Monday, December 31, 2007

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Debugging WizardExtensions for Visual Studio Templates

As per my previous post, this exercise would probably be much easier if I used the Guidance Automation Toolkit, but in the spirit of Twelve Days of Code, I promised to boldly venture into areas I normally don't go. I decided that I wanted to try out a WizardExtension so that I could compare the experience with the Guidance Automation Toolkit. So I created a new project and added the following references:

  • EnvDTE
  • ENvDTE80
  • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TemplateWizardInterface
  • System.Windows.Forms

The Visual Studio Template documentation says you need to sign your assembly and install it into the GAC, but that's crazy. Rather than jumping through hoops, I found a handy forum post that describes that the Visual Studio follows the standard assembly probing sequence, so the assembly needs to be in a place that the devenv.exe process can find it. Signing and installing into the GAC is simply a security measure. I didn't want to dump my custom assembly into Visual Studio's assemblies (where I would forget about it) so I created a custom folder in %program files%\Microsoft Visual Studio 8\Common7\IDE and added this to the probingPath of the devenv.exe.config. To enable debugging for my custom wizard-extension, I use two Visual Studio instances. One for my wizard-extension, the other for testing the template. Here are the steps involved:

  • Add the assembly and class name to your ProjectGroup.vstemplate file:
  • Zip up the updated template and copy it into the appropriate Visual Studio Templates folder.
  • Compile the wizard-extension assembly and copy it and its pdb to a path where visual studio can find it
  • Launch a new instance of Visual Studio
  • Switch back to the other visual studio instance, attach to the "devenv" process (the one that says it's at the start page) and set your break-points
  • Switch back to the new instance of Visual Studio and start the template that contains your wizard extension
  • debugging goodness!!

Well, at least I saved myself the effort of signing, etc. This exercise showed that very little is actually done at the ProjectGroup level of a Multi-Project template: the RunStarted is called, followed by ProjectFinishedGenerating method. The biggest disappointment is that the project parameter in the ProjectFinishedGenerating is null. This is probably because the item being created is a Solution, not a project.

The last ditch (seriously, ditch!) is to cast the automationObject passed into RunStarted to _DTE, and the work through COM interop to manage the Solution. That sounds romantic.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bundling Visual Studio templates for distribution

Microsoft's done a fairly good job in packaging for Visual Studio templates. Simply:

  1. Create an xml file that adheres to the Visual Studio Content Installer Schema Reference
  2. Rename the xml with a "vscontent" extension
  3. Place the vscontent file and your template zip into another zip file
  4. Rename that zip file with a "VSI" extension.

Now, when you double click the VSI file it runs a wizard that installs your template into the appropriate Visual Studio Template folder.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Visual Studio 2005 Multi-Project Templates - a waste of time?

As part of my twelve-days-of-code, I'm tackling a set of small projects geared towards simple project automation. I've discovered in recent projects that although the road is always paved with good intentions, other tasks, emergencies and distractions always prevent you from accomplishing what seem to be the most minor tasks. So when starting out on a new task, we always cut corners with the intention of returning to these trivial tasks whenever we find the time, or when they become justified in our client's eyes. However, if we started out with these things done for us, no one would question their existence or worry about a catch-up penalty; we would just accept these things as best-practice.

Visual Studio Project templates are interesting, though my first encounters with them suggest they miss the mark. For my projects, I find the effort isn't about creating the project, it's about creating the overall solution: project libraries, web sites, test harnesses, references to third-party libaries and tools, build-scripts, etc. Visual Studio supports the concept of "Multi-Projects Templates", which are limited (see below), but I suspect that the Guidance Automation Extensions might fill in the gaps.

Visual Studio supports two types of templates within the IDE, and a third type which must be stitched together using XML. The first type refers to "Item Templates" which refer to single files which can be included in any project. I'm focusing more on Project templates and Multi-Project templates.

