Wednesday, April 28, 2021

TestInsight 1.2 released

Finally! Thanks to Wagner Landgraf who implemented this feature you can now enjoy the hierarchical view of your unit tests just like you know it from the good ol' DUnit GUI.

Here is how it looks in TestInsight in the "by fixtures" view - remember you can toggle between the "by type" view and this one at any time just by clicking that notepad icon.

Not only does it look nicer than the old DUnit GUI, but it also executes the tests way faster and allows you to directly navigate to the source of any of your tests with a simple double click on them, now even if you inherited that test from a base class - you will always end up in the correct method. And all that directly from within the IDE as you know it.

Wagner also implemented support for running DUnit tests with TestInsight on pas2js - I wonder why that might be... 😏

We also improved the way tests are selected when a DUnit project runs - it now simply iterates the entire tree of tests and marks those that you selected in the IDE to then just let them run instead of relying on the ShouldRun method from the listener interface which also made it possible to properly use test decorators without them being run even if there were no tests selected for them.

The new view is not only supported for DUnit though but also for DUnitX and DUnit2.

By the way - please remember: the "fast forward" icon has two functions. When no tests are selected it runs a "discover" which means doing a quick project run but just collect which tests are there without executing them. If any tests have a checkbox, then it executes just those but still collects all other tests inside the project. And via the context menu, you can quickly run the currently focused test or the entire branch without changing any checkboxes.

TestInsight supports any Delphi version from XE and newer - always the latest update on each major version.
You can download the setup here.

Thanks again Wagner - was a pleasure to work with you on this release.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A guide on successful open source collaboration

You are sharing your source with others or you want to contribute to an open-source project? This is great!

Let's talk about a few points to ensure this will be an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Setting things up

First things first: If you maintain a git repository please add an appropriate .gitignore and a .gitattributes file.

There are several templates for that and articles explaining them - hence I am not going into detail here. Just one thing: rule those line endings and don't let them rule you by messing up your blue dots in the IDE, garbling your class completion or your project file, or making every second commit a complete mess.

People have different settings in their git on how to deal with line endings and there is no "correct" or "wrong" way, they are just different - that's why smart people invented the .gitattributes file to let the repository decide how line endings should be treated equally for every participant. Add it, possibly clean up any existing wrong line endings and everyone will be happy going forward.

Know the tools

Please learn the tools you are using - if your history looks like Cthulhus tentacles because you don't know how to properly pull rebase you are doing something wrong. This is especially important when you are creating pull/merge requests and the reviewer asks you to fix some things and get the branch up to date for a clean and conflict-free merge. Learn how to interactive rebase and respect the maintainers time by not having them look through your trial and error going back and forth, turning things upside down three times, merging upstream changes in the middle garnished with "fixed conflicts after merge" commits until you finally reached the state you want to submit. Learn how to work with different remotes managing your fork and the original repo in order to keep your fork up to date in a clean way. Again there are guides out there explaining these things in great detail. Please read them.

Respect each other

Divide separate things into own commits, write meaningful commit messages, and if necessary put things into separate pull requests to not throw one big clump at the maintainer making it easier to look through the several things piece by piece. It will also make it easier to address remarks made during the review, produce a better and/or quicker outcome and leave all participants in a good mood.

Stick to the coding style of the maintainer - this includes naming and formatting as well as the usual approach on things in the repository. The codebase uses begin after then instead of in a new line? Then do so as well. They write integer lowercase or String uppercase? Then do so as well. Don't try to sneak your personal style in there if it's in contrast to the existing code. Nothing worse than a patchwork of different coding styles emerging over time the more contributors come together.

These are just some of my recommendations and you might have a different opinion on some things or some details but after being active in open source development for over 15 years I believe following these suggestions will improve collaboration on open source projects for everyone.

If you are not contributing to some open source project yet - then please be encouraged to consider doing so. Start small, maybe you found an issue in some library you are using - find out of it's known yet and report if not. If you already found a fix, consider providing this fix attached to the issue or as a pull/merge request.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Out parameters are just bad var parameters

After talking about const parameters last time today we take a closer look at out parameters and how they differ from var parameters.

I like the concept of out parameters as they clearly state that only the value that comes back matters and not the value that goes in. However, the Delphi implementation of out parameters has some aspects to it that can cause a decision against them and rather choose a var parameter. As last time we will look at some assembler code that shows what those differences are. Out parameters like var parameters pass a reference to the value rather than the value itself.

