First things first – I work for Microsoft, and I will not claim to be unbiased. Yet, I bought my Surface out of my own pocket in a regular Microsoft Store – I was even in line for 3 hours to get it. Just like everyone else could.
Secondly, I primarily blog about AX – this is an exception, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.
With the formalities out of the way, let me begin. I’ve had the device for about 1 year now. I wanted to use it primarily for entertainment – I did not go for any of the keyboard options. Let me share my experiences.
The Surface had not been in our home more than a few days when my 4 year old kid came running with it. He tripped over a toy, and the device came flying through the air towards our massive oak table. I’ve hit my toes many times on the table – always with the same result: Pain and Agony in well sized portions. Hearing the thud as the Surface collided with the table I closed my eyes. Game over. My kid was already crying. Bracing my self to clean up and comfort my kid – it was just a piece of hardware after all – I inspected the damages. The Surface was intact. I couldn’t even find the place where it had hit the table. It still worked flawlessly. The table – on the other hand – had lost a small chip of wood. The small disaster turned into a simple “Ooops – up again!” situation.
First time I brought the Surface to some friends’ place, they said: “That is cool – how did you get that on your iPad?” I just smiled back.
The kick-stand is amazingly pleasant as it allows for a much more convenient usage.
We have 3 users of the Surface. My now 8 year old girl and my now 5 year old boy – and myself. We each have an account, we each have our own apps, games and settings. I started out by just setting up one account, but quickly we ended up in situations where little-brother deleted (or moved) the games his sister liked. With 3 accounts that stopped right there.
My 4 year old quickly learned how to login – just press your eyes and your nose. Had the system required a keyboard+password login it would have been usable for him.
Both my kids accounts are monitored by the built in family safety feature in Windows 8. This means I get a weekly report showing how much they used the device and for what purposes. And even better, the data is aggregated across all our Microsoft devices, so it also includes X-Box, the wall-mounted touch-all-in-one PC we have in the kitchen, and the regular workstation. Here is a picture of some of the info the weekly report contains:
The system is highly configurable – you can enforce time limits, ratings etc – you can even excluded some apps (like those used for homework) to count against the time limit. As a parent I feel in control – without feeling I’m spying (too much)
I simply adore the UI – the amount of energy that has been put into the aesthetic look of Windows 8 leaves me humbled. The result leaves me with a feeling of being spoiled. If you haven’t read the story behind the design – you should do so. The competition is ages behind.
Every time I visit Bellevue Square Mall I visit the Mac store – just to see what is brewing. Since Windows 8 came out I’ve not been able to find anything that awakes the even smallest desire in me in Mac land.
I find the same experience elsewhere too: In my pocket (Windows 8 phone), at work (Windows Server 2012), at my Laptop (Windows 8.1) and my X-Box (360 – soon to be One).
The tiles are extremely powerful. They give me information at a glance - I don’t waste my time opening apps to check empty in-boxes.. The Data Sense App (on my phone) tells me my current network usage, the Stock portfolio App tells me how Wall-Street is doing, the weather app tells me the weather, the People app tells me if I have new messages aggregated across social networks, like Facebook, Linked-in. Without even opening a single app I get all this info. That is sheer power!
The Surface has a USB port. This enables me to attach my Kindle to upload documents and charge. This enables me to attach a mouse and keyboard. This enables me to attach a printer. This enables me to attached a USB Drive. This enables me to attach my phone.
What impresses me is that everything just works. All drivers are available for all devices even on Windows RT. I have a Keyspan USB to RS232 – and even that highly specialized niche product has a driver on Windows RT. Connect and use.
When I’ve taken a picture with my phone, it is immediately available on my Surface. When my kids ask: “Can I see the pictures you took?” – we look at them on the Surface – it is better than on the smaller phone.
Skydrive enables many other scenarios too – the one with pictures is my favorite.
The Surface has a desktop – just like you know it from any other version of Windows. You can open File Explorer, Control Panel, Regedit, Task Manager etc. All the built in functionality of Windows is available. And on top of that you get Office.
Some find it limiting that you cannot install 3rd party apps on the desktop in RT mode. This does not concern me. I actually try to install as few as possible across all my PCs – it just makes them easier to maintain and less subject to malware.
