Archive for October, 2010

Garbage Collection in .NET 4.0

October 17, 2010

GC prior to .NET 4.0

Most of us know how the GC generations work, but I’ll give a very brief rundown for those that haven’t looked at them yet, or may need a refresher.
There are 3 of them. 0, 1, 2.
When an item is first created, it’s considered a gen 0 item.
If it survives subsequent collections (because it’s still in use), it becomes a gen 1 item and so on.
gen 0 items mainly consist of instance variables, where as the later generation items are generally of a more global scope.
gen 2 items often stick around for the duration of the application.

The GC operates in the following modes

server or workstation.

You can change the modes in either your app.config (that’s per app) or in the machine.config (that’s machine wide)
See here.


      <gcServer enabled="false" />
      <gcConcurrent enabled="true" />

As discussed by Tess Ferrandez (champion ASP.NET debugger)
The restrictions here are

  • you can not run the server version on a single proc box, it will default to workstation
  • you can not run concurrent while also running server
  • if the runtime is hosted, the hosts GC mode will override the configuration

workstation (the default mode), concurrent workstation (the default if >0 multi core procs exist),
Each of these modes are optimised for different scenarios.

Generally, it’s best not to change these settings, and especially on the machine level.
The .NET 4.0 GC is considerably smarter than previous versions of the framework, and there is even less reason to contemplate changing it.

Before .NET 4.0 the GC on a concurrent workstation could do most but not all of gen 0 and gen 1 reclaim at the same time as the gen 2 items.
The GC was unable to start additional collections when a current collection was in progress.
This meant that only memory in the current segment or block could be reclaimed.

In .NET 4.0 background GC has been introduced

This allows another GC (gen 0 and 1) to start at the same time as an existing full GC (gen 0, 1 and 2) is running.
This is able to significantly reduce the time a full GC takes.
Concurrent workstation GC has been replaced by background GC.
Server modes currently don’t support the background GC, but the CLR team is aiming to have this introduced in the next version of the framework.
GC in .NET 4.0 has been tested on machines with up to 128 CPU cores, with confirmed efficiency improvements.
Apparently they’ve reduced the time needed to suspend managed threads.

A couple of good informative links on background GC

Garbage Collection Notifications

In .NET 3.5SP1 onwards we’re provided with GC.RegisterForFullGCNotification.

Only available when concurrent GC is disabled (not the default).
Does not support concurrent garbage collection because memory allocations are allowed while concurrent garbage collection is in progress. See the <gcConcurrent> runtime setting for information about how to disable concurrent garbage collection.
Have a look at this example Microsoft has provided for Garbage Collection Notifications.
I’m not sure why MS has decided to implement notifications this way.
I would have thought a much better way to do this would be to simply subscribe to a notification event providing a delegate with WaitForFullGCProc (your conditional logic), rather than spin up a new thread which takes a ThreadStart delegate of WaitForFullGCProc (your conditional logic) and blocks on GC.WaitForFullGCApproach.

Thoughts / Feedback welcome.

LSP / DbC and .NET’s support

October 12, 2010
Part 2

Some Examples

Bear in mind, there are additional overloads for most/all of the following procedures.
Be sure to check them out.

Examples of Preconditions


Ensures that a condition is true when in debug mode.


Contract.Assert(MyInput != null);


Instructs code analysis tools to assume that the condition supplied as an argument is true, even if it can not be statically proven to always be true.
Good example of how this can be used.


Contract.Assume(MyInput != null);


Must be at the beginning of a method or property. Ensures that a condition is true before any other code.
The following example ensures that MyInput parameter is valid (not null in this case) before any other code is run on the same thread.


Contract.Requires(MyInput != null);


Is used to inform the compiler to treat all code before it as if it was a code contract.
This is useful for legacy code.
For example if you have parameter validation code that does not use Code Contract’s.
The contract tools recognise if/then/throw statements as preconditions when the statements appear first inside a method or property,
and the set of such statements are followed by a Contract method call, such as Requires, Ensures, EnsuresOnThrow or EndContractBlock.


if(MyInput == null)
    throw new NullReferenceException("The input is null");

Examples of Postconditions


Ensures that a condition is true on exit of a method or property.


Contract.Ensures(0 <= speed && speed <= 800);


This method call must be at the beginning of a method or property, before any other code.
If an exception is thrown, the specified condition must be true and the exception being thrown is of the specified type parameter.


public bool AddAndProcessItem(T item)

		 // add item to a collection and set it's Added property to true
	catch (AdditionException)
		 item.Added = false;

	// ... other operations
	return true;


Allows the iteration through a collection to ensure all members meet a specific requirement.


