15 November 2007

NDiagnostics - Beta Release

Any of us that creates software on a day-to-day basis, that's actually used by someone other than yourself, has undoubtedly had to answer technical support questions about your software and/or troubleshoot why it's not working. In a lot of cases, you may have a dedicated support team that interacts directly with your customer base and they only contact you if they come across something they can't resolve or explain. Over time, the support teams tend to become very efficient at resolving application-specific issues regarding setup and configuration. However, when an application is first released, the process isn't so straight-forward and you may have to field a lot of questions.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to answer any questions I can about the software that I produce. However, I'm also interested in maximizing everyone's time (mine, the technical support staff's, as well as the end-user's). That is why I decided to create NDiagnostics. The purpose of NDiagnostics is to allow for the easy creation of a self-diagnostics utility customized for a specific application. For example, if your application requires certain files and/or folders to be present, a specific version of the .NET Framework, and possibly access to a SQL Server database, then you can create a custom configuration file that can quickly and easily scan a user's machine for compliance. Here's a sample screen shot of what NDiagnostics might look like after scanning a user's workstation:

In this example, the SQL Server Service's Startup Type was not set to Automatic as expected. However, you can quickly ascertain that the required .NET Frameworks are installed, the SQL Server service is running, Visual Studio is running (yet another strange requirement), my blog is available (yeah!), and the application's database is accessible.

This isn't necessarily a real-world example but it does demonstrate how easy it can make troubleshooting certain tasks. It only took a few seconds for the above tasks to run - it would have taken several minutes to verify these tasks manually (possibly hours if the technical support staff had to determine what to verify to begin with).

NDiagnostics is completely configurable via an XML-based configuration file. The configuration file defines the groups of diagnostic tasks to be run as well as the order of the tasks. NDiagnostics currently ships with the following tasks:

  • File Task - checks for the existence of a specific file and can also (optionally) check the version number.
  • Folder Task - checks for the existence of a specific folder.
  • NETFX Task - checks for a specific version of the .NET Framework.
  • Process Task - determines whether a specific process is running.
  • Registry Task - allows you to verify registry settings.
  • SQL Server Task - checks for connection to specified database; optionally check for table existence and/or query result.
  • URL Task - determines whether a specific URL is available (can verify web page or web service).
  • Windows Service Task - determines whether or not a specific Windows Service is installed, and optionally, the current status (e.g. running, stopped, etc.).

Being that this is the first release the set of tasks is somewhat limited. There are several new tasks currently in the works that will be made available in future releases. Also, the project just went "live" tonight so I'm still getting the on-line documentation up to speed.

So, if you have a need for a quick-n-easy diagnostics tool, give NDiagnostics a look. Please provide any feedback as I would like to make this utility as useful, friendly, and simple as possible. If you have any suggestions for new tasks, please post a comment here or leave feedback at the NDiagnostics site. Also, the source code is fully available so you can customize this application to your liking.