Monday, July 20, 2009

Some things I’ve been learning lately

I’m using ASP.NET MVC in my current project at work and have been learning a lot in the process. I’ve read a lot of articles and watched some videos. I recently went through the NerdDinner Tutorial which was quite helpful and read most of Professional ASP.NET MVC 1.0. But there’s a lot more to writing a production app than can be learned from reading or even working through a tutorial – so it’s been a slow process, but I feel like I’m learning a lot.

The past few years I’ve been working mostly in classic ASP. I’ve done some C# on the side and a couple basic ASP.NET projects. There are a few reasons I chose to do this project on a new platform. I want to stop developing new features in an outdated platform. I want to make use of some functionality built-in to the .NET Framework. And I want to learn and use some better development practices.

Actually developing a real project in ASP.NET MVC has been a bit of a leap though. I feel like I’m biting off a big chunk. Here are some of the things I’ve been learning:

  • I’m trying to be test-driven (well, except for database access, file access and HTML output – but at least they’re isolated so the other parts are easier to test). It seems to be going better than my previous attempts.
  • I’ve been learning Rhino Mocks for mocking and stubbing.
  • I’m using an object-relational mapper (Fluent NHibernate) for the first time to hopefully reduce redundant database-access code. There’s still a fair amount of raw SQL, but the surrounding code is simpler. (I didn’t use LINQ to SQL because Visual Web Developer Express doesn’t support connecting to an external SQL server.)
  • I just added StructureMap for dependency injection (DI) so that my classes can be more loosely coupled. I started out with poor man’s DI, but just switched to rich man’s… er, using a container.
  • I’m trying to minimize the use of “magic strings” by making use of the strongly-typed HTML helpers in the MVC futures library. I also found the TestControllerBuilder from MVC Contrib helpful for testing HttpContext.
  • I feel like I’m learning OO better. Living in VBScript for so long didn’t help much. I’m also learning the MVC pattern and framework, ASP.NET, C# 3 and LINQ better. I’m currently working on a custom role provider to take advantage of roles from the existing app.
  • On that note, I’ve been realizing how much infrastructure is in the existing app that I took for granted that I will have to port, convert to a web service or use COM interop for.
  • I can sort of deploy it to IIS6 but it’s not one step. Still trying to figure out the best solution.

I was a little scared about all the different things I might have to learn for this project, and looking at this list I can see why. I didn’t absolutely have to learn all of this, but I like to do things “right” and I want to grow as a developer. I believe I’m past the hardest new challenges. I’ve got basic usable functionality. There’s still work to do, but hopefully that will progress more quickly.

There are still several things I would like to learn and do in the future, including:

  • Finish this project
  • Test-driven JavaScript
  • Acceptance/integration testing
  • Continuous integration
  • Scripting database setup and changes
  • Switch from Subversion to Git at work
  • Do all new development in a more modern platform than classic ASP and eventually convert most or all of the older code

That’s it for now. If you found any of it interesting then cool beans ;-). Feel free to comment if you’d like.


  1. Good for you Mike. I still have to learn ASP.Net MVC. Been so busy. I guess I'll just have to take the plunge. Maybe I'll convert an old project that I did for a client.

  2. Bravo, Mike. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure your level of job satisfaction must be climbing at a nice rate as you make the move toward using tools that work with you instead of against you.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement. Look forward to seeing you guys at DevLink!