Guest Post, Rick Boykin: Gnip C# .NET Convenience Library

Microsoft .NETNow that the new Gnip convenience libraries have been published for a few weeks on GitHub, I’m going to tell you a bit about the libraries that I’m currently responsible for, the .NET libraries.  So, let’s dive in, shall we… The latest versions of the .NET libraries are heavily based on the previous version of the Java libraries, with a bit of .NET style thrown in. What that means is that I used Microsoft’s Java Language Conversion Assistant as a starting point, mixed in some shell scripting like Bash, Sed and Perl to fix the comments, and some of the messy parts that did not translate very well. I then made it more C# like by removing Java Annotations, adding .NET attributes, taking advantage of .NET native XML Serializer, utilizing System.Net.HttpWebRequest for communications, etc. It actually went fairly quick.  The next task was to start the Unit testing deep dive.

I have to say, I really didn’t know anything about the Gnip model, how it worked, or what it really was, at first. It just looked like an interesting project and some good folks. Unit testing, however, is one place where you learn about the details of how each little piece of a system really works. And since hardly any of my tests passed out of the gate (and I was not really even convinced that I even had enough tests in place,) I decided it was best to go at it till I was convinced. The library components are easy enough. The code is really separated into two parts. The first component is the Data Model, or Resources, which directly map to the Gnip XML model and live in the Gnip.Client.Resource namespace. The second component is the Data Access Layer or GnipConnection. The GnipConnection, when configured, is responsible for passing data to, and receiving data from, the Gnip servers.  So there are really only two main pieces to this code. Pretty simple: Resources and GnipConnection. The other code is just convenience and utility code to help make things a little more orderly and to reduce the amount of code.

So yeah, the testing… I used NUnit so folks could utilize the tests with the free version of VisualStudio, or even the command line if you want. I included a Nant file so that you can compile, run the tests, and create a zipped distribution of the code. I’ve also included an nunit project file in the Gnip.ClientTest root (gnip.nunit) that you can open with the NUnit UI to get things going. To help configure the tests, there is an App.config file in the root of the test project that is used to set all the configuration parameters.

The tests, like the code, are divided onto the Resource objects tests and the GnipConnection tests (and a few utility tests). The premise of the Resource object tests is to first ensure that the Resource objects are cool. These are simple data objects with very little logic built in (which is not to say that testing them thoroughly is not the utmost important.) There is a unit test for each one of the data objects and they proceed by ensuring that the properties work properly, the DeepEquals methods work properly, and that the marshalling to and from XML works properly. The DeepEquals methods are used extensively by the tests, so it is essential that we can trust them. As such, they are fairly comprehensive. The marshalling and un-marshalling tests are less so. They do a decent job; they just do not exercise every permutation of the XML elements and attributes. I do feel that they are sufficient enough to convince me that things are okay.

The GnipConnection is responsible for creating, retrieving, updating and deleting Publishers and Filters, and retrieving and publishing Activities and Notifications. There is also a mechanism built into the GnipConnection to get the Time from the Gnip server and to use that Time value to calculate the time offset between the calling client machine and the Gnip server. Since the Gnip server publishes activities and notifications in 1 minute wide addressable ‘buckets’, it is nice to know what the time is on the Gnip server with some degree of accuracy. No attempt is made to adjust for network latency, but we get pretty close to predicting the real Gnip time. That’s it. That little bit is realized in 25 or so methods on the GnipConnection class. Some of those methods are just different signatures of methods that do the same thing only with a more convenient set of parameters. The GnipConnection tests try to exercise every API call with several permutations of data. They are not completely comprehensive. There are a lot of permutations. But, I believe they hit every major corner case.

In testing all this, one thing I wanted to do was to run my tests and have the de-serialization of the XML validate against the XML Schema file I got from the good folks at Gnip. If I could de-serialize and then serialize a sufficiently diverse set of XML streams, while validating that those streams adhere to the XML Schema, then that was another bit of ammo for trusting that this thing works in situations beyond the test harness. In the Gnip.Client.Uti namespace there is a helper class icalled XmlHelper that contains a singleton of itself. There is a property called ValidateXml that can be reached like this XmlHelper.Instance.ValidateXml. Setting that to true will cause the XML to be validated anytime it is de-serialized, either in the tests or from the server. It is set to true in the tests. But, it doesn’t work with the stock Xsd distributed by Gnip.That Xsd does not include an element definition for each element at the top level which is required when validating against a schema. I had to create one that did. It is semantically identical to the Gnip version; it just pulls things out to the top level. You can find the custom version in the Gnip.Client/Xsd folder. By default it is compiled into the Gnip.Client.dll.

One of the last things I did, which had nothing really to do with testing, is to create the IGnipConnection interface. Use it if you want. If you use some kind of Inversion of Control container like Unity, or like to code to interfaces, it should come in handy.
That’s all for now. Enjoy!

Rick is a Software Engineer and Technical Director at Mondo Robot in Boulder, Colorado. He has been designing and writing software professionally since 1989, and working with .NET for the last 4 years. He is a regular fixture at the Boulder .NET user’s group meetings and the is a member of Boulder Digital Arts.

We're Taking Part in the Boulder Job Fair — Would You Like a Free Trip to Check Out Boulder (and Gnip)?

Boulder has the highest per capita programmers in the country.  It also has the healthiest people on the planet (I can’t back this one up with stats, just anecdotal evidence of 60-year-old grandmothers zooming up and down the mountains).  Basically, Boulder is the land of the mathlete, and it’s awesome!

A ton of local startups are competing for the best developers in Boulder and we’ve come to a common conclusion — we need to expand the pool of applicants.  It’s time to give developers living in the Bay Area, Boston and Bentonville a taste of the Boulder lifestyle and simultaneously introduce them to some of the coolest companies Boulder has to offer.

Are you a badass developer?  Do you code PHP or Jave or C++ in you sleep?  Can you denormalize a database with your eyes closed or create elegant streams of CSS?  We’d like to meet you.  In fact, we’d like to fly you out all expense paid to Boulder for a couple of days to meet some awesome companies, including Gnip, to see if there’s a love connection.  You’ll fly out on day one and spend time checking out the town, spend day two meeting with 20 killer tech companies and then have a third day to follow up with companies you like the best and then fly home.  Not a bad way to spend the last week of October.

If you’d like to know more, check out the additional details at Boulder.Me and then click the button to apply.

We’re looking forward to meeting you in Boulder next month.  We think you’ll dig the town as much as we do, and the companies are pretty rad, too.