Campfire Mono: F# and F# on Mono

I’m pleased to announce Campfire Mono’s 3rd talk by Andrew Jones (gplus.to/ascjones), about

developing applications with F# and F# on Mono:

What: Developing applications with F# and F# on Mono.
Who: Andrew Jones.
Where: Microsoft Cape Town Offices, Golf Park 3, Engen House, Raapenberg Road, Mowbray 7925, Cape Town.
When: 25 January 2012, 6:30PM.

If you attended any of the previous events, then you’ll also notice that we decided to move Campfire Mono evenings, to Microsoft Cape Town’s Community nights on the last Wednesday of every month. I don’t think we’ll do a Campfire Mono evening every month, as the community is still too small to justify this. The aim is still to do a quarterly talk, or bi-monthly at most.

I’m also considering renaming the community to Campfire Dev. I think the name Campfire Mono might be a little misleading. I originally decided on the Mono part of the name, to create more awareness about Mono, and because I felt, as the biggest .NET open source project, it symbolises all the community is about. However after a few discussions about the community and its aims, I realized the name is misleading people to believe that it’s only about developing applications with Mono. This was never the aim of Campfire Mono. The goal of Campfire Mono is much broader, its aim is to discuss alternative software development tools, techniques and processes, with a .NET, Windows and Mono emphasis.

Cool, Cya at the next Campfire Mono!


Zippy Tips Working With ServiceStack, Backbone.js, jQuery & Mono-Develop on Mac

Okay, just some random nigglies I’m experiencing and sort of solved, working with ServiceStack, Backbone.js, Mono & Mono-Develop on Mac.

MonoDevelop & XSP dev web server

Not sure who else is experiencing this issue, but my MonoDevelop and XSP dev web server gets confused sometimes, after a while. I launch two projects when I click play in my project, a web service based on ServiceStack and a ASP .NET project based on Backbone.js. For some weird reason after N number of times relaunching these 2 web projects from MonoDevelop – XSP and MonoDevelop loses track of the web service’s XSP process. The problem then is that I’m unable to re-launch the web service project with a new version.

So… in terminal do “lsof -i -P | grep [port-number-of-xsp-project-website]“. This will give you the XSP process ID. Then, again in terminal, do a “sudo kill [pid]“, to kill the ghost XSP process.

Great now you can continue launching XSP from MonoDevelop.

Cross Domain/Site Scripts with jQuery & Backbone.js

Riiight, so, I was doing the whole preflight thing with jQuery $.ajax. In Firebug I could see the OPTIONS request being made and the server returning the a 200 OK, with the following headers: Access-Control-Allow-Origin and Access-Control-Allow-Methods. BUT, $.ajax never made the actual request to PUT or POST the data to my ServiceStack web service. Well, it turns out another header is required to be returned by the web server’s response to the OPTIONS request: Access-Control-Allow-Headers, with a value of Content-Type.

So when using ServiceStack make sure you set your GlobalResponseHeaders in your AppHosts Configure(…) method:

public override void Configure(Container container)
{
SetConfig(new EndpointHostConfig
{
GlobalResponseHeaders =
{
{ "Access-Control-Allow-Origin", "*" }, // You probably want to restrict this to a specific origin
{ "Access-Control-Allow-Methods", "PUT, GET, POST, DELETE, OPTIONS" },
{ "Access-Control-Allow-Headers", "Content-Type" }
},
});
}

Saving Models In Backbone.js

When you want to update a model, make sure you call model.save({ anUpdatedProperty: newValue, anotherUpdatedProperty: newValue }), instead of just model.save(), otherwise boggerrol will happen.

When your Backbone.js app talks to a web service that serializes data into a CamelCase format, like C#’s properties, then Backbone’s collection.get(…) won’t work for you, because your model’s id property‘s name will be “Id” and not “id”. To get around this add the idAttribute to your Backbone.js Model, to reroute id to your chosen property on the model object:


var theModel = Backbone.Model.extend(
{
idAttribute: "Id"
});
<pre>

Cool. That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!


