Adapting Visual Studio code styling differences for open source project contribution

Background

Today, while incorporating Lee Dumond’s MVC Route/URL Generation Unit Tester into a project, I found a desire to contribute some code I thought would make the package easier to use. Unfortunately, the project code formatting looks nothing like my preferred conventions (some form of 1TBS, I guess). Until Visual Studio offers a way to distribute code style settings to source control consumers easily, I needed a different option.

While preparing demos for a mobile web development talk for the Cheyenne Computer Professionals group, I stumbled on Mike Minutillo’s tip for running a “demo” instance of Visual Studio where I could sandbox my presentation settings optimized for an elderly VGA projector. This sparked an workaround idea for dealing with multiple formatting settings of various projects I may work on.

Rather than force my conventions on the project (generally not acceptable) or give up on my own style (generally not acceptable), I decided to try using a “demo” instance of Visual Studio with that projects styling conventions set.

  1. Right-click where I want the shortcut.
  2. Specify a path to Visual Studio 2010 using the /RootSuffix option.
    1. On 64-bit Windows, %programfiles(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\IDE\devenv.exe" /RootSuffix YourStylingNameHere
    2. On 32-bit Windows, %programfiles%\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\IDE\devenv.exe" /RootSuffix YourStylingNameHere
  3. Give the shortcut a name. I tend to go something like this: “Visual Studio (SomeProjectName)”.

Using this method, I can create a few common formatting variations. Then, whenever I want to work on a given project, I will just slap a new Visual Studio shortcut pointing to the appropriate suffix matching that projects formatting style.

I created an instance of Visual Studio that uses the default settings. Any new project I want to play with that uses those settings gets a custom VS shortcut that points to my “DefaultVsFormatting” root suffix.

By keeping the suffix names consolidated, all projects using those settings are present in that instance’s recent projects, both in the File menu and the Start Page (and its pinned projects).

Drawbacks

While it is great to be able to spawn up a Visual Studio instance, it does complicate some things. If I have multiple instances of Visual Studio running with different prefixes, I have no way of telling which is which without knowing what project I opened from what prefix instance.

It also presents a problem for someone who develops on multiple machines. I want the RootSuffixes I use to be identical on all machines. For the default settings, assuming I have Visual Studio in the same location on every machine, I could simply keep these %programfiles(x86)%-based shortcuts on a shared location like my Dropbox folder where they would work for all machines. If I have custom settings, though, I would need to keep copies of the settings folder data and registry settings.

Keeping the file system part consistent seems easy enough; I could just use a symbolic link to point Visual Studio to them in their shared location (change to your own path to settings folders).

mklink /d %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\VisualStudio\10.0DefaultVsFormatting %userprofile%\Dropbox\VisualStudioSettings\DefaultVsFormatting

There are also registry keys that are part of this process, too. Unfortunately, it appears that all the formatting settings are maintained there. This would take some extra work and make any changes difficult to propagate. After I create a suffix variant, I need to export the registry settings for the two registry keys (folders in the tree).

  1. Run ‘regedit’.
  2. Export the two prefix-based keys that are created (“10.0DefaultVsFOrmatting” and “10.0DefaultVsFOrmatting_Config”, in this case).
  3. Import those two keys on any other machines.

From there, any time I make a config change, I need to repeat this process on any machine that shares these settings. Not ideal, but it gets the job done.

UPDATE:

Unfortunately, after trying this, I found out many of the registry settings are set to explicit user-based paths. I need to try making those paths relative to various path variables (e.g., %userprofile%) before exporting the registry key and importing it elsewhere, but that may blow up Visual Studio. If you use the same user on all of your development machines, you are likely fine with this process; if not, you will need to tweak them accordingly.

Alternative (Visual Studio settings files)

Jon Galloway’s comment on Mike’s post has a valid point. It is definitely a useful option to just use a custom Visual Studio settings file (via Paul Stubbs) that can be imported as desired. I ended up using the /RootSuffix route for a couple reasons:

  • Every time I make a common change to the settings (admittedly rare), I would need to update all my various settings files.
  • Importing settings files would take more steps than launching a shortcut, at least unless there is some command-line option I haven’t learned yet where I can use to give Visual Studio the settings for that run.

No matter what method I use, it gets even more difficult to manage these situations when someone has a tool like JustCode or ReSharper installed on their machine. They would then need to maintain settings files for these tools as well, potentially needing to uninstall them for a given project to keep them from going all Rambo on the foreign code.

Conclusion

Ideally, any given Visual Studio-based project would just have a file shared among contributors that enforces the code styling conventions chosen for the project.

Until settings are a part of a project this solution works great on a small scale but is a bit difficult to scale to multiple machines. That said, I only have two machines on which I actively write code, so I will live with the hassle for now.

