Dogs Chasing Squirrels

A software development blog

Akka.NET, Prism, Unity, and WPF

10

Since I’ve been reading up on Reactive Extensions, I listened with interest to the recent .NET Rocks! podcast on the subject. During the conversation, Akka.NET was mentioned.

Akka.NET is another reactive technology. It’s an implementation of the Actor model. Basically, you break down an application’s functionality into small computational units called Actors which have limited state and communicate via message passing. There are parallels in Rx’s concept of observables and observers. Akka.NET also provides the kind of supervision hierarchy that you find in erlang, which is that an actor has child actors and when those child actors fail, the parent can resume or restart the failed children. This makes the application ‘self healing’.

I watched two Pluralsight course on Akka.NET by Jason Roberts, Building Concurrent Applications with the Actor Model in Akka.NET and Building Reactive Concurrent WPF Applications with Akka.NET (subscriptions required for both links). The former gives an overview of Akka.NET and the latter applies it to an MVVM WPF application.

In the demo MVVM application, the author uses Akka.NET with Ninject dependency injection and the MVVM Light toolkit. Personally, I prefer Unity and Prism, so as an exercise for myself I created the demo using those two languages. The result is on GitHub at https://github.com/mkb137/AkkaPrismUnityDemo.

The project consists of
* Akka.DI.Unity – A copy of Akka.NET’s Akka.DI.Unity upgraded from Unity 3.5 to Unity 4.0. No code changes were required otherwise.
* AkkaPrismUnityDemo – The Prism shell project
* AkkaPrismUnityDemo.Infrastructure – The common infrastructure project (which in this simple demo only contains the region names)
* AkkaPrismUnityDemo.Modules.Stocks – The main module containing the demo code.

A screenshot of the result is shown at the top of this post. In it, the view model creates actors which then have knowledge of the view model that created them and will call methods on the view model when messages are received and processed.

Here a view model creates an actor and passes it a reference to itself:

this.StockToggleButtonActorRef = 
    this.UnityContainer.Resolve<ActorSystem>()
    .ActorOf( 
        Props.Create( () => new StockToggleButtonActor( 
            this.StocksCoordinatorActorRef, 
            this, 
            this.StockSymbol
        ) 
    ) 
);

Here the actor makes a callback to the view model:

this.Receive<ToggleStockMessage>( message => {
    this._stocksCoordinatorActorRef.Tell( new WatchStockMessage( this._stockSymbol ) );
    this._viewModel.UpdateButtonTextToOn();
    this.Become( this.ToggledOn );
} );

Like Rx and its Observables/Observers, messages are handled on the thread pool so actors will make full use of the processors available on the machine with no extra effort from the developer.

It’s an interesting technology. Compared to Rx, Akka is missing some of Rx’s advanced publish/subscribe methods like the ability to buffer or throttle messages. It does have a Sample equivalent via the scheduler’s ScheduleTellRepeatedly method. On the plus side, it provides the supervision hierarchy and provides a more natural message pipeline. With Rx it seems like having an object that is both observer and observable (i.e. is part of a pipeline), while supported, is somehow discouraged.

Book recommendation: Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

0

I haven’t posted anything in a while (I’m intermittently working on converting the Replicon Add-In to F#), so I’ll throw up this book recommendation for Seven Languages in Seven Weeks by Bruce Tate.

The languages are:
1. Ruby – A well known and interesting object-oriented scripting language.
2. Io – A language based on prototyping.
3. Prolog – A logic-based language. I saw this one back in university.
4. Scala – A hybrid O-O/functional language.
5. Erlang – The functional language made in the 80s for telephone switches that is the hot new thing because of how well it handles concurrency and load, a problem we face in all modern web applications.
6. Clojure – A lisp implementation on Java
7. Haskell – A purely functional language.

And if you aren’t already using it, I recommend using Chocolatey, the apt-get style package manager for Windows, to download these programming languages to play around with. Using Chocolatey is a whole lot easier than hunting down all the installers you’d need otherwise.

Reactive Extensions

0

In my last few posts I’ve talked about learning F#, the .NET functional programming language. I like it, but I can’t use it in a production environment for a couple of reasons:
1. Part of the project is WPF and, as I mentioned in a previous post, the WPF support isn’t there.
2. It wouldn’t be maintainable. There wouldn’t be enough people in my organization prepared to learn F# in order to support it.

