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My rambling thoughts on exploring the .NET framework and related technologies

# Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Having mentioned a few weeks ago that I was quite impressed with my first impressions of Microsoft Visual Studio Lightswitch, I have since had a chance to play with it some more, and I am still very impressed – perhaps even more than I was. My initial fears about it being another ASP.NET Dynamic Data fiasco seem to have been unfounded.

As promised, it provides a very fast way to produce high-quality data-driven Silverlight applications (web or out-of-browser), but seems flexible enough not to restrain you by the way the Lightswitch developers want to work. Admittedly, I am still a rank newbie with it, but have already produced most of the administrative back-end for a web site I’m developing, and have done so in a mere few hours, as opposed to the few weeks it would have taken otherwise.

What’s even better (or maybe that’s only by comparison), it doesn’t have some of the stupid design “features” that plagued Dynamic Data. For example, one of my peeves with DD was this it did not attempt to stop you trying to delete a customer who had orders in the database. However, when you tried it, the delete failed due to the obvious referential constraints, ie you can’t delete the customer if there are still orders that reference that customer. Despite having jumped through quite a lot of hoops, I never found a satisfactory way to disable the delete link. I found one way, but it was so convoluted as to be pretty useless. As if that wasn’t bad enough, DD didn’t give any graceful way to handle the inevitable exception, so the end-user was presented with a rather ugly (and very unprofessional) unhandled exception. You couldn't even tell it to do a cascading delete for those occasions when you really did want to delete the customer and everything associated with it. It was a great idea, but really badly implemented.

Not so Lightswitch! By default, the delete button is always enabled, which would give an exception if you tried to delete something that you shouldn’t, but (and this is a huge “but”), if you tried it, you got a very neat validation error shown on the screen, telling you that the record couldn’t be deleted. Next bit of friendliness is that it’s really easy to disable the delete button when you want to. You simply override the code, and handle the CanExecute method, which simply returns a Boolean, indicating whether or not the current record can be deleted. As you have full access to the current entities on the screen, this is no more complex than something like this…

partial void CustomerListDeleteSelected_CanExecute(ref bool result) {
  Customer c = Customers.SelectedItem;
  result = (c.Orders == null || c.Orders.Count() == 0);

Pretty simple stuff eh? You are dealing with strongly-typed entities, and simply check the properties that interest you, setting the return value as appropriate. Because Lightswitch applications are built on MVVM (basically a WPF or Silverlight-specific implementation of MVP/MVC), the framework handles the enabling and disabling of the button for you. All you need to do is set the Boolean return value of CanExecute. This makes it very easy to prevent the user from trying to delete something that they shouldn't be able to.

The other nice touch in this area is that you can specify that cascading deletes are allowed for an entity, so if you do allow them to delete a customer, all the customer’s orders can be deleted at the same time. Whilst this isn’t the sort of thing you’d want to do too often, it’s nice to know that the functionality is there if you want it.

Just last night I was reading about using custom controls in Lightswitch. This allows you to extend the functionality in pretty much any way you want, simply by using normal Silverlight controls. I haven’t tried this yet, but it looks fairly simple, and means you aren’t restricted to the controls included in the Lightswitch framework. I even saw an example of a game someone had written in Lightswitch, which whilst not being the most logical use of the framework, served well to show how easy it is to extend.

Anyway, I intend to post more technical details when I’ve played some more. In the meantime, Lightswitch launches today, although as I’m writing, it’s not yet launched. This is probably because it’s only just today in Redmond, and the Microsoft people are probably all still in bed!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011 08:16:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Putting reality aside for a moment, and imagining that this blog has at least one avid reader, then he/she may remember that some time ago, I got all excited about ASP.NET Dynamic Data, which looked like a brilliant way to produce CRUD web sites (ideal for the admin back-end of most modern web sites) in almost no time at all. The same avid reader would no doubt also remember that I learnt quite quickly that it was a huge waste of time, great for management demos, but useless for the Real World, and gave up with it.

Well, another day, another new technology from Microsoft, and here we are with very similar promises about being able to produce CRUD web sites in minutes – introducing Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch. A moment’s pause over the name will probably reveal the pun on another Microsoft technology, SilverLight. LightSwitch is being promoted as the equivalent for SilverLight that Dynamic Data was for ASP.NET, in other words, a RAD development tool that allows you to produce CRUD sites very quickly.

So, why am I bothering? After all, my previous experience was, shall we say, less than positive! Read more to find out...

Sunday, 03 July 2011 12:59:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Well, having posted about my excitement over discovering ASP.NET Dynamic Data (ADD), I spent the last couple of weeks digging deep into it, and have eventually come to the conclusion that it was a great idea, but ultimately of little use. I mentioned a few misgivings in that previous post, and I've added a few more to the list. All in all, I don't see me using this technology much.

Having spent so much time on it, I had about ten blog posts in my head, explaining what I'd learnt, but I guess they stay in the recesses of my mind until they fade away into synaptic relapse.

This post explains why I'm moving on.

Sunday, 19 September 2010 15:40:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

I recently discovered Microsoft ASP.NET Dynamic Data(or ADD for short). I know, some would say I'm slow off the mark, but I never have time to keep up with all the new technologies MS are putting out. Anyway, this one looked interesting, so I decided to devote some time to investigating it. I must say I was (to quote the vernacular), somewhat gob-smacked by it! One of the reasons it took me so long to get around to looking at this was that MS seem to have forgotten to promote it. Even the Dynamic Data section of the www.asp.net web site (when you can find it) doesn't really tell you what it's about. One look at that would be enough to make me yawn and go somewhere else.

If you've written any reasonable sized database-driven web sites, then you'll know that the painful bit is writing a whole pile of administration pages so that the site owner can maintain the site. You end up doing almost exactly the same thing over and over again. When you've done it for the 97th time, you really wonder why there isn't a better way.

Well, now there is - maybe. Enter ASP.NET Dynamic Data. Now you can have a fully-featured CRUD web site in seconds (no, not an exaggeration).

In this post, I explain what it's about, and why you should have a look.

Monday, 06 September 2