Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to Debug a Guidance Package

When I started working on the Repository Factory project, one of the hardest things was how to debug it. Repository Factory is an GAT Guidance Package, which extends Visual Studio by providing additional functionality. Since it is executed by Visual Studio, how could I possibly debug it?

It turned out that it is not that difficult. You will basically need two instances of Visual Studio, one with the Guidance Package to be debugged, and the other one with a solution that uses the Guidance Package.

I used the following steps to debug the Repository Factory, but they can be applied to any Guidance Package:

1. Open an instance of Visual Studio and open the solution file of your Guidance Package.

2. Locate your Guidance Package Project on the Solution Explorer, right click on it, set it as a Start Up Project, and open the Properties window.

3. On the Properties window, click on the Debug tab, select Start external program and enter the location of Visual Studio, e.g. devenv.exe. Optionally, you can also specify on the Command line arguments the solution file that you want to automatically load.

4. Before you start debugging, it is important that you have previously registered your Guidance Package. To do that, rebuild your solution, right-click on the Guidance Package, and select Register Guidance Package. This registration takes a while, so be patient.

5. Start debugging your Guidance Package by pressing F5. Another instance of Visual Studio will open and you will be able open or create a test solution to use your Guidance Package. Now, you can use all the standard debugging features such as adding breaking points, watch window, etc.

If you have problems with step #4, e.g., you cannot see the Register Guidance Package option on the context menu, then you need to enable the Guidance Package Development on your Guidance Package solution.
  • On your Guidance Package Solution, goto the main menu, click on Tools, and then on Guidance Package Manager.
  • Select Enable / Disable Packages...
  • Select Guidance Package Development, and then click on OK, and then on Close on the next window.

After the steps above, you should be able to see the Register Guidance Package option on the context menu.

I hope this article was useful for you in helping you how to debug your Guidance Packages.

Happy Debugging!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Number of Microsoft Certified Professionals Worldwide

I was always curious about the number of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCP) and just found this link from Trika's blog with the number per each MS certification:

T4 Text Templates Screencast

David Hayden has created a screencast about using T4 text templates. It is a very good introduction about the topic.

Also, check out my previous post about testing T4 templates:

Enjoy it!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Unit Testing T4 Text Templates

Text Template Transformation Toolkit, aka T4, is a template-based code generation engine included in Visual Studio 2008 and available for Visual Studio 2005 through the Domain Specific Language (DSL) Tools and the Guidance Automation Extensions (GAX) and Guidance Automation Toolkit (GAT). Text template transformation works with a very simple formula:

TextTemplateFile + Metadata = OutputFile

A text template is a file that contains a mixture of text blocks and control logic. Metadata is provided to the text template as properties defined at its header section. When you transform a text template, the control logic combines the text blocks with the data in a model to produce an output file. Text templates can be used to create any kind of text files, such as source code files and HTML reports. This is similar to some commercial tools such as CodeSmith.

This post from Oleg Sych provides more details about T4 and it includes many links to other resources.

How to Unit Test T4 Templates?

One approach to unit test text template files is to use the Visual Studio Text Templating engine to supply the required data and run the transformation of the template. The Visual Studio Text Templating engine will allow you to see all the errors you might get when processing it.

In order to do this, you will need to install GAX/GAT and add the following references to your project:
  • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating
  • Microsoft.Practices.RecipeFramework.VisualStudio.Library
The following sections will describe a sample text template file and a NUnit test for it using the Visual Studio Text Template engine.

The Text Template

The following code represents the template file that we will be testing:

<#@ Template Language="C#" #>
<#@ Assembly Name="System.dll" #>
<#@ Assembly name="TextTemplateTesting.dll" #>
<#@ Import Namespace="System" #>
<#@ Import Namespace="TextTemplateTesting.Data" #>
<#@ Property Processor="PropertyProcessor" Name="EntityName"#>
<#@ Property Processor="PropertyProcessor" Name="Fields" #>
using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Text;

namespace BusinessEntities
public partial class <#= EntityName #>
public <#= EntityName #>()

<# foreach (Field field in Fields) { #>
private <#= field.Type.Name #> _<#= field.Name #>
public <#= field.Type.Name #> <#= field.Name #>
get { return _<#= field.Name #>; }
set { _<#= field.Name #> = value; }
<# } #>

This text template generates a class representing a business entity. Remember that our simple formula is TextTemplateFile + Metadata = OutputFile. The data that is necessary to generate the code is defined by the two processor properties in our template above, and they are:

<#@ Property Processor="PropertyProcessor" Name="EntityName"#>
<#@ Property Processor="PropertyProcessor" Name="Fields" #>

The EntityName processor property is a string that will represent the name of the class in the generated code. The Fields processor property is an array of Field objects representing the properties of the class in the generated code. The Field class is not shown here, but it has two properties: the name of the field and its type. You can download the entire source code from the link at the end of this article.

