Interview Questions for Programmers by MK #1


Do you know series of posts titled Interview Question of the Week on a SQL Authority blog? If not or if you don't know this blog at all you have to catch up. I learned a lot of from this series so I decided to start publishing something similar but to focus more on .NET and programming.

This is a first post from series which I called Interview Questions for Programmers by MK and in which I'm going to publish questions that I'd ask if I were a recruiter. Of course they are somehow based on my experience as a participant of many interviews.

Question #1
What is a meaning of using statement in the code below? What would you do if using keyword did not exist?
using(var file = File.OpenWrite(path))
Answer #1
In this example using statement is used to properly release resources (to call Dispose method) that are owned by an object of a class that implements IDisposable interface. It is a syntactic sugar and could be replaced by using try/finally block in the following way:
var file = File.OpenWrite(path);
   if(file != null)


How to build predicates dynamically using expression trees


I'm working at the application which finds so called execution patterns in logs recorded by IntelliTrace historical debugger. An execution pattern is a sequence of methods calls that is widely used in the application and it is a kind of automatically generated documentation. The part of the algorithm is filtering of found patterns based on criteria like the length of a pattern or the number of different methods in a pattern.

At the beginning I used only 2 criteria so it was easy to handle all possible combinations of them i.e. use the first criterion, use the second criterion, use both and used none. Then I added 3rd criterion and I thought that for 3 criteria I still don't need a generic mechanism. However, shortly it turned out that I want to handle 5 criteria what gives 32 of possible combinations. This time I did it once and for all.

I decided to use expression trees to dynamically build an expression that verifies any combination of criteria. The code is quite simple. Firstly we need an enum for all criteria.
public enum Crieria : byte
    None = 0,
    CriterionOne = 1,
    CriterionTwo = 2,
    All = CriterionOne | CriterionTwo
We also need a class that will represent patterns.
public class Pattern
    public int FieldOne { get; set; }
    public int FieldTwo { get; set; }
Now we can write a code that will dynamically build needed expressions. I assumed that every criterion has a corresponding static method that knows how to check if a current pattern fulfils it or not. The final expression produced by CreateExpression method will be of the following form pattern => predicate1(pattern) && predicate2(pattern) && predicate3(pattern)....
public static class FilterBuilder
    public static Func<Pattern, bool> CreateExpression(Crieria filteringMode)
        var param = Expression.Parameter(typeof(Pattern));

        var subExpressions = new List<MethodCallExpression>();

        if ((filteringMode & Crieria.CriterionOne) != 0)
            subExpressions.Add(Expression.Call(typeof(FilterBuilder), nameof(CriterionOnePredicate), null, param));

        if ((filteringMode & Crieria.CriterionTwo) != 0)
            subExpressions.Add(Expression.Call(typeof(FilterBuilder), nameof(CriterionTwoPredicate), null, param));

        //Other criteria...

        if (subExpressions.Count == 0)
            return p => true;

        Expression finalExpression = subExpressions[0];
        for (var i = 1; i < subExpressions.Count; ++i)
            finalExpression = Expression.And(finalExpression, subExpressions[i]);

        return Expression.Lambda<Func<Pattern, bool>>(finalExpression, param).Compile();

    public static bool CriterionOnePredicate(Pattern p)
        return p.FieldOne > 0;

    public static bool CriterionTwoPredicate(Pattern p)
        return p.FieldTwo < 0;
The code can be made even more generic but I'll leave it as an exercise. When I finished this code I started to worry about performance. It is critical for me because my application needs to process large amount of patterns efficiently. I made the following simple test in which dynamically generated and static functions are executed 1 million times.
var iterations = 1000000;

var predicate = FilterBuilder.CreateExpression(Crieria.All);
MeasureIt<Pattern>((p) => predicate(p), new Pattern(), iterations);

predicate = FilterBuilder.CreateExpression(Crieria.CriterionOne);
MeasureIt<Pattern>((p) => predicate(p), new Pattern(), iterations);

MeasureIt<Pattern>((p) =>
}, new Pattern(), iterations );

MeasureIt<Pattern>((p) => FilterBuilder.CriterionOnePredicate(p), new Pattern(), iterations);
In order to measure time of calculations I used MeasureIt method from my earlier post and I received the following results:
Total time: 54
Total time: 27
Total time: 18
Total time: 12
Dynamically generated predicates are 2-3 times slower than static ones. However, we are still talking here about dozens of milliseconds in order to make 1 million calls. For me it is acceptable.


