NDepend

Patrick Smacchia gave me a professional license of NDepend v2.12 so that I could write some stuff about it if I liked it. As it was a gift (yes it is), I decided to force myself to look into this software. And after having looked much of its functionalities, I kind of like it. It’s not THE ultimate tool you have to use, but it’s a little bit like the other (resharper, reflector, etc.), it gives you a better insight of what you have in hand.

It’s a little bit like Resharper, it helps you see what you might have done wrong. Except Resharper tells it when you’re editing the code and NDepend helps you make a full review of the code.

Everything in this software goes around the Code Query Language (CQL). I thought this was some sort of commercial concept to sell more but it turns out that we can do a lot of things with it. It seems like a sensible idea, it’s SQL for the code. And the CQL textbox supports for auto-completion makes the CQL writing process pretty easy.

Don’t make it your judgment tool
I guess the most risky think to do would be to give NDepend to dumb people (like code quality reviewers that don’t understand much of what they do). They would end up getting on everybody’s nevers. Because I don’t think that all the code creating query warnings could be changed. I’ve taken the simple stripped down method example of the StreamRipper app :

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private static Boolean ParseArgs( String[] args, Parameters parameters ) {
	try {
		for ( int i = 0; i < args.Length; i++ ) {
			switch ( args[ i ] ) {
				case "--url":
				case "-u":
					parameters.Urls.Add( args[ ++i ] );
					break;
 
				case "--user-agent":
				case "-a":
					parameters.UserAgent = args[ ++i ];
					break;
 
				case "--reconnect-attempts":
				case "-r":
					parameters.MaxReconnectionTries = int.Parse( args[ ++i ] );
					break;
			}
		}
		return true;
	}
	catch ( Exception ) {
		Console.Error.WriteLine( "Arguments error ! " );
		return false;
	}
}

This code will create a cyclomatic complexity warning (as it would in Resharper 5.0 [I should talk about this someday] with the cyclomatic complexity addin). So, for me, it’s clear you have to accept to have a lot of warnings. It’s not like resharper where you can solve all the warnings by accepting every little things he tells you to do (sometimes I’m resharper’s slave but I like it).

BUT, if you really want to make it your judgment call tool, you should really stick to this diagram :

You can see that in this project some of the projets are in the zone of pain and the zone of uselessness. Don’t worry. In the zone of uselessness we have the WCF contracts. It’s quite normal they are totally abstract. And close to the zone of pain, we have low level libraries. So, nothing to worry about.

If you WANT a quick and dirty rule : If your business logic core code is in one of these two red zones, you have a problem.

What I think it does well
I think it gives you a quick view of the software you’re working on : What are the main projects, classes and methods. What quality of work you should expect from it. The graphical view isn’t pretty but it gives you a good simplified view :

And anytime you have a doubt, you just double-click on the method and it opens it in Visual Studio.

You have the dependency graphical view :

It doesn’t look very useful like this. But within Visual NDepend, it displays the parent and child assemblies when you move your mouse over a project :

Evolution of your project
NDepend also saves the results of all previous analysis and allows you to show the evolution of your product. You can see easily what methods have been modified / added / deleted from one analysis to an other. Each analysis you do is saved and can be compared to any other later. This can be done on simple .Net assembly. This will allow you to see what has been changed between two version of an assembly. And with the help of reflector, you can see precisely what has been fixed/improved.

You can see a pretty good example by Patrick Smacchia : Comparison of .Net BĂȘta 1 and 2 with NDepend.

My thoughts
I think it gives you a quick and simplified view of the organization and size of a project. It’s great .Net tool, I would recommend to any company having big .Net projects. But you shouldn’t spend too much time on trying to comply with all its default CQL query checks as they are a little bit constrictive. If you do, you might want to increase the threshold values. And please take extra care before making judgment calls (it might be tempting).

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