LINQ to XML – What I’ve been missing

Ok. You may laugh. I’ve just today used LINQ for the first time to parse an XML file, and I’m seriously blown away at how easy it was. I’m a little embarrassed, since LINQ has been available since .NET 3.5 was released around November 2007.

If you are like I was, (LINQ-less!!), I’ll give a brief introduction here. LINQ (Language INtegrated Query), is a component that adds native data querying capabilities to .NET languages. It can be used to read, parse and write XML files (and also SQL, which I may cover in a future post). Take a look at the example below to see how easy it is to use this technique to read data from an XML file.

Reading data from an XML file is a very common scenario. I always used .ini file as configuration files for any applications I wrote, but .NET doesn’t provide any built in support for .ini, and hence wants you to use XML.

Consider the following XML file:

In order to read this using LINQ to XML, you need to ensure you have specifed the correct header files:

using System.Linq;
using System.Xml.Linq;

Now for the easy part, here’s the code to read data from the XML file, and print out the values to the console:

XDocument xmlDoc = XDocument.Load(@"example.xml");
var servers = from server in xmlDoc.Descendants("server")
select new
     Name = server.Element("name").Value,
     IP = server.Element("ip").Value,
     Owner = server.Element("owner").Value,

foreach (var server in servers)
     Console.WriteLine("Server Name: " + server.Name);
     Console.WriteLine("Server IP: " + server.IP);
     Console.WriteLine("Server Owner: " + server.Owner);

Easy huh? The line beginning with ‘var servers=…‘ may look strange to you if you’ve never seen it before, (it did to me). This is an anonymous type declaration. If you’ve never heard of anonymous types in C#, MSDN has some great documentation here.

Happy coding.

Hacker Monthly

A new magazine has just been released. Unlike what the name suggests, ‘Hacker Monthly’ is nothing like Phrack was, in that it’s content is mostly centered around software development, and software topics like Agile development etc.

The first edtion contains an excellent article on why programmers, in the age of dual cores, still struggle coping with parallelism and concurrency when developing software.

Check it out here.

Aside, I see a new issue of Phrack, Phrack 67, is actually being release on July 11th 2010, may be worth a look.

The poor mans OCR

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has been around a long time. One of it’s main uses, for those not familiar, is to gather text from images.

Off the shelf products, such as Abby’s FineReader exist, with prices ranging from $150 for a single user copy, to up to $10000 for large enterprise ‘site licenses’. But where’s the fun in buying it!

I learnt recently that Microsoft Office 2007 has built in OCR capabilities which can be accessed from C# via a COM interface. I will explain in this post how to leverage these capabilites.

First off, you need to have MS Office 2007 installed. This is obviously a dependency if you develop an application to use the OCR capabilites in the field – it won’t work without Office installed. Furthermore, the OCR capability doesn’t install by default when you install Office, you need to add a component called ‘Microsoft Office Document Imaging’ (MODI).

For instructions on how to add the required component, look here.

Now that you have MODI installed, you can create an OCR application! Boot up Visual Studio and create a new C# console application.

You’ll first need to add a reference to MODI, so we can use it from your application. From the Visual Studio Solution Explorer window, right-click on the ‘References’ folder. When the dialog box appears, select the ‘COM’ tab. Finally, select the object named ‘Microsoft Office Document Imaging 12.0 Type Library’.

The code below will create a new MODI document, retrieve the text, and ouput it word by word to the console, (you could also output it to a text file or a custom XML file, I leave that as an exercise for the reader). I’ve assumed below the image file you wish to retrieve the text from is located at ‘C:\Images’.

// Grab the text from an image
MODI.Document md = new MODI.Document();

// Retrieve the text gathered from the image
MODI.Image image = (MODI.Image)md.Images[0];
MODI.Layout layout = image.Layout;

// Loop through the list of words
for (int j = 0; j < layout.Words.Count; j++) { MODI.Word word = (MODI.Word)layout.Words[j]; Console.WriteLine(word.Text); } md.Close(false);

Notice the 'MODI.MiLANGUAGES.miLANG_ENGLISH' parameter above, this is set to the language you are dealing with. It looks like 22 languages are supported, including Japanese and the Chinese variants.

When I ran this, (using the home page of my McAfee 'Total Protection' 2010 suite as the guinea pig), the results were surprisingly accurate (for English anyway), with only two recognition errors.

Take a look here.

I wonder if it is also as accurate for double byte languages like Japanese etc. I'd also like to check it against an RTL language like Arabic.

Anyway, it's definetely worth a look if you want to develop a custom OCR application on a shoestring budget.

The ‘C’ books are out again…

Three times in the last two years I’ve attempted to become good at programming in the C/C++ programming languages, and three times I’ve either stopped half way through a book/online course, or failed to even start with any momentum.

But, I’ve dug out the books again and am determined to succeed this time. Having come from a Java background, then moving to working with some projects in C#, it seems the natural progression. I’m starting with ‘C in 21 days’, which I estimate should take about two weeks, (as I think I can ignore the ‘What is a variable/array/string?’ sections…). I also just purchased ‘Accelerated C++’ by Andrew Koenig, which I intend to read next. Maybe I’ll post a review here later.

Nothing annoys me more than looking at C or C++ code and not understanding what’s going on…

Test Automation Success Criteria

I’ve been thinking recently about how to validate the success of an automation project, and actually prove a return on investment to anyone interested. This is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it shows the QA team, (who are most likely set in their ways with the traditional manual testing approach), that at least some of their work can be completed in a more efficient manner, and testing coverage can be increased without any extra effort on their part. Secondly, it shows management that automation is worth investing in. It also boosts the morale of the people who actually worked on the development of the automation, and gives them confidence to continue and make even more improvements.

Brett Pettichord defines what I think are 4 excellent items to validate any test automation project against:

  1. The automation runs
  2. The automation does real testing
  3. The automation finds defects
  4. The automation saves time

I believe the fourth item above is probably the most important, (assuming 1 and 2 are satisifed). The whole point of test automation is process improvement, and having the ability to absorb more work without requiring additional resources. Item 3 is important also, any defects should obviously be flagged, if not logged automatically also.

If the four points mentioned are satisfied once your automation project is complete, I believe it can be qualified as a success.