of standards I like my teams to have.  They say, "we believe in TDD" and "we view long methods as code smells," respectively.  In a way, they represent the coding ethos of the group.

On the other side of the fence lie prescriptions like, "all class fields shall be prepended with underscores" and "all methods shall be camel case."  I consider such concerns cosmetic, since they are appearance and not design or runtime behavior.  Cosmetic concerns are not important... unless they are.  If the team struggles to read code and becomes confused because of inconsistency, then such concerns become important.  If the occasional quirk presents no serious readability issues, then prescriptive declarations about it stifle more than they help.

Having standards for your team's work product does not mean mandating total homogeneity.

Why Have a Standard at All?

Since I'm alluding to the potentially stifling effects of a team standard, you might reasonably ask why we should have them at all.  I can assert that I'm interested in the team being discerning, but is it really just about defining defaults?  Fair enough.  I'll make my case.

First, consider something that I've already mentioned: maintenance.  If the team can easily read code, it can more easily maintain that code.  Logically, then, if the team all writes fairly similar code, they will all have an easier time reading, and thus maintaining that code.  A standard serves to nudge teams in this direction.

Another important benefit of the team standard revolves around the integrity of the work product.  Many team's standards incorporate methodology for security, error handling, logging, etc.  Thus the established standard arms the team members with ways to ensure that the software behaves properly.

And finally, well-done standards can help less experienced team members learn their craft.  When such people join the team, they tend to look to established folks for guidance.  Sadly, those people often have the most on their plate and the least time.  The standard can thus serve as teacher by proxy, letting everyone know the team's expectations for good code.

Forget the Conformity (by Automating)

So far, all of my rationale follows a fairly happy path.  Adopt a team standard, and reap the rewards: maintainability, better software, learning for newbies.  But equally important is avoiding the dark side of team standards.  Often this dark side takes the form of nitpicking, micromanagement and other petty bits of nastiness.

Please, please, please remember that a standard should not elevate conformity as a virtue.  It should represent shared values and protection of work product quality.  Therefore, in situations where conformity (uniformity) is justified, you should automate it.  Don't make your collaborative time about telling people where to put spaces and brackets -- program your IDE to do that for you.

Make Justification Part of the Standard

Another critical way to remove the authoritarian vibe from the team standard is one that I rarely see.  And that mystifies me a bit because you can do it so easily.  Simply make sure you justify each item contained in the standard.

"Methods with more than 20 line of code should prompt a conversation," might find a home in your standard.  But why not make it, "methods with more than 20 lines of code should prompt a conversation because studies have demonstrated that defect rate increases more than linearly with lines of code per method?"  Wow, talk about powerful.

This little addition takes the authoritarian air out of the standard, and it also helps defuse squabbles.  And, best of all, people might just learn something.

If you start doing this, you might also notice that boilerplate items in a lot of team standards become harder to justify.  "Prepend your class fields with m underscore" becomes "prepend your class fields with m underscore because... wait, why do we do that again?"

Prune and Always Improve

When you find yourself trailing off at because, you have a problem.  Something exists in your team standard that you can't justify.  If no one can justify it, then rip it out.  Seriously, get rid of it.  Having items that no one can justify starts to put you in conformity for the sake of conformity territory.  And that's when standard goes from "discerning" to "boring."

Let this philosophy guide your standard in general.  Revisit it frequently, and audit it for valid justifications.  Sometimes justifications will age out of existence or seem lame in retrospect.  When this happens, do not hesitate to revisit, amend, or cull.  The best team standards are neither boring nor static.  The best team standards reflect the evolving, growing philosophy of the team.

Related resources

Tools at your disposal

SubMain offers CodeIt.Right that easily integrates into Visual Studio for flexible and intuitive automated code review solution that works real-time, on demand, at the source control check-in or as part of your build.

Learn more how CodeIt.Right can automate your team standards and improve code quality.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Thursday, September 29, 2016 7:41:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Tuesday, September 20, 2016

If you write software, the term "feedback loop" might have made its way into your vocabulary.  It charts a slightly indirect route from its conception and into the developer lexicon, though, so let's start with the term's origin.  A feedback loop in general systems uses its output as one of its inputs.

Kind of vague, huh?  I'll clarify with an example.  I'm actually writing this post from a hotel room, so I can see the air conditioner from my seat.  Charlotte, North Carolina, my temporary home, boasts some pretty steamy weather this time of year, so I'm giving the machine a workout.  Its LED display reads 70 Fahrenheit, and it's cranking to make that happen.

When the AC unit hits exactly 70 degrees, as measured by its thermostat, it will take a break.  But as soon as the thermostat starts inching toward 71, it will turn itself back on and start working again.  Such is the Sisyphean struggle of climate control.

Important for us here, though, is the mechanics of this system.  The AC unit alters the temperature in the room (its output).  But it also uses the temperature in the room as input (if < 71, do nothing, else cool the room).  Climate control in buildings operates via feedback loop.

Appropriating the Term for Software Development

It takes a bit of a cognitive leap to think of your own tradecraft in terms of feedback loops.  Most likely this happens because you become part of the system.  Most people find it harder to reason about things from within.

In software development, you complete the loop.  You write code, the compiler builds it, the OS runs it, you observe the result, and decide what to do to the code next.  The output of that system becomes the input to drive the next round.

If you have heard the term before, you've probably also heard the term "tightening the feedback loop."  Whether or not you've heard it, what people mean by this is reducing the cycle time of the aforementioned system.  People throwing that term around look to streamline the write->build->run->write again process.

A History of Developer Feedback Loops

At the risk of sounding like a grizzled old codger, let me digress for a moment to talk about feedback loop history.  Long before my time came the punched card era.  Without belaboring the point, I'll say that this feedback loop would astound you, the modern software developer.

Programmers would sit at key punch "kiosks", used to physically perforate forms (one mistake, and you'd start over).  They would then take these forms and have operators turn them into cards, stacks of which they would hold onto.  Next, they'd wait in line to feed these cards into the machines, which acted as a runtime interpreter.   Often, they would have to wait up to 24 hours to see the output of what they had done.

