I’ve just noticed that a webcast on the Guidance Automation Toolkit (GAT) is now available. This is some emerging technology that should soon be made available in a download. Harry Pierson has a nice description over on his blog.
GAT and DSL Tools are both key technologies for realising the software factories vision – they tackle different aspects of the problem. What GAT brings to the table is a notion of recipe and recipe spawning. In its simplest form, a recipe is a wizard that gathers information from the user, then does stuff in Visual Studio, based on that information and information in the environment, thereby automating one or more steps of the software development process. A typical example of ‘stuff’ would be to create a a set of new items in the solution, perhaps further configure a project, perhaps add one more new projects, and so on. All these things that are created would be based on templates, which get filled in by the information supplied in the wizard. But it’s not restricted to creating stuff; you can also delete stuff, perfrom refactoring operations, whatever really, provide you can work out how to do it programatically. A really neat feature of GAT is the notion of recipe spawning: one thing a recipe can do is create new recipes and attach them to items in the solution. This is crucial to automating guidance, where there are many steps to be performed and often repeated. With GAT, you automate the individual steps as recipes, then use recipe spawning to guide folks to the next steps that need to be performed, by spawning recipes which are revealed to you in the context of the items created (or which have been manipulated) by the recipe you’ve just applied. A spawned recipe can be a one-off action, whcih disappears when done, or can hang around to be repeated as many times as you like.
If you think of the DSL tools as a factory for building designers, then you can see how GAT and DSL Tools can work together. DSL Tools has a wizard for creating a solution in VS used to build a graphical designer. This is effectively a recipe. One of the things a recipe creates is a domain model, based on whatever language template was chosen when running the wizard. The domain model can be edited using a graphical designer (created solely for the purpose of editing domain models), then code generation templates (another key technology) are used to generate code for some aspects of the designer from the domain model. There’s another DSL involved as well, the designer definition, from which other aspects of the code are generated. So here’s a little factory involving (so far) one recipe and two DSLs.
[13 May 2005: Added this to the GAT category in my blog.]
As a footnote, I should also confess to some involvement with GAT. I spent a little time working with Wojtek and Tom at the inception of GAT, in particular on the notion of recipes and recipe spawning. It’s great to see this work come to fruition, and it will be even better when the tools are available for download.
Update: Corrected the spelling of ‘Harry Pierson’. Apologies Harry…