The SmartAssembly Rearchitecture

You may have noticed that not a lot has happened to SmartAssembly in the past few months. However, the team has been very busy behind the scenes working on an entirely new version of SmartAssembly.

SmartAssembly 6.5

Over the past few releases of SmartAssembly, the team had come to the realisation that the current ‘architecture’ – grown organically, way before RedGate bought it, from a simple name obfuscator over the years into a full-featured obfuscator and assembly instrumentation tool – was simply not up to the task. Not for what we wanted to do with it at the time, and not what we have planned for the future.

Not only was it not up to what we wanted it to do, but it was severely limiting our development capabilities; long-standing bugs in the root architecture that couldn’t be fixed, some rather…interesting…design decisions, and convoluted logic that increased the complexity of any bugfix or new feature tenfold.

So, we set out to fix this. Earlier this year, a new engine was written on which SmartAssembly would be based. Over the following few months, each feature was ported over to the new engine and extensively tested by our existing unit and integration tests. The engine was linked into the existing UI (no easy task, due to the tight coupling between the UI and old engine), and existing RedGate products were tested on the new SmartAssembly to ensure the new engine acted in the same way. The result is SmartAssembly 6.5.

The risks of a rearchitecture

Are there risks to rearchitecting a product like SmartAssembly? Of course. There was a lot of undocumented behaviour in the old engine, and as part of the rearchitecture we had to find this behaviour, define it, and document it. In the process we found some behaviour of the old engine that simply did not make sense; hence the changes in pruning & obfuscation behaviour in the release notes. All the special edge cases we had to find, document, and re-implement.

There was a chance that these special cases would not be found until near the end of the project, when everything is functionally complete and interacting together. By that stage, it would be hard to go back and change anything without a whole lot of extra work, delaying the release by months. We always knew this was a possibility; our initial estimate of the time required was ‘4 months, ± 4 months’. And that was including various mitigation strategies to reduce the likelihood of these issues being found right at the end. Fortunately, this worst-case did not happen.

However, the rearchitecture did produce some benefits. As well as numerous bug fixes that we could not fix any other way, we’ve also added logging that lets you find out exactly why a particular field or property wasn’t pruned or obfuscated. There’s a new command line interface, we’ve tested it with WP7.1 and Silverlight 5, and we’ve added a new option to error reporting to improve the performance of instrumented apps by ~10%, at the cost of inaccurate line numbers in reports.

So? What differences will I see?

Largely none. SmartAssembly 6.5 produces the same output as SmartAssembly 6.2. The performance of 6.5 will be much faster for some users, and generally the same as 6.2 for the remaining. If you’ve encountered a bug with previous versions of SmartAssembly, I encourage you to try 6.5, as it has most likely been fixed in the rearchitecture. If you encounter a bug with 6.5, please do tell us; we’ll be doing another release quite soon, so we’ll aim to fix any issues caused by 6.5 in that release.

Most importantly, the new architecture finally allows us to implement some Big Things with SmartAssembly we’ve been planning for many months; these will fundamentally change how you build, release and monitor your application. Stay tuned for further updates!