Getting VI Analyzer Into Our Workflow
We have long known that VI Analyzer is a good idea – much like unit testing – people on the other side of adoption swear by it.
We’ve found a few hurdles for mainstream adoption into our process, and I suspect yours too.
1. Understanding Why
The first step in adopting VI Analyzer (and keeping that adoption going) is understanding why you are doing it!
What I mean by this is you need to make the tool fit your process – not the other way round. If you use VI Analyzer because NI says so then you’re going to see less benefit and it will feel a lot more effort.
For me – I believe that consistent style and code inspection reduces bugs and improves readability of the system. I have a style guideline, but I don’t always follow it. As I typically work on my own, then code reviews aren’t an option.
Your “why” will probably be very similar but the subtle differences will make some of the following items slightly different from mine.
2. Complicated Setup
As I said above, VI Analyzer is all about consistency for us. We want every project to follow the same style guidelines. Unfortunately, VI Analyzer does not make it very natural to create a standard test configuration and share it between projects since there is a single configuration file for test setup and which VIs to test.
These are the steps that I went through to build a standard configuration:
- Start with your style guidelines. I made mine into a table and identified what already had a VI Analyzer test, what had a custom test in the community, what could have a custom test and what was not testable.
- I downloaded the custom tests that are available online and created a couple of key tests myself. I didn’t do them all, and I will expand my coverage over time.
- I used a project to create a VI Analyzer configuration file. I worked through the tests and configured them to my style guideline. Then I removed all of the VIs to be tested. I saved this configuration file as my standard.
- I created a VI package which would install the custom tests and the configuration file to a shared location in my documents. Full credit to Fabiola De La Cueva and Delacor for this idea. They have been helping their customers with this for some time. (You can see their video of this on Youtube)
By completing these steps up front, I can introduce a consistent VI Analyzer configuration to a new project quickly and easily.
3. Defining A Trigger
As with any good habit, you need a trigger to tell you when to do it else you often won’t follow through. There are a few common triggers that I have seen people using:
- Post-Commit in a CI Server – I’m not a big fan of this one because you now need another trigger to review the results and implement the changes.
- Pre-Code Review – This is a great one if you are on a team. You should test with VI Analyzer before a code review. You don’t want to waste time picking up things a machine can identify faster. As I am a solo developer, this one is limited for me.
- Feature Branch Merge – If you are using a branching workflow in Git or Mercurial, then you can use a feature branch merge as a trigger. This is a good trigger as it should limit the scope of what needs testing. However, if the change list gets long, then there could be a lot to review.
I wanted my trigger to be a commit. I feel like the code should go through VI Analyzer to be “finished” and only “finished” code should be committed.
This is a problem though. Analyzing a whole project can take many minutes, and I might commit 10+ times a day.
One way to solve this would be to test only changed code, but VI Analyzer lacks any native support for this workflow.
I have developed a tool to tie it to git changes. It isn’t great, so we haven’t shared it yet (it still lacks many essential features), but it has started us using VI Analyzer regularly.
This tool will take a configuration file and then run it against only the code that Git shows as changed. Testing only the changes cuts the test time and now means that it is possible to check at each commit and fix the changes before that commit.
By overcoming these hurdles, VI Analyzer has become a standard part of our workflow. I hope you can use this to incorporate it as well.