Can you imagine?  Write a bit of code, then wait for 24 hours to see if it worked.  With a feedback loop this loose, you can bet that checking and re-checking steps received hyper-optimization.


When I went to college and started my programming career, these days had long passed.  But that doesn't mean my early days didn't involve a good bit of downtime.  I can recall modifying C files in projects I worked, and then waiting up to an hour for the code to build and run, depending what I had changed.  xkcd immortalized this issue nearly 10 years ago, in one of its most popular comics.

Today, you don't see this as much, though certainly, you could find some legacy codebases or juggernauts that took a while to build.  Tooling, technique, modern hardware and architectural approaches all combine to minimize this problem via tighter feedback loops.

The Worst Feedback Loop

I have a hypothesis.  I believe that a specific amount of time exists for each person that represents the absolute, least-optimal amount of time for work feedback.  For me, it's about 40 seconds.

If I make some changes to something and see immediate results, then great.  Beyond immediacy, my impatience kicks in.  I stare at the thing, I tap impatiently, I might even hit it a little, knowing no good will come.  But after about 40 seconds, I simply switch my attention elsewhere.

Now, if I know the wait time will be longer than 40 seconds, I may develop some plan.  I might pipeline my work, or carve out some other tasks with which I can be productive while waiting.  If for instance, I can get feedback on something every 10 minutes, I'll kick it off, do some household chores, periodically checking on it.

But, at 40 seconds, it resides in some kind of middle limbo, preventing any semblance of productivity.  I kick it off and check twitter.  40 seconds turns into 5 minutes when someone posts a link to some cool astronomy site.  I check back, forget what I did, and then remember.  I try again and wait 40 seconds.  This time, I look at a Buzzfeed article and waste 10 minutes as that turns into 4 Buzzfeed articles.  I then hate myself.

The Importance of Tightening

Why do I offer this story about my most sub-optimal feedback period?  To demonstrate the importance of diligence in tightening the loop.  Wasting a few seconds while waiting hinders you.  But waiting enough seconds to distract you with other things slaughters your productivity.

With software development, you can get into a state of what I've heard described as "flow."  In a state of flow, the feedback loop creates harmony in what you're doing.  You make adjustments, get quick feedback, feel encouraged and productive, which promotes more concentration, more feedback, and more productivity.  You discover a virtuous circle.

But just the slightest dropoff in the loop pops that bubble.  And, another dropoff from there (e.g. to 40 seconds for me) can render you borderline-useless.  So much of your professional performance rides on keeping the loop tight.

Tighten Your Loop Further

Modern tooling offers so many options for you.  Many IDEs will perform speculative compilation or interpretation as you code, making builds much faster.  GUI components can be rendered as you work, allowing you to see changes in real time as you alter the markup.  Unit tests slice your code into discrete, separately evaluated components, and continuous testing tools provide pass/fail feedback as you type.  Static code analysis tools offer you code review as you work, rather than at some code review days later.  I could go on.

The general idea here is that you should constantly seek ways to tune your day to day work.  Keep your eyes out for tools that speed up your feedback loop.  Read blogs and go to user groups.  Watch your coworkers for tips and tricks.  Claw, scratch, and grapple your way to shaving time off of your feedback loop.

We've come a long way from punch cards and sword fights while code compiles.  But, in 10 or 30 years, we'll look back in amazement at how archaic our current techniques seem.  Put yourself at the forefront of that curve, and you'll distinguish yourself as a developer.

Learn more how CodeIt.Right can tighten the feedback loop and improve your code quality.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 7:37:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Friday, September 16, 2016

Version 5.3 of GhostDoc is a maintenance update for the v5.0 users:

  • Added full support for string interpolation in C# and VB parsers
  • Added support for "arrow functions" in JavaScript parser
  • Fixed "File is not part of a solution" issue when loading projects
  • (Pro) (Ent) Added IsAbstract property to CurrentCodeElement in the T4 templates
  • Improved exception documentation - now the type name in a nameof() parameter is added as part of the generated documentation template
  • (Ent) Fixed iue when using <section> along with <code> elements in an .aml file

For the complete list of changes, please see What's New in GhostDoc v5

For overview of the v5.0 features, visit Overview of GhostDoc v5.0 Features

Download the new build at http://submain.com/download/ghostdoc/

posted on Friday, September 16, 2016 8:30:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Think back to college (or high school, if applicable).  Do you remember that kid that would sit near the front of the class and gleefully point out that the professor had accidentally omitted an apostrophe when writing notes on the white board?  Didn't you just love that kid?  Yeah, me neither.

Fate imbues a small percentage of the population with a neurotic need to correct any perceived mistakes made by anyone.  XKCD immortalized this phenomenon with one of its most famous cartoons, that declared, "someone is wrong on the internet."  For the rest of the population, however, this tendency seems pedantic and, dare I say, unpleasant.  Just let it go, man.  It doesn't matter that much.

I mention all of this to add context to the remainder of the post.  I work as a consultant and understand the need for diplomacy, tact, and choosing one's battles.  So, I do not propose something like care with spelling lightly.  But I will propose it, nonetheless.

Now I know what you're thinking.  How can caring about spelling in code be anything but pedantic?  We're not talking about something being put together to impress a wide audience, like a newspaper.  In fact, we're not even talking about prose.  And code contains all sorts of abbreviations and encodings and whatnot.

Nevertheless, it matters.  When English words occur in your code, spelling them right matters.  I'll use the rest of this post to make my case.

The IntelliSense Conundrum

If you use Visual Studio, no doubt you make heavy use of IntelliSense.  To expand, any IDE or text editor with autocomplete functionality qualifies for consideration here.  In either case, your tooling gives you a pretty substantial boost by suggesting methods/variables/classes/etc based on what you have typed.  It's like type-ahead for code.