The Text Template NUnit Test

I am using NUnit to test the text template, but you can use any other compatible test framework. The testing code will be:

using System;
using System.CodeDom.Compiler;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.IO;
using System.Text;
using Microsoft.Practices.RecipeFramework.VisualStudio.Library.Templates;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating;
using NUnit.Framework;
using TextTemplateTesting.Data;

namespace TextTemplateTesting.Tests
public class TextTemplateFixture
public void TestTextTemplate()
// Determine the root dir of the template files.
// Since the template files are located in
// SolutionDir\Templates and the unit tests
// run inside SolutionDir\bin\debug,
// the root dir is ".\..\..\Templates"
string rootDir = Path.Combine(Directory.GetCurrentDirectory(),

// Our template file expects data to be passed.
// The following dictionary will contain
// the properties to be passed to the template file.
IDictionary<string, PropertyData> arguments =
new Dictionary<string, PropertyData>();

// The first property is a string with the business entity name.
arguments["EntityName"] = new PropertyData("Customer", typeof(string));

// The second property is an array of Field objects.
Field[] fields = { new Field("CustomerName", typeof(string)),
new Field("CustomerId", typeof(int)) };
arguments["Fields"] = new PropertyData(fields, typeof(Field[]));

// Create an instance of the template host
TemplateHost host = new TemplateHost(rootDir, arguments);

// Set the template file
host.TemplateFile = Path.Combine(rootDir, "");
"Cannot find " + host.TemplateFile);

// Create an instance of the template engine.
Engine engine = new Engine();

// Transform the text template.
engine.ProcessTemplate(File.ReadAllText(host.TemplateFile), host);

// Check if there are errors.
if (host.Errors.HasErrors)
// Build a string with all errors
StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
foreach (CompilerError error in host.Errors)
if (!error.IsWarning)
"There are compiling errors:\n\n" + sb);

The transformation is very simple. You need basically two main objects: the host and the engine.

The first main object, the host, will contain information such as your text template file name, the data used for the transformation, and the root path where the transformation will happen. Note that text templates can also include other text templates using relative path, and they are relative to this root path defined on the host constructor.

The data is passed to the host through the arguments variable. This variable is a dictionary type where the keys are the processor property name defined in the template file, and the value is a PropertyData object specifying the value and type of the processor property.

The engine is the second main object which provides the ProcessTemplate method. This method takes a string representing the text template file, and a host object as parameters. The Errors collection of the host object will contain all errors and warnings from the transformation. The test code above only fails if there are errors, it ignores all warnings.

I hope this sample provides an useful way for unit testing your t4 files. Testing manually text templates is a time consuming activity which can be impossible to accomplish depending on the total number of templates you are using. By using automated tests you can ensure that changes in the code are not breaking your templates, increasing the confidence of your developers in their code and the confidence of your customers in your product.

Enjoy it!

Sample Code Download

You will need Visual Studio 2005 (or later), GAX/GAT and NUnit installed in order to run this sample code.

Friday, July 04, 2008

WCSF Architecture

Simon Ince has published a series of articles about the Web Client Software Factory architecture. It is a must read if you are using WCSF. The latest article can be found here, which has links to the previous ones.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Free data grid control for Silverlight: DevExpress AgDataGrid Suite

DevExpress announced today the availability of their new data grid control for Silverlight. They are providing it to the Silverlight developer community free of charge. Yes, it is free!! They also provide its full source code.

If you never heard about DevExpress, they develop Windows Forms and ASP.NET components, plus IDE productivity tools (CodeRush and Refactor!). I used their ASP.NET components, especially the ASPxGridView which provides superior functionality than the standard ASP.NET GridView. Now they are releasing their first Silverlight control, but providing it for free.

See the link below for more information about this free control, including registration and download. Also, check out the online demo and the video tutorials: