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Dependency Analysis in Visual C++

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7 Oct 2016CPOL6 min read 20.2K   14   1
Use graphs and metrics to analyse static architecture


When developing a piece of software, circular dependencies between classes, etc. make the code fragile to modification and, if they are at the level where it is between binaries, cause build issues. Trawling through the source code to find and fix can be time consuming, so this article analyses some project code with the open source analysis tool DeepEnds (Visual Studio plug-in / NuGet package).

Setting Up the Problem

To launch the tool from the menu bar, choose View → Other Windows → DeepEnds.


The above diagram shows input on the left and some output on the right. Please note the mapping between the hierarchical filters of the project files in the Solution Explorer and the resulting graph in the dgml file viewer of Visual Studio Community 2015. Please note that the Gherkin filter contains feature files which aren't parsed by DeepEnds as they contain DSL code (the interested reader is referred to A Slice of Cucumber).

If the input had instead been .NET, the nodes in the graph would have been labeled with the names of the namespaces and the classes, the associated hierarchy resulting in subgraphs. So that is a reasonable strategy for choosing the filter names. Note that care should be taken when re-using filter names across projects as this can lead to the hiding of circular dependencies between the binaries.

This then leaves the question of which file goes into which filter. This leads to the rather contrived example that the above diagram illustrates.

What Does the Graph Mean?

In the DGML graph, the TestFEA node has been expanded to show a cycle. This is more easily investigated by looking at the associated HTML report which includes a summary for each level. A truncated version of the report for the top level contains the following table:

(E + P - N) / N E + P - N N Externals SLOC Cycle Section
Val Max Sum Val Max Sum Val Max Sum Count Max Sum Expected Max
0.50 0.50 1.88 3 4 12 6 53 234 0 19 10672 30 469   Top level
0.00 0.00 0.00 0 0 0 1 1 1 12 12 80 80 80   App
0.00 0.27 0.27 0 3 3 2 11 17 0 3 513 29 99   BLAS
0.44 0.44 0.61 4 4 5 9 53 124 7 16 4928 28 469   FEA
0.00 0.00 0.00 0 0 0 52 52 52 2 3 2854 33 347   Solvers
0.50 0.50 0.50 1 1 1 2 16 28 26 12 1958 36 432 Cycle TestFEA
0.00 0.00 0.00 0 0 0 3 3 6 19 19 339 11 203   TestLinear

The first nine columns have formulas based on the number of edges (E), parts (P) and nodes (N), these are discussed in Why Favour the Cyclomatic Number? Specifically, the value at that level in the tree and the sum and maximum over the tree of the three formulas (E+P-N)/N, E+P-N and N.

The next two columns are the count of the number of externals that corresponds to the dependencies which form the edges and its maximum value as traverse further down the tree.

Then the sum of the source lines of code as the tree is traversed is given followed by the result of fitting a log-normal distribution as detailed in Counting Lines of Code, followed by the maximum in the tree.

The final two columns contain the information that is of interest to our example. Whether there is a cycle and the (sub)graph in which it occurs.

Navigating down to the report for TestFEA section, there is a similar table:

(E + P - N) / N E + P - N N Externals SLOC Cycle Section
Val Max Sum Val Max Sum Val Max Sum Count Max Sum Expected Max
0.50 0.50 0.50 1 1 1 2 16 28 26 12 1958 36 432 Cycle TestFEA
0.00 0.00 0.00 0 0 0 10 10 10 22 12 683 86 149   TestFEA\App
0.00 0.00 0.00 0 0 0 16 16 16 18 8 1275 25 432   TestFEA\Classes

This is followed by a table for the 26 externals that, when truncated, looks like:

External dependencies

Next, a table that lists which files form the end of the edges:

Internal Dependencies

Then, a table detailing which dependencies form the edges that, when truncated, looks like:

TestFEA\Classes TestFEA\App
TestFEA\Classes\DiffFiles.h TestFEA\App\stdafx.h
TestFEA\Classes\LocalNodes.h TestFEA\App\stdafx.h
TestFEA\App TestFEA\Classes
TestFEA\App\GenerateGridTests.cpp TestFEA\Classes\DiffFiles.h
TestFEA\App\GenerateGridTests.cpp TestFEA\Classes\BoxMesh.h
TestFEA\App\GenerateTests.cpp TestFEA\Classes\AreaCalculator.h
TestFEA\App\GenerateTests.cpp TestFEA\Classes\DiffFiles.h
TestFEA\App\GenerateTests.cpp TestFEA\Classes\LocalNodes.h

Finally, a table containing the structure matrix is given for completeness as it is just another way of reporting the graph.

App \ 1
Classes 1 \

Fixing the Issue

When looking to fix circular dependencies, the information of choice is the underlying dependencies which form the edges. In this contrived example, it can be seen that the issue was due to placing stdafx.h under TestFEA\App and not TestFEA\Classes. Moving it along with stdafx.cpp and targetver.h into TestFEA\Classes proved effective in removing the cycle.


As mentioned, this example is contrived, in an earlier iteration of the example, the code had one class with two responsibilities leading to a cycle that was causing extreme prevarication in how to refactor. Specifically wading through the source code was not causing the issue to be found and this led to the original (code and subsequently) article on this topic - As-Is Software Architecture. Incidentally, the cycle was broken by splitting the class at issue into two pieces. Note that as all the code was in the same binary, there was no build issue. In fact, when looked at from the level of the individual files, there was no circular dependency, i.e., it was only at the level of the (mis)design that the issue existed.

Obviously, it's the case that doing a file based analysis is not as satisfying as doing one based on class as can be achieved using the Roslyn based parsers for C# and Visual Basic. Initially, a parser for Doxygen XML was added but this led to obvious omissions in the dependencies. Recently, a libclang based parser has been added to the tool to rectify this. As libclang is a stable but limited interface to clang, there are a few peculiarities. Firstly, dependencies created by static methods are ignored. Secondly, a class referenced though an incomplete namespace will be compared to the list of classes and if only one is found, a dependency is created - hopefully that list is complete.


  • 2016/10/07: First release
  • 2016/10/12: Updated tables
  • 2016/11/25: Added mentions of NuGet, Doxygen and libclang


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

Written By
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Mathematician turned freelance Software Engineer with over 20 years experience, mainly in the development of CAD/CAM/CAE software. Generally worked for smaller businesses - although have been at Lloyd's Register, Siemens and Rolls-Royce. Enjoy living on the edge of the Peak District where I go cycling and hiking.

Comments and Discussions

Generalmy vote of 5 Pin
Southmountain14-Oct-16 6:27
Southmountain14-Oct-16 6:27 

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