Now think of the effect a misspelling can have here, particularly near the beginning of a word.  Imagine implementing a method that would release resources and accidentally typing Colse instead of Close.  Now imagine consuming that method.  If you're used to exploring APIs and available methods with auto-complete, you might type, "Clo", pause, and see no matching methods.  You might then conclude, "hey, no call to Close needed!"

In all likelihood, such an error would result in a few minutes of head-scratching and then the right call.  But even if that's the worst of it, that's still not great.  And it will happen each and every time someone uses your code.

Other Manual Typing Errors

The scope of this particular issue goes beyond auto-complete functionality.  Perhaps you lack that functionality in your environment, or perhaps you simply don't use it much.  In that case, you'll be hand typing your code.

Now, imagine hand typing the call above to a close method.  Do you instinctively type "Colse" or do you instinctively type "Close?"  So what do you think will happen?

You'll expect the call to be Close and you'll type that.  Then, you'll stare in disbelief for a moment at the compiler message.  You'll probably do a clean and rebuild.  You'll stare again for a while and squint.  Then, finally, you'll smack your forehead, realize the problem, and silently berate the person who misspelled the method name.

Again, the impact remains the same.  Most likely this creates only friction and annoyance.  Every now and then, it may trigger a thoroughly incorrect use of a library or API.

Anchoring Effect

Moving away from the theme of confusion when using a declared member, consider the declaration itself.  During the use of a variable/method/class/etc, you must spell it right before the compiler allows you to proceed (assuming a strongly typed language).  With the original declaration, however, you have the freedom to spell things wrong to your heart's content.  When you do this, the original copy holds the error.

That first misspelling allows for easy correction.  Same goes when you've used it only a time or two.  But as usage grows and spreads throughout the codebase, the fix becomes more and more of a chore.  Before long (and without easy refactoring tools), the chore becomes more than anyone feels like tackling, and the error calcifies in place.

Your unaddressed spelling mistake today makes fixes more difficult tomorrow.

Comprehension Confusion

Let's switch gears again and consider the case of a maintenance programmer reading for comprehension.  After all, programmers do a whole lot more reading of code than they do modification of it.  So, a casual read is a likely situation.

Spelling errors cloud comprehension.  A simple transposition of characters or a common error, such as referring to a "dependency" do not present an insurmountable problem.  But a truly mangled word can leave readers scratching their heads and wondering what the code actually means, almost as if you'd left some kind of brutal Hungarian notation in there.

Taking the time to get the spelling right ensures that anyone maintaining the code will not have this difficulty.  Code is hard enough to understand, as-is, without adding unforced errors to the mix.

The Embarrassment Factor

And, finally, there's the embarrassment factor.  And I don't mean the embarrassment of your coworkers saying, "wow, that guy doesn't know how to spell!"  I'm talking about the embarrassment factor for the team.

Think of new developers hiring on or transferring into the group.  They're going to take a look at the code and draw conclusions, about your team.  Software developers tend to have exacting, detail-oriented minds, and they tend to notice mistakes.  Having a bunch of spelling mistakes in common words makes it appear either that the team doesn't know how to spell or that it has a sloppy approach.  Neither of those is great.

But also keep in mind that what happens in the code doesn't always stay in the code.  Bits of the code you write might appear on team dashboards, build reports, unit test run outputs, etc.  People from outside of the team may be examining acceptance tests and the like.  And, you may have end-user documentation generated automatically using your code (i.e. if you make developer tools or APIs).  Do you really want the documentation you hand to your customers to contain embarrassing mistakes?

It's Easy to Get Right

At this point, I'm finished with the supply of arguments for making the case.  I've laid these out.

But, by way of closing words, I'd like to comment on what might be the biggest shame of the whole thing.  Purging your code of spelling errors doesn't require you to be an expert speller.  It doesn't require you to copy source code into MS Word or something and run a check.  You have tools at your disposal that will do this for you, right in your IDE.  All you need to do is turn them on.

I recommend that you do this immediately.  It's easy, unobtrusive, and offers only upside.  And not only will you excise spelling mistakes from your code -- you'll also prevent that annoying kid in the front of the class from bothering you about stuff you don't have time for.

Learn more about GhostDoc's truly source code spell checker and eliminate embarrassing typos in your apps and documentation before you ship them.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 7:06:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In the world of programming, 15 years or so of professional experience makes me a grizzled veteran.  That certainly does not hold for the work force in general, but youth dominates our industry via the absolute explosion of demand for new programmers.  Given the tendency of developers to move around between projects and companies, 15 years have shown me a great deal of variety.

Perhaps nothing has exemplified this variety more than the code review.  I've participated in code reviews that were grueling, depressing marathons.  On the flip side, I've participated in ones where I learned things that would prove valuable to my career.  And I've seen just about everything in between.

Our industry has come to accept that peer review works.  In the book Code Complete, author Steve McConnell cites it, in some circumstance, as the single most effective technique for avoiding defects.  And, of course, it helps with knowledge transfer and learning.  But here's the rub -- implemented poorly, it can also do a lot of harm.

Today, I'd like to make the case for the automated code review.  Let me be clear.  I do not view this as a replacement for any manual code review, but as a supplement and another tool in the tool chest.  But I will say that automated code review carries less risk than its manual counterpart of having negative consequences.

The Politics

I mentioned extremely productive code reviews.  For me, this occurred when working on a team with those I considered friends.  I solicited opinions, got earnest feedback, and learned.  It felt like a group of people working to get better, and that seemed to have no downside.

But I've seen the opposite, too.  I've worked in environments where the air seemed politically charged and competitive.  Code reviews became religious wars, turf battles, and arguments over minutiae.  Morale dipped, and some people went out of their way to find ways not to participate.  Clearly no one would view this as a productive situation.

With automated code review, no politics exist.  Your review tool is, of course, incapable of playing politics.  It simply carries out its mission on your behalf.  Automating parts of the code review process -- especially something relatively arbitrary such as coding standards compliance -- can give a team many fewer opportunities to posture and bicker.