Campfire Mono: Changing The Culture, Hearts & Minds of .NET Society

Mono in the wildThis year I attended the 1st Ruby conference in Africa, Rubyfuza. I walked out of that conference inspired and envious at the same time, by the scale of the Ruby community’s commitment to take full responsibility, accountability and ownership of Ruby, Ruby products and the event itself. No single big vendor was responsible for the event – everything was done by the developers themselves. Everyone that presented, directly used and contributed to the public products they were using. The community took full responsibility for their shared software. Here was a complete software ecosystem with world class applications and libraries that easily match, and often surpassed, similar offerings from billion dollar corporations, such as Microsoft and Oracle. I was envious that we didn’t see more leadership, responsibility and accountability in the .NET community.

In the .NET community there are many passionate people doing awesome work independently. However I cannot help but feel that the larger part of .NET society is blinded by their biased Microsoft focus, and the things they discuss stay in the context of what Microsoft does and says. It’s sad to know of the great projects out there, yet see so little representation and knowledge at gatherings.

The alternative and open source .NET communities have been growing in leaps and bounds, with the same characteristics as its Ruby counterpart. However it’s still too often perceived as an exotic place in some forsaken village on the .NET map, meant for .NET developers that are desperate to throw their bug ridden night time pet projects at anyone that is willing to hover over their GitHub repository’s link.

Well-well, have I got news for you. There are many open source projects that had rock solid solutions way before Microsoft or other vendors. Consider some of the following examples, that I personally experienced:

  1. In 2005, more than two years before the 1st version of Microsoft’s 1st Object Relational Mapper (ORM), Linq-to-SQL, NHibernate 1.0 was released. At that time the average .NET developer was still confused when you used the term “ORM” in a conversation, and refused to consider using anything else other than DataSets for data access.
  2. In 2004 .NET was open sourced  two years before Java, in the form of Mono.
  3. RESTful. Projects like ServiceStack, and NancyFX have production ready, non-bloated,lightweight RESTful web service frameworks.
  4. Aspect Oriented Programming (AOP). If you want to use AOP, then you have no other choice other than those offered by the open source community like Spring.NET.

The above are all due to the efforts of a vibrant, and prosperous alternative .NET society.

Yet, so many times I have experienced .NET shops:

  1. Where developers are quick to explain at length how rubbish this, or that library is compared to their custom written Yet-Another-Library.
  2. Where developers are completely ignorant, consciously or unconsciously, of the enormous number of actively developed .NET open source projects. You can find almost any project that suits your specific style or requirements. There are projects that are bloated and heavy like the Microsoft Pattern and Practices stuff, and ones highly nimble and lightweight like the Ruby stuff.

Repeatedly during conversations I uncover vast misunderstandings about the opportunity of alternative .NET solutions, and the open source ecosystem most are based on.

I then wonder how many more times are we going to think it’s smart to reinvent yet another insert-library-type-here on our own? Or stick to one of Microsoft’s libraries, even though it might be completely inappropriate for our specific scenario, but we settle for less, just because it’s from Microsoft.

To me this ignorant desire to code everything yourself, or wait passively for Microsoft to deliver the goods while you hack the current implementation, is an indication of an inefficient, selfish and narrow minded software society. Wouldn’t it be better to look beyond these boundaries for something more suitable that (1) you don’t have to do everything yourself and (2) the contribution you make is validated and used by the larger software community?

Talking to .NET developers, I generally hear the following misunderstandings:

  1. The belief that a commercial vendor will forever back a technology or product. Every product from a commercial vendor has a limited time span. No product or technology is forever supported, and continued.
  2. The belief that open source projects are of inferior quality, and that commercial products guarantee superior quality. I have used bad commercial products, and I have used bad open source products. Because something comes from a commercial vendor, definitely does not mean it is guaranteed to be higher quality.
  3. The belief that open source solutions are difficult to use and badly documented. The same argument follows as the previous one.

Okay, so before you think this discussion about open source vs. commercial closed source software. It is not. I am merely trying to prove that there are loads of awesome solutions, libraries and products by people other than Microsoft. These are created by a small, but vibrant and growing community of passionate people that provide competitive alternatives, that are very often much more viable or the only of its kind, than what is currently available in the core .NET or from Microsoft.

