Musings of a Tech Transfer Enthusiast
Last year we released an early version of Sando, a free, open source code search extension for Visual Studio, that was based on the latest advances in code search research. Because of the modest success of this relatively unpolished tool (1300+ downloads) we have taken a number of measures to refine and improve it, making it more appropriate for wider usage. Among other things, we have refactored the code into two independent projects, updated the core search algorithm based on user study feedback, improved the quality of the test suite, shortened indexing time by 2-3x, and added autocompletion. In this post we will highlight several of the new features of Sando 0.4 which searches C, C++, and C# code.*
* The ReallyReallyReallySimpleRoguelike project will be used to illustrate several usage scenarios of Sando. This game "...has a really simple goal - pickup a sword and kill the monster(s)."
When searching an unfamiliar codebase or even an unfamiliar part of a familiar codebase creating an effective query can be tricky because it is difficult to guess what terms are actually used in the code. Let's consider searching for the concept of picking up a weapon in the Roguelike C# game. Using the default FindInFiles search engine searches for "pick*weapon" or alternatives such as "grab*weapon" fail to return any results, and a search for "weapon" returns a large number of results that would be tedious to sort through.
Sando can help you complete your query when you are only partially sure of what you should be searching for. In the example to the left the user has typed in "weapon" and Sando has proposed several autocomplete suggestions. A quick scan suggests that the #3 result, "Add Weapon", is likely a good candidate.
Executing the search for "Add Weapon" finds several relevant methods, including the AddWeapon method in the Player class, which is most directly responsible for picking up a weapon. This search also returns several related fields and methods such as field Player.WeaponSlot.
Exclude Terms (e.g., Don't Search Test Files)
When executing a search on a code base it is easy to miss the relevant items in a search result because they are overwhelmed by unrelated results. When trying to search for the concept of reading input from the keyboard in RRRSimpleRoguelike my results were flooded with XML-reading code. To eliminate these results from my search I added '-xml' to my query. Another popular use case for this feature is to exclude tests from search results.
Limit by Filetype (e.g., Only Search .h Files)
Many projects are a combination of languages (e.g., C++ backend with a C# GUI) and searches meant to explore the C# code can include results from C++ code. In the example to the left we have searched Sando's code base itself for the term "theme". The relevant C# results are overwhelmed by the results from the C++ code. In fact only a single C# result is shown (as the second result).
To eliminate unwanted filetypes, and to enable developers to search only header files, we have implemented a filetype search. In the example on the left we have further scoped the search to only include C# files, thus eliminating the irrelevant C++ results from our search.
Exact Matching (e.g., Find This String Literal)
As we saw during our user study, developers often want to search for exact strings. By adding quotes to any search string in Sando developers can search for specific literals (or any line snippet) that exists in code. Because Sando is an indexed searcher the results are near-instant, whereas using FindInFiles for this type of search will cause a delay while each file in the search scope is scanned.
Got All That? If Not, Consult the Tooltips
As you use Sando you'll notice that, as part of polishing it, we've added a few tooltips to guide your usage. Both the search box and the [?] icon include helpful tips on how to use Sando effectively.
Try Our Free, Open Source Search Extension
We think that the combination of new features, dramatically improved indexing performance, and polish lead to a much better search experience, but we'd love to hear what you think! Please don't hesitate to drop us a line on codeplex or, better yet, rate Sando on Visual Studio Gallery.
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David Shepherd leverages software engineering research to create useful additions to the IDE.