Learning May Be Easier

As an interpersonal activity, code review carries some social risk.  If we make a silly mistake, we worry that our peers will think less of us.  This dynamic is mitigated in environments with a high trust factor, but it exists nonetheless.  In more toxic environments, it dominates.

Having an automated code review tool creates an opportunity for consequence-free learning.  Just as the tool plays no politics, it offers no judgment.  It just provides feedback, quietly and anonymously.

Even in teams with a supportive dynamic, shy or nervous folks may prefer this paradigm.  I'd imagine that anyone would, to an extent.  An automated code review tool points out mistakes via a fast feedback loop and offers consequence-free opportunity to correct them and learn.

Catching Everything

So far I've discussed ways to cut down on politics and soothe morale, but practical concerns also bear mentioning.  An automated code review tool necessarily lacks the judgment that a human has.  But it has more thoroughness.

If your team only performs peer review as a check, it will certainly catch mistakes and design problems.  But will it catch all of them?  Or is it possible that you might miss one possible null dereference or an empty catch block?  If you automate the process, then the answer becomes "no, it is not possible."

For the items in a code review that you can automate, you should, for the sake of thoroughness.

Saving Resources and Effort

Human code review requires time and resources.  The team must book a room, coordinate schedules, use a projector (presumably), and assemble in the same location.  Of course, allowing for remote, asynchronous code review mitigates this somewhat, but it can't eliminate the salary dollars spent on the activity.  However you slice it, code review represents an investment.

In this sense, automating parts of the code review process has a straightforward business component.  Whenever possible and economical, save yourself manual labor through automation.

When there are code quality and practice checks that can be done automatically, do them automatically.  And it might surprise you to learn just how many such things can be automated.

Improbable as it may seem, I have sat in code reviews where people argued about whether or not a method would exhibit a runtime behavior, given certain inputs.  "Why not write a unit test with those inputs," I asked.  Nobody benefits from humans reasoning about something the build, the test suite, the compiler, or a static analysis tool could tell them automatically.

Complimentary Approach

As I've mentioned throughout this post, automated code review and manual code review do not directly compete.  Humans solve some problems better than machines, and vice-versa.  To achieve the best of all worlds, you need to create a complimentary code review approach.

First, understand what can be automated, or, at least, develop a good working framework for guessing.  Coding standard compliance, for instance, is a no-brainer from an automation perspective.  You do not need to pay humans to figure out whether variable names are properly cased, so let a review tool do it for you.  You can learn more about the possibilities by simply downloading and trying out review and analysis tools.

Secondly, socialize the tooling with the team so that they understand the distinction as well.  Encourage them not to waste time making a code review a matter of checking things off of a list.  Instead, manual code review should focus on architectural and practice considerations.  Could this class have fewer responsibilities?  Is the builder pattern a good fit here?  Are we concerned about too many dependencies?

Finally, I'll offer the advice that you can use the balance between manual and automated review based on the team's morale.  Do they suffer from code review fatigue?  Have you noticed them sniping a lot?  If so, perhaps lean more heavily on automated review.  Otherwise, use the automated review tools simply to save time on things that can be automated.

If you're currently not using any automated analysis tools, I cannot overstate how important it is that you check them out.  Our industry built itself entirely on the premise of automating time-consuming manual activities.  We need to eat our own dog food.

Related resources

Tools at your disposal

SubMain offers CodeIt.Right that easily integrates into Visual Studio for flexible and intuitive automated code review solution that works real-time, on demand, at the source control check-in or as part of your build.

Learn more how CodeIt.Right can help with automated code review and improve your code quality.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 2:06:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Thursday, August 18, 2016

Notwithstanding some oddball calculator and hobby PC hacking, my first serious programming experience came in college.  A course called "Intro to C++" got us acquainted with arrays, loops, data structures and the like.  Given its introductory nature, this class did not pose a particularly serious challenge (that would come later).  So, with all of the maturity generally possessed by 18 year olds, we had a bit of fun.

I recall contests to see how much application logic we could jam into the loop conditions, and contests to see how much code could be packed onto one line.  These sorts of scavenger hunt activities obviously produced dense, illegible code.  But then, that was kind of the point.

Beyond these silly hijinks, however, a culture of code illegibility permeated this (and, I would learn later) other campuses.  Professors nominally encouraged code readability.  After all, such comments facilitated partial credit in the event of a half-baked homework submission.  But, even still, the mystique of the ingenious but inscrutable algorithm pervaded the culture both for students and faculty.  I had occasion to see code written by various professors, and I noticed no comments that I can recall.

Professionalism via Thoroughness

When I graduated from college, I carried this culture with me.  But not for long.  I took a job where I spent most of my days working on driver and kernel module programming.  There, I noticed that the grizzled veterans to whom I looked up meticulously documented their code.  Above each function sat a neat, orderly comment containing information about its purpose, parameters, return values, and modification history.

This, I realized, was how professionals conducted themselves.  I was hooked.  Fresh out of college, and looking to impress the world, I sought to distinguish myself from my undisciplined student ways.  This decision ushered in a period of many years in which I documented my code with near religious fervor.

My habit included, obviously, the method headers that I emulated.  But on top of that, I added class headers and regularly peppered my code with line comments that offered such wisdom as "increment the loop counter until the end of the array."  (Okay, probably not that bad, but you get the idea).  I also wrote lengthy readme documents for posterity and maintenance programmers alike.  My professionalism knew no bounds.

Clean Code as Plot Twist

Eventually, I moved on from that job, but carried my habits with me.  I wrote different code for different purposes in different domains, but stayed consistent in my commenting diligence.  This I wore as a badge of pride.

While I was growing in my career, I started to draw inspiration from the clean code movement.  I began to write unit tests, I practiced the SOLID principles, I watched Uncle Bob talks, made my methods small, and sought to convince others to do the same.  Through it all, I continued to write comments.

But then something disconcerting happened.  In the clean code circles I followed and aspired to, I started to see posts like this one.  In it, the author had written extensively about comments as a code smell.

