19 October 2018

NATstyle Custom Reports

This summer I wrote about NATstyle, a utility to define and check the coding standard in your NATURAL program. Now NATURAL is not a language you will encounter frequently (hopefully not ;-) but it is an excellent show case for neither being intimidated by strange environments nor accepting idiosyncratic vendor views. First I showed how NATstyle can be used outside of the NATURAL IDE - a prerequisite for setting up Continuous Integration, then I experimented with ways to define my own custom analysis rules. Now is the time to talk about reporting.

Custom Stylesheets
NATstyle creates an XML report. Its structure is
  <file type='...' location='...'>
    <error severity='...' message='...' />
NATstyle comes with a stylesheet NATstyleSimple.xsl. The XSLT transformation is not part of the NATstyle execution. Using custom stylesheets allows you to convert the XML into arbitrary reports.

Suitable Target Structure
When working on weird environments, I try to use standard tools as much as possible. Emulating common output formats is the way to go. For example in the case of test results, the JUnit XML format is used in similar scenarios, e.g. Erlang, Cobol and others.

What would be a good structure for reporting static code analysis findings? PMD is a common tool in the Java space and it creates XML reports which are understood by tools like Jenkins, making integration much easier. In the report, violations are grouped by files:
<pmd version="..." timestamp="...">
  <file name="SampleClass.java">
    <violation beginline="2" endline="16"
               begincolumn="8" endcolumn="1"
               rule="TooManyFields" ruleset="Code Size"
               externalInfoUrl="..." priority="3">
      Too many fields
XML Parser
Changing the NATstyle result to PMD's format is possible using XSLT alone, but I favour XML parsers for more complex transformations. I established the following process to convert the results: As I used Ant to execute NATstyle on Jenkins, I created an Ant task NatStyleResultToPmdTask.java. (Ant declaration for that task is in ant/ant_NatStyleResultToPmd.xml.) The Ant task sets the input and output XML file names and invokes the NatStyleToPmd.java conversion which uses a SAX parser to parse the NATstyle result and feeds the violations into net.​sourceforge.​pmd.​Report#​addRuleViolation. Then core PMD classes create the final XML report. (The project containing the Ant task and complete, working setup is here.)

In legacy environments it is often possible to "bridge" to standard tools and make use of the rich tooling we have. We can apply modern practises like automated code reviews or Continuous Integration. Another example is bringing TDD and automated testing to the mainframe platform. It is 2018, we have all these great tools, let's make use of them!

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