Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What would you like in a code quality tool?

Although continuous integration has been a huge step forwards for the development community I think that over time we've tended to treat it as a rather large bucket that we could keep tossing things into. Sure, someone should immediately address that method that's too long, but should it really stop the build and the release of the next version if all the tests pass? My feeling is no, it shouldn't.

I think that the agile community could do more to encourage various parallel continuous processes that test different aspects of the application. In particular, we could separate the static analysis of the code quality from the behavioural analysis that we perform with tests, be they unit, integration or functional tests. If we separate the two aspects then we can look to improve them at different rates and in different dimensions. This separation is the motivation behind an idea that Marty Andrews and Simon Harris have been kicking around for a few years (Marty is the author of Roodi and Complexian, and Simon is the author of Simian, so they have a long-running interest in code quality). Cogent is now planning to turn this into a product - something that you can point towards your source code repository and simply unleash.

We don't have a name for the product yet (suggest one if you like), but it will run static analysis tools (like Checkstyle, Simian, Roodi, Reek, Flay) against each revision of your code base so that you can see trends over time, and it will produce warnings when the values of the metrics exceed certain thresholds. The product will be free for open source projects.

We'll start with a simple, web-based version, probably to run over Ruby projects in public Git repositories (because that's low-hanging fruit for us), but we're going to be very community driven. With this in mind we have a survey that will let you influence the development direction, even before we start. If a tool like this is something that interests you, please fill in our product survey. As a bonus, the first 500 people to complete the survey will get unlimited free access to the product in recognition of their contributions.

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