I believe there is a lack of recognition and understanding of what these solutions provide, how they are grown and how people can be part of their ecosystem. This lack of understanding is due to:

  1. People’s own resistance to a new way of doing things,
  2. Non-support, or even opposition, to the open source process by commercial vendors. To be fair, it’s not necessarily commercial vendors’ job to support open source projects. It is the developers themselves that must make their projects work and grow.
  3. An actual lack of information about what projects are out there and how they work.

It is time that alternative and open source .NET take its rightful place next to Microsoft .NET. Campfire Mono is a small step in this direction by providing a voice, and forum for alternative .NET developers in the Silicon Cape. Together we can build amazing products, without being restricted to what Microsoft offers. 

Campfire Mono is the place to discuss novel solutions for building .NET applications to run on all platforms by focusing on Mono and open source .NET technologies.

For the 1st Campfire Mono event on 1 August 2011, I will talk about REST Web Services With NancyFX and ServiceStack. It will take place on the 5th floor of the Bandwidth Barn in Silicon Cape:

  • Please RSVP
  • Price: Free.
  • Monoday, 1 August 2011, 18h15
  • Events Room, 5th floor,Bandwidth Barn, 125 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town

Hey NHibernate, Don’t Mess With My Enums!

So I’ve been using Fluent NHibernate for a short while now. Initially I had to overcome some minor challenges, but since I got those out of the way it’s been pretty smooth sailing. One thing that stands out, which required more tinkering and timeshare than I would’ve liked is the way NHibernate handles the .NET enum type. Natively NHibernate allows you to save your enum’s value as a string or number property/column in the referencing object’s table. In other words, by default it doesn’t allow you to map your enum to its own separate table, and then let your objects refer to it through an association/foreign key. For NHibernate enums are primitive values, and not “entity objects” (logically speaking – ignoring the technical internal mechanics of .NET’s enum). I would argue that enums can be both a primitive string or number, or a more complex entity. Under certain circumstances an enum can be viewed as a simple “object” that consists of two properties:

  • An Id, represented by the enum member’s number value
  • And a name, represented by the enum member’s string name.

I’ve found that it’s very convenient to use the “entity object” version of enums for very simple, slow changing look-up data with a fair amount of business logic attached to it. For instance in a credit application app, you might only support 3 or 4 types of loans, but you know that over time app’s life, the company won’t add more than 2 or 3 new types of loans. Adding a loan type requires some additional work, and isn’t merely a matter of just inserting a new loan type into a look-up table. The reason is that a fair amount of the app’s business logic, mainly in the form of conditional logic statements, must also be adapted to accommodate the new loan type. From a coding perspective it’s very convenient to use enum types in these cases, because you can refer to the various options through DRY strong typed members, with a simultaneous string and number representation. So instead of

var loan = loanRepository.FindById(234);
var loanType = loanTypeRepository.FindById(123);

// ...

if (loan.Type == "PersonalLoan")
{
    // ...
}

rather do

var loan = loanRepository.FindById(234);

if (loan.Type == LoanType.Personal)
{
    //...
}

Okay, schweet, you get the point. Next logical question: How do you get NHibernate to treat your enums as objects with their own table, and not primitive values? To do this you have to create a generic class that can wrap your enum types, and then create a mapping for this enum  wrapper class. I call this class Reference:

public class Reference<TEnum>
{
    private TEnum enm;

    public Reference(TEnum enm)
    {
        this.enm = enm;
    }

    public Reference() {}

    public virtual int Id
    {
        get { return Convert.ToInt32(enm); }
        set { enm = (TEnum)Enum.Parse(typeof(TEnum), value.ToString(), true); }
    }

    public virtual string Name
    {
        get { return enm.ToString(); }
        set { enm = (TEnum)Enum.Parse(typeof(TEnum), value, true); }
    }

    public virtual TEnum Value
    {
        get { return enm; }
        set { enm = value; }
    }
}

The Reference class is pretty straight forward. All it does is translate the contained enum into an object with three properties:

  • Id – the integer value of the enum member.
  • Name – the string name of the enum member.
  • Value – the contained enum member.

You might wonder why I didn’t bother to restrict the allowed generic Types to enums. Well, it so happens that .NET generics doesn’t allow you to restrict generic type declarations to enums. It allows you to restrict generic types to structs, and all sort of other things, but not to enums. So you will never be able to get an exact generic restriction for the Reference class. So I thought, aag what the hell, if I can’t get an exact restriction, then what’s the point anyways? I’ll have to trust that whoever is using the code, knows what he’s doing.

