Critical Development

Language design, framework development, UI design, robotics and more.

Bad SDK Installation Practices

Posted by Dan Vanderboom on July 8, 2008

Some Compact Framework SDKs (SQLCE, Symbol, OpenNETCF), when they install on a development machine, install a deployment “package”, which is a Visual Studio construct that associates one or more assemblies with a CAB file.  When you add a reference to one of those assemblies and deploy to a device, the entire CAB file installs instead of the individual assembly.

In Visual Studio 2005, the definition of these deployment packages consists of an XSL file deeply nested in the Application Data folder (the file name is conman_ds_package.xsl).  Though I couldn’t find any reference to this at all on the Internet when I first played around with this, you can edit this file, and even remove package definitions altogether, which will circumvent this mechanism and deploy only the assemblies you explicitly reference, as you would expect it to behave in the first place.

I’m not recommending this as a general practice, but it sometimes comes in handy: it’s nice to have that level of control over which assemblies are selected and how they get deployed.  My article on the frustrations and oddness with references illustrates some of the problems of “hiding the details” to such an extent that the ultimate behavior is unpredictable and difficult to troubleshoot.

I have so far been unable to find these deployment package definitions in Visual Studio 2008, nor have I found any part of the IDE that allows you to view or edit this.  This is a fundamental design flaw.  If you’re going to raise the level of abstraction, providing a way to make the guts visible and editable is essential for traceability and debugging, especially when the mechanism itself is flawed or is misused by third-party vendors.

For example, there is apparently some room for misinterpretation between where the CAB is located and where Visual Studio actually looks for it when deploying to a device.  When deploying a Symbol DLL file, Visual Studio notices that a Symbol deployment package exists, presumes it’s installed under the current Visual Studio directory (in my case, with Visual Studio 2008, it’s the directory Visual Studio 9.0), and proceeds to deploy from that location.  Unfortunately, the CAB file doesn’t actually exist there, so a deployment error results.

It looks here:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\SmartDevices\SDK\Symbol Technologies

However, the SDK was actually installed here:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 8\SmartDevices\SDK\Symbol Technologies

Error    1    Deployment and/or registration failed with error: 0x8973190d. Error opening file ‘C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\smartdevices\sdk\Symbol Technologies\wce500\armv4i\symbol.all.arm.cab’. Error 0x80070003: The system cannot find the path specified.
      Device Connectivity Component  

Symbol’s .NET SDK v1.4 presumes you are using Visual Studio 2005, and installs itself into the Visual Studio 8.0 directory under Program Files.  This presumption is such an obviously bad practice, it simply shocks me.  They have their own install directory in “C:\Program Files\Symbol Mobility Developer Kit for .NET” where (a little deeper) they keep a copy of the CAB file, which exists independent of any tool that might use it (different versions of Visual Studio, SharpDevelop, etc.).

SQL Server CE / Compact has the same problem, depending on whether it gets installed with Visual Studio or is installed as a separate SDK.  I mentioned SQLCE SDK directory confusions in this article.

So take note: if you’re distributing an SDK, use a little common sense (and consistency) when deciding where to install it, and what presumptions you’re making about your audience.  Learn from SQLCE, Symbol, and others, what not to do.

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