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In Defense of the SOLID Principles

In Defense of the SOLID Principles

From posts that politely offer their criticisms to others that outright deem them “for dummies,” it seems that bashing the SOLID principles is all the rage nowadays.

The fact that SOLID is being criticized isn’t a bad thing. The problem is that I don’t think the arguments against it are really that good. There’s some valid criticism, but it seems that a large portion of it comes from some misunderstanding of the principles. Some people even read obscure agendas in them.

This post is meant to investigate some of the more common criticisms of the SOLID principles, offering my take on why I believe they’re not quite justified.

SOLID Principles: Some Background

In object-oriented design, the SOLID principles (or simply SOLID) are a group of five design principles meant to make code cleaner, more flexible, and easier to change. The principles were compiled by Robert C. Martin, although he didn’t invent them. In fact, these specific principles are a subset of many principles Martin has been promoting over the years.

The name SOLID is an acronym, made up of the names of five principles. Namely, these principles are

  • the single responsibility principle (SRP),
  • the open-closed principle (OCP),
  • the Liskov substitution principle (LSP),
  • the interface segregation principle (ISP), and
  • the dependency inversion principle (DIP).

Martin himself didn’t come up with the acronym; rather, it was Michael Feathers that suggested it to him, several years after he was already teaching them. I’ll come back to this later because, believe it or not, the name itself is at the center of some criticisms.

Before we get to the meat of the article, I think it’d make sense to do a quick overview of the five principles so those of you who are familiar with them can get a reminder and those who aren’t can get a sense of what we’re talking about.

Continue reading In Defense of the SOLID Principles

Quickly assess your .NET code compliance with .NET Standard

Yesterday evening I had an interesting discussion about the feasibility of migrating parts of the NDepend code to .NET Standard to ultimately run it on .NET Core. We’re not yet there but this might make sense to run at least the code analysis on non Windows platform, especially for NDepend clones CppDepend (for C++), JArchitect (for Java) and others to come.

Then I went to sleep (as every developers know the brain is coding hard while sleeping), then this morning I went for an early morning jogging and it stroke me: NDepend is the perfect tool to  assess some .NET code compliance to .NET Standard, or to any other libraries actually! As soon on my machine I did a proof of concept in a few minutes, then spent half an hour to fix an unexpected difficulty (explained below) and then it worked.

The key is that .NET standard 2.0 types are all packet in a single assemblies netstandard.dll v2.0 that can be found under C:\WINDOWS\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319 (on my machine). All these 2,334 types are actually type forward definitions and NDepend handles well this peculiarity. A quick analyze of netstandard.dll with NDepend with this quick code query makes it all clear: 

(Btw, I am sure that if you read this  you have an understanding of what is .NET Standard but if anything is still unclear, I invite you to read this great article by my friend Laurent Bugnion wrote 3 days ago A Brief History of .NET Standard)

.NET Standard Forwarded Types

Given that, what stoke me this morning is that to analyze some .NET code compliance to .NET Standard, I’d just have to include netstandard.dll in the list of my application assemblies and write a code query that  filters the dependencies the way I want. Of course to proof test this idea I wanted to explore the NDepend code base compliance to .NET Standard:

NetStandard assembly included in the NDepend assemblies to analyze

The code query was pretty straightforward to write. It is written in a way that:

  • it is easy to use to analyze compliance with any other library than .NET standard,
  • it is easy to explore the compliance and the non-compliance with a library in a comprehensive way, thanks to the NDepend code query result browsing facilities,
  • it is easy to refactor the query for querying more, for example below I refactor it to assess the usage of third-party non .NET Standard compliant code

The result looks like that and IMHO it is pretty interesting. For example we can see at a glance that NDepend.API is almost full compliant with .NET standard except for the usage of System.Drawing.Image (all the 1 type are the Image type actually) and for the usage of code contracts.

NDepend code base compliance with .NET standard

For a more intuitive assessment of the compliance to .NET Standard we can use the metric view, that highlights the code elements matched by the currently edited code query.

  • Unsurprisingly NDepend.UI is not compliant at all,
  • portions of NDepend.Core non compliant to .NET Standard are well defined (and I know it is mostly because of some UI code here too, that we consider Core because it is re-usable in a variety of situations).

With this information it’d be much easier to plan a major refactoring to segregate .NET standard compliant code from the non-compliant one, especially to anticipate hot spots that will be painful to refactor.