Now, for example, instead of directly using the LoanTypes enum, the Loan class’s Type property will be a Reference object, with its generic type set to the LoanTypes enum:

public class Loan
{
    // ...
    public Reference<LoanType> Type { get; set; }
    // ...
}

This is not completely tidy, because to a degree the limitations of the data access infrastructure, i.e. NHibernate, force us to adopt a compromise solution that’s not necessary if we changed to something else. In other words things from the data infrastructure layers spills into the domain.

What’s left to do is (1) create a mapping for Reference<LoanType>, and (2) get NHibernate to use the right table name, i.e. LoanType, instead of Reference[LoanType]. Here the Fluent NHibernate mapping for Reference<LoanType>:

public class LoanTypeMap: ClassMap<Reference<LoanType>>
{
    public LoanTypeMap()
    {
        Table(typeof(LoanType).Name);
        Id(loanType => loanType.Id).GeneratedBy.Assigned();
        Map(loanType => loanType.Name);
    }
}

The above Fluent NHibernate mapping tells NHibernate to use whatever value property Id has for the primary key, and not generate one for it. You also have to explicitly specify the table’s name you’d like NHibernate to use, because you want to ignore “Reference” as part of the table name, and only use the enum type name.

And that’s it. You will now have a separate table called LoanType, with the foreign keys of other classes’ tables referencing the LoanType enum’s table. Just keep in mind that this solution might not always be feasible. For example it might not work too well when you write a multilingual application. Also should you want to get a pretty description for each enum’s member, for example “Personal Loan”, instead of “PersonalLoan” you’ll have to throw in some intelligent text parsing that split’s a text string before each uppercase character. Hopefully this post gave you another option to map your enum types with NHibernate.


REST Web Services with ServiceStack

Over the past month I ventured deep into the alternative side of the .NET web world. I took quite a few web frameworks for a test drive, including OpenRasta, Nancy, Kayak and ServiceStack. All of the aforementioned supports Mono, except OpenRasta, that has it on its road-map. While kicking the tires of each framework, some harder than others, I saw the extent of just how far .NET has grown beyond its Microsoft roots, and how spoiled .NET developers have become with a long list of viable alternative .NET solutions from the valley of open source.

ServiceStack really impressed me, with its solid mix of components that speak to the heart of any modern C# web application. From Redis NOSQL and lightweight relational database libraries, right through to an extremely simple REST and SOAP web service framework. As the name suggests, it is indeed a complete stack.

Anyways, enough with the marketing fluff, let’s pop the bonnet and get our hands dirty. What I’m going to show you isn’t anything advanced. Just a few basic steps to help you to get to like the ServiceStack web framework as much as I do. You can learn the same things I’ll be explaining here by investigating the very complete ServiceStack example applications, but I thought some extra tidbits I picked up working through some of them should make life even easier for you.

Some Background Info On REST

I’m going to show you how to build a REpresentation State Transfer (REST) web service with ServiceStack. RESTful web services declare resources that have a URI and can be accessed through HTTP methods, or verbs (GET, PUT, POST and DELETE), to our domain services and entities. This is different from SOAP web services that require you to expose methods RPC style, that are ignorant of the underlying HTTP methods and headers. To implement a REST resource and its HTTP-methods in ServiceStack requires the use of two classes, RestService and RestServiceAttribute.

Another feature of REST is that data resources are encoded in either XML or JSON. However, the latest trend is to encode objects in JSON for its brevity and smaller size, rather than its more clunky counterpart, XML. We will therefore follow suit and do the same. Okay, I think you’re ready now to write your first line of ServiceStack code.

Create a Web Service Host with AppHostBase

The first thing you have to do is specify how you’d like ServiceStack to run your web services. You can choose to either run your web services from Internet Information Services (IIS) or Apache, or from the embedded HTTP listener based web server. Both of these approaches require you to declare a class that inherits from AppHostBase:

public class AppHost: AppHostBase
{
    public AppHost()
        : base("Robots Web Service: It's alive!", typeof(RobotRestResource).Assembly) {}

    public override void Configure(Container container)
    {
        SetConfig(new EndpointHostConfig
        {
            GlobalResponseHeaders =
            {
                { "Access-Control-Allow-Origin", "*" },
                { "Access-Control-Allow-Methods", "GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, OPTIONS" },
            },
        });
     }
 }

Class AppHost‘s default constructor makes a call to AppHostBase‘s constructor that takes 2 arguments. This first argument is the name of the web app, and the second argument tells ServiceStack to scan the Assembly where class RobotRestResource is defined, for REST web services and resources.

