Thoughts on ASP.NET MVC Preview 2 and Beyond

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At this year’s Mix conference, we announced the availability of the second preview for ASP.NET MVC which you can download from here. Videos highlighting MVC are also available.

Now that I am back from Mix and have time to breathe, I thought I’d share a few (non-exhaustive) highlights of this release as well as my thoughts on the future.

New Assemblies and Routing

Much of the effort and focus of this release was put into routing. If you’ve installed the release, you’ll notice that MVC has been factored into three assemblies:

  • System.Web.Mvc
  • System.Web.Routing
  • System.Web.Abstractions

The key takeaway here is that MVC depends on Routing which depends on Abstractions.

MVC => Routing => Abstractions

Routing is being used by another team here at Microsoft so we worked on making it an independent feature to MVC. MVC relies heavily on routing, but routing doesn’t have any knowledge of MVC. I’ll write a follow up post that talks about the implications of that and how you might use Routing in a non-MVC context.

Because of the other dependencies on Routing, we spent a lot of time trying to make sure we got the API and code correct and making sure the quality level of routing meets an extremely high bar. Unfortunately, this investment in routing did mean that we didn’t implement everything we wanted to implement for MVC core, but hey, it’s a preview right? ;)

CodePlex Builds

At Mix this year Scott Hanselman’s gave a great talk (IMHO) on MVC. One thing he announced during that talk is the vehicle by which we will be making the MVC source code available. Many of you might recall ScottGu’s recent roadmap for MVC in which he mentioned we would be making the source available. At Mix, Scottha announced that we would be deploying our source to CodePlex soon.

Not only that, we hope to push source from our source control to a CodePlex Project’s source control server on a semi-regular basis. These builds would only include source (in a buildable form) and would not include the usual hoopla with associated with a full Preview or Beta release.

How regular a schedule we keep to remains to be seen, but Scott mentioned in his talk around every four to six weeks. Secretly, between you and me, I’d love to push even more regularly. Just keep in mind that this is an experiment in transparency here at Microsoft, so we’ll start slow (baby steps!) and see how it progresses. In spirit, this would be the equivalent to the daily builds that are common in open source projects, just not daily.

Unit Test Framework Integration

In a recent post, I highlighted some of the work we’re doing around integrating third party unit testing frameworks.

Unit Testing
Frameworks

I’ve been in contact with various unit testing framework developers about integrating their frameworks with the MVC project template. I’m happy to see that MbUnit released updated installers that will integrate MbUnit into this dropdown. Hopefully the others will follow suit soon.

One interesting approach I should point out is that this is a great way to integrate your own totally tricked out unit testing project template complete with your favorite mock framework and your own private assembly full of your useful unit test helper classes and methods.

If you’re interested in building your own customized test framework project which will show up in this dropdown, Joe Cartano of the Web Tools team posted an updated streamlined walkthrough on how to do so using NUnit and Rhino Mocks as an example.

Upcoming improvements

One area in this preview we need to improve is the testability of the framework. The entire MVC dev team had a pause in which we performed some app building and uncovered some of the same problems being reported in various forums. Problems such as testing controller actions in which a call to RedirectToAction is made. Other problems include the fact that you need to mock ControllerContext even if you’re not using it within the action. There are many others that have been reported by various people in the community and we are listening. We ourselves have encountered many of them and definitely want to address them.

Experiencing the pain ourselves is very important to understanding how we should fix these issues. One valuable lesson I learned is that a framework that is testable does not mean that applications built with that framework are testable. We definitely have to keep that in mind as we move forward.

To that end, we’ll be applying some suggested improvements in upcoming releases that address these problems. One particular refactoring I’m excited about is ways to make the controller class itself more lightweight. Some of us are still recovering from Mix so as we move forward, I hope to provide even more details on specifically what we hope to do rather than this hand-waving approach. Bear with me.

During this next phase, I personally hope to have more time to continuously do app building to make sure these sort of testing problems don’t crop up again. For the ones that are out there, I take responsibility and apologize. I am a big a fan of TDD as anyone and I hate making life difficult for my brethren. ;)

RTM

When do we RTM? This is probably the most asked question I get and right now, I don’t have a good answer. In part, because I’m still trying to sort through massive amounts of feedback regarding this question. Some questions I’ve been asking various people revolve around the very notion of RTM for a project like this :

  • How important is RTM to you?
  • Right now, the license allows you to go-live and we’ll provide the source, is that good enough for your needs?
  • Is it really RTM that you want, or is it the assurance that the framework won’t churn so much?
  • What if we told you what areas are stable and which areas will undergo churn, would you still need the RTM label?
  • Is there a question I should be asking regarding this that I’m not? ;)

I do hope to have a more concrete answer soon based on this feedback. In general, what I have been hearing from people thus far is they would like to see an RTM release sooner rather than later, even if it is not feature rich. I look forward to hearing from more people on this.

Closing Thoughts

In general, we have received an enormous amount of interest and feedback in this project. Please do keep it coming as the constructive feedback is really shaping the project. Tell us what you like as well as what is causing you problems. We might not respond to every single thing reported as quickly as we would like to, but we are involved in the forums and I am still trying to working through the massive list of emails accrued during Mix.

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