Announcing the Porting Assistant for .NET
.NET Core is the future of .NET! Version 4.8 of the .NET Framework is the last major version to be released, and Microsoft has stated it will receive only bug-, reliability-, and security-related fixes going forward. For applications where you want to continue to take advantage of future investments and innovations in the .NET platform, you need to consider porting your applications to .NET Core. Also, there are additional reasons to consider porting applications to .NET Core such as benefiting from innovation in Linux and open source, improved application scaling and performance, and reducing licensing spend. Porting can, however, entail significant manual effort, some of which is undifferentiated such as updating references to project dependencies.
When porting .NET Framework applications, developers need to search for compatible NuGet packages and update those package references in the application’s project files, which also need to be updated to the .NET Core project file format. Additionally, they need to discover replacement APIs since .NET Core contains a subset of the APIs available in the .NET Framework. As porting progresses, developers have to wade through long lists of compile errors and warnings to determine the best or highest priority places to continue chipping away at the task. Needless to say, this is challenging, and the added friction could be a deterrent for customers with large portfolios of applications.
Today we announced the Porting Assistant for .NET, a new tool that helps customers analyze and port their .NET Framework applications to .NET Core running on Linux. The Porting Assistant for .NET assesses both the application source code and the full tree of public API and NuGet package dependencies to identify those incompatible with .NET Core and guides developers to compatible replacements when available. The suggestion engine for API and package replacements is designed to improve over time as the assistant learns more about the usage patterns and frequency of missing packages and APIs.
The Porting Assistant for .NET differs from other tools in that it is able to assess the full tree of package dependencies, not just incompatible APIs. It also uses solution files as the starting point, which makes it easier to assess monolithic solutions containing large numbers of projects, instead of having to analyze and aggregate information on individual binaries. These and other abilities gives developers a jump start in the porting process.
Analyzing and porting an application
Getting started with porting applications using the Porting Assistant for .NET is easy, with just a couple of prerequisites. First, I need to install the .NET Core 3.1 SDK. Secondly I need a credential profile (compatible with the AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI), although the CLI is not used or required). The credential profile is used to collect compatibility information on the public APIs and packages (from NuGet and core Microsoft packages) used in your application and public NuGet packages that it references. With those prerequisites taken care of, I download and run the installer for the assistant.
With the assistant installed, I check out my application source code and launch the Porting Assistant for .NET from the Start menu. If I’ve previously assessed some solutions, I can view and open those from the Assessed solutions screen, enabling me to pick up where I left off. Or I can select Get started, as I’ll do here, from the home page to begin assessing my application’s solution file.
I’m asked to select the credential profile I want to use, and here I can also elect to opt-in to share my telemetry data. Sharing this data helps to further improve on suggestion accuracy for all users as time goes on, and is useful in identifying issues, so we hope you consider opting-in.
I click Next, browse to select the solution file that I want, and then click Assess to begin the analysis. For this post I’m going to use the open source NopCommerce project. Note that I am using release version 3.80 for this post, as this version was still based on the .NET Framework.
When analysis is complete I am shown the overall results – the number of incompatible packages the application depends on, APIs it uses that are incompatible, and an overall Portability score. This score is an estimation of the eﬀort required to port the application to .NET Core, based on the number of incompatible APIs it uses. If I’m working on porting multiple applications I can use this to identify and prioritize the applications I want to start on first.
Let’s dig into the assessment overview to see what was discovered. Clicking on the solution name takes me to a more detailed dashboard and here I can see the projects that make up the application in the solution file, and for each the numbers of incompatible package and API dependencies, along with the portability score for each particular project. The current port status of each project is also listed, if I’ve already begun porting the application and have reopened the assessment.
Note that with no project selected in the Projects tab the data shown in the Project references, NuGet packages, APIs, and Source files tabs is solution-wide, but I can scope the data if I wish by first selecting a project.
The Project references tab shows me a graphical view of the package dependencies and I can see where the majority of the dependencies are consumed, in this case the Npp.Core, Npp.Services, and Npp.Web.Framework projects. This view can help me decide where I might want to start first, so as to get the most ‘bang for my buck’ when I begin. I can also select projects to see the specific dependencies more clearly.
The NuGet packages tab gives me a look at the compatible and incompatible dependencies, and suggested replacements if available. The APIs tab lists the incompatible APIs, what package they are in, and how many times they are referenced. Source files lists all of the source files making up the projects in the application, with an indication of how many incompatible API calls can be found in each file. Selecting a source file opens a view showing me where the incompatible APIs are being used and suggested package versions to upgrade to, if they exist, to resolve the issue. If there is no suggested replacement by simply updating to a different package version then I need to crack open a source editor and update the code to use a different API or approach. Here I’m looking at the report for DependencyRegistrar.cs, that exists in the Nop.Web project, and uses the Autofac NuGet package.
Let’s start porting the application, starting with the Nop.Core project. First, I navigate back to the Projects tab, select the project, and then click Port project. During porting the tool will help me update project references to NuGet packages, and also updates the project files themselves to the newer .NET Core formats. I have the option of either making a copy of the application’s solution file, project files, and source files, or I can have the changes made in-place. Here I’ve elected to make a copy.
Clicking Save copies the application source code to the selected location, and opens the Port projects view where I can set the new target framework version (in this case netcoreapp3.1), and the list of NuGet dependencies for the project that I need to upgrade. For each incompatible package the Porting Assistant for .NET gives me a list of possible version upgrades and for each version, I am shown the number of incompatible APIs that will either remain, or will additionally become incompatible. For the package I selected here there’s no difference but for cases where later versions potentially increase the number of incompatible APIs that I would then need to manually fix up in the source code, this indication helps me to make a trade-off decision around whether to upgrade to the latest versions of a package, or stay with an older one.
I continue with this process for each package dependency and when I’m ready, click Port to have the references updated. Using my IDE, I can then go into the source files and work on replacing the incompatible API calls using the Porting Assistant for .NET‘s source file and deprecated API list views as a reference, and follow a similar process for the other projects in my application.
Improving the suggestion engine
The suggestion engine behind the Porting Assistant for .NET is designed to learn and give improved results over time, as customers opt-in to sharing their telemetry. The data models behind the engine, which are the result of analyzing hundreds of thousands of unique packages with millions of package versions, are available on GitHub. We hope that you’ll consider helping improve accuracy and completeness of the results by contributing your data. The user guide gives more details on how the data is used.
The Porting Assistant for .NET is free to use and is available now.— Steve