Monthly Archives: March 2017

NDepend v2017

With NDepend v2017 being released recently, I thought I had to give it a test drive. Whilst I’m not an architect, sometimes I have to do a bit of architecture. Especially with home projects. It’s not like I can call Architects-R-Us and have them send an Architect around to produce an architecture for every app idea I have. And so I have a slowly growing interest in this space. This time I thought I’d write more of a tutorial about how to get going with NDepend.

Once you’ve downloaded NDepend and got the exe on your hard drive, you fire it up and point it at the sln file for a Visual Studio solution which you want to profile. It will pick up the projects in your solution and the dialog will look a little like this:

Figure 1 – Analyze Assemblies dialog

Click the Analyse 10 .NET Assemblies button and NDepend will perform its analysis and come back with another dialog:

Figure 2 – Analysis Complete dialog

The other thing it did was to launch an html NDepend Report Summary, because I had the Build Report checkbox ticked in the first dialog. More on that report summary later. So I clicked on the Show NDepend Interactive Graph button:

Figure 3 – Assemblies Graph

A dependency graph is displayed and it is interactive! I clicked on the UI node (far left) and it lit up the map with the dependant assemblies. More importantly, it showed a couple of windows which are yellow in colour and positioned at the left and foot of the screen. The window at the foot has help topics relevant to the current context. The window on the left is the most interesting. It is scoped to the selected graph node and provides a heap of at-a-glance information about that graph node and its descendants. Lets try again and click a node lower in the graph.

Figure 4 – Assemblies Graph with Descendant Selected

Figure 5 – The Dashboard

You can see that the ancestor nodes in the graph are green and the descendant nodes are blue. And again, the pop-up dialog (this time on the right) contains information scoped to the selected graph node (in this case, HomeLibrary.UiModel, a project which contains my DTOs): Despite a couple of issues in the code, I’m happy with the information which this graph is telling me. The dependencies are pretty much what I intended and I’m getting a good 50,000ft view of that. So lets poke around a bit more. I’ll click on the Dashboard tab a the foot of the main pane. This shows me a plethora of information and the thing I really like about it is the use of colour. Red – bad. Yellow – warn. Green – pass. At a glance, I can get a feel for the health of the application.

Figure 6 – Quality Gates

Figure 7 – Rule Violation

I can see I have 2 Quality Gate fails. That basically means I cannot release my application. Not until that number goes down to 0. Lucky this is just a sample application. So, lets take a look at what I need to fix! After clicking on the little red “2” link, I found that 1 of the 2 quality gates was a collection of 6 rules which I had transgressed:
There was one which immediately interested me, so I investigated further. It was called Attribute class name should be suffixed with ‘Attribute’. Absolutly! That would not like me to do otherwise. So, I double-clicked that rule to discover the culprit:

Looks like NoReorder was a class that was generated by JetBrains (probably Resharper). Being a generated class, I feel like I’m cool with this. And so here is where things get interesting. I’m going to try something here. If you look at the image immediately above, you can see some text which looks like a LINQ query. That’s called CQLinq and is what NDepend uses to return the results which show whether rules have been violated or not. As an extensibilty point, NDepend allows you to modify these queries and save them. And it saves them for this project. So, I made a quick and small modification to the query, taking advantage of the intellisense which is available in that context:

	// <Name>Attribute class name should be suffixed with 'Attribute'</Name>
	warnif count > 0 from t in Application.Types where 
	   t.IsAttributeClass && 
	  !t.NameLike (@"Attribute$") &&
	  t.FullName != "KesselRun.HomeLibrary.UiModel.Annotations.NoReorder"
	select new {
	   Debt = 5.ToMinutes().ToDebt(),
	   Severity = Severity.Major

I added the line of code t.FullName != "KesselRun.HomeLibrary.UiModel.Annotations.NoReorder". When I saved the query, that rule was no longer violated. I’m not sure if that is NDepend’s recommended way for handling that, but it is pretty cool that you can have such fine-grained control.

Moving on from Quality Gates, I want to take a look at a new Feature in NDepend 2017 called Technical Debt. They’ve taken this well-known concept and applied it in an innovative way into NDepend. You can see from the Dashboard screenshot above a section called Debt. Scoped to the overall solution, my app is receiving a B. But you can also see how this value changes depending on where your context is scoped to. If you take a look at the 2 dependency graph screenshot above which have the yellow information windows, you would have noticed a Debt Rating item. And it is scoped to whatever I have clicked. So what is this?

In a nutshell, they have used some algorithms to quantify the technical debt for each issue and rule violation. And that makes sense. If NDepend has found a problem, presumably there will be a time associated with fixing it. And even cooler, they have added an interest component. Every year the problem remains unfixed, the “time to fix” will grow. The debt grows with interest! That’s darn smart, because that’s how it works in the real world. The longer a code smell or bad design hangs around, the harder it becomes to fix. This kind of quantifying debt is great, because you can use it to buttress the business case to fix bad code (which, no doubt, you have inherited :)).

As with all things NDepend, the Debt data can be viewed from many different perspectives:

Figure 8 – Technical Debt Representations

The last feature I want to make mention of is the html report that you can generate with NDepend when it performs its analysis. The easiest way to do this is check the Build Report checkbox (under the Analyze button – see Figure 1 at the top of this post for that checkbox):

Figure 9 – Build Report

The report is kinda like the dashboard, but in html format. Here’s an online example of a report from an analysis that was run on NodaTime. In addition to the sections of the report (such as Diagrams, Quality Gates Summary, Rules Summary) on the front page, there is a fly-out menu from the left which gives you even more information. This includes items such as Dead Code, Hot Spots and even Trend Charts. This report is something you can host on a server, so it can easily be made available to stakeholders etc. in your organisation.

As an overall observation, I should also point out that the UX employed on NDepend is really innovative and clever. When you have that much information coming at you, it would be very daunting and confusing if the user interface was not good. But the NDepend user interface is excellent. It’s very intuitive. Navigating around is so easy and you only have to use it for half an hour or so before you feel really comfortable with all that data. That is a small amount of time to be able to get on top of a code analysis tool like NDepend. As time goes by, you become even more comfortable with it and stumble upon more of its hidden gems. And that is before I even thought about referring to the documentation on the NDepend site, which is very detailed and complete.

There’s so much more about this tool which could be covered, such as Continuous Integration, Visual Studio team Services build integration, Code Diffs … I’ve only really scratched the surface.

For people like me whose role slowly bleeds its way into the architecture space, we need all the help we can get. Tools like NDepend really help with this. Not only is it a hands-on-tool which gives a great overview of the health of your codebase, it also acts as a tutor. It gives advice and teaches with problem descriptions and suggestions. Resharper improved my code skills. NDepend will improve my design/architecture skills.