Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whatever happened to NDoc?

NDoc was one of my favourite tools for .NET. Document your assemblies with the .NET XML documentation tags, point NDoc at them and out comes a help file. It was simple to use but was also powerful enough to customize the output in most ways you’d want.

Go to the linked website and you’ll see not much has happened on the NDoc project since 2005. Unfortunately support for .NET 2 was never completed before the original author decided to give up on the project and it looks like nobody has picked up the baton to develop it further. This is understandable to an extent. After all Microsoft have come out with Sandcastle which essentially does the same thing as NDoc. But Sandcastle is difficult to love. It has no user interface and builds take forever compared to NDoc.

The user interface problem can be solved by using Sandcastle Help File Builder, which does a nice job of looking like NDoc, but is still hampered by the underlying Sandcastle technology. After much frigging around I’m still unable to figure out how to add custom HTML into my documentation (for Google Analytics and the like) on a per project basis. I can do it globally by messing with the templates but this means I have to modify the templates for each build of a particular project, which is not ideal.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems sad that 4 years since development on NDoc stopped, we still don’t have something as easy to use or as fast, even with the might of Microsoft behind it. I’m not surprised the original author decided to stop working on it, apparently he was getting threatened because his support for .NET 2 wasn’t coming along fast enough… And I’m sure the thought of trying to compete with Microsoft didn’t encourage his efforts either. But Microsoft have failed to deliver IMHO so I’m still missing NDoc after all this time.

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