Category: Go

.NET has been taking huge leaps and bounds in the last few years, and not everyone is aware of it! We’re now able to build small fast single-file .NET applications; this is arguably Go’s biggest strength, and now you can do it in C# and F# too.

Meanwhile, the .NET community has been making excellent libraries to make console applications slick, polished, and easy to write.

The conditions seem right for a .NET renaissance of sorts; all the pieces are in place for us to build great CLI-first software. Here are some useful+easy things you can do in .NET today:

Publish Small Zero-Dependency Executables

In .NET 6 it’s easy to build your application as a single file with no external dependencies (even the .NET runtime!). Applications that include their own runtime are called self-contained. Self-contained apps can be trimmed to remove unused code; trimming reduces a Hello World application from about 60MB to 12MB.

Trimming is well-supported by nearly the entire standard library. Ecosystem support varies; if a library makes heavy use of reflection, C++/CLI, or COM interop then it might not work with trimming yet.

The easiest way to build a trimmed self-contained single-file executable is dotnet publish with the args --self-contained=true -p:PublishSingleFile=true -p:PublishTrimmed=true.

dotnet-releaser makes publishing your app a breeze; it can build for multiple platforms+architectures, then publish the resulting artifacts in a GitHub release.

Console UI

Spectre.Console is a great replacement for Console.WriteLine() and friends. Coloring text with Spectre is as simple as:

AnsiConsole.MarkupLine("[blue]Hello[/] [yellow]World![/]");

It can also do much more; if you need to print tables or prompt users for input, Spectre.Console has you covered. But if you need to build a full-blown terminal UI, check out gui.cs.

Running External Processes

The System.Diagnostics.Process APIs built into .NET are clumsy, to say the least. Thankfully we have much better options these days! Here’s how to run git status with the excellent SimpleExec:

var (stdout, stderr) = await RunAsync("git", "status");

For a more powerful solution, check out CliWrap; anything you can do in a Bash script, you can do in CliWrap.

Immediate Feedback in Programming

Bret Victor's Inventing on Principle

Bret Victor’s talk Inventing on Principle (video, transcript) changed the way I think about computing in 2019. Inventing on Principle is partly about Bret’s guiding principle:

Creators need an immediate connection to what they create. And what I mean by that is when you’re making something, if you make a change, or you make a decision, you need to see the effect of that immediately.”

The Edit-Compile-Run Cycle

Although Bret doesn’t use the term, programmers are deeply familiar with his principle. We’ve all worked with toolchains that introduce significant delay before you can “see” the results of a change, and we know they’re painful. Everyone wants a short edit-compile-run cycle.

But until IoP, I’d assumed that slow cycles wouldn’t materially change the output – you’d eventually get to the same place. This was wrong. I also didn’t appreciate the very small time scales involved; a 5 second delay used to seem trivial to me, but it’s still meaningfully different from a response time measured in milliseconds.

Through some very impressive custom tools, Bret shows how immediate feedback enables exploration, which then gives birth to ideas which would otherwise never see the light of day. This was an epiphany for me. Since IoP I’ve constantly been looking for better ways to code, and re-evaluating my existing processes for shorter feedback cycles. The results:

Rust

My typical Rust development workflow goes something like this:

  1. Write a small function that does roughly what I want
  2. Write a small unit test inline to exercise the function (even if it’s a private function)
  3. Iterate using cargo test until the function is correct
  4. Later, “productionize” the tests if necessary

Rust’s native support for inline unit tests helps a lot here, and the excellent type system catches a lot of issues before I even run cargo test. On the other hand, Rust’s compiler is notoriously slow and that extends to IDE tooling that depends on the Rust Language Server. I’m looking forward to Cranelift for faster debug builds.

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