Getting dynamic ExpandoObject to serialize to JSON as expected

Serializing ExpandoObjects

I am currently creating a JSON API for a handful of upcoming Sierra Trading Post projects. When I found myself generating JSON for a stripped-down representation of a number of domain classes, all wrapped with some metadata, I turned to dynamic and things have been going quite well. Unfortunately, there was a hurdle to getting the JSON to look the way I wanted.

If you start playing around with serializing ExpandoObject to JSON, you will probably start finding a number of options. The easiest solution to find is the one that comes with .NET, JavaScriptSerializer under System.Web.Script.Serialization. It will happily serialize an ExpandoObject for you, but it probably won’t look the way you expect. Your searches will probably vary, but I found Newtonsoft’s JSON.NET, which handled ExpandoObject right out of the NuGet box. Then I stumbled on ServiceStack.Text (also “NuGettable”). While it does even weirder things than the .NET serializer with ExpandoObjects, it supposedly does them very fast.

Test code

dynamic test = new ExpandoObject();
test.x = "xvalue";
test.y = DateTime.Now;

BCL JavaScriptSerializer (using System.Web.Script.Serialization;)

JavaScriptSerializer javaScriptSerializer = new JavaScriptSerializer();
string jsonOfTest = javaScriptSerializer.Serialize(test);
// [{"Key":"x","Value":"xvalue"},{"Key":"y","Value":"\/Date(1314108923000)\/"}]

Not quite what I was looking for but it makes sense if you realize that ExpandoObject plays very nicely with IDictionary<string, object>. By using some code borrowed from StackOverflow (not the accepted answer, but I like it) and theburningmonk.com, you put together a custom serializer for ExpandoObject and you can get something more typical of what went into assembling the object.

/// <summary>
/// Allows JSON serialization of Expando objects into expected results (e.g., "x: 1, y: 2") instead of the default dictionary serialization.
/// </summary>
public class ExpandoJsonConverter : JavaScriptConverter {
    public override object Deserialize(IDictionary<string, object> dictionary, Type type, JavaScriptSerializer serializer) {
        // See source code link for this extension method at the bottom of this post (/Helpers/IDictionaryExtensions.cs)
        return dictionary.ToExpando();
    }
    public override IDictionary<string, object> Serialize(object obj, JavaScriptSerializer serializer) {
        var result = new Dictionary<string, object>();
        var dictionary = obj as IDictionary<string, object>;
        foreach (var item in dictionary)
            result.Add(item.Key, item.Value);
        return result;
    }
    public override IEnumerable<Type> SupportedTypes {
        get {
            return new ReadOnlyCollection<Type>(new Type[] { typeof(ExpandoObject) });
        }
    }
}

JavaScriptSerializer javaScriptSerializer = new JavaScriptSerializer();
javaScriptSerializer.RegisterConverters(new JavaScriptConverter[] { new ExpandoJsonConverter() });
jsonOfTest = javaScriptSerializer.Serialize(test);
// {"x":"xvalue","y":"\/Date(1314108923000)\/"}

Newtonsoft Json.NET

string jsonOfTest = Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConvert.SerializeObject(test);
// {"x":"xvalue","y":"\/Date(1314108923000-0600)\/"}

That worked exactly as I expected. If I can get JSON.NET to work consuming JSON under MonoTouch, it will make my life quite easy; more to come on that.

ServiceStack.Text

string jsonOfTest = JsonSerializer.SerializeToString(test);
// ["[x, xvalue]","[y, 8/23/2011 08:15:23 AM]"]

ServiceStack’s JSON serialization system does something similar to the .NET JavaScriptSerializer, but not quite the same. I haven’t spent enough time with ServiceStack to know how this syntax will work out on consumption by another deserializing system, but I suspect this may be something that only ServiceStack would handle correctly.

Unfortunately, the author of the project was nice enough to confirm that ServiceStack.Text does not currently afford the same extensibility as the .NET JavaScriptSerializer for overriding its default behavior in this situation. He did welcome a pull request which I will look into.

ServiceStack.Text also doesn’t appear to support deserializing into an ExpandoObject as this resulted in an empty object.

dynamic testDeserialization = ServiceStack.Text.JsonSerializer.DeserializeFromString<ExpandoObject>(jsonOfTest);

I haven’t confirmed if ServiceStack.Text deserializing works under MonoTouch yet. If it does, it would be worthwhile to have it running API JSON generation as well as the client-side JSON consumption since there is evidence it performs quite nicely.