What every blogger should do if using someone else's code #1


The developer's work very often involves effective re-using of a code that was written by someone else. Sometime these are fully fledged libraries or frameworks but sometimes these are also small or even very small pieces of code found on a blog or a forum. All this stuff makes our life easier.

When I use someone else's code in my project I wonder if it is worth writing about it on my blog. And sometimes I hesitate. Why? Because it is a well know library and there is a lot about it in Internet. Sometimes because I don't have time to write a tutorial. And sometimes because I think that there is no much to write about,that it is a small piece of code so everybody can understand it on their own.

Now, I think that it is a wrong approach. Maybe it is small, but I used it so it means that I din't have to design, write and test it on my own. Maybe I don't have time to write a tutorial but this code actually saved me time that I'm lacking.

So, what should I (we) do? Just write a short note on our blogs and say that we used this and this in our projects. At least in this way we can thank the authors.

To start. In WPF there is a class GridSplitter that allows user to resize rows and columns in a grid. However, I wanted the same functionality for DockPanel but WPF doesn't provide it. I decided that I'll wrote it but firstly I goggled for something like that and I found this article. The DockPanelSplitter class has 300 lines of code, it is not complex but works well. Give it a chance.


What I've learned about .NET from security recommendations for C/C++ applications


Some time ago I had an occasion to read about security tips and tricks for C/C++. I don't use C/C++ in my day to day work however it was interesting. I also started looking for information if these recommendations apply to .NET and thanks to that I learned a few new things.


ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) is a security feature introduced in Windows Vista (it is also common in other operating systems) that causes that locations of executables/libraries/stack/heap in the memory are selected randomly. For example it minimizes a chance to perform a successful buffer-overflow attack.

ASLR is not turned on for all programs but only for these that are ASLR-compatible. It is controlled by a linker option /DYNAMICBASE besides it can be enabled/disabled by editbin tool. By default this flag is set to ON in Visual Studio.

The good information is that ASLR has been supported by ngen since .NET 3.5 SP1.

VirtualAlloc vs HeapAlloc

Another recommendation says that in order to allocate memory VirtualAlloc method should be used instead of HeapAlloc because the later can bypass ASLR (for details see also this article).

I asked a question on Stack Overflow how it is implemented in .NET and the answer is that .NET uses VirtualAlloc. However, my understanding is that we shouldn't be worried because CLR effectively provides its own ASLR.


DEP (Data Execution Prevention) is another security feature that doesn't allow one to execute areas of memory that are marked as not-executable. i.e. they contain data and not code. Similarly to ASLR there is a linker flag /NXCOMPACT that enable/disable this feature and it has been used in .NET framework since .NET 2.0 SP1.

It is also worth mentioning that in practise NXCOMPACT affects only 32 bit processes. 64bit process always use DEP and it is not possible to disable it (see also this article or this article). As to 32bit processes, I heard the recommendation to explicitly call SetProcessDEPPolicy function at the beginning of 32bit program (also in .NET) to assure that DEP will be used.

EncodePointer and Decode Pointer

Everybody knows what are events and delegates in .NET and we use them everyday. The equivalent of delegates in C/C++ are function pointers. I was really surprised when I read that it is not recommended to use them directly, for example as callbacks.

Instead, they should obfuscated and de-obfuscated when needed by using EncodePointer/DecodePointer functions. It is a concept somehow similar to ASRL. The goal of this technique is to make it difficult to predict a pointer value and override it so that it will point some malicious code.

