developers have their favorite utilities and tools, but what if you could have
only three? As I explained in my article on the top tools for ASP.NET developers, it is not easy to trim it down to
just three.

Now I’m listing my top three tools for C# development; these tools encompass everything from developing a console application to a web
service. For starters, I choose tools outside of the IDE with my personal
preference being Visual Studio. I group my three selections for C# into unit
testing, version control, and something to handle building your code.

Test as you

Nobody plans
to build code that does not work as planned, but it happens. For this reason,
code must be thoroughly tested, beginning with testing code as you build it. This begins with unit testing, which means testing small pieces of code to make sure
it works as planned. You test the code outside of the overall application, so
you can rest assured when everything is assembled that the smaller pieces
behave as expected. Using this approach means you develop code with unit
testing in mind.

Studio includes unit testing features, but I have been a fan of NUnit for quite some time. While it takes some
time to become familiar with NUnit, there are a great number of resources
available on the web as well as books and a strong user base. The NUnit
framework is included in the project facilitating the development of code for
testing alongside application code, and the Visual Studio Unit Test Generator
includes NUnit support.

If you do not use NUnit, there are plenty of
other options, such as xUnit.

Build it and
they will come

Building and
deploying code can be a tedious process, but it is often redundant as well; that is, building it once usually follows the same steps as all of the other
builds. A build tool provides a way to automate the build process, thus freeing
up valuable developer time. Beginning with .NET Framework 2.0, Microsoft
included MSBuild
as a standard component — Visual Studio uses MSBuild when it builds solutions. You
can use it from the command line or via the Visual Studio interface.

MSBuild allows
you to document the steps required to build a solution, including rules and
conditions based on the environment. It all starts with a project file where
items like what to compile, where to send the output, and so forth are defined.
One great aspect of MSBuild is it is a standard Microsoft component, so
you can be sure it is on target systems (as long as they are Windows based).

are plenty of other options available if MSBuild is not your choice; NAnt is one of the more
popular options out there.

track of versions

code quickly evolves during the development phase, but it can also change after
rollout with changes made to address issues or add features. Unfortunately,
changes often need to be rolled back where previous versions of application
files are necessary. For this reason, version control is a critical aspect of
all development, whether you are a lone developer or working on a team spread
out across the world.

In my opinion, the best source control option available is Git. I know I included it in my ASP.NET tools article, but it is
critical for all development. Two of the best features of Git is that
it is freely available and widely supported. It is easy to use via Visual Studio integration as well as using the command-line interface.


It is hard
to stick with just three tools (four if you count Visual Studio). Here are three tools that were on the cusp of making the cut, but their scopes were not as broad as the
ones listed.

  • Testing web services is not always straightforward, but a tool
    like Storm is a great help.
  • Working
    with log files can be a tedious and difficult task, but it is greatly
    simplified with the freely available Log
    from Microsoft.
  • Visual Studio provides tools for comparing files in
    recent versions, but I still like the open source WinMerge
    for quickly finding the differences between two files. 

Only as good
as your tools

During a
recent home renovation project, a contractor told me that doing a good job
relies on using the correct tool as much as the knowledge of what to do.
Application development is no different than hanging drywall or laying tile in the sense that you need the right tools to facilitate the work.

Unit testing, version control, and automated
builds, along with a good IDE, are keys to churning out quality code and
applications. I will not say that my list is all inclusive, but it does cover
the basic items needed on a C# project.

What tools do you find indispensable?
What tools can you not live without? Let us know in the discussion.