Comments are a great example of something that seems like a Good Thing, but turn out to cause more harm than good.

For a while, I dismissed this heresy as an exception to the general right-thinking of the clean code movement.  I ignored it.  But it nagged at me nonetheless, and eventually, I had to confront it.

When I finally did, I realized that I had continued to double down on a practice simply because I had done it for so long.  In other words, the extensive commenting represented a ritual of diligence rather than something in which I genuinely saw value.

Down with Comments

Once the floodgates had opened, I did an about-face.  I completely stopped writing comments of any sort whatsoever, unless it was part of the standard of the group I was working with.

The clean coder rationale flooded over me and made sense.  Instead of writing inline comments, make the code self-documenting.  Instead of comments in general, write unit and acceptance tests that describe the desired behaviors.  If you need to explain in English what your code does, you have failed to explain with your code.

Probably most compelling of all, though, was the tendency that I'd noticed for comments to rot.  I cannot begin to estimate how many times I dutifully wrote comments about a method, only to return a year later and see that the method had been changed while the comments had not.  My once-helpful comments now lied to anyone reading them, making me look either negligent or like an idiot.  Comments represented duplication of knowledge, and duplication of knowledge did what it always does: gets out of sync.

My commenting days were over.

Best of All Worlds

That still holds true to this day.  I do not comment my code in the traditional sense.  Instead, I write copious amounts of unit, integration and acceptance tests to demonstrate intent.  And, where necessary and valuable, I generate documentation.

Let's not confuse documentation and commenting.  Commenting code targets maintenance programmers and team members as the intended audience.  Documenting, on the other hand, targets external consumers.  For instance, if I maintained a library at a large organization, and other teams used that library, they would be external consumers rather than team members.  In effect, they constitute customers.

If we think of API consumers as customers, then generating examples and documentation becomes critically important.  In a sense, this activity is the equivalent of designing an intuitive interface for end-users of a GUI application.  They need to understand how to quickly and effectively make the most of what you offer.

So if you're like me -- if you believe firmly in the tenets of the clean code movement -- understand that comments and documentation are not the same thing.  Also understand that documentation has real, business value and occupies an important role in what we do.  Documentation may take the form of actual help documents, files, or XML-doc style comments that appear in IntelliSense implementations.

To achieve the best of all worlds, avoid duplication.  Make publishing documentation and examples a part of your process and, better yet, automate these activities.  Your code will stay clean and maintainable and your API users will be well-informed and empowered to use your code.

Learn more about how GhostDoc can help simplify your XML Comments, produce and maintain quality help documentation.

About the Author

Erik Dietrich

I'm a passionate software developer and active blogger. Read about me at my site. View all posts by Erik Dietrich

posted on Thursday, August 18, 2016 7:45:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Monday, July 18, 2016

Version 5.2 of GhostDoc is a minor feature release for the v5.0 users includes:

  • Support for Visual Studio 2015 Update 3
  • Fixes for the latest ASP.NET Core projects
  • GhostDoc now treats underscore as a delimiter to improve summary generation for underscore delimited identifiers
  • "Use Modern URLs" Help Configuration option for declarative help documentation file naming - namespace-classname-membername.htm
  • Option to turn on/off Documentation Hints during setup
  • (Pro) (Ent)Comment Preview is now rendered using the FlatGray theme
  • Plenty of improvements and bug fixes

For the complete list of changes, please see What's New in GhostDoc v5

For overview of the v5.0 features, visit Overview of GhostDoc v5.0 Features

This version is a required update for Visual Studio 2015 Update 3 users.

Download the new build at http://submain.com/download/ghostdoc/

posted on Monday, July 18, 2016 6:07:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Beta for CodeIt.Right v3 has arrived – the new major version of our automated code review and code quality analysis product. Here are the new version highlights:

  • Official support for VS2015 Update 2 and ASP.NET 5/ASP.NET Core 1.0 solutions
  • New Review Code commands:
    • only opened files
    • only checked out files
    • only files modified after specific date
  • Improved Profile Editor with advanced rule search and filtering
  • Improved look and feel for Violations Report and Editor violation markers
  • New rules
  • Setting to keep the OnDemand and Instant Review profiles in sync
  • New Jenkins integration plugin
  • Batch correction is now turned off by default
  • Most every CodeIt.Right action now can be assigned a keyboard shortcut
  • Preview of the new Dashboard feature

For the complete and detailed list of the v3.0 changes see What's New in CodeIt.Right v3.0

To give the v3.0 Beta a try, download it here - http://submain.com/download/codeit.right/beta/

Please Note: while our early adopters indicate that the v3.0 Beta has been very stable for them, still, all the usual Beta software advisory provisions apply.


New Review Code commands


We have renamed the Start Analysis menu to Review Code – still the same feature and the new name is just highlighting the automated code review nature of the product. The

  • Analyze Open Files command - analyze only the files opened in Visual Studio tabs
  • Analyze Checked Out Files command - analyze only files that that are checked out from the source control
  • Analyze Modified After – analyze only files that have been modified after specific date

Known Beta issue – when pressed Update only updates the code review criteria but still requires to run the Review Code command manually. In the release version we will run code review when the Update is pressed.



Improved Profile Editor

The Profile Editor now features

  • Advanced rule filtering by rule id, title, name, severity, scope, target, and programming language
  • Allows to quickly show only active, only inactive or all rules in the profile
  • Shows totals for the profile rules - total, active, and filtered
  • Improved adding rules with multiple categories


Dashboard Preview

While is not what we see it finally looking, an early preview of the Dashboard feature has been shipped with the Beta to give you a rough idea what we are after – provide you with a code quality dashboard view that you customize to your needs.



We would love to hear your feedback on the new features! Please email it to us at support@submain.com or post in the CodeIt.Right v3 Beta Forum.


posted on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 6:31:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Friday, February 5, 2016

Version 5.1 of GhostDoc is a maintenance release for the v5.0 users; includes minor enhancements and number of important bug fixes. Many of the fixes are relevant to the Visual Studio 2015 environment, so while everyone will benefit from this update, it is highly recommended for the Visual Studio 2015 users.

