Sometimes while coding I have an idea of some small construction I want to try that I'm uncertain will work. I could fairly easily determine whether it will work by writing a test and running it, but it's just so small and simple that even that seems like overkill. Often, I just want to know if something will compile, and what the type system will do with it.
I just want to write a little bit of code, run it immediately, see the result, and move on, possibly forgetting about it. I need a REPL. Depending on your primary programming language, you may be familiar with this already. But if you are a C# developer, especially one without a long history in development, this might be new to you.
The term REPL is an acronym that is pronounced like the word "ripple," but with an "E" instead of an "I". The acronym stands for Read, Evaluate, and Print Loop. This is a small app that reads a statement of code, evaluates (or executes) it, and prints the result. It then repeats that process with the next statement or waits for the user to enter another one.
With C# and VB.NET, Visual Studio offers a special window called the "Immediate Window" which operates as a REPL while debugging a program. It has access to things in the scope of the breakpoint, and you can also define variables and build up complicated expressions and statements on the fly. Unlike the other REPLs I've listed, Visual Studio's Immediate window has historically been constrained in what it will execute. For example, it won't evaluate anything that involves an anonymous delegate, or lambda. Unfortunately for me, it seems that nearly every time I want a REPL, I'm experimenting with lambdas in some way.
Fear not. A while back Glenn Block, while he was working at Microsoft, started an OSS project called ScriptCS to provide "the missing REPL" for C#. It, too, started off heavily constrained. But after many iterations and a great deal of work, today it's a darn useful tool in a couple crucial ways. Not only is it a full-fledged REPL that has access to the entire C# language and all of the CLR, but it's also an honest-to-goodness scripting system. It will allow you to run C# files as scripts from the command line without pre-building them into assemblies. It has all the convenience of node, ruby, python, or whatever other scripting language you might be familiar with. They accomplished this by using of Roslyn, the .NET "compiler as a service" from Microsoft which will also underlie new versions of Visual Studio.
If you're working with C# on a daily basis, I highly recommend you go grab and install ScriptCS. It is distributed via a package manager called Chocolatey right now, and will hopefully eventually be available via OneGet. (Think NuGet for apps.) I use it at least once per week in its REPL capacity, and I anticipate it coming in handy for build and deployment automation as a script runner. It's great tech. And if you use it and like it, make sure you thank Glenn and the other folks who worked hard to build it.