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Expert .NET Delivery Using NAnt and CruiseControl.NET by Marc Holmes

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<pre>Author/s : Marc Holmes
Publisher : Apress
Category : C# and .NET
Review by : Lasse Koskela
Rating : 6 horseshoes
I picked up "Expert .NET Delivery Using NAnt and CruiseControl.NET" as a developer familiar with the original open source projects, Ant and CruiseControl, from the world of Java development. I have been long interested in how "the .NET people" do things even though my personal experience with .NET technologies has been limited to doing a day of training every now and then. From this perspective, I have to say I find a lot of good stuff in this book but it's still missing that something. The author, Marc Holmes, clearly states in the introduction that the book's goal is not to be a comprehensive guide for the tools being used. Instead, his focus has been to show the reader a practical approach to tackling problems involved in "delivering software." I had some difficulty seeing that focus while reading.

The first chapter titled "A Context for Delivery" is actually an excellent albeit short overview of the variety of aspects involved when discussing how to manage software configuration, the build process, and the deployment process. The next couple of chapters
introduce the NAnt build tool and its essential built-in tasks. As a tutorial to NAnt, these chapters felt a bit too lightweight. Chapter 2 is an excellent tutorial for getting started with NAnt and chapter 3 briefly enumerates the most important built-in tasks available. These first three chapters were definitely the ones I liked the most.

Chapter 4 presents a simple case study, getting a GUI application for performing XSLT transformations to build with a NAnt script. The author follows through creating the script from scratch, all the way from the classic "clean" target to checking out the project from Visual SourceSafe, incrementing a version counter on assemblies, running automated tests, static analysis, and packaging the build output into a .zip file for deployment. There's some discussion of NAnt features that weren't illustrated in the previous chapters but not much more than that.

Chapter 5, titled "Process Standards", talks about the case study team refactoring their build scripts towards a structure that supports a "standard" build script to be used throughout the company's .NET projects. Very little meat in there. Most of this chapter seemed to present a topic of interest only to move on right away, without giving solutions beyond tiny snippets of NAnt tasks. As someone not familiar with most .NET concepts, I found it very difficult to follow.

Chapter 6 brings continuous integration into the picture. After a brief explanation of why one would want to implement a continuous integration process, Holmes proceeds to describe CruiseControl.NET and how to configure it to build your .NET project. Again, only superficial coverage of the configuration options available which is consistent with the stated goal of the book not being about the tools themselves. Yet, at this point I realized that the good stuff had all been about the tools -- NAnt and (to a smaller degree) CruiseControl.NET. This pattern continued through chapter 7 which talks about extending NAnt with your own custom tasks. In fact, this chapter does a good job in showing the ropes through developing a FxCop task.

Chapter 8 is a good one. It talks about techniques for dealing with the database schema in the context of continuous integration and incremental development. The example scripts do leave a sense of "magic" happening that I would've liked to know more about, but even as such this chapter can be useful for getting started with automated integration of the database alongside the application.

Chapter 9 talks about code generation (with XSLT and CodeSmith) and how to incorporate it into the build process. The examples were a bit difficult to follow and there wasn't much background on the tools (CodeSmith and XSLT) themselves.

To finish off, chapter 10 presents some closing thoughts as a summary for all the things discussed in the body of the book. Good stuff, makes a lot of sense. I find it interesting, though, that beyond the first and last chapters I found very little content that I could associate directly with practical delivery other than from the tool perspective.

As a summary, I consider "Expert .NET Delivery Using NAnt and CruiseControl.NET" to be a nice tutorial for NAnt and CruiseControl.NET. Having said that, a large part of the book seemed to be somewhat disconnected from the stated goal of showing a practical approach to problems in delivering software.

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