For the complete list of changes, please see http://support.submain.com/kb/a42/whats-new-in-ghostdoc-v5.aspx

For overview of the v5.0 features, visit http://submain.com/blog/ReleasedGhostDocV50.aspx

posted on Friday, February 5, 2016 7:33:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Monday, November 23, 2015
Note to GhostDoc Pro v4 users: The v4 licenses won’t work with the v5. We have sent out the v5 license codes to users with License Protection and active Software Assurance subscription. If you have not received or misplaced your new license, you can retrieve it on the My Account page. See more information at the bottom of this post.

Both Pro and Enterprise editions of GhostDoc in version 5 introduce Documentation Quality hints in Visual Studio editor; Documentation Management assistance - find auto-generated comments, edit or remove the bulk created docs; identify and fix comments that are missing, out of sync or can be copied from base class; mark generated XML comments as auto-generated and "to be edited". The v5 also includes multiple Help documentation themes and layouts to choose from.

The free version of GhostDoc has been re-branded as GhostDoc Community Edition and adds general improvements, limited generation of CHM help documentation as well as the means to find auto-generated comments.


The new menu commands

  • Documentation Quality Hints in Visual Studio editor
  • Documentation Maintenance - Find auto-generated comments - edit or remove the bulk created docs
  • Documentation Maintenance - Identify and fix comments that are missing, out of sync or can be copied from base class
  • Theme support for generated help documentation and new themes - Flat Gray and Flat Main
  • Official Visual Studio 2015 support
  • Options to add Auto-generated doc and TODO 'Edit' attributes
  • Option to have the default summary text focused and selected when using Document This command - allows to edit/override the summary quickly
  • Exclude from Documentation action – marks a member with a tag to exclude it from the help documentation
  • Hide/Show Comments feature – an easy way to expand/collapse documentation comments to minimize the XML Comments footprint in the Visual Studio code editor
  • New Summary Override table in Options - configure predefined summaries for specific member or type names instead of auto-generated
  • A basic Build Documentation feature is now available in the Community Edition of GhostDoc – while quite limited and watermarked, yet allows to produce simple CHM help documentation for personal use without paying for the commercial version

For the detailed list of v5.0 changes see What’s New in GhostDoc v5.

To see new features by product edition see this page - http://submain.com/ghostdoc/editions/

Documentation Quality Hints

This new feature provides real-time visual hints in the Visual Studio Editor window to highlight members which have documentation issues that require attention.


The following documentation hint actions included with this release make it very easy to maintain the documentation quality:


Documentation Maintenance

This feature will help you identify missing documentation, find auto-generated XML comments, maintain your documentation, and keep it up to date. Once these are found, GhostDoc provides the tools to edit or remove the bulk created docs, add missing or fix the dated documentation – one by one or as a batch. You can fine tune the search criteria and use your own template library if yours is different from the built-in.

  • Find auto-generated docs and edit or remove them
  • Find and fix members that are missing documentation
  • Discover members that have parameters, return types, and type parameters out of sync with the existing XML comments and fix the comments
  • Find members that can have XML docs copied from the base class
  • Find documentation that require editing


The Community Edition only allows to find auto-generated documentation and not batch actions – only one action at a time.

Help Documentation Themes

In the v5 we are introducing theme support for the generated help documentation and including two new themes, The old help doc view preserved as the Classic theme. You can see the new theme preview here - Flat Gray (default) and Flat Main.

The Enterprise Edition users can modify the existing themes or create and deploy own help documentation themes – now easier than ever!

The Community Edition theme selection is limited to one – Classic.


Auto-generated doc and TODO 'Edit' attributes

The option to add tag to XML comment is intended to provide an explicit flag that the comment has been generated automatically.

The option to add a TODO comment “TODO Edit XML Comment Template for {member name}” which in turn adds a TODO task into the Visual Studio Task List –> Comments as a reminder for the auto-generated comment requires editing.


Both flags can be used as additional criteria for the documentation quality hints and documentation management “Find auto-generated Documentation” feature. When generating help documentation these flags are also accounted for – the flagged members can be included, ignored or highlighted in the final docs.

Summary Override

The Summary Override table allows to configure predefined summaries for specific member or type names to be used instead of the auto-generated. We ship some predefined summary overrides and you are welcome to add your own. If you find a summary override that the GhostDoc user community can benefit of, please submit it to us to be reviewed for the inclusion.



How do I try it?

Download the v5.0 at http://submain.com/download/ghostdoc/

Feedback is what keeps us going!

Let us know what you think of the new version here - http://submain.com/support/feedback/

Note to the GhostDoc Pro v4 users
: The v4.x license codes won't work with the v5.0. For users with License Protection and active Software Assurance subscription we have sent out the v5.x license codes. If you have not received or misplaced your new license, you can retrieve it on the My Account page. Users without the License Protection or with expired Software Assurance subscription will need to purchase the new version - currently we are not offering upgrade path other than the Software Assurance subscription. For information about the upgrade protection see our Software Assurance and Support - Renewal / Reinstatement Terms

posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 8:02:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Tuesday, February 24, 2015
If you didn't make it to the webinar, we recommend you watch the webinar recording first - the questions and answers below will make much more sense then.

At the last month's webinar, "Asynchronous Programming Demystified" Stephen Cleary, Microsoft MVP, and author of "Concurrency in C# Cookbook" introduced the async and await keywords and describes how they work.

During the webinar, there were a number of great questions asked from viewers that Stephen didn't have sufficient time to answer. In fact, there were 88 total questions. Fortunately, Stephen was kind enough to provide us with his answers below:

Q: You showed us how to correctly use and call async methods. But how do I create an async API out of nothing?