AppHostBase‘s Configure method must be overridden, even if it’s empty, otherwise you’ll get and exception. If you plan on making cross domain JavaScript calls from your web user interface (i.e. your web interface is written in JavaScript and hosted on a separate web site from your web services) to your REST resources, then adding the correct global response headers are very important. Together the two Access-Control-Allow headers tell browsers that do a pre-fetch OPTIONS request that their cross domain request will be allowed. I’m not going to explain the internals, but any Google search on this topic should yield sufficient info.

Now all that’s left to do is to initialize your custom web service host in Global.asax‘s Application_Start method:

public class Global : System.Web.HttpApplication
{
    protected void Application_Start(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {
        new AppHost().Init();
    }
}

The last thing you might be wondering about, before we move on, is the web.config of your ServiceStack web service. For reasons of brevity I’m not going to cover this, but please download ServiceStack’s examples and use one of their web.configs. The setup require to run ServiceStack from IIS is really minimal, and very easy to configure.

Define REST Resources with RestService

Now that we’ve created a host for our services, we’re ready to create some REST resources. In a very basic sense you could say a REST resource is like a Data Transfer Object (DTO) that provides a suitable external representation of your domain. Let’s create a resource that represents a robot:

using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Runtime.Serialization;

[RestService("/robot", "GET,POST,PUT,OPTIONS")]
[DataContract]
public class RobotRestResource
{
[DataMember]
public string Name { get; set; }

[DataMember]
public double IntelligenceRating { get; set; }

[DataMember]
public bool IsATerminator { get; set; }

[DataMember]
public IList<string> Predecessors { get; set; }

public IList<Thought> Thoughts { get; set; }

}

The minimum requirement for a class to be recognized as a REST resource by ServiceStack, is that it must inherit from IRestResource, and have a RestServiceAttribute with a URL template, and that’s it. ServiceStack doesn’t force you to use the DataContractAttribute or DataMemberAttribute. The only reason I used it for the example is to demonstrate how to exclude a member from being serialized to JSON when it’s sent to the client. The Thoughts member will not be serialized and the web client will never know the value of this object. I had a situation where I wanted to have a member  on my resource for internal use in my application, but I didn’t want to send it to clients over the web service. In this situation you have to apply the DataContractAttribute to your resource’s class definition, and the DataMemberAttribute to each property you want to expose. And that’s it, nothing else is required to declare a REST resource ffor ServiceStack.

Provide a Service for Each Resource with RestServiceBase

Each resource you declare requires a corresponding service that implements the supported HTTP verb-methods:


public class RobotRestService: RestServiceBase<RobotRestResource>
{
    public override object OnPut(RobotRestResource robotRestResource)
    {
        // Do something here & return a
        // new RobotRestResource here,
        // or any other serializable
        // object, if you like.
    }

    public override object OnGet(RobotRestResource robotRestResource)
    {
        // Do some things here ...
        // Return the list of RobotRestResources
        // here, or any other serializable
        // object, if you like.

        return new []
        {
            new RobotRestResource(),
            new RobotRestResource()
        };
    }
}

In order for ServiceStack to assign a class as a service for a resource, you have to inherit from RestServiceBase,  specifying the resource class as the generic type. RestServiceBase provides virtual methods for each REST approved HTTP-verb: OnGet for GET, OnPut for PUT, OnPost for POST and OnDelete for DELETE. You can selectively override each one that your resource supports.

