Colin Thomsen's Microsoft Blog

I'm a developer working on the code profiler that ships with Visual Studio 2010 Premium and Ultimate editions. At a previous company I worked on computer vision software for face and gaze tracking.

August, 2007

  • Colin Thomsen's Microsoft Blog

    Tools of the Trade


    I've been thinking about what some of the most important tools are for me while coding. Here's a few:

    • Good IDE - syntax highlighting, integrated builds, source control integration, search facility, debugger and profiler built-in. I use VSTS.
    • Source control/bug tracking system. I use TFS (typically a dogfood version of TFS).
    • Windows Task Manager.
      I use task manager to:
      - View CPU usage
      - Kill processes
      - Start a new explorer.exe if I ever kill explorer.exe. Do this from the Applications tab.
    • Process Explorer.
      I use Process Explorer like task manager, but it can also:
      - Find what process has a handle (e.g. a file) open. This can be handy if you want to delete a file but a process has it locked.
      - Find out what DLLs a process has loaded
      - List the environment variables for a running process
    • Process Monitor
      I use Process Monitor to record file, registry and process activity. This is very useful when debugging issues in complex programs like VSTS which have a lot of registry interactions.
    • DebugView
      Display debugging output from programs without having to attach a debugger. This is very useful if you want to run your program outside a debugger and still want to see all those debug prints.
    • Media Player. I like to listen to music while I code.
    • Outlook. It is somewhat sad that I spend a fair percentage of my day reading emails, scheduling or checking up on meetings and writing notes in an Outlook journal, but I do and so I have Outlook open all the time.
    • Internet Explorer. I need to use MSDN a lot and do web searches. I also read RSS feeds of relevant blogs with IE.
    • Regedit.
    • Remote Desktop. I work on different machines pretty regularly and Remote Desktop makes switching between machines easy.
  • Colin Thomsen's Microsoft Blog

    C# For C++ Devs: ~A() doesn't act like a destructor


    In C++, memory allocated with the 'new' keyword must be deallocated using 'delete' or it is not deallocated until the application finishes. A call to delete results in a call to the destructor for that class. Classes that are allocated on the stack are automatically destroyed, which calls their destructor, when they go out of scope.

    Sometimes this 'deterministic' memory allocation/deallocation behavior is exploited by developers using scoped objects on the stack to acquire and then automatically release resources even in the presence of exceptions (this pattern is known as Resource Acquisition Is Initialization - RAII).

    Here is a C++ class designed to be used in RAII pattern:

    class A
    // Acquire a resource (e.g. mutex or file)

    // Release the resource

    The class is then used as follows:

    void f()
          A raii;
    // do some stuff, maybe even throw exceptions
    // raii has gone out of scope, so the destructor has been called. If an exception was thrown A still went out of scope and the destructor was still called

    C# is a language with automatic garbage collection which means that developers allocate memory but in most cases they don't need to worry about when that memory is deallocated. There is no way to explicitly call the destructor. It is called whenever the garbage collector decides it is necessary to clean up, which is called Finalizing the class. In most cases classes should not implement a destructor.

    In C#, it is possible to get somewhat deterministic garbage collection (at least for unmanaged objects like files) by implementing the IDisposable interface and adding a Dispose() method. That method acts much more like C++'s destructor than the equivalent class destructor. The dispose pattern is described pretty well for C# in the MSDN help for IDisposable.

    Things to note:

    • The C# destructor will only (and can only) be called by the Finalizer.
    • Dispose() may be called in code.
    • If Dispose() is called before the Finalizer is called, finalization is suppressed using GC.SuppressFinalize(this);.
    • You must be careful not to reference any managed objects if Dispose is called from the destructor (this is achieved in the example by using an extra Dispose() function that takes a bool parameter).
    • It isn't covered in the code, but if you have member variables that implement IDisposable, your class should also implement IDisposable.

    Working with unmanaged resources is clearly much more work than working with managed resources.

    To implement the same RAII pattern from above in C#, assuming you have set up your class A to implement IDisposable, code with the 'using' statement to ensure Dispose() is called at the end of the block as follows:

    using (A raii = new A())
    // Do some stuff...

    This is safe in the presence of exceptions in the same way that the C++ scoped class pattern was above.

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