Useful tools for Web projects

I never thought I'd be interested in using Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe in my Web environment until I read everything version 5.0 can do. Visual SourceSafe has a long list of features and controls. I knew I had to take a closer look when I saw that it provides some useful tools for my Web projects such as document protection through project-oriented version control. But before I dive into these tools, let's examine what you need to set up and run Visual SourceSafe.

The Set Up
Although Visual SourceSafe lets you work with any type of file or software package, Microsoft has integrated Visual SourceSafe into many of its developer packages such as Visual Basic (VB), Visual C++ (VC++), Visual J++ (VJ++), Visual FoxPro, FrontPage, and Access. To use Visual SourceSafe, you need to install it on a network server (I installed Visual SourceSafe on my development machine, an Intergraph InterServe Web300, where I keep a copy of the complete Windows NT Magazine Web site). After you install Visual SourceSafe, you'll want to set a password for the Administrator (Admin) and set the appropriate permissions for this account. Then, unless you plan to work as the Administrator, you need to add your name to the database user list with the Visual SourceSafe Administrator. Screen 1 shows the Visual SourceSafe Administrator with a database user list of three users. Next, you use netsetup.exe from the server's Visual SourceSafe \win32 directory so you can set up the Visual SourceSafe Explorer on your workstation and access the server's database where all the files are stored. This approach is easier and faster than installing the Visual SourceSafe client portion from the CD-ROM because Visual SourceSafe creates pointers back to the central database on the server. The next step is to set the appropriate user permissions so that you and anyone on your team can work on your soon-to-be created projects.

Setting Permissions
Visual SourceSafe has two levels of security--default security and project security. Default security has two levels of permissions--read-write and read-only. When you create new users, their default permissions are read-write (i.e., the new users have full access rights: Read, Add, Check Out, and Destroy). However, you can separate these four rights into the following four levels of permissions by using Project Security:

1. Read: users can view files but they can't modify them.

2. Add: Read, Check Out, and Add access rights--users can see and modify the files and add and remove files in a project.

3. Check Out: Read and Check Out access rights--users can see and modify existing project files.

4. Destroy: Read, Check Out, Add, and Destroy access rights--users have unlimited rights in the project, including the right to perform irreversible commands such as Destroy, Purge, and Rollback.

By clicking the Project Security Options tab, you set each user's permissions for each project (just be aware that setting individual project permissions can be a headache to administer). So, for example, I can give full access to users in charge of the Windows NT Magazine Professionals Conference areas on our Web site for their project and still maintain control over other projects. You can also set this level of permissions with NT, but NT doesn't have Visual SourceSafe's version control and rollback capabilities.

In addition to the four levels of permissions for a standard user, the Administrator has an additional level of permission. When a user checks out a file from Visual SourceSafe and changes it, the Administrator can reverse those changes. The Administrator, whose username you can't change, is also the only user who can run Visual SourceSafe Administrator and modify the user list. Now that you understand permissions, let's learn what it takes to work on a project.

Working on a Web Project
To begin working on a Web project with Visual SourceSafe, you need to create a project. From within Visual SourceSafe Explorer, click Create Project and name the project in the box provided.

After you create the project, you need to add some files to work with. You can add files by highlighting your project, clicking Add Files, and browsing your way to the directory or directories you want to include. You can then select files or directories to add. The Add Files box stays open until you close it in case you want to add more files or directories to your project. You can also open Visual SourceSafe Explorer and NT Explorer and drag folders or files to Visual SourceSafe.

All my projects are Web projects. To take advantage of Visual SourceSafe's tools for Web projects (such as Deploy, Check Hyperlinks, and Site Map Creation), you have to designate your projects as Web projects in the Visual SourceSafe Administrator by clicking the Web Projects tab, which you see in Screen 1. You can work in SourceSafe Administrator remotely, but it can be slow--even over an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) line.

Visual SourceSafe stores all project files as read-only to protect them from unwanted changes. To edit a stored file, you have to check it out. You check out files by starting the Visual SourceSafe Explorer client, which is similar in appearance to the NT Explorer. From the Explorer, you can see all the projects on the Visual SourceSafe server under version control. Find the files or directories you want and check them out. Visual SourceSafe places copies of the files in any directory you declare as your working directory. After you finish with the files, you just check them back in. The beauty of Visual SourceSafe is that it uses its History services to record all the changes to any files under its protection. The History service records changes to a file from the time it was initially added to Visual SourceSafe. With the file history, you can revert a file to any point in that file's history and recover the file as it existed at that point.

In addition to reverting a file to a previous version, you can use the Show Differences command to compare the differences between a file in your workspace and a file you've stored in Visual SourceSafe. You can even compare versions of the same file you've stored in Visual SourceSafe. After Visual SourceSafe compares the two files, it uses split panes to display the context of both files on your screen, as you see in Screen 2. Visual SourceSafe highlights changed lines between the two files, so you can easily find the differences. All you have to do is right-click the file you want to compare and select Show Differences to begin the comparison.

Web-Specific Tools
Visual SourceSafe 5.0's extra features for Web projects are Deploy, Check Hyperlinks, and Site Map Creation. The Deploy option lets you deploy a set of Web files to a Web server or multiple Web servers. The only drawback is that you must deploy an entire project--you can't deploy individual files. To deploy a project, you need access to the Destroy permission because the Deploy command overwrites all duplicate files with new ones.

With the Check Hyperlinks option, you can have Visual SourceSafe test all the links in the files in your workspace or the files in the Visual SourceSafe server's project. After Visual SourceSafe checks the links, it shows you a dialog box with three list boxes. The top box lists all the files polled, the middle box lists the links that appear to be invalid from the top box, and the bottom box lists the links that Visual SourceSafe didn't check because they were outside the project.

The Site Map Creation is handy for creating a map of your Web site, or at least a map of a project, if that's what you select to create. Whether you have several people who work on the same group of files or you want an extra level of file protection at any cost, I recommend you look at Visual SourceSafe--it's easy to install and use.

Microsoft Visual SourceSafe 5.0
Microsoft * 206-882-8080
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ssafe
Price: $499