// first param MyCollection is of type IEnumerable
// second param is a delegate, or lambda (often called a predicate when used like this)
Contract.ForAll(MyCollection, x=>x!=null);

Object Invariants

Used to mark methods that contain object invariant specifications.
Defined by decorating a method with the ContractInvariantMethodAttribute.
ContractInvariantMethodAttribute can only be used on a single method per class.
The method must return void and carry out no operations other than a sequence of calls to Contract.Invariant


void ObjectInvariant ()
   Contract. Invariant ( _y >= 0 );
   Contract. Invariant ( _x > _y );

Code Contract Values

There are also some useful pseudo variables that can be used when writing postconditions.


A methods or properties return value can be refered to by Contract.Result<T>()
Contract.Result<T>() can be used only in the conditional expression for the Ensures contract.
Methods with a return type of void cannot refer to Contract. Result<T>() within their postconditions for the obvious reason.


Contract.Ensures(0 < Contract.Result());


Contract.OldValue<T>(T value) can be used only in the conditional expression for the Ensures contract.
The generic type argument may be omitted whenever the compiler is able to infer its type.
There are a few restrictions around the use of OldValue. Have a look at the User Manual document. Listed at the end of the post.


Contract.Ensures(MyInput != Contract.OldValue(MyInput));


Using the PureAttribute indicates that a type, method, property, etc is pure, that is, It has no visible side-effects for callers.
You can only use a method/property/etc in a contract if it is declared Pure.
If the method/property/etc is not decorated with this attribute when called from within a contract, a warning will be given “Detected call to impure method”.

See this post, it has a good example.

Interface Contracts

Contracts for interfaces must be defined in a separate class decorated with the ContractClassForAttribute.
The interface sporting the contract must be decorated with the ContractClassAttribute specifying the type that has the interfaces contract.
The class that implements the interfaces contract is expected to be abstract.
The User Manual listed at the end of this post has some good examples of how to set up Interface Contracts.


interface IDoSomething
	int DoSomething(int value);

sealed class ContractForInteface : IDoSomething
	int IDoSomething.DoSomething(int value)
		Contract.Requires( value != 0);
		//contracts require a dummy value
		return default(int);

There’s plenty of good documentation around Code Contracts

System.Diagnostics.Contracts Namespace
The Contract Class
Brief description of Code Contracts and how to use them
The User Manual
Code Contracts on DevLabs
DimeCasts has a few web casts on Code Contracts

LSP / DbC and .NET’s support

October 11, 2010
Part 1

Two design principle’s I believe go hand in hand are

  1. Dr. Barbara Liskov’s Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP)
  2. Dr. Bertrand Meyer’s Design by Contract (DbC)

Lets keep our Object Oriented relationships adhering to the LSP and the DbC.
The LSP and the DbC provide both theory and practical guidelines of how we as software engineers can design…

  • Hierarchical components that behave the same across all layers.
  • Systems that produce predictable results on a layer, from changes made on another layer (providing architecture that can be reasoned about).
    As programmers, we need to be able to make correct assumptions about the behaviour of abstract data types and their derivatives.
    LSP and DbC provide us with the ability to create intuitive class hierarchies that support the object oriented architectural reasoning process.
  • Extensible code. Ability to add functionality without having to change existing code, but rather extending it.


The LSP states that you shouldn’t inherit from a base class unless the derived class truly “is a” more specific version of the base class (Liskov 1988).
Subtype objects must be behaviourally substitutable for supertype objects.
Programmers must be able to reason correctly about and rely upon the behaviour of subtypes using only the specification of the supertype behaviour.

Robert C. Martin wrote this excellent article on LSP.
Which I found here along with many other great articles.

Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas summarise LSP like this: “Subclasses must be usable through the base class interface without the need for the user to know the difference.”
In other words, all the routines defined in the base class should mean the same thing when they’re used in each of the derived classes.

As Steve McConnell in Code Complete puts it:
If you have a base class of Account and derived classes of CheckingAccount, SavingsAccount, and AutoLoanAccount.
A programmer should be able to invoke any of the routines derived from Account on any of Account’s subtypes without caring about which subtype a specific account object is.