Within Visual Studio, the concept of a project template is extremely easy: you simply create the project the way you like and then choose the "Export Templates..." option from the File menu. The project and its contents are published as a ZIP file in "My Documents\Visual Studio 2005\My Exported Templates". A big plus on the template structure is that all the files support parameterization, which means you can decorate the exported files with keywords that are dynamically replaced when the template is created by the user. The export wizard takes care of most of the keyword substitution for you, such that root namespaces in all files will match the name of the user's solution. With this in mind, a Project Template is "sanitized" and waiting for your client to adopt your structure with their name.

Multi-Project Templates stitch multiple Project Templates together by using a master xml-based template file. These templates can't be created using the IDE, but you can create a solution and then export each project out as a Project Template, then following this handy MSDN article and the Template Schema reference, you can quickly parcel together a master template.

However, there's a few really nasty limitations with multi-item projects templates. The biggest issue is that the Project Name cannot be parameterized, so the template adopts the names that are defined in your configuration file. As a result, the only thing you can really customize is the name of the solution. I was completely baffled by this: I thought I must be doing something wrong. However, after a few minutes of googling, others had come to the exact same conclusion.

Fortunately, the template system supports a Wizard framework, which would allow you to write some code to dynamically modify the solution. Unfortunately, the code for this would have to be strong-named and installed in the GAC. I'm tempted to wade into this, but I fear that I might be better off looking at the Guidance Automation Toolkit.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Visual Studio Templates - Export Template not available

So I was started into my foray of the Twelve Days of Code, focusing on a "Software Automation" theme. First stop, "Visual Studio Project templates". I've played with these templates before, and because Visual Studio makes them considerably easy to do, this first stop should be an easy one. I had an interesting problem with Visual Studio that slowed me down.

The steps to create a template are straight forward: you create the item and then use the "Export Template" wizard in the "File" menu. However, the "Export Template..." option did not appear in the File menu.

I recently got a new laptop, and had to reinstall everything from scratch. At first I thought it was because IT only installed Visual Studio Professional instead of the Enterprise version. But there have been some other peculiarities, for example, the "Debug" tool bar was missing crucial items like "Step In", and "Step Out".

The culprit was that I had installed SQL Server 2005 after Visual Studio. Because they share the same shell (sounds a lot like the Component UI Application Block) SQL Server had changed the default settings for Visual Studio.

To fix:

  1. Select "Import and Export Settings..." from the Tools menu.
  2. Choose the option to "Reset all Settings."
  3. Choose the option to save your current settings, just in case.
  4. Pick an option that doesn't include "SQL Server". I chose the "Visual C# Development Settings"
  5. Finish

Perhaps the software-automation tip here is to configure your settings with defaults for your team, export them out and share the vssettings file (xml) the team.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Twelve Days of Code

One of the things I always have enjoyed over Christmas holidays is finding a few hours here and there for myself to explore new technolgies or tinker with side-projects. With all the events and distractions, finding time for yourself can be a pretty challenging task. This year, I'm thankful to have a lot of time off, so I've decided the best way to tackle this is to find projects that are interesting but don't require a huge investment of thought. So I'm not going to bother with cracking open the XAML specifications and trying a SilverLight project. Too much time. Too much thought.

So I've come up with the "Twelve Days of Code". Catchy, but not corny. Here's the rules:

  • Tackle a small project each day
  • Use technologies I haven't used before or wouldn't naturally use in the course of a work project
  • No project should take more than an hour.
  • If you get snagged, the hour is about the snag.
  • All the projects have to share a common theme
  • The projects need to provide value to me beyond the scope of the holidays.
  • Keep 'em blog worthy

I've decided my common theme should be "Software Automation" which is anything that saves time for repeated tasks. If I can save other developers on my team time, also great.

I've started a small list of to-do's, and I'm using to help me with the scheduling, etc.

The list of thing I want to play with are:

  • Visual Studio Templates
  • Custom Installers / Wizards
  • Click Once deployment

I'll keep ya posted.