If you’re inheriting an old .NET application and don’t know quite where to begin, Brownfield Application Development in .NET is an excellent guide to tools and practices that can help get you started.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I really enjoyed Framework Design Guidelines by Krzysztof Cwalina and Brad Abrams. I mean, it’s a book about coding standards.
Maybe I ought to get out more… but before I leave the glare of my monitor behind, I’ll type up my review.
Computing languages, just like human languages, have grammar and syntax. There are correct ways to form sentences and paragraphs, with well-defined rules (and exceptions). Just like word processors can check spelling and verify basic sentence structure, most IDEs today can ensure your code will compile and run.
That doesn’t mean that your story or program is an easy or enjoyable read, though. Most newspapers have accumulated extensive guidelines for matters of style and substance, and most software companies have their own guides as well. If you’re writing as part of a team project, or writing programs intended to be used by other programmers, it’s important to make your code consistent, clear, and direct.
Just like many journalists keep a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook or the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage handy — even if they don’t actually work for the New York Times or the AP — lots of programmers keep a copy of Microsoft’s Framework Design Guidelines as reference.
Or they should. That’s probably my roots as a maintenance programmer showing.
Ideally, you’d want any code you write for other Windows programmers’ use to look as if it came from Microsoft itself. That is, you want it to feel like a natural extension of the .NET framework and not some third-party bolt-on with odd stylistic touches. You’d also like your code to use the full power and expressiveness of .NET, and not appear like some watered-down Java-esque port. (Far too many open source projects retain awkward Java-isms after being converted to .NET, in my opinion. NUnit is a notable exception.)
This helps your fellow programmers gain a better understanding of your code in less time. And it can also make your programming tasks easier, too. Just like design patterns can help you lay out your application architecture, programming guidelines can help you structure your code at the class or method level.
The Framework Design Guidelines covers a lot of ground in its 400 pages. It describes what conventions Microsoft uses when designing types, methods, and exceptions. It also describes the naming and design patterns that Microsoft uses in their public APIs. The topics are grouped by category and heavily cross referenced, making it easy to find your way around. The rationale of each guideline is explained, and the authors indicate the strength of each recommendation by marking it with the terms Do, Consider, Avoid or Do Not.
But the best part of the book is the stories and comments given by members of the Microsoft team. These are sprinkled throughout the book and give insight into why the guideline exists. Some of these discuss lessons Microsoft learned the hard way, places in the .NET Framework where the rules are violated, and how real-world programmers feel about certain guidelines. You can get a flavor of these by checking out the Framework Design Guidelines section of Brad Abrams‘ blog.
If you find his posts interesting or helpful, you’ll feel the same way about the book. Highly recommended.
You’ll find The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master on many software developers’ must-read books lists. After reading it from cover to cover, I’ve added it to my essential reading list as well.
It’s not a book for beginners, though. The subtitle of the book, “From Journeyman to Master” sums it up. The Pragmatic Programmer describes the skills, attributes, and attitudes that a mid-level programmer needs to become a professional developer.
Its purpose is to distill the wisdom gathered from a career in programming into about 70 tips. Each of these tips is explained and illustrated with examples that most programmers will find familiar.
The tips are not necessarily about writing code. The authors, Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, take a holistic approach to the craft of programming. They cover topics like communicating effectively, planning and scheduling, and building teams.
I’d read somewhere that you can judge the quality of a craftsman by the quality of his tools. The Pragmatic Programmer is a book I’d expect to see on any professional developer’s shelf.