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Several months back, I was tasked with measuring the quality of code in my organization. Foolishly, I said, "No problem." I figured that Visual Studio has a built-in code metrics tool (Analyze -> Calculate Code Metrics) and that would be a fine place to start with. I was right, but also very wrong.

The Visual Studio calculates five primary metrics: Maintainability Index, Cyclomatic Complexity, Depth of Inheritance, Class Coupling, and Lines of Code. The first two are figured at the method level, the second at (primarily) the class level, and the last is a simple count. The first question any reasonable person should ask is "Which one do I look at first?" The first question any manager is going to ask is, "What one number tells me about the whole application?"

My answer to both, in a way, was "Maintainability Index." Why? Because each of the other numbers represent one element of quality while MI is a composite number that includes Cyclomatic Complexity. I'd be lying if I said no consideration was given to the fact that it was abstract enough that it's harder for some surly developer (I've been known to resemble that remark) to start arguing why a high coupling or inheritance is no big deal or how complex requirements are to blame for complex code. I should also note that I don't think there is one magic bullet metric that will tell you objectively how good a code base is. There are a ton of different metrics out there, and each one was created for a specific purpose in mind and has a pet theory behind it. When you've got a group of developers who aren't accustomed to measuring code quality, picking a 0-100 scale, non-controversial metric that can be easily generated by tools you already own really isn't a bad place to start.

That sort of answers the question a developer would ask, but what about the management question; how do you dashboard this stuff when Visual Studio doesn't roll up the numbers to the solution level? Since VS does roll up the MI to the project level, I thought I could just figure out what sort of weighting Microsoft used to roll method scores up to the class level and then to the namespace and project levels.

I was a bit surprised by the answer: there is no weighting. That means that a class with one 1300 line method (which will score a 0 MI) and one empty constructor (which will score a 100 MI) will have an overall MI of a respectable 50. Throw in a couple of DTOs that are nothing more than getters and setters (which tend to score 95 or better) and the project ends up looking really, really healthy. The next poor bastard who has to work on the application is probably not going to be singing the praises of its maintainability, though. For the record, that 1300 line method isn't a hypothetical, either.

So, what does one do with that? Well, I decided to weight the average by the Lines of Code per method. For our above example, the formula for the class's MI becomes ((1300 * 0) + (1 * 100))/1301 = .077, rounded to 0. Sounds about right. Continue the pattern for namespace, project, solution, and even multi-solution application MI scores. This can be done relatively easily by using the "export to Excel" button and running a quick formula against the data.

On the short list of follow-up questions would be, "How do I improve my application's score?" That's an answer for another time, though.

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 9:26 PM development | Back to top

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