For the past year we have not had any problems with the battery life time. I’m not sure how many hours we get out of it, but it is never a problem. Not even on our 3 week vacation in car across Europe this summer.
There are plenty of apps and games – at least for my taste. There are a few titles missing – but then again, there are also some exclusive titles – like FreshPaint.
The Dynamics AX Debugger doesn’t support conditional breakpoints. Once in a while this limitation can be quite annoying – but there is a simple workaround. The third trick in the series of X++ Debugging Tips and Tricks shows you how.
This trick requires code instrumentation – I strongly discourage using this trick on a production system. Only use this trick in a test or development sandbox!
By using the breakpoint keyword, you can write X++ logic that triggers a breakpoint exactly as you want.
Consider this example. It is a recursive implementation of the mathematical function: Factorial. On a 32 bit system it will overflow when called with a sufficient high value. The example shows how to a breakpoint when an overflow occurs.
static void ConditionalBreakpointExample(Args args)
int factorial(int _value)
int result = 1;
for (i=1; i<=_value; i++)
result = result * i;
if (result < prevResult)
breakpoint; //Overflow occurred
prevResult = result;
The same approach can be used in many other scenarios too. Here is another example – I’d like a breakpoint to fire when a Released Product with Item Id “1000” is inserted in the database. To achieve that I add the following to the insert method on the InventTable table.
if (this.ItemId == "1000")
There is another way to achieve the same result. You can also insert a no-op line, like i=i; and set a normal breakpoint on that line using F9. This approach has the benefit that only the user setting the breakpoint will hit it – but at the risk of leaving some “silly looking code” behind. In contrast the breakpoint statement triggers a best practice error – so they are easy to clean out again.
There is another usage of the breakpoint statement. Sometimes regular breakpoints in forms don’t fire – here the breakpoint statement also comes in handy. Instead of setting a breakpoint using F9 – just type “breakpoint;” in the code. This will trigger the debugger.
This post is provided AS-IS, and confers no rights or warranties.
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In the first trick we saw how to set a breakpoint in the add method on the info class. This enables us to get the context of a single error. But sometimes error messages come in hoards and stepping through each of them is not practical. Suppose you have hundreds or even thousands of errors occurring, and you want to trace where they are coming from. This trick shows you how. This trick requires code instrumentation – I will strongly discourage using this trick on a production system. Only use this trick in a test or development sandbox! The system APIs available in Dynamics AX are fantastic. There is hidden gem of an API that gives access to the current X++ call stack in the form of a container. This makes it relatively simple to include the call stack in the error messages shown in the Infolog. Just insert this line of X++ code in the add method in the info class just after the variable declaration section:
_txt += con2Str(xSession::xppCallStack());
Now run the scenario, and inspect the Infolog. It will include the call stack for each message, and will look something like this:
With this information it is much easier to browse through the many messages in the Infolog and find variations in the call stacks.
I hate debugging - I would much rather write code or watch tests execute! Debugging is a waste of time, and often follows an unpredictable path. Any developer knows the situation: A bug is discovered, and the cause must be found. Most developers have these war stories on how they fought with a bug. The battle swung back and forth. Theories were tested and discarded, instrumentation was built, log files were examined, Murphy visited and, coffee was spilled. When the stories are told, they typically have a happy ending, so eventually the Eureka-moment occurred and the cause was found. And a debugging lesson was learned.
One of my toughest debugging session spanned almost 2 weeks. My code was complete and ready for check-in. I had worked on it for about 2 months in a private branch. Before reverse integrating into the main branch I ran all unit tests. A successful run takes about 12 hours. In my case the execution crashed after about 10 hours. I tried to run the single test case that crashed in isolation. It passed. I tried again with the full automation. It still crashed. I then tried disabling the crashing test, just to realize 10 hours later, that now a different test crashed. I then tried running with a debug version of AX32, so I could debug the crash. But the debug build is much slower, so it would take ages before the crash happened. So I needed to isolate the crash in a simpler repro. I tried changing the order of tests, and with every change I made the crash moved somewhere else. I then began trawling the system logs for information about the crash. This lead me to think about memory – perhaps something was leaking memory. I instrumented the test automation, so it would dump the current memory footprint every 10 seconds to a log file. And yes – memory consumption climbed until the crash occurred. But hey; I’m just writing X++ code – what can I possibly do that causes memory to leak? Driving home one day I got the idea that perhaps it was not my code, but the X++ runtime. After all; I was using some of the not-yet-released-at-this-point X++ features pretty heavily (attributes and events). So I wrote a small job, that exercised these areas heavily, and I saw memory climbing slowly but steadily until the crash. Now with a simple repro in hand, it was not hard to solve the issue – but I did require help from my friends in the X++ team. Two weeks had passed before I was ready to submit, my code was exactly the same, and now all test passed.