I couldn't find information if .NET uses these functions internally so I asked a question on Stack Overflow. The answer is that probably .NET doesn't use them..

Safe Structured Exception Handling

Simplifying, structured exceptions are exceptions on the operating system level. Every structured exception has a handler that is executed when the exception occurs. It is important that it is potentially possible to override an address of this handler and perform an attack.

Safe SEH is a security mechanism that doesn't allow one to do so by providing a table of possible handlers. It is controlled via /SAFESEH linker flag but again it does matter only for 32 bit processes.

It seems to me that .NET doesn't use this flag because I found this flag disabled in the make file of Core CLR. However, one of guys who answered my question on Stack Overflow says that .NET uses a table lookup for exception handlers, not pointers on the stack, what gives the same result as SAFESEH.


dotPeek as a Symbol Server


I think that you must have heard about .NET Source Stepping feature in Visual Studio which allow a developer to debug .NET. It is a cool thing but my experience shows that it sometimes works and sometimes not. I think that it happens because Visual Studio can have problems to download appropriate version of symbols from Microsoft Symbol Server. However, recenly I've figured out that it can be done in a different way i.e. we can use the free .NET decompiler dotPeek from JetBrains. To be honest I've been using dotPeek since .NET Reflector is not free and it works great but for a long time I wasn't aware that dotPeek can play a role of a symbol server. When I told about this to my friends they were also surprised (in a positive way) so here is a short How-to.
  1. Run dotPeek.
  2. Select Tools -> Start Symbol Server
  3. By default a server will be available under  http://localhost:33417
  4. Start and configure Visual Studio.

  5. Now Visual Studio will be trying to download symbols and source  code from dotPeek.
  6. dotPeek will be generating them (symbols and source code) in flight by decompiling assemblies .
  7. Visual Studio caches symbols on the disk so  dotPeek doesn't have to be running all the time.
  8. It is worth mentioning that you can set a breakpoint in decompiled source code!
  9. If for some reasons Visual Studio will not download symbols from dotPeek you can enforce this from Modules or Call Stack windows in Visual Studio. To do so select Load Symbols command from the context menu.
  10. You have to remember about one drawback. If you enable external symbol server in Visual Studio it may cause that starting a debugging session will take considerable longer time because IDE will try to download symbols for all assemblies.


Polish -> English


It looks like that I haven't been blogging for 2 months and it is the longest  break I've ever had. I decided to put aside blogging because I wanted to focus on something else. However, after these 2 months I realized that I was simply missing blogging. Therefore I decided to return to writing posts and to change something in my blog. I've been thinking about writing in English for some time so finally I decided to do this step. Why?

First and foremost English is lingua franca of IT world. Majority of books, articles, blogs etc. are in English, all or almost all IT guys know English to some extent so writing in this language means potentially wider audience. Secondly, I'm aware that my English is far from being perfect so blogging in English will be a good occasion to improve my skills in this area.

For some bloggers a decision to start blogging in English might be difficult because of one thing. They write very, very well in their native language. I mean that everybody can write something. It might be useful, it may help someone, it might be interesting and it might be  written generally well, grammatically correctly, without typos but nonetheless it is not written like a good book. There are people who can do that but unfortunately I'm not one of them. However, it also means that I'm not afraid that my style of writing will lost a lot after switching to English ;)

Another reason behind my decision is of different nature. I remember a few occasions when I was asked about my blog by head hunters or interviewers. They were interested in what I'm writing about, one of them even used Google Translate to read my posts! So why not to make their life easier :)

Last but not least I'd like to thank Piotr Sowa from Coding By To Design blog for sharing his thoughts about blogging in English with me. Thanks Piotr!

As to technical aspects of blogging in English. I decided to translate the layout of blog but I'll leave old posts and labels (tags) as they are. Maybe, in future I'll translate the most popular and interesting of them but for now I'd like to focus on producing a new content. What do you think about this approach?