If a program has been written so that the LSP is true, inheritance is a powerful tool for reducing complexity because a programmer can focus on the generic attributes of an object without worrying about the details.
If a programmer must be constantly thinking about semantic differences in a subclass implementation, then inheritance is increasing complexity rather than reducing it.
This goes against software’s primary technical imperative of managing complexity.
Suppose a programmer has to think this
“If I call the InterestRate() routine on CheckingAccount or SavingsAccount,
it returns the interest the bank pays,
but if I call InterestRate() on AutoLoanAccount I have to change the sign because it returns the interest the consumer pays to the bank.”
According to LSP, AutoLoanAccount should not inherit from the Account base class in this example
because the semantics of the InterestRate() routine are not the same as the semantics of the base class’s InterestRate() routine.


From my understanding. DbC provides constraints which enforce the LSP.
LSP is notional. DbC provides us with the practical approach.

.Net 4.0 gives us Code Contracts which directly support the DbC principle.
In looking at what the .Net framework 4.0 provides us with in the System.Diagnostics.Contracts namespace.
Bear in mind, this is not a language extension or a runtime extension. It’s just a library.
I think that using the static class’s in your code, that System.Diagnostics.Contracts provides would be a prime candidate for Aspect Oriented Programming.
It looks like the .Net CLR has support for AOP, although it doesn’t sound like it has been implemented very cleanly.
Have a look at this.
IMHO, when using AOP, the actual business code utilising the aspects, should not show any signs of the aspects (Code Contracts (in our case)).
Although it looks like there are some open source alternatives that do the job quite nicely.
Anyway, without diving into AOP, lets save it for another post and move on.

DbC is actually a registered trademark of Eiffel Software.
Bertrand Meyer when designing the Eiffel programming language came up with this term.
DbC provides us with class invariants, preconditions and postconditions.

C# for artists by Rick Miller has a good explanation of these.

Class Invariant

A class invariant is an assertion about an object property that must hold true for all valid states the object can assume.
For example, suppose an airplane object has a speed property that can be set to a range of integer values between 0 and 800.
This rule should be enforced for all valid states an airplane object can assume.
All methods that can be invoked on an airplane object must ensure they do not set the speed property to less than 0 or greater than 800.


A precondition is an assertion about some condition that must be true before a method can be expected to perform it’s operation correctly.
For example, suppose the airplane object’s speed property can be incremented by some value and there exists in the set of airplane’s public interface methods one that increments the speed property any where from 1 to 5 depending on the value of the argument supplied to the method.
For this method to perform correctly, it must check that the argument is in fact a valid increment value of 1,2,3,4, or 5.
If the increment value tests valid then the precondition holds true and the increment method should perform correctly.
The precondition must be true before the method is called, therefore it is the responsibility of the caller to make the precondition true, and the responsibility of the called method to enforce the truth of the precondition.


A postcondition is an assertion that must hold true when a method completes its operations and returns to the caller.
For example, the airplane’s speed increment method should ensure that the class invariant speed property being 0<=speed<=800 holds true when the increment method completes its operations.

Code Contracts can run on .Net 4.0 or previous versions.

Code Contracts as a whole include

1)   Static methods from the Contract class

  • Express assumptions and constraints, I.E. the object invariants, pre and post conditions.

2)   Static analyzer or static checker

  • Provide compile-time analysis.
  • Checks for implicit contracts, such as null dereferences and checking array bounds, as well as the explicit developer provided contracts.
  • Only available in Microsoft’s Premium edition or above of Visual Studio.

3)   Runtime analyzer or binary rewriter

  • modifies the IL by injecting the contracts.
  • performs runtime checking.

Once you’ve installed either the Standard or Premium Edition of the managed code contracts from DevLabs.
Projects within Visual Studio will now have an extra property pane entitled “Code Contracts”.
This pane provides configuration options for both static and runtime contract checking.

I think the idea is that if your project is targeting:

  1. A .Net framework version prior to 4.0, the System.Diagnostics.Contracts namespace is in the Microsoft.Contracts.dll.
  2. The .Net framework version is 4.0, the System.Diagnostics.Contracts namespace is in the mscorlib.dll.

Discussion on Class Construction Techniques

October 10, 2010

I had a discussion with some work colleges a short while ago,
around a couple of different techniques of constructing a class object.
The two approaches involved in the discussion where…

  1. Should we prefer constructing an object by providing public access to its members and initialising them external to the class, like the Builder pattern does?
  2. Or by initialising the objects members within its constructor, I.E. like the Factory Method and Abstract Factory does?

My take on this, was that it would be best object oriented practice to keep the initialisation of the objects members within the constructor if possible.
As far as I’m aware, there seems to be more support for the “keeping initialisation within the constructor”.