Each HTTP-verb method may return one of the following results:

  1. Your IRestResource DTO object. This will send the object to the client in the specified format JSON, or XML.
  2. ServiceStack.Common.Web.HtmlResult, when you want to render the page on the server and send that to the client.
  3. ServiceStack.Common.Web.HttpResult, when you want to send a HTTP status to the client, for instance to redirect the client:
    var httpResult = new HttpResult(new object(), null, HttpStatusCode.Redirect);
    httpResult.Headers[HttpHeaders.Location] = "http://openlandscape.wordpress.com";
    return httpResult;
    

And that’s it. Launch your web site, and call the OnGet methof at /robot?format=json, or if you prefer XML /robot?format=xml. To debug your RESTful service API I can highly recommend the Poster Firefox plug-in. Poster allows you to manually construct HTTP commands and send them to the server.

You might be wondering what the purpose is of RobotRestResource that gets passed to each HTTP-verb method. Well, that is basically an aggregation of the posted form parameters and URL query string parameters. In other words if the submitted form has a corresponding field name to one of RobotRestResource’s properties, ServiceStack will automatically assign the parameter’s value to the supplied RobotRestResource. The same applies for query strings, the query strings ?Name=”TheTerminator”&IsATerminator=true: robotRestResource’s Name will be assigned the value of “TheTerminator” and IsATerminator will be true.

Using ServiceStack’s Built-In Web Service as a Service Host

The above discussion assumed that you’ll be hosting your ServiceStack service in IIS or with mod_mono in Apache. However, ServiceStack has another pretty cool option available, self hosting. That’s right, services can be independently hosted on their own and embedded in your application. This might be useful in scenarios where you don’t want to be dependent on IIS. I imagine something like a Windows service, or similar, that also serves as small web server to expose a web service API to clients, without the need for lengthy and complicated IIS setup procedures.

var appHost = new AppHost();
appHost.Init();
appHost.Start("http://localhost:82/");

To start the self hosted ServiceStack you configure your host as usual, and then call Start(…), passing the URL (with free port) where the web server will be accessed.

Why Use ServiceStack

For me one of the big reasons for choosing ServiceStack is that it has a solid library to build web services running on Mono. However, after using if for a while I found its easy setup and simple conventions very refreshing from the often confusing and cumbersome configuration of Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) web services.ServiceStack also does a much better job of RESTful services, than WCF’s current implementation. I know future versions of WCF will enable a more mature RESTful architecture, but for now it’s pretty much RPC hacked into REST. Another bonus was the complete set of example apps that were a great help to quickly get things working. So if you’re tired of WCF’s heavy configuration and you’re looking for something to quickly implement mature RESTful web services, then definitely give ServiceStack a try.


Fluent NHibernate on PostgreSQL

When you write your first Fluent NHibernate application with Mono/.NET based on the Getting started tutorial, you eventually discover that you require a few extra assembly-dll references not mentioned. For my Postgres (PostgreSQL) project my references are:

Fluent NHibernate References

I won’t go into the detail of the matter, other than to say that many of these don’t give you a very clear indication as to what exactly is missing.

To configure Fluent NHibernate to work with Postgres you will need the following:

var connectionStr = "Server=127.0.0.1;Port=5432;Database=the_db;User Id=user_name;Password=password;"
ISessionFactory sessionFactory = Fluently
 .Configure()
 .Database(PostgreSQLConfiguration.Standard.ConnectionString(connectionStr))
 .Mappings(m => m.FluentMappings.AddFromAssemblyOf<TypeOfFluentNHibernateMapping>())
 .ExposeConfiguration(BuildSchema)
 .BuildSessionFactory();

private static void BuildSchema(Configuration config)
 {
// This NHibernate tool takes a configuration (with mapping info in)
// and exports a database schema from it.
var dbSchemaExport = new SchemaExport(config);
//dbSchemaExport.Drop(false, true);
dbSchemaExport.Create(false, true);
 }

TypeOfFluentNHibernateMapping is a class that inherits from FluentNHibernate.Mapping.ClassMap<T>. This tells Fluent to load all ClassMappings from the assembly where this type is defined.

BuildSchema(…) creates the database’s schema based on the specified mapping configuration and recreates the tables and the rest of it in the database specified by the connection string. I included the call to the schema export’s drop method, because the code originates from my unit tests, where I drop & recreate the database on each test run.

So far I like Fluent NHibernate, and the only complaint I have so far is the way NHibernate (not Fluent) handles enums. It assumes you want to use the enum member’s string name. The way I like to store my enums, are to have a separate table for them.


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