Sunday, June 29, 2014

Switching from SVN to TFS - via Visual Studio Online

At work we've been using SVN for source control and we were using www.codespaces.com as our hosting provider until they evaporated into thin air last week.  Apparently, they had a weak password....critical mistake.  It was rather scary to realize that the code you thought was safe could so quickly be gone. Thankfully, I had recent pulls of all our SVN repositories on my laptop.   

I viewed this tragedy as an opportunity to move over to Visual Studio Online, which is the cloud version of Team Foundation Server.  I'd been using this service for a few personal projects. It's free for teams of up to five and you can't beat free for a price. 

It became apparent rather quickly that there are several decisions that must be made when setting up a TFS team project. Do you use one team project for each VS solution that you want in source control?  What project management template do you use - Agile vs. Scrum?  Honestly, after using SVN for so long it felt a little daunting.  Not everything SVN equates in the world of TFS.

As I started migrating code across from SVN to TFS, I tried to keep track of the decision points and lessons learned.  

Visual Studio Online 

TFS = ALM = More than Source Control
TFS is more than just source control.  TFS is also an ALM (Application Life-cycle Management system).  Microsoft has put together a set of documentations on CodePlex designed to quickly bring you up to speed. 

Branching
SVN convention is to use three directories (trunk, tags, and branch) to manage your branching workflow.  TFS convention seems to be to use a main folder in place of trunk.  Branches derive from main, much like in SVN, however, there is not an equivalent concept of tags.  TFS provides a label (which could be thought of as a weak tag) and it really just serves as a marker commit chain.  On the upside, TFS provides a very cool feature called Shelvesets, essentially allowing a commit to source control that doesn't go directly back into the branch of code your working from.

Information sourced from 

One or Many - Team Projects 
My first attempt at setting things up in TFS mimicked what I did with SVN and I started creating team projects for every SVN repository that I had.  However, work planning often spans project boundaries, making a team project for every set of source code a less than ideal solution.  

The takeaway is this
    • Having one team project provides greater flexibility than having several
    • Team projects at this point in time cannot be renamed 
    • Within one team project renaming and reorganize is simple
    • Work areas provide separation for project planning
    • Within one team project, separate teams can be created as needed
Information sourced from 

External Dependencies
At first, it was not obvious to me how to manage several separate, sometimes interconnected projects in TFS.  In SVN, every solution was committed to its own repository.  If there was a dependency between projects, it was simple to use tags with an external dependency to compose interdependent projects together.

In TFS the recommendation is to use binaries for external dependencies.  There are two ways to do this. Commit the dependency .dll's along with the source code or the fancy new method of using a local NuGet server.  Microsoft's ALM quick-start leans in favor of  using a local NuGet server if possible. If you do go the route of including the dependencies in a folder within the project, make sure it gets checked in. The .dll's are excluded from source control by default.

Information sourced from 


Removing a Team Project
After switching to one team project to manage all our code, I realized that I wanted to delete all the single team projects I had created.  This at this point, cannot be done through the online management portal.  A simple command line argument can be used to safely remove old team projects.




Information sourced from

Setting up Builds, Dropping to TFS server
TFS in Visual Studio Online has an integrated build server.  This has varying levels of usefulness depending on your project.  One of the build drop options is to drop it directly onto the TFS server.  This is a nice feature, which hopefully in the future will allow for some way to publicly expose the drops for external project stakeholders.

Information sourced from
Team Foundation Service updates - Oct 29

Scrum Vs. Agile
Previous to TFS, we managed our work backlog through emails, notes on scratch paper and verbal banter.  Needless to say, anything is probably an improvement to that.  We'd tried several things, but in reality we found that we never used our tools, simply because they were so separate from VS, where we needed them.  VS 2013 has very nice integration with Visual Studio Online, which has solved this issue for us.

When setting up a team project, you are asked to choose a process template.  Several templates are presented, among them templates for Agile and Scrum.  Not knowing a whole lot about either methodology, I ended up choosing the Scrum process template based the following two blog posts.

Agile vs Scrum process templates - TFS
Scrum for Everyone

While we are not currently using the project management tools to their full potential, I'm sure thatas we learn more about the methodology the tools will give us more value.

The Verdict
Microsoft is providing a great service at a great price.  The holistic approach of providing project management tools along with source control makes sense.  Currently there are a few week points. SharePoint via Office 365 doesn't integrate well with Visual Studio Online. And there is no simple built-in way to provide external stakeholders with code drops from automated builds. However, I'm sure as the product matures MS will continue to integrate and innovate to continue providing value.  

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