Some of my supporting arguments were the following

From Steve McConnell’s Code Complete

Chapter 6: Working Classes
Initialise all member data in all constructors, if possible.
Initialising all data members in all constructors is an inexpensive defensive programming practice.

Chapter 10: General Issues in Using Variables
Initialise a class’s member data in its constructor.
Just as a routine’s variables should be initialised within each routine, a class’s data should be initialised within its constructor.

Builder pattern verses the likes of the Factory Method and Abstract Factory.
Notice the Frequency of use for the Builder verses the other two?

Examples of class’s that know how to populate themselves


You can get code examples here if you’re not familiar with the patterns.
Any feedback on what people think about the before mentioned approaches would be great.

Distributed Version Control the solution?

October 3, 2010

Due to the fact that I am starting to need a Version Control System at home for my own work and the company I currently work for during the day could potentially benefit from a real Version Control System.

I’ve set out to do an R&D spike on what is available and would best suite the above mentioned needs.
I’ve looked at a large range of products available.

At this stage, due to my research and in talking to some highly regarded technical friends and other people about their experiences with different systems, I’ve narrowed them down to the following.

Subversion, Git and Mercurial (or hg)
Subversion is server based.
Git and hg are distributed (Distributed Version Control System (DVCS)).

The two types of VCS and some of their attributes.

Centralised (or traditional)

  • Is better than no version control.
  • Serves as a single backup.
  • Server maintenance can be time consuming and costly.
  • You should be able to be confident that the server has your latest changeset.


  • Maintenance needs are significantly reduced, due to a number of reasons. One of which is… No central server is required.
  • Each peer’s working copy of the codebase is a complete clone.
  • There is no need to be connected to a central network. Which means users can work productively, even when network connectivity is unavailable.
  • Uses a peer-to-peer approach rather than a client-server approach that the likes of Subversion use.
  • Removes the need to rely on a single machine as a single point of failure.
    Although it is often a good idea to have a server that is always online and ready to accept changesets.
    As you don’t always know whether another peer has accepted all your changes or is online.
  • Most operations are much faster than the centralised model, as no network is involved.
  • Each copy of the repository effectively acts as a remote backup. Which has multiple benefits.
  • There is no canonical code base, only working copies.
  • Operations such as commits, viewing history and rolling back are fast, because there is no need to communicate with a central server.
  • A web of trust is used to merge code from disparate repositories.
  • Branching and Merging made easier.
  • No forced structure: a central server can be implemented or peers can control the codebase.
  • Although I don’t see huge benefits for a central server in my target scenario.
  • Buddy builds. A team member can pass a change set to another member to try before committing to a central location.
    This would stop broken CI builds.
  • There is a huge amount of flexibility with your layout.
  • With a well planned layout a Distributed Version Control System can do anything a Centralised system can do, with the additional benefit of easy merges.

In weighing up the pros and cons of distributed versus the centralised model.

I think for my target requirements,
a distributed system has more to offer in the way of time savings and hardware savings.
This page has a good explanation of the differences between Centralised and Distributed.
Here is a detailed list of comparisons of some of the more common systems.

Mercurial is ticking quite a few boxes for me.
Mercurial has a VisualStudio plug-in.
There is a GUI available for windows platforms and others that integrates Mercurial directly into your explorer.
It’s free, open, and being actively maintained.
Projects using Mercurial.

Mercurial is written in Python, which is another plus for me.
Binaries are freely available for Windows, GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, OpenSolaris.
The source is also available, so you can build it for most platforms.

Plenty of documentation here, plus the book.

Installation and Configuration. Covering Windows, Debian and more.
TortoiseHg has binaries for windows and debian, but only for Squeeze onwards by the look of it.
If your running Lenny, you can just use hg. apt-get install mercurial.
When I downloaded and installed the 64 bit version of TortoiseHg (v1.1.3 hg v1.6.3), it came with 4 comprehensive documents.

  1. Mercurial: The Definitive Guide 2010-02-21 as pdf
  2. TortoiseHg v1.1.3 Documentation in both pdf and chm
  3. Mercurial Command Reference

Very nice!
Turn off the indexing service on the working copies and repositories, and exclude them from virus scans
Can also get TortoiseHg here (For Debian, TortoiseHq isn’t available for Lenny).
Click the Tutorial link for the Quick start guide to TortoiseHg.

Once installed, start working through the following links.

Comments or thoughts?