This X++ debugging series of posts is dedicated to share X++ debugging tips and tricks. Having a toolbox full of different ways to attack bugs is required to be a productive developer. I’m going to share some of my tricks. If you have tricks of your own, please write a comment, and I will include them in the series. The ultimate goal is that we all efficiently find and solve X++ bugs.
Trick #1 – Breakpoint in Info.add()
Trick #2 – xSession::xppCallStack()
Trick #3 – Conditional breakpoints
Trick #4 – To be announced
Trick #5 – To be announced
This trick is probably the first every X++ developer learns, so it deserves to be the first on the list of X++ Debugging Tips and Tricks.
Suppose an X++ exception occurs and you want to know why. The error is written to the Infolog. Double-clicking the line in the Infolog window will bring you to the line that threw the exception. Sometimes it is trivial to see the cause just by looking at the code. Other times it is not, and you will need the entire context including the call stack and variables to figure out what the cause is.
Set a breakpoint in the add method on the Info class – and rerun the scenario. When the exception is thrown your breakpoint is hit, and you can perform the autopsy.
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CODE & UPGRADE ANALYSIS
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“In computer programming, an assertion is a predicate (a true–false statement) placed in a program to indicate that the developer thinks that the predicate is always true at that place.”
What would you rather have: A piece of source code with or without assertions? I’d definitely prefer source code with assertions – it makes the code easier to read, debug and troubleshoot.
My recommendation is to use assertions in X++ when all of the following are true:
Assertions and error handling are two different things.
In a nutshell, it should be possible to write unit test for error handling – but not for assertions.
Assert statements takes time to write and read – and if the condition they are asserting is obviously always true, then the assertion is pure clutter – and we are better off without it.
A failing assertion is an indication of a problem with the implementation. Something within the component – regardless of input from the outside world – is broken and needs fixing. Typically, I’d use assertions for input validation in private methods, and exceptions in public methods. Conversely, you don’t want consumers of your component to be hit by assertions – regardless of how they use your component.
Assert statements in X++ are a little special, as the X++ compiler always includes assert statements. In other languages (like C#) you can have multiple compiler targets – and typically the release build would not include the assert statements.
Given assert statements in X++ are always evaluated, and thus degrades performance, they should be used with a bit of caution. If the condition can be verified with minimal overhead – for example that a variable has a certain value – then there is no problem. However; if the assertion requires execution of complex logic, RPC or SQL calls then it should be avoided, due to the performance impact. In cases where the performance impact is significant, but you don’t want to compromise on assertions, the assertions can be wrapped inside a call to Debug::debugMode().
“without any method calls” is just a guiding principles. Sometimes it makes sense to factor the condition into a Boolean method – for reuse or for clarity – here I would not object.
Here is an example of good use of assertion in X++:
private void markDetailRecordAsEdited( RecId _journalControlDetailId, RecId _draftConstraintTreeId)
Debug::assert(_journalControlDetailId != 0);
Debug::assert(_draftConstraintTreeId != 0);
if (! modifiedDetailRecords.exists(_journalControlDetailId))
modifiedDetailRecords.insert( _journalControlDetailId, _draftConstraintTreeId);
Here is another example where Debug::debugMode() is used:
private void render()
Debug::assert(this.hierarchyCount() > 0);
Debug::assert(segments != null);
Debug::assert(totalSegmentCount > 0);
I once saw a t-shirt with this print on the front: “If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in”. I wish the back had read: “Programming with assertions is one way to keep bugs out.”
Read more here.