UPDATE

I slapped together a new MonoTouch project in MonoDevelop and tossed in ServiceStack.Text’s DLLs with a few bits of code and confirmed it works great for a deserializing JSON into a pre-defined object.

public class TestClass {
    public int x { get; set; }
    public string x { get; set; }
}
TestClass result = ServiceStack.Text.JsonSerializer.DeserializeFromString<TestClass>("{\"x\":3,\"y\":\"something\"}");
Console.WriteLine("result: x={0}, y={1}", result.x, result.y);
// result: 3, something

UPDATE (2012-04-05)

I missed a blog entry on the author’s blog describing how to get Json.NET to output DateTime in different ways. For example, if you prefer the ISO-8601 output, you would be able to tell it to use the IsoDateTimeConverter. When I went to update the test project, the latest version of Json.NET (4.5 Release 1) now defaults to ISO-8601. Since I don’t want to risk break an existing API, I tweaked the DateFormatHandling to make the output match the old default. Examples are hard to find since this is such a new release, so I slapped one together and submitted it to the Json.NET docs (now on GitHub).

Newtonsoft.Json.JsonSerializerSettings settingsWithMicrosoftDateFormat = new Newtonsoft.Json.JsonSerializerSettings() { DateFormatHandling = Newtonsoft.Json.DateFormatHandling.MicrosoftDateFormat };
string jsonOfTest = Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConvert.SerializeObject(test, settingsWithMicrosoftDateFormat);
// {"x":"xvalue","y":"1333640263042-0600"}

Unfortunately, even Json.NET 4.5 is appending a timezone offset to the DateTime serialization that isn’t found in the .NET implementation. I’ll look into a custom implementation of DateTimeConverterBase and I have posted this as a question on StackOverflow.

Additional Notes

I haven’t played much with what problems may arise with the various representations of DateTime objects on the consumption side, but they definitely all handled it differently here.

Source Code

To get all the code in an ASP.NET MVC project (download, load solution, hit F5 [I hope]), check out the bitbucket.org repository for this post.

Subtleties with using Url.RouteUrl to get fully-qualified URLs

At some point I missed the Url.RouteUrl overload that took a protocol and returned an absolute URL based on the current context. It is quite handy when you are sending URLs out into the world (e.g., RSS feed link). I ended up using the less-handy overload that took an explicit host (same as the current, in this case) and passing it in. When someone pointed out the simpler overload, I did the obvious and deleted the host from the call. That didn’t quite work.

For those looking for a way to get a fully-qualified URL through the route system, the less-than-obvious answer is to call the overload for Url.RouteUrl that gets a URL with a different protocol (Url.RouteUrl(string, object, string)), passing in Request.Url.Scheme for the current protocol.

Url.RouteUrl("Default", new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 }, Request.Url.Scheme);
// http://www.currentdomain.com/department/index/1

Say you want to send someone to a different subdomain in your app while using the same routes. There’s an overload for that: Url.RouteUrl(string, RouteValueDictionary, string, string). Combined with the above example, here’s how these all play out if you are currently handling a www.currentdomain.com request and your route table includes the fallback default ({controller}/{action}/{id}).

Url.RouteUrl("Default", new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 });
// /department/index/1
Url.RouteUrl("Default", new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 }, Request.Url.Scheme);
// http://www.currentdomain.com/department/index/1
Url.RouteUrl("Default", new RouteValueDictionary(new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 }), "http", "sub.currentdomain.com");
// http://sub.currentdomain.com/department/index/1

Now if you switch between the two fully-qualified calls, you may try just deleting or adding the hostName parameter, respectively. One direction is a compile error, and one direction is a runtime oddity resulting in a hideous URL.

Url.RouteUrl("Default", new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 }, "http", "sub.currentdomain.com");
// Compile error (expects a RouteValueDictionary)
Url.RouteUrl("Default", new RouteValueDictionary(new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 }), "http", "sub.currentdomain.com");
// Eye-bleeding and incorrect route as it "serializes" the RouteValueDictionary.
// In my case, I ended up with something like this:
// http://www.currentdomain.com/current/route/1/?Count=3&Keys=System.Collections.Generic.Dictionary%602%2BKeyCollection%5BSystem.String%2CSystem.Object%5D&Values=System.Collections.Generic.Dictionary%602%2BValueCollection%5BSystem.String%2CSystem.Object%5D

On a side note, if your development environment uses localhost with a port and you use some web.config app setting for that URL change between development and production (“localhost:12345” vs “www.currentdomain.com”). You will want your host setting to be without the port. Url.RouteUrl will hiccup on your development environment if the port is part of the host name (it’s no longer just the host at that point).

Url.RouteUrl("Default", new RouteValueDictionary(new { action = "Index", controller = "Department", id = 1 }), "http", ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["hostwithport"]);
// http://localhost:12345:12345/department/index/1