Musings of a Tech Transfer Enthusiast
When fixing bugs most software developers start with a search. I know. I've watched them. They read the bug report, reproduce the problem (sometimes), and then search for relevant code. This is when it gets ugly. Developers either wander semi-randomly around the Solution Explorer (Roomba Style), struggle to use Find in Files with increasing levels of anger (William Foster Style), or I've even seen one user step through almost the entire program in the debugger (Slowskys Style). Please, for goodness' sake, next time you search try Sando Style. Our newly released version of Sando (0.3), is a free, open source extension for VS2010 that makes searching your C#, C, and C++ code as easy as using Google.
VS Gallery Download: http://bit.ly/SandoDownload
Getting Started With Sando
After installing Sando the main view will appear in your Visual Studio Studio, as shown to the left. The UI consists of the main input box (upper left), the search button (upper right), the results view (bottom center) and the normally folded advanced options (middle center). To use Sando simply open a solution, type in a search term, and press search (or hit return).
Once you search, you'll see results like those shown to the left. Notice how the method OpenFile is shown first, because it matches both search terms, whereas the lower ranked terms only match one of the two terms. Each result is shown with a representative icon that communicates both the element type (e.g., method, class, or plaintext) and the accessibility level if relevant (e.g., public or private).
See a result you like but not ready to commit to opening it? No problem, after the search is executed just press the down arrow to scroll through results, expanding each result to view a partial snippet when it is selected. In the picture to the left OpenFile has been selected and you can view the first few lines of this method. To open the method in the VS editor simply hit return or double click on the result.
Getting Fancy with Sando
So far we've discussed the very basics of how to use Sando. However, the entire Sando team dog-foods Sando (i.e., we use it everyday ourselves) and so it's got a few advanced features baked in, which I'll discuss here.
Halfway through your task and decide you need to search again? No need to pickup that mouse, Sando is designed to allow you to work mouse-free. Hit Alt+Shift+S and the Sando view will appear with the cursor in the text box, ready to search. Using this shortcut I find Sando to be a great way to open any file or method I'm thinking of, and thus I almost never open the Solution Explorer.
One of the things we noticed when using Sando is that sometimes you just don't want to see certain results. For instance, we have huge text files of words in our test directories, which are indexed by Sando, but sometimes we don't want to see these results. In the advanced section of Sando you can deselect any program type, such as a method or a comment, or any other type, such as a text line. Doing so means that deselected types won't appear in your results. This provides a quick way to eliminate unwanted items from your current search.
You may have noticed that Sando often changes the text just under its main input box. This is the status line and it is used to give you feedback on your query. If your query has hits it will tell you how many, and if it doesn't Sando may give you tips on how to improve your query. You may also notice the message that "Sando is still performing its initial index...". This occurs when you open a new project that Sando has not analyzed before. This only happens once and, when analyzing Sando itself, takes only ~1 minute to complete on a 1.7GHz machine with no SSD. For a machine with SSD I've seen this index happen almost instantly for sizable projects. Note that this indexing is necessary for Sando to be able to return search results virtually instantly on even *very* large Solutions.
Finally, while we've done our best to choose good defaults for most users, you may want to customize a few things. To do this, visit the Sando options page (Tools > Options) where you can configure the directory where Sando stores its index as well as the maximum number of results returned, which is by default set to 20. I recommend resetting this to 50, but I'm crazy about search so I didn't force this default on the masses...
Search With Style
Hopefully this post gives you a good idea of the functionality that Sando provides. My team and I have spent many a late night improving Sando based on early adopters' feedback and we truly think this release represents a big step forward in usability and robustness. If you have been using Sando now's the time to start recommending it to your friends. If you have been considering using Sando, you should now enjoy a much improved experience. Next time you search, I hope it's Sando Style!
VS Gallery Download: http://bit.ly/SandoDownload
Video Introduction (dated): http://bit.ly/SandoVideo
The IDE is a software developer's toolbench. For the most part it's an ordered chaos, with all of a developer's favorite windows and extensions at the ready. Unfortunately, the IDE's complexity helps to hide some of its glaring shortcomings -- it's easy to focus on the shiny wrenches across the front while ignoring your Grandfather's 1970s disc sander that's about to melt down from misuse. Like Grandpa's sander, code search* is a tool that's in dire need of an overhaul.
* In this article code search refers to the act of searching over the code base that one is currently working on, not searching over repositories of code.
Code Search Sucks.... Really?
Developers, having grown up on awful search tools, have become numb to the problem. Many may not even believe it is a problem! In order to illustrate the sorry state of code search let's explore an analogy based on web search...
I've got a new web search service that I'd like for you to try, called Gaagle. It's incorporated all of the key features of modern code search. Let's try searching for "Visual Studio" using Gaagle:
Ohps! I misspelled "Visual Studio", but Gaagle doesn't fix my mistake (or even point it out). Gaagle simply obediently reports that there are, in fact, no matches for the search terms "Vizual Sudio". Thanks Gaagle!
Having corrected my search terms to "Visual Studio" I search using Gaagle again. This time I get lots of hits! However, the hits are visualized as a list of paths, leading to an exciting game of "what's behind that link!" After clicking on each link in the list I have a pretty good idea (and a sore mouse-finger).
But wait, there's been an upgrade to Gaagle! Instead of returning results in an ordered list Gaagle now returns unordered results. That means that each and every web page in the world that contains the terms "Visual Studio" are returned to me for my search. No worries! I start wading through the thousands of (mainly irrelevant) hits until I find what I'm looking for.
Not ready to switch to Gaagle? Well surprise... you're already using it! If you're using Visual Studio 2010 or earlier your code search (i.e., Edit > Find and Replace > Find in Files) operates almost exactly like Gaagle.
Join Us in Fixing Code Search!
Visual Studio, so powerful in many other ways, has neglected code search. This January we're starting a project to modernize code search, called Sando. If you long for a modern code search experience please join us at http://sando.codeplex.com/. We're looking for great developers (with C# or Java experience) but also for any suggestions or requests that can help shape our search tool.
David Shepherd leverages software engineering research to create useful additions to the IDE.