Rx

I eventually came across Reactive Extensions, also called Rx. A good learning resource is www.introtorx.com. Although new to me, it’s been around for a few years. It’s a library that implements an Observer/Subscriber pattern. Observables emit data and Observers consume it via Subscribe methods. It’s like an event model but adds:

  • Advanced event consumption, e.g.
    • Sampling (fetching data each time period)
    • Buffering (accumulating data and responding only after some time period)
    • Throttling (fetching data only after some quiet period has elapsed)
    • Filtering (consuming only events that match some pattern)
  • Threading, e.g. observing and subscribing on multiple threads or on specified threads

Supposedly some of the threading functionality has been superseded by Tasks and async/await, but I like that Rx is more distributed while Tasks are still procedural.

Reactive also adds some functional sequence methods like Scan and its event filtering is like the pattern matching found in functional conditionals. It’s also functional in the sense that your observer is getting input and (presumably) producing output, like a function, though unlike a proper function an observer can have state.

Creating Observables

Creating an observer is easy. IObserver has three methods, OnNext, OnCompleted, and OnError. Simply implement the interface and handle the data in OnNext. Creating an observable yourself is a bit more tricky.

Events

One way is to create an observable out of a plain old .NET event.
Let’s say you have some event:

    public event EventHandler<DateTime> MyEvent;

You can create an observable like this:

    IObservable<DateTime> eventObservable = Observable.FromEventPattern<EventHandler<DateTime>,DateTime>(
        handler => m.MyEvent += handler,
        handler => m.MyEvent -= handler
        ).Select( eventPattern => eventPattern.EventArgs );

Observable Collections

The ReactiveUI library (search for reactiveui in NuGet) adds a ReactiveList with observable events built in. This shows how you’d listen to when items are added:

    ReactiveList<String> list = new ReactiveList<string>();
    list.ItemsAdded.Subscribe( s => Console.WriteLine( "Added {0}", s ) );

Note: You have to subscribe to one of the list’s events like ItemsAdded or ItemsRemoved. You can subscribe to the list itself, but I don’t know what events it produces.

Note also: The NuGet package is out of date as of the time of writing this post. If you just install it from NuGet you’ll get the error:

Warning 1 Reference to type ‘Splat.IEnableLogger’ claims it is defined in ‘[…]\packages\Splat.1.0.0\lib\Net45\Splat.dll’, but it could not be found c:\Projects\ReactiveDemo\packages\reactiveui-core.6.5.0\lib\Net45\ReactiveUI.dll ReactiveDemo
To fix this you have to update its dependent library, Splat, to the latest version.

Create your own Observable

If you’re going all-in on Rx and want to create your own IObservable without wrapping some other technology, there’s a way.
introtorx.com advises against implementing IObservable yourself and advises using Observable.Create instead. Here’s an example of a base class that handles using Create to provide an IObservable.

    /// <summary>
    /// Adds <see cref="IObservable{T>"/> support to a class.
    /// </summary>
    /// <typeparam name="T"></typeparam>
    public abstract class ObservableBase<T> {

        #region IObservable

        /// <summary>
        /// The list of observers.
        /// </summary>
        private readonly List<IObserver<T>> _observers = new List<IObserver<T>>();

        /// <summary>
        /// Creates an observable using <see cref="Observable.Create{TResult}(Func{System.IObserver{TResult},System.Action})"/>.
        /// </summary>
        public IObservable<T> AsObservable {
            get {
                return Observable.Create( (Func<IObserver<T>, IDisposable>)Subscribe );
            }
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Pushes value to all observers.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="value"></param>
        protected void Emit( T value ) {
            _observers.ForEach( observer => observer.OnNext( value ) );
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Used to add observers.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="observer"></param>
        /// <returns></returns>
        public IDisposable Subscribe( IObserver<T> observer ) {
            _observers.Add( observer );
            return Disposable.Empty;
        }

        #endregion
    }

Note that it doesn’t implement IObservable directly but provides an AsObservable method that makes use of Observable.Create.

Chaining Observables

Given its relationship to functional programming, it seems natural to want to chain Observables together so that one Observer is the next class’ Observable. After all, you’ll often use the result of one function as input to the next.