Treemap view of the compliance with .NET Standard

A quick word about the unexpected difficulty I stumbled on. Since netstandard.dll contains only type forward definitions, it doesn’t contain nested type. Concretely it contains List<T> but not List<T>+Enumerator (that is also part of the formal .NET Standard). Of course we don’t want to flag methods that use List<T>+Enumerator as non-compliant. To see the way we solved that, have a look at the tricky part in the code code query related to: allNetStandardNestedTypes


The code query to assess compliancy can be refactored at whim. For example I found it interesting to see which non-compliant third-party code elements were the most used. So I refactored the query this way:

Without surprise UI code that is non .NET Standard compliant popups first:

.NET Standard non-compliant third-party code usage

There is no limit to refactor this query to your own need, like assessing usage of non-compliant code — except UI code– for example, or assessing the usage of code non compliant to ASP.NET Core 2 (by changing the library).

Hope you’ll find this content useful to plan your migration to .NET Core and .NET Standard!

Moq a Detailed Look at its Code Quality

Moq: A Detailed Look at Its Code Quality

In case you haven’t seen it, I’ve been doing a series of research-oriented posts for this blog.  This is going to be in the same vein but focused on the Moq codebase instead of focusing on hundreds of codebases.  Why Moq?  Well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

I started this by making a set of observations relating unit test prevalence to properties of clean code.  That generated considerable buzz, so I did some more studies in that vein, refining the methodology and adding codebases as we went.  By the end of the series, we’d grown the sample size to 500 codebases and started doing actual regression analysis.

Since then, we’ve enlisted the help of someone who specializes in data analysis to do some PCA with the data, which far outstrips my background studying data.  We brought this to bear in studying the effects of functional-style programming on codebases and also on categorizing codebases according to simple vs. complex and monolithic vs. decoupled, in addition to functional vs. OOP.  Doing this across more than 500 C# codebases has produced a wealth of information.

Okay, But How Does Moq Fit in?

I give you all this backstory in case you want to read about it but also to explain that I’ve looked at these codebases en masse.  With hundreds of codebases and millions of lines of code, I’m not going in and poking around to see if the code looks clean.  I’m using NDepend to perform large-scale robo-analysis.

And, while that’s been great, I started to want to see just how these categorizations stacked up.  So I started scrolling through the summary data and Moq jumped out at me.

First of all, I know Moq pretty well from using it over the years, and secondly, it had stood out when looking at the rate of unit test methods in the codebase.  Nearly half of its methods are test methods, which seems reasonable for a tool designed to help you write unit tests.  Combine that with these stats in the PCA:

So as a quick interpretation, Moq counts as reasonably non-monolithic, very simple, and very functional.  Add to that the high degree of unit testing, and I figured we’d have a codebase that was a joy to look at.  So I popped open the source code (as it was at the beginning of the year when I was grabbing codebases en masse) and analyzed it with NDepend, fresh off my excitement about using the new dark theme. I wanted to see if it was as much of a joy to look at as all of this data and statistical rigor indicated it would be.  And spoiler alert, it was the kind of codebase I’d feel right at home in.  Let’s take a tour.

NDepend Analysis, Test Coverage, and First Look

The first thing I wanted to look at was code coverage.  This was because I wanted a quick test case to see if my assumption that a high rate of test methods would correspond to high coverage.  And, it did.  Here’s a quick look at what happened after I imported coverage data and then ran analysis on the project.

Now I could see with Visual Studio’s coverage tool itself that Moq was sporting roughly a 90% test coverage.  But by importing the coverage data into NDepend, you can paint a much more compelling picture.

The heat map dominating most of the screen shows squares corresponding to methods in the codebase.  Larger squares are larger methods.  And the coloring indicates test coverage.  Over on the right, among the 2,152 methods in question, you can actually scroll through them in order of percent coverage and navigate to them if you want to take a look.

Taking a Look at the Dashboard and Technical Debt

So far, all systems go.  Most of the stats on the codebase looked good, coming in from the broad aggregates I have in a spreadsheet.  And then, following the same trend, Moq looks great in the IDE from a testing perspective.  But I looked at the dashboard and saw this:

Basic stats about the codebase lined up, and there’s the test coverage, hovering around 90%.  But a C for its tech debt rating?  10 critical rules violated?  This surprised me, given how rosy everything looked in the statistical analysis.  I drilled in to take a look.

And, sure enough, there be some dragons.  Huge types and overly complex methods are a problem.  Also in there are mutually dependent namespaces, which create coupling that hurts you as a codebase grows.  And you’ve got some hiding of base class methods and global state.  To get a sense for what I was looking at, I created another heat map. In this case, we’re looking at types.  The bigger the square, the more lines of code, and the closer to red, the more methods in that type.

