Free Team Foundation Server Hosting

In a recent post I pointed out how having my hobby code in source control helped diagnose an issue when migrating from one OS and Visual Studio version to another.  But if you’re just playing around with some code at home and don’t have much time or money to devote to your fun there’s still no excuse to back up your work and track changes.  Microsoft has already provided a free development environment and a free SQL Database.  Recently they also started providing free source control.

Haven’t there been numerous options for this for some time now?  Yes.  However, they’ve had limited integration with Visual Studio and though not terribly difficult to learn and configure many just playing around with code may not have the time or inclination to try.

Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server has been around for years but has historically been something an organization had to host and support on their own servers.  Oh, and it was also very expensive.  Expensive enough that even companies that I’ve worked for shied away from it.  That changed when TFS was moved onto the cloud (using Windows Azure, of course) and Microsoft decided to craft a plan that allowed for a free tier of TFS hosting.  The free tier allows for unlimited projects and up to five developer accounts.  Unless you’re starting up a serious business with multiple employee developers this means it’s free!

How easy is it to get started?  Here’s a quick run through.  Note that the steps below don’t include the steps necessary to set up an account on the TFS server, but I didn’t want to delete my account there to show the steps, so you’ll have to manage on your own.  You’ll need a Windows Live ID to sign up, but it’s all very simple.

Once you’ve set up a TFS account you’ll be given a unique URL for accessing services (https://<your_account_name>.visualstudio.com/).  First you’ll need to create a project on the TFS server that will be used to track our source code.  Click on the “New Team Project” button and enter a name and description for the project.  We won’t worry about the process template value for this simple walk through.

NameProject

Let’s start up Visual Studio 2012 Express and create a quick project that we’ll track add to source control.  Right click on the solution in the Solution Explorer window and choose the “Add Solution to Source Control…” option.

ConnectToTeamFoundationServer

If this is your first time using TFS there will be no servers listed in the Connect to Team Foundation Server dialog, so press the “Servers…” button and lets add your account info:

AddTeamFoundationServer

If you’re not already authenticated with your account credentials you may be asked to provide them now.

SignIn

Now select your just added server in Connect to Team Foundation Server dialog and select the project that you added earlier:

ConnectToTeamFoundationServer2

Press Connect

AddSolutionToSourceControlDialog

And then press OK.

And, now you’ve set up source control for you solution!  But you might be wondering why nothing much seems to have changed and source code files don’t show up on the TFS server.  All of the files in the project are marked as “newly added”.  You can check this by hovering your cursor over the “+” mark next to some of the solution files.  They’re waiting to be checked in, which you can do by right clicking on the solution node in the Solution Explorer, and then selecting the “Check In…” option.

Any check in should include a comment.  After all, we are trying to keep track of what’s changed and why.  The Team Explorer will ask for this information.  Let’s keep it simple this time around:

PendingChanges

Press the “Check In” button and then click OK when it asks if you’re sure that you want to check in.

Now, you’re really done.  You’re code has been checked into the TFS servers in the cloud.  Go back to the Solution Explorer and note that all of the files have a lock icon next to them that indicate that the file has been checked in.  Go to your TFS URL and now you should be able to see all of the source files, including the comment included with the last check in and the user who did so.

In just a few minutes you have free, fully integrated source control for your project!

Changes are easy as well.  There’s no need to check out a source file.  Or use Windows shell extensions outside of Visual Studio to handle check ins.  Just edit a file as needed and test the results.  If I edit the Form1 dialog’s title, the affected files’ Solution Explorer’s icons include a check mark indicating that they are “checked out”.

CheckedOutFiles

Right click on a modified file and select “Compare…” to see the changes that were made.

Differences2

Repeat the step earlier to check in the changes and everything is in sync.  Easy!

TFS provides plenty of features in addition to simple source control that are well worth looking into.  For now, take a few minutes and get your code backed up and under control!

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CSS Content To The Rescue

Looking to get a bit of extra visibility for pages on my hiking websites I implemented support for Google’s Rich Snippets.  This feature allows for the markup of pages so that extra bits of information such as user ratings or photos can be included in Google search results.  On a page with a long list of results, the eye catching additions could lead to greater click through rates.