A: The low-level type for this is TaskCompletionSource, which allows you to complete a task manually. There are some higher-level wrappers as well, e.g., Task.Factory.FromAsync will take the old Begin/End style asynchronous methods and wrap them into a task.

Q: Can we use Async inside LINQ methods (with lambda expressions)?

A: LINQ is inherently synchronous, so there isn't much you can do asynchronously. E.g., you can use Select with an asynchronous delegate, but that gives you a sequence of tasks, and there isn't much you can do with them other than using something like Task.WhenAll. If you want an asynchronous sequence or stream abstraction, a better fit would be Reactive Extensions.

Need Async Guidance?
CodeIt.Right includes extensive Async Best Practices rule set that will guide you through the intricacies of Async. Start a no-cost 14-day trial of CodeIt.Right, SubMain's code quality analysis, automated code review and refactoring for Visual Studio.

Q: What would be the best approach to implement 3rd party synchronous library/API into let's say our existing asynchronous API? Since we does want to maintain asynchronous should we wrap it into Task Run or something else?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Does async await help with AJAX calls?

A: Async can exist independently on the server and the client. You can use async on the client to help you call AJAX endpoints (i.e., call several of them concurrently). You can also use async on the server to help you implement AJAX endpoints.

Q: Will try-catch around await keyword really catch all exceptions that can be raised within the called async method?

A: Yes; an async method will always place its exceptions on the task it returns, and when you await that task, it will re-raise those exceptions, which can be caught by a regular try/catch.

Q: Is it true that async method is not in fact started until either await, Wait or .Result is called for it?

A: No. An async method starts when it is called. The await/Wait/Result will just wait for the method to complete.

Q: We use MSMQ for a lot of our asynchronous WCF processing. It's heavy and expensive. Can async/await replace some if not all of the MSMQ processing?

A: Async/await is not a direct replacement for any kind of queuing. You can use async to interact with the queue, though. The MessageQueue class unfortunately does not follow a standard asynchronous pattern, but you can use TaskCompletionSource to create await-compatible wrapper methods. The MSDN docs "Interop with Other Asynchronous Patterns and Types" under "Task-based Asynchronous Pattern" should get you started.

Q: IAsyncResult fits very nicely with Windows low level and IOPorts. Does async/await have the same high performance?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Can you explain when it is appropriate to use ConfigureAwait(false)?

A: Anytime that the async method does not need its context, it should use ConfigureAwait(false). This is true for most library code.

Q: Re. Task.Run() blocking a background thread... even using await will block a thread at some point surely?

A: No, await does not block a thread. I have more details in my blog post "There Is No Thread".

Q: Do you need to tweak machine/web config to get greater throughput for asynchrony?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: What about WhenAll?

A: WhenAll can be used to concurrently execute multiple asynchronous operations.

Q: What are the main problems using ContinueWith? There a lot of companies that have this type of implementation because of legacy code.

A: ContinueWith is problematic for several reasons. For one, a single logical method must be broken up into several delegates, so the code is much more difficult to follow than a regular await. Another problem is that the defaults are not ideal; in particular, the default task scheduler is not TaskScheduler.Default as most developers assume - it is in fact TaskScheduler.Current. This unexpected task scheduler can cause issues like the one I describe in my blog post "StartNew Is Dangerous".

Q: Why is button1_Click using the async keyword, when it is calling the async method?

A: Any method that uses the await keyword must be marked async. Normally, I would make the method an "async Task" method, but since this is an event handler, it cannot return a task, so I must make it an "async void" method instead.

Q: Are there any means to debug async code easily?

A: VS2013 has pretty good support for debugging asynchronous code, and the tooling is continue to improve in this area. The one drawback to async debugging is that the call stack is not as useful. This is not a problem of async; we developers have gotten used to the idea that the call stack is a trace of how the program got to where it is - but that mental model is incorrect; the call stack is actually telling the program where to go next.I have an AsyncDiagnostics library that preserves "how the program got to where it is", which is sometimes helpful when trying to track down an issue.

Q: In ASP.NET there are many queues. What will happen when system is overloaded, and we fulfill Async IO ports. Will it throw exception or will act it as it would without async?

A: When the queues fill up, it will act the same. Async provides better scalability, but not infinite scalability. So you can still have requests timing out in the queues or being rejected if the queues fill up. Note that when the async request starts, it is removed from the queue, so async relieves pressure on the queues.

Q: Lets say I have an WinForm app. with a method that renders some image that takes 60 secs for example. When the user presses the Begin button, I want to render to occur and later say "Finished" when done, without blocking during the meantime. Can you suggest a strategy?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Is it acceptable to create asynchronous versions of synchronous methods by just calling the synchronous methods with Task.Run

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Is it really bad to wrap async code in sync code? I thought that is a very bad practice, but have seen OAuth packages wrapping async code in sync methods with some kind of TaskHelper eg. GetUser is internally using GetUserAsync

A: The problem with library code is that sometimes you do want both asynchronous and synchronous APIs. But you don't want to duplicate your code base. It is possible to do sync-over-async in some scenarios, but it's dangerous. You have to be sure that your own code is always using ConfigureAwait(false), and you also have to be sure that any code your code calls also uses ConfigureAwait(false). (E.g., as of this writing, HttpClient does on most platforms but not all). If anyone ever forgets a single ConfigureAwait(false), then the sync-over-async code can cause a deadlock.

Q: If you have large application with lots of different things to do with async how to handle the correct "flow"? So user will not use application in wrong way. Is there best practices for this?

A: The approach I usually use is to just disable/enable buttons as I want them to be used. There is a more advanced system for UI management called Reactive UI (RxUI), but it has a higher learning curve.

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Q: Is await produces managed code in .NET? Can we write unmanaged code within await/ async blocks?

A: Await does produce managed (and safe) code. I believe unsafe code can be within an async method (though I've never tried it), but await cannot be used within an unsafe code block.