This explains why the averages looked good in my spreadsheet but why NDepend has some objections and critical rules violated.  By and large, you have a lot of little green types, which is what you’d hope to see.  But there are some pretty hefty types in the mix, both in terms of lines of code to the type and number of methods to the type.

Some of these are gigantic unit test classes, while others are the API.  For those of you familiar with Moq, this should make sense to you.  Think of how many static methods you invoke on the Mock class. This illustrates the classic tradeoff between shooting for clean code guidelines about methods per type and such and between providing the API you want to furnish.

Drilling Into the Sources of Debt

NDepend has a view where you can drill into the technical debt per type or per method, and sort it accordingly.  I did that per type, and here’s what I saw:

No big surprise there.  The technical debt was coming disproportionately from these large types.  So I took advantage of another view to see where the debt was coming from, by rule violation. Here’s what that looked like:

Topping that list is a series of things that I would make it a priority to address in my own codebases, time permitting: types that are too big, types that have too many methods, namespace dependency cycles, and so on.  There is, however, one exception to what I would worry about as a top priority issue—visibility of nested types as a design choice.  That’s based on a Microsoft guideline and I don’t personally favor an approach where I use this a lot.  But it doesn’t bother me, either.

I see that the creators of Moq did that 395 times, so clearly they view it as a useful design choice.  This made me curious about what would happen to the tech debt grade if I disabled that particular rule.  So I did that, and the result was a somewhat greener and more pleasing grade of B:

What’s the Verdict With Moq?

I also spent some time scrolling through various classes and methods.  I didn’t want the entirety of the experience to be just a matter of data gathering since that’s what I’ve been doing for months.  And the verdict I have is that this particular data point fits in nicely with the aggregate.

Moq has excellent stats for most of what I’ve been looking at.  And, indeed, there are a lot of simple, functional methods in the codebase, almost all of which are thoroughly tested.  I would happily work in this codebase.

But NDepend is calling out real and important opportunities for improvement.  If I were working on this codebase, I’d make an effort to break some of those gigantic unit test classes into smaller ones that are more cohesive over their context.  I’d also take a hard look at the mutually dependent namespaces and either merge them or rework the dependency direction a bit.  And even I’d give some idle thought to how I might segment the large Mock class somehow into smaller chunks if that wound up making sense.

So the whole thing winds up being an interesting microcosm to me.  Moq is, as the stats would indicate, a pretty nice codebase.  But, as with just about any codebase, there’s plenty of room for improvement.  And having a tool to show you where to improve quickly is invaluable.

On the Superiority of the Visual Studio Dark Theme

When I downloaded the newest version of NDepend, something wonderful awaited me.  Was it support for the latest .NET Core version?  The addition of checks for ubiquitous language for DDD projects?  Any of the various rule additions or bug fixes?

Nope.  I’m a lot more superficial than that, apparently.  I saw this and was incredibly excited:

Dark Theme

In case you’re scratching your head and wondering, “what?” instead of sharing my delight, I’ll be more explicit.  NDepend added support for the Visual Studio dark theme.  And I absolutely love it.

Asserting the Superiority of the Visual Studio Dark Theme

Why so excited?  Well, as a connoisseur of the Visual Studio dark theme, this makes my experience with the tool just that much better.

Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t mind the interface up until this release, per se.  I’ve happily used NDepend for years and never really thought about its color scheme.  But this version is the equivalent of someone going into my house where I already like the bathroom and installing a radiant floor.  I never knew I was missing it until I had it.

Everything in Visual Studio is better in the dark.

Oh, I know there’s evidence to the contrary.  People are, apparently, 26% more accurate when reading dark text on a light background than vice-versa. And it’s easier to focus on and remember text in a light theme.  I understand all of that.  And I don’t care.

The dark theme is still better.

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C# 8.0 Features A Final Glimpse of the Future

C# 8.0 Features: A Final Glimpse Of The Future

It was not that long ago when we published our first post about the future of C# 8.0 and the probable features it’s getting. On the first post, we covered extension everything, default implementation on interfaces, and nullable reference types.

A couple of months later, we published the second installment in the series where we covered null coalescing assignment and records

Now it’s time for a final glimpse into the future. Today we’ll cover another two possible C# 8.0 features: target-typed new expressions and covariant return types.

Continue reading C# 8.0 Features: A Final Glimpse Of The Future