Google supports a couple of different microformats that webpage owners can mark up their pages so that the Google search engine can determine what should be added to their results.  My sites catalog outdoor activities such as hiking trails and allows users to rate their enjoyability.  Marking up the average rating allows Google to show this rating with graphic stars.  The HTML markup such as:

<span itemprop="rating" itemscope itemtype="http://data-vocabulary.org/Rating"> 
 <span class="rating">
    <span itemprop="average">4.33</span>
  </span>
</span>

is part of the markup that results in a Google search listing that looks like:

Google search result

That’s great!  So what’s the problem?  The problem is that Google does not just rely on markup to try and extract some meta data from the page in order to present them in the search results.  They also do some parsing on their own.  If you view one of the pages that I was trying to support you’ll note that I have an Amazon recommended item at the bottom of the page.  The writeup for this item includes the author(s)’ name preceded by the phrase “by “.  Even with no markup, to Google this is significant and they fetch the name as the author of the page!  Of course they are not the author of the page, but instead only of the item listed.  What to do?

I tried playing with some different text with varying degrees of success until I stumbled upon a solution via CSS, in particular through the content property.  I wanted the user visiting the page to see the author indicated by text similar to “by Robert Barron” but I didn’t want Google to see that.  The solution using CSS involves displaying the author’s name only with a CSS class designation:

<span class="AmazonAuth">Robert Barron</span>

The CSS markup indicates that it should be preceded by the value of content property:

.AmazonAuth:before
{
    content: "by ";
}

The CSS above indicates that before an element of the class AmazonAuth the content should be inserted.  When Google parses web pages for indexing it does not take the CSS markup into account, so the “by ” prefix does not exist as far as it’s concerned and does not cause it to falsely guess the page author’s name.

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Beware Of Visual Studio Proxy Migrations

I recently moved a C# code project from Visual Studio 2010 on Windows 7 to Visual Studio 2012 on Windows 8.  Theoretically, this should have resulted in no problems and code that just works from the start.  But that’s not the way it turned out.

The project in question was a Web project that included proxy code used to interface with Amazon’s Product API.  Visual Studio 2012 started reporting the following error, “Cannot implicitly convert type ‘Exploricity.Amazon.ECS.ImageSet[][]’ to ‘Exploricity.Amazon.ECS.ImageSet[]’.”

Since I have the source code under version control I was able to determine what files Visual Studio modified and what those changes were.  I found that the Reference.cs file in the Amazon.ECS folder contained a ton of changes.  Most were innocuous generated code changes that reflect the version of various system assemblies:

[System.CodeDom.Compiler.GeneratedCodeAttribute("System.Xml", "4.0.30319.17929")]

But there was also this change:

public ImageSet[][] ImageSets

Visual Studio attempted to regenerate the proxy code and did so in such a way that broke it by making ImageSets a two dimensional array instead of keeping it as the single dimensional array it was before.

One of the takeaways from this is the importance of version control, even for small personal projects like this one was for me.  It made finding out what the problem was and resolving it a much easier task.

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WordPress 3.5 on Windows Temp Directory Problem

I installed WordPress on a couple of different hosting accounts that I have on hand to try and see where I should place the final result.  On one of those accounts I was not able to update one of the plugins that was not up-to-date.  I also could not download any themes.

Some forum discussions that I’d come across indicated that this issue was primarily suffered by users who were hosting their site on a Windows machine.  This of course caused many helpful individuals to rail against Windows and recommend upgrading to a Unix hosting account without actually addressing the particular problem directly.  The fact that this issue started with version 3.5 only didn’t detract from their suggestion.

I finally found a useful post that pointed out the true cause of the issue and a simple workaround.  Version 3.5 changed the algorithm used to determine which directory to use for storing temp files as WordPress updates or download modules.  To restore the old behavior without having to approach one’s hosting provider for configuration changes one need only add or update the following line in the wp-config.php file:

define('WP_TEMP_DIR', ABSPATH . 'wp-content/');

Voila!  Everything works fine, even on my more restrictive hosting provider.

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Welcome to My New Site

You might have noticed that my old personal website had gotten quite stale and needed to be updated.  Though I started the site to learn a bit about web programming, other projects have popped up since then that have drawn my attention and time.

So I thought it best to revisit the design decision here to minimize the amount of time it would take to create a nice looking site that still maintained some of the same information that was here previously.  This new site is designed to do that and add a few extra wrinkles.

There may be an emphasis here on programming topics but there will also be some personal stuff thrown in as well from time to time.  Each post will have a category and possibly multiple tags that should make it easier for you to see the types of posts that might be of interest to you.

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