Friday, August 08, 2014

Nerd Food: Using Mono In Anger - Part IV

Nerd Food: Using Mono In Anger - Part IV

In which we discuss the advances in MonoDevelop 5

This is the fourth and final part of a series of posts on my experiences using Mono for a fairly demanding project. For more context please read part 1, part 2 and part 3.

In this instalment we shall have a look at latest incarnation of MonoDevelop.

Getting Latest and Greatest

As I was part-way through these series of blog posts, Xamarin announced Xamarin Studio 5 - the commercial product based off of MonoDevelop. Clearly I had to get my hands on it. However, in this particular instance Debian unstable was proven to be rather… stable. The latest versions of Mono and MonoDevelop are rather quaint, and the packaging mailing list is not the most active, as my request for news on packaging revealed.

Building is not an entirely trivial experience, as Brendan's comment on a previous post demonstrated, so I was keen on going for binary packages. Surprisingly, there are not many private repos that publish up-to-date debian packages for mono. After much searching, I found an Ubuntu PPA that did:

add-apt-repository 'deb quantal main'
apt-get install monodevelop-current

Running it was as easy as using the launcher script:


And just as I was about to moan from the sidelines and beg Xamarin to try and help out Debian and Linux packagers in general, Miguel sent the following tweet:

Miguel de Icaza‏@migueldeicaza 4h Mono snapshots: @directhex just published our daily Linux packages

It's like Xamarin just reads my mind!

Haven't had the chance to play with these packages yet, and I didn't see any references to MonoDevelop in Jenkins (admittedly, it wasn't the deepest search I've done), but seems like a great step forward.

Playing with Latest and Greatest

So what has changed? The UI may look identical to the previous version, but lord has the polish level gone up. Basically, almost all the problems I had bumped into have gone away.

NuGet support

Update: See this post by Matt Ward for more details on NuGet support.

As I mentioned before, whilst the NuGet plugin was great for basic usage, it did have a lot of corner cases including the certificates issues, full restore not working properly and so on. This has all been sorted out in MonoDevelop 5. It sports an internal implementation as explained in the release notes, and it has been flawless up till now.

I did bump into an annoying problem, but I think its more Visual Studio's fault than anything else. Basically, Microsoft decided to add some NuGet.targets to the solution by copying them to .nuget. Now, to their credit, they appear to have thought about mono:

        <!-- We need to launch nuget.exe with the mono command if we're not on windows -->

However, this fails miserably. The DownloadNuGet target does not appear to exist in mono, and copying NuGet.exe manually into .nuget also failed - apparently its not just a binary these days. The lazy man solution was to find the NuGet binaries in MonoDevelop and copy them across to the .nuget directory (had them at monodevelop-5.0/external/nuget-binary). Once this was done, building worked just fine.

Note also that I didn't have time to test the .nuget directory properly, by overriding the default directory with something slightly more sensible. However, I don't particularly like having my packages in the middle of the source tree so I'll be trying that very soon.

Overall, the NuGet experience is great, and package restoring Just Works (TM).

Intellisense and Friends

I was already quite pleased with Intellisense in MonoDevelop 4, but I did find it was easy to confuse it when files got in to a bit of a state - say when pasting random chunks of code into a file. All of these problems are now gone with MonoDevelop 5. In more challenging situations, I have noticed the syntax highlighting disappearing for a little bit but as soon as the code is vaguely sensible, it returns straight away.

It is also a pleasure to use Ctrl-Shift-T to go to definitions, in some ways it seems even more powerful than ReSharper. It is certainly more responsive, even on my lowly NetBook with 1GB of RAM.

One slight snag is that extract interface seems to have gone missing - I was pretty sure I had used it on MonoDevelop 4, but for the life of me can't find it on 5.


I was a very happy user of the NUnit add-on for weeks on end and it performed flawlessly. However, today it got stuck loading tests and I ended up having to restart MonoDevelop to fix it. Bearing in mind I normally leave it running for weeks at a time, this annoyed me slightly. Of course, to be fair, I do restart Visual Studio every couple of days or so, so the odd MonoDevelop restart is not exactly the end of the world.

But in general, one complaint I have against both Visual Studio and MonoDevelop is with the opaqueness of unit testing. For me, it all started with shadow copying in NUnit UI and went downhill from there, really. If only one could see what exactly what it is that the IDE is trying to do, it would be fairly trivial to debug it; as it is, all I know is that my tests are "loading" but fail to load a few minutes later.

Anyway, that's just me ranting. Other than that, unit testing has worked really well, and I even started making use of the "Results Pad" and all - shiny charts!

Git FTW, UI Quirks and Resources

I had mentioned before that there were some minor UI quirks. For instance I recall seeing a search box that was not properly drawn, and having problems with the default layout of the screen. I'm happy to report that all of my UI quirks have gone away with 5. It is quite polished in that regard.

I've also started making use of the version control support - to some extent, of course, as I still think that Magit is above sliced bread. Having said that, its very useful to see a diff against what was committed or going up and down the history of a file without having to go to emacs. Version control is extremely quick. Even though Visual Studio now has git support integrated, it is a lot slower that MonoDevelop. I basically never wait at all for git on MonoDevelop.

Finally, a word on resources. I can still use MonoDevelop on my NetBook with its 1GB of RAM, much of it taken by Gnome 3 and Chrome. However, I did see it using over 250 MB of RAM on my desktop PC. I wonder if MonoDevelop is more aggressive on its usage of memory when it sees there is a lot available.


Whilst I'll still be using MonoDevelop for a few weeks longer, I think we have done enough on this four part series. My main objective was really to pit Mono and MonoDevelop against Visual Studio 2013 on a fairly serious project, requiring all the usual suspects: .Net, Castle, Log4Net, MongoDB and so on. To my surprise, I found I had very few interoperability problems - on the whole, the exact same source code, configuration, etc just worked for both Windows and Linux. It says a lot on how far Mono has progressed.

Regrettably, I didn't get as far as playing around with vNext - the coding is taking a lot longer than expected - but if I do get as far as that I shall post an update.

It's great news that Xamarin is improving their Linux support; I can imagine that there must be a number of companies out there considering Docker for their .Net environments. Xamarin is going to be in a great position to win over these tight-Windows-shops with the great products they have.

Date: 2014-08-09 00:51:03 BST

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