Dennis Burton's Develop Using .NET

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Tags: programming | spec# | SpecSharp

The next topic in this series was supposed to be invariants. While that topic will still be coming up, the topic of nulls was not complete enough. In the last post, coverage was mostly related to parameters and method signatures. Since parameters are not the only variables in a system that can be null, it makes sense to talk a little about class fields. Consider the following class member from the Sentence class discussed in Part 1.

List<string> words = new List<string>();

Several methods and properties in the sentence class perform operations on this variable by dereferencing it and calling its methods and properties. Spec# notices this and warns of a potential null dereference. At first this seemed like a bit of an inconvenience. But if you think about this a second, this warning is for every location where "object reference not set to instance of an object" can occur. Wow, removing that error from the development cycle would no doubt be a huge boost to productivity. So a simple change to the signature eliminates that warning.

List<string>! words = new List<string>();

So what if you are not instantiating objects the same way for each class creation. Try removing the new from the declaration, and a whole different error shows up. This time the constructors all get flagged. Spec# notices that the fields that have been marked as non-null have not been assigned in the constructor. New up a sentence object in the constructor on the validation engine is now happy.

There is an impressive depth to the null checks that can lead to a much more solid code base. In the strong typed world where compiler errors are preferred, Spec# strengthens the type checking pushing potential errors earlier in the development cycle to the point of some of them showing up in the editor pre-compile time!

Monday, 30 June 2008 17:10:53 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
This is way cool! Like you said, huge benefits catching things at compile time and getting that boost from Intellisense during Design.

One minor comment -- and maybe I missed it elsewhere on your site -- but is there a place for a link to the Spec# homepage? I found it here:
http://research.microsoft.com/SpecSharp/

Rich
Rich
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