At any rate, using code like the above, this is how you might create a class that is both Observer and Observable:

    /// <summary>
    /// An class that is both Observer and Observable.
    /// </summary>
    /// <typeparam name="TIn"></typeparam>
    /// <typeparam name="TOut"></typeparam>
    public abstract class ChainedObserver<TIn,TOut> : IObserver<TIn> {
        #region IObservable

        /// <summary>
        /// The lsit of observers.
        /// </summary>
        private readonly List<IObserver<TOut>> _observers = new List<IObserver<TOut>>();

        /// <summary>
        /// Creates an observable using <see cref="Observable.Create{TResult}(Func{System.IObserver{TResult},System.Action})"/>.
        /// </summary>
        public IObservable<TOut> AsObservable {
            get {
                return Observable.Create( (Func<IObserver<TOut>, IDisposable>)Subscribe );
            }
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Pushes value to all observers.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="value"></param>
        protected void Emit( TOut value ) {
            _observers.ForEach( observer => observer.OnNext( value ) );
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Used to add observers.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="observer"></param>
        /// <returns></returns>
        public IDisposable Subscribe( IObserver<TOut> observer ) {
            _observers.Add( observer );
            return Disposable.Empty;
        }

        #endregion

        #region IObserver

        /// <summary>
        /// <see cref="IObserver{T}.OnCompleted"/>
        /// </summary>
        virtual public void OnCompleted() {
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// <see cref="IObserver{T}.OnError"/>
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="error"></param>
        virtual public void OnError( Exception error ) {
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// <see cref="IObserver{T}.OnNext"/>
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="value"></param>
        virtual public void OnNext( TIn value ) {
        }

        #endregion
    }

As before, it doesn’t implement IObservable directly but provides an AsObservable method that makes use of Observable.Create.

F# tip: when app.config isn’t updated

0

A couple of times I’ve had the problem where changes to app.config were not reflected in my bin/Debug/MyApp.exe.config file. No amount of cleaning and rebuilding would cause the changes to take effect. The solution: delete the obj folder. Then a rebuild will have the latest changes.

Roslyn Update

0

There have been some changes to Roslyn since my last post and some of my old examples don’t compile.

CustomWorkspace has been replaced by AdHocWorkspace

Creating a class from scratch is now:

AdhocWorkspace cw = new AdhocWorkspace();
OptionSet options = cw.Options;
options = options.WithChangedOption( CSharpFormattingOptions.NewLinesForBracesInMethods, false );
options = options.WithChangedOption( CSharpFormattingOptions.NewLinesForBracesInTypes, false );
SyntaxNode formattedNode = Formatter.Format( cu, cw, options );
StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
using ( StringWriter writer = new StringWriter( sb ) ) {
    formattedNode.WriteTo( writer );
}

Note that some of the CSharpFormattingOptions syntax changed, too.
In our simple getter and setter, the BinaryExpression used for assigment is now an AssignmentExpression.

PropertyDeclarationSyntax property =
    SF.PropertyDeclaration( SF.ParseTypeName( "String" ), SF.Identifier( "A" ) )
        .AddModifiers( SF.Token( SyntaxKind.PublicKeyword ) )
        .AddAccessorListAccessors( 
            SF.AccessorDeclaration(
                SyntaxKind.GetAccessorDeclaration,
                SF.Block(
                    SF.List( new [] {
                        SF.ReturnStatement( SF.IdentifierName( "_a" ) )
                    } )
                )
            ),
            SF.AccessorDeclaration(
                SyntaxKind.SetAccessorDeclaration,
                SF.Block( 
                    SF.List( new [] {
                        SF.ExpressionStatement( 
                            SF.AssignmentExpression( 
                                SyntaxKind.SimpleAssignmentExpression,
                                SF.IdentifierName( "_a" ),
                                SF.IdentifierName( "value" )
                            )
                        )
                    } )
                )
            )
        )
    ;

Everything else from my old example project seems to compile.

F#, WPF, and Prism

0

I recently attempted to use F# to create a WPF project using the Prism MVVM library.  The project, if you want to download it or look at the code, is at https://github.com/mkb137/FSharpAndPrism.

Creating a WPF Application in F#

This isn’t too hard.  There’s no option to create an F# WPF application by default, but if you create an F# Console Application and then, in the project settings, flip it over to “Windows Application” it will run like one.

