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Jamie Thomson

This is the blog of Jamie Thomson, a data mangler in London working for Dunnhumby

Kill all the project files!

Like many folks I’m a keen podcast listener and yesterday my commute was filled by listening to Scott Hunter being interviewed on .Net Rocks about the next version of ASP.Net. One thing Scott said really struck a chord with me. I don’t remember the full quote but he was talking about how the ASP.Net project file (i.e. the .csproj file) is going away. The rationale being that the main purpose of that file is to list all the other files in the project, and that’s something that the file system is pretty good at. In Scott’s own words (that someone helpfully put in the comments):

A file that lists files is really redundant when the OS already does this

Romeliz Valenciano correctly pointed out on Twitter that there will still be a project.json file however no longer will there be a need to keep a list of files in a project file. I suspect project.json will simply contain a list of exclusions where necessary rather than the current approach where the project file is a list of inclusions.

On the face of it this seems like a pretty good idea. I’ve long been a fan of convention over configuration and this is a great example of that. Instead of listing all the files in a separate file, just treat all the files in the directory as being part of the project. Ostensibly the approach is if its in the directory, its part of the project. Simple.

Now I’m not an developer, far from it, but it did occur to me that the same approach could be applied to the two Visual Studio project types that I am most familiar with, SSIS & SSDT. Like many people I’ve long been irritated by SSIS projects that display a faux file system inside Solution Explorer. As you can see in the screenshot below the project has Miscellaneous and Connection Managers folders but no such folders exist on the file system:


This may seem like a minor thing but it means useful Solution Explorer features like Show All Files and Open Folder in Windows Explorer don’t work and quite frankly it makes me feel like a second class citizen in the Microsoft ecosystem. I’m a developer, treat me like one. Don’t try and hide the detail of how a project works under the covers, show it to me. I’m a big boy, I can handle it!

Would it not be preferable to simply treat all the .dtsx files in a directory as being part of a project? I think it would, that’s pretty much all the .dtproj file does anyway (that, and present things in a non-alphabetic order – something else that wildly irritates me), so why not just get rid of the .dtproj file?

In the case of SSDT the .sqlproj actually does a whole lot more than simply list files because it also states the BuildAction of each file (Build, NotInBuild, Post-Deployment, etc…) but I see no reason why the convention over configuration approach can’t help us there either. Want to know which is the Post-deployment script? Well, its the one called Post-DeploymentScript.sql! Simple!

So that’s my new crusade. Let’s kill all the project files (well, the .dtproj & .sqlproj ones anyway). Are you with me?


Published Thursday, August 14, 2014 3:22 PM by jamiet

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Peter Schott said:

Not sure about the way we'd handle some of the different file uses. I know some people build files based on certain things set within the project. I'm also not sure how we'd handle separating included post-deploy scripts from regular scripts based just on names/folders.

The idea has some merit, but at the same time there are other things done by the project files that make sense.  I will admit to wanting to more easily see/edit the project file, but I don't think I'm quite ready to do away with project files altogether.

August 14, 2014 11:57 AM

Mike Henderson said:

I listened to the same podcast and that remark about project files stopped in my tracks. Over the years one of my biggest headaches have come from having to edit, or otherwise reconcile, project files.

August 15, 2014 8:01 AM

Emil Gerth said:

Overall, I like this idea. Besides feeling pretty common-sensical, this seems like a good way to demystify the database projects in general. Discovering that adding new objects to the proper folder in TFS doesn't make them appear in the database project can be confusing and frustrating to someone just learning the system; it certainly was for me.

However, Peter raises some good points - there are some other things happening in the project file that are really useful, like database settings for the project. Those could certainly be handled by some sort of config file, but they'd need to be considered.

August 15, 2014 1:01 PM

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