Q: Any advice with use of DAL (sync with MSSQL) to use with async call? Use Task.Run or rewrite

A: I'd recommend using the asynchronous support in EF6 to rewrite the DAL as purely asynchronous. But if you are in a situation where you need UI responsiveness and don't want to take the time to make it asynchronous, you can use Task.Run as a temporary workaround.

Q: But you do want it for CPU bound code on client UIs (WPF, WinForms, Phone, etc.)

A: Answered in webinar

Q: When I am awaiting on several tasks, is it better to use WaitAll or WhenAll?

A: WaitAll can cause deadlock issues if the tasks are asynchronous, just like Result and Wait do. So, I would recommend "await Task.WhenAll(...)" for asynchronous code.

Q: You say await Task.Run(() => Method() is Ok to do... I'm assuming it's not best practice or just not the way Stephen uses? I guess is it a common or personal practice?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Can you explain the Server Side Scalability benefit a little more?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: If there is a use case where i have to call async call from synchronous code, what is the best way to do that?

A: "There is no good way to do sync-over-async that works in every scenario. There are only hacks, and there are some scenarios where no hack will work. So, for sure, the first and best approach is to make the calling code async; I have a blog post series on "async OOP" that covers ways to make it async even if it doesn't seem possible at first.

If you absolutely must do sync-over-async, there are a few hacks available. You can block on the async code (e.g., Result); you can execute the async code on a thread pool thread and block on that (e.g., Task.Run(() => ...).Result); or you can do a nested message loop. These approaches are all described in Stephen Toub's blog post "Should I Expose Synchronous Wrappers for My Asynchronous Methods?"

Q: Would "unit testing" be part of "Async Best Practices"? As in, would you be giving tips on best way to unit test in that future proposed webinar?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: What is the appropriate way to unit test an async method?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: The benefit : "Responsiveness on the client side" sounds like a background process. I thought async wasn't a background thing...

A: Answered in webinar

Q: I've read and heard often that another thread is not created. I'm struggling to understand how I/O is occurring without a thread managing it while the main thread is released. I comprehend how it gets back, i.e. an event of sorts picking up on the stack where it left off.

A: I have a blog post "There Is No Thread" that explains this in detail.

Q: When you implementing the IUserStore for the Identity, there are things that require you to implement a Task returning async method, however, I don't see any need to call async method. Task IUserStoreMethod(){ // no async stuff, but it requires a Task, and it cant be changed because it is from the interface. } How should I write the body? Is Task.Run() inside the method body an exception here?

A: Normally, I/O is asynchronous. So "saving" a user is an inherently I/O-bound operation, and should be asynchronous if possible. If you truly have a synchronous implementation (e.g., saving the user in memory as part of a unit test), then you can implement the asynchronous method by using Task.FromResult.

Q: Does Await spin a new thread under the hoods?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: What is the best way to call Async Methods from class constructors?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Shouldn't the Click event handler be also renamed to ClickAsync?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Is it possible to communicate progress from the async task?

A: Yes. An asynchronous method can report progress by taking an IProgress parameter and calling its Report method. UI applications commonly use Progress as their implementation of IProgress. There's more information on MSDN under the "Task-based Asynchronous Pattern" topic.

Q: How would unit/integration test code coverage influence designs and usage of async/await?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: So if my UI uses await/async to call a WebAPI method, the method itself has to be async or else it will be blocking correct?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: I have a project that interacts with SharePoint 2010 object model, so bound to .NET 3.5. Any caveats when using TPL for 3.5?

A: .NET 3.5 is before the TPL was introduced (and well before async/await). There is an AsyncBridge project which attempts to back port the TPL and async support, but I haven't ever used it.

Q: Can I use Async and await inside a sandboxed CRM Dynamics plugin?

A: I don't know about Dynamics, sorry. But if they have support for .NET 4.5, I don't see why not.

Q: How can, for example, the DownloadAsync method be canceled in a proper way from another UI action?

A: Cancellation is done with the CancellationToken/CancellationTokenSource types in .NET. Usually, asynchronous methods just pass the CancellationToken through to whatever APIs they call. For more information, see the MSDN topics "Task-based Asynchronous Pattern" and "Cancellation in Managed Threads".

Q: How to call an async method from a synchronous method or controller?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Is .NET 4.5.1 the minimum for async / await?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: How do we do exception handling inside the DownloadAsync function?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Can you explain how we can perform unit testing using these new keywords?

A: Answered in webinar

Q: Is async/await useful for WPF and Windows Form?

A: Yes, async is useful in any UI scenario.

Q: For Task Parallel and async/await which one we should use?

A: The Task Parallel Library is great for CPU-bound code. Async is better for I/O-bound code.

Q: If you got an normal MVC controller that returns a standard view... If that view contains AJAX code to fetch data from an async (WebAPI) controller, would the calling thread be blocked while the AJAX call is running? We have a situation at work where we cant switch page before the AJAX call is done... which seems a bit weird to me.

A: Answered in webinar

Q: When building async controllers/methods, is there some way to tell that the code is actually running asynchronous? How can I tell that the code is non blocking?

A: Answered in webinar

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posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 5:20:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   
 Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Recording of the webcast, slides and demo code have been posted to the website - watch it here
Enjoy the recording, and please let us know how we can help!

Featuring Stephen Cleary, Microsoft MVP

  Date: Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
  Time: 10:00 am PST / 1:00 pm EST

Recording Available

Asynchronous code using the new async and await keywords seems to be everywhere these days! These keywords are transforming the way programs are written. Yet many developers feel unsure about Async programming.

Get demystified with Stephen Cleary, as he introduces the new keywords and describes how they work. Stephen is the author of "Concurrency in C# Cookbook" as well as several MSDN articles on asynchronous programming. Together, we'll cover:

  • How the async and await keywords really work
  • How to think about asynchronous code
  • The difference between asynchrony and parallelism
  • Common mistakes when learning asynchronous programming
  • Fixing Async code smells with CodeIt.Right

If this time isn't convenient for you, register and we will send you the recording afterwards.

Recording Available

posted on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 5:50:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)    #    Comments [0]   

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