To get the WPF libraries, you have to add these references:
* PresentationCore
* PresentationFramework
* UIAutomationClient
* UIAutomationTypes
* WindowsBase
* System.Xaml

I used the FsXaml project to create usable F# types from WPF XAML files.
You can add vanilla XAML files, like App.xaml, with no backing class and then convert them to F# types via:

type App = XAML<"App.xaml", true>

Two things to be aware of:
1. All XAML files must be compiled as “Resource” (the default is None)
2. Visual Studio LIES.  As you may know, in F# the order of the files in solutions matter.  In F# projects, Visual Studio gives you “move up” and “move down” functions to put the files in order.  But once you start adding XAML files, all bets are off.  If you find the solution mysteriously failing to find libraries that it should, open your .fsproj file in a text editor and have a look at the included file order.  You may need to order it manually.

Adding Prism

I used the UnityBootstrapper, which in F# looks like this:

type Bootstrapper() =
    inherit UnityBootstrapper()
    override this.CreateShell() = 
        WindowUtils.loadComponent "/FSharpAndPrism;component/Shell.xaml"
    override this.InitializeShell() =
        base.InitializeShell()
        Application.Current.MainWindow <- ( this.Shell :?> Window )
        Application.Current.MainWindow.Show()
    override this.ConfigureContainer() =
        base.ConfigureContainer()
        this.Container.LoadConfiguration() |> ignore
        this.Container.RegisterInstance( this.Container ) |> ignore
    override this.ConfigureModuleCatalog() =
        base.ConfigureModuleCatalog()
        let moduleCatalog = this.ModuleCatalog :?> ModuleCatalog
        moduleCatalog.AddModule typedefof<AlphaModule> |> ignore

That WindowUtils.loadComponent is just a utility function to load the XAML resource:

module WindowUtils =
    let loadComponent( path ) =
    let resourceLocator = new Uri( path, UriKind.Relative )
    Application.LoadComponent( resourceLocator ) :?> DependencyObject

So I create a Shell with a MainRegion region…

<Window
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:prism="http://www.codeplex.com/prism"
    xmlns:infrastructure="clr-namespace:FSharpAndPrism.Infrastructure;assembly=FSharpAndPrism.Infrastructure"
    Title="F# Prism Demo" Height="150" Width="500"
    WindowStartupLocation="CenterScreen"
    >
    <StackPanel Orientation="Vertical">
        <Label Content="View Goes Here:"/>
        <ContentControl prism:RegionManager.RegionName="{x:Static infrastructure:RegionNames.MainRegion}"/>
    </StackPanel>
</Window>

And I create a view…

<UserControl
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    Background="White"
    >
    <StackPanel Orientation="Horizontal">
        <Label>This is my view - Data context = </Label>
        <Label Content="{Binding}"/>
    </StackPanel>
</UserControl>

Register it as an F# type…

type MyView = XAML<"MyView.xaml",true>

And define a module that registers it with the region:

type AlphaModule( regionManager : IRegionManager, container : IUnityContainer ) =
    interface IModule with
        member this.Initialize() =
            regionManager.RegisterViewWithRegion( RegionNames.MainRegion, typedefof<MyView> ) |> ignore

And the result is… It doesn’t work.  The application runs but my view is not being loaded into the region.  Why?  Actually, with a little digging I find that the view is being loaded, it’s just not rendering.

FSharpAndPrism-Failure

FsXaml, Prism, and Unity

Problem #1 – Extra Constructor

As it turns out, when FsXaml creates a type derived from UserControl, in addition to UserControl’s void UserControl() constructor, FsXaml is adding a hidden void UserControl(FrameworkElement) constructor.  If the default configuration is not overridden, Unity will use this constructor when resolving the component and the type created with this constructor will not render itself correctly.  A simple but tedious way around this problem is to, for each view, register it with Unity so that the constructor taking no parameters is used.

container.RegisterType<MyView>( new InjectionConstructor() ) |> ignore

FSharpAndPrism-NoContext

Problem #2 – Adding a data context

Prism Views aren’t that useful with out their ViewModel data contexts and those are usually passed in the constructor.  So the first thing we want to do is subclass our the type that FsXaml created and add our own constructor.  This, by the way, solves our Unity problem as well since our subclassed type won’t have the bogus constructor that FsXaml is creating.
Here’s a basic view model type:

type MyViewModel() =
    let mutable name: string = null
    member this.Name
        with public get() = name
        and public set value = name <- value