The code for this article will be this:
  TTestType = ...;

procedure C(z: TTestType);

procedure A(var y: TTestType);
  y := Default(TTestType);

procedure B(out y: TTestType);
  y := Default(TTestType);

procedure Main;
  x: TTestType;
Like last time, we will inspect the code for different types for TTestType and see how it differs. Let's start with Integer - the code we will see for the calls and inside A and B are as follows:
OutParams.dpr.24: A(x);
00408FA5 8BC4             mov eax,esp
00408FA7 E8E8FFFFFF       call A
OutParams.dpr.25: B(x);
00408FAC 8BC4             mov eax,esp
00408FAE E8E9FFFFFF       call B
OutParams.dpr.12: y := Default(TTestType);
00408F94 33D2             xor edx,edx
00408F96 8910             mov [eax],edx
OutParams.dpr.13: end;
00408F98 C3               ret
OutParams.dpr.17: y := Default(TTestType);
00408F9C 33D2             xor edx,edx
00408F9E 8910             mov [eax],edx
OutParams.dpr.18: end;
00408FA0 C3               ret
Nothing really fancy here - esp is the address of the local variable x. The (unfortunately still undocumented) intrinsic function Default() takes care of setting the parameter to the default value of the given type - so in this case 0. The code for the var parameter will look exactly the same. For other types, the code will look similar but something interesting happens when we use a managed type such as string. Take a look at how this changes the code being generated:
OutParams.dpr.24: A(x);
00408FCB 8D45FC           lea eax,[ebp-$04]
00408FCE E8C1FFFFFF       call A
OutParams.dpr.25: B(x);
00408FD3 8D45FC           lea eax,[ebp-$04]
00408FD6 E8F1CEFFFF       call @UStrClr
00408FDB E8C0FFFFFF       call B
On the caller side, we now see a call to System._UStrClr which the compiler inserted here to ensure that x will be empty before being passed to A. Out parameters are always initialized before they are passed, unlike var parameters. When we will take a look at the code inside A we will see nothing unusual except a lack of optimization. eax could directly be passed to System._UStrClr - and that is not a result of using Default() but also happens when assigning '' to y:
OutParams.dpr.11: begin
00408F94 53               push ebx
00408F95 8BD8             mov ebx,eax
OutParams.dpr.12: y := Default(TTestType);
00408F97 8BC3             mov eax,ebx
00408F99 E82ECFFFFF       call @UStrClr
OutParams.dpr.13: end;
00408F9E 5B               pop ebx
00408F9F C3               ret
The interesting difference however will be obvious when we will look into B:
OutParams.dpr.16: begin
00408FA0 55               push ebp
00408FA1 8BEC             mov ebp,esp
00408FA3 53               push ebx
00408FA4 8BD8             mov ebx,eax
00408FA6 85DB             test ebx,ebx
00408FA8 7404             jz $00408fae
00408FAA 33C0             xor eax,eax
00408FAC 8903             mov [ebx],eax
OutParams.dpr.17: y := Default(TTestType);
00408FAE 8BC3             mov eax,ebx
00408FB0 E817CFFFFF       call @UStrClr
OutParams.dpr.18: end;
00408FB5 5B               pop ebx
00408FB6 5D               pop ebp
00408FB7 C3               ret
What is going on here? The first two instructions are setting up a frame pointer which is usual but would not be necessary in this case - especially since we turned off that option. The following lines basically ensure that our y parameter really is empty - again with a lack of optimization.

Why is this happening? The caller side ensured that y is empty. This code is for C++Builder compatibility! C++ does not have the concept of out parameter but just by reference parameter which equals the var parameter in Delphi. And because of that when C++ would call such a routine the value would not have been initialized. Unfortunately, at least to my knowledge, there is no option to turn this off because our code will never be called from C++. We have built an executable here in Delphi; our function is not exported nor did we make a DLL. When using out parameters you pay a price for some most likely unused feature as most if not all Delphi code you ever write will never be called from any C++ code. The impact of out parameters is so significant in some cases that in 10.4 some of them were changed to var in the RTL - take a look at most parameters of TValue in the unit System.Rtti. Because for records this overhead can be even bigger and even more when they are passed multiple levels of out parameters because every call and routine again produces this completely unnecessary overhead.

The entire concept of out parameters to me looks completely unfinished - let's for a second take a look at some C# code which also has out parameters
static void B(out int y)
This code will raise two errors:
Error	CS0269	Use of unassigned out parameter 'y'
Error	CS0177	The out parameter 'y' must be assigned to before control leaves the current method
And the compiler is right - since the parameter is out the value going in actually is undefined behavior - and if the compiler ensures that it cannot be used then it also does not need to do any initialization ensuring any value. That means no unnecessary work to do and no inconsistent behavior - remember unmanaged data types don't get that extra treatment, whatever value is in an int variable being passed is still in there when being passed to an out parameter.
Second, the compiler ensures setting a value to the out parameter ensuring it is not undefined when returning from this routine. Would an exception occur during the invocation of that routine and before the out parameter was set then upon returning and catching the exception the variable would still contain the value it had before - a totally sane and understandable behavior.

As for me - I will be more careful where I use out parameters and in fact, during the refactoring of the collections in Spring4D, I replaced most out parameters with var parameters. Since even without the compiler enforcing this, all code paths inside those methods eventually set the value of the parameter it will be no change in behavior for you but avoid this completely insane overhead.