SpecFlow 3 VSIX Considerations

As announced here, we need to update the SpecFlow Visual Studio extension (VSIX) for SpecFlow 3. The updates mean the new extension will not be compatible with older versions of SpecFlow ( <2.3.2). We plan to update the SpecFlow Visual Studio extension with the SpecFlow 3-compatible version when SpecFlow 3 is officially released. Note that a preview version of SpecFlow 3 is currently available, more details can be found here.

By default, the extension updates automatically, which will break older projects using versions of SpecFlow prior to 2.3.2. An alternative approach would be to release a dedicated SpecFlow 3 extension. There would then be two separate extensions for SpecFlow, which would avoid the automatic update from breaking old projects. However, we ended up discounting this approach for a number of reasons that are summarised below. Each approach has disadvantages and could potentially cause projects to stop working.

Approach 1: Release a New SpecFlow 3 Extension

In this case, we would release a new VSIX for SpecFlow 3, and leave the current extension online for users of earlier versions.

Pros

  • Users of earlier versions do not have to do anything (i.e. disable automatic updates) to prevent their projects from breaking.

Cons

  • Having two separate versions of a SpecFlow 3 extension in the gallery will cause confusion. Some users will invariably install the wrong version, increasing the number of support issues. This will persist for as long as both extensions are available, i.e. way past the transition period where most users will have migrated from 2 to 3.
  • There will be conflicts if both extensions are installed. There is no way to guarantee that only one of the extensions is installed.
  • Users suddenly need another extension for what appears to be “no good reason”.
  • Punishes users who consistently update to new versions, as these are the ones who need to jump through hoops to use the new release.

Approach 2: Upgrade the Existing Extension

In this case, we would update the existing VSIX for compatibility with SpecFlow 3.

Pros

  • While there may be some short-term confusion and support requests relating to projects suddenly not working (automatic update), these will die down quickly. After ~6 months, the dust will probably have settled.
  • All users will have their extension automatically upgraded to be compatible with the latest version. This is how it has always been.

Cons

  • Requires users not interested in Specflow 3 to make changes to their setup to avoid breaking changes. However, this is a one-off and involves clicking a check box.
  • There will invariably be some users who need to continue using SpecFlow <2.3.2 for now, and who will forget that automatic updates need to be enabled when they make the switch to version 3. Again, the number should decrease as time goes on.

With that in mind, we feel that upgrading the existing extension is better approach. It will cause some teething problems for a few months while the switch is made. After a while, the dust will settle. Conversely, we feel that providing two separate extensions runs the risk of causing confusion due to multiple versions of the extension, and the confusion will persist indefinitely. It will not simply die down after a few months if there are two mutually exclusive extensions available for download.

Your thoughts?

If you think we have overlooked some important aspects or have have alternative suggestions on how to improve the upgrade experience, please share them in the discussion here.

If you have reasons for using older versions of SpecFlow and do not want to regularly upgrade, let us know your motivation too. Both approaches will make it difficult to work with older SpecFlow versions and SpecFlow 3 on the same machine; we are not sure to what extent this could be an issue.