Here’s our subclassed view (where the original has been renamed with a tick):

type MyView' = XAML<"MyView.xaml",true>

type MyView() =
    inherit MyView'()
    new( viewModel : MyViewModel ) as this =
        MyView()
        then
            this.DataContext <- viewModel

and… we have a problem.  By default, FsXaml derived types are sealed.  There’s no real reason for this other than that FsXaml is using a type provider from the fsprojects/FSharp.TypeProviders.StarterPack and it creates types as sealed for, I suppose, educational purposes.  If the “Sealed” attribute is removed from the created type it works fine.  I submitted a pull request to FsXaml who asked me to submit it upstream to FSharp.TypeProviders.StarterPack.  I submitted it a moment ago and haven’t heard back yet.  Until then, a “fixed” FsXaml implementation is at mkb137/FsXaml

Using the modified FsXaml library, it works and we have our view loaded with its data context:

FSharpAndPrism-WithDataContext

Final Problem: FSC: error FS2024: Static linking may not use assembly that targets different profile.

A normal WPF project is compiled against the .NET 4.5 profile which is known internally as Profile7 (see a list of PCL profiles here.  If you attempt to directly use any third-party library that is compiled not just for .NET 4.5, but for .NET 4.5 and Windows Phone (e.g. Profile78), you’ll get the error that you would never see in the same C# project:

FSC: error FS2024: Static linking may not use assembly that targets different profile.

And there’s no way around it as far as I know.  The bug has been logged here on F#’s current home on GitHub, and not yet fixed.

Functional programming with F#

0

In an episode of the .NET Rocks podcast, guest Bryan Hunter describes his experience analyzing a large object-oriented code base. It’s a good listen. The problems with it were the same problems you see with all large O-O code bases, he says. But one module was a complete surprise because…there were no problems. The application had zero downtime in 4 years of operation. The team was even able to do “hot loading” to deploy updates while the application was running. What was the difference? This module was written in Erlang, a functional language.

The life of a software engineer - cartoon

Life of a software engineer. I believe the original source is http://www.bonkersworld.net/building-software/

Whenever you build an enterprise-scale project, you will find yourself using a bare minimum of libraries and patterns such that despite your best intentions – or even because of your best intentions – your solution will be complex and tricky to maintain from moment one. It’s a terrible life we lead where following best practices feels bad and wrong. Functional programming may be the answer.

I’ve begun to learn .NET’s own functional programming language, F#. I wouldn’t call the language mainstream, but it’s not a toy, either. It’s completely compatible with the rest of the .NET class library so one can make WPF or ASP.NET MVC applications with it. I hope that it will one day lead to a more satisfying experience developing enterprise applications.

Some F# learning resources:

TFS team adding colorizer features

0

It looks like the TFS team are adding colorization features to the TFS board. Hopefully this will make my colorizer plugin obsolete.

Outlook Add-In for Replicon

3

My employer uses Replicon to track hours against projects and tasks. Its web-based user interface is…adequate. Entering time in an online calendar is fine but I already have an electronic calendar open all day: Microsoft Outlook.

I started a project to create an add-in that adds an “Add to Replicon” menu item to the Outlook calendar. The Replicon Repliconnect API is used to get project and task information and to send the timesheet information back to the server.

It’s still a work in progress. The initial code is up here.

Fault-safe WCF Proxy Generator for Service Reference clients

0

WCF is great, but if a connection ever throws an exception for any reason it puts the client in the Faulted state and the client has to be aborted and recreated. It’s a pain in the ass since this can happen anywhere a client method is called.
In a previous post, I showed the dynamic generation of a proxy for a WCF channel.

Nowadays, I suspect most people create their clients using “Add Service Reference”. This generates a ClientBase client that suffers from the same problem as raw channels – if there’s ever an exception, you need to recreate the instance.

Following the earlier post, I created code to use the CIL Emit libraries to dynamically generate a fault-tolerant proxy around a given client. If an exception is thrown, the client is recreated with the correct authentication and whatever settings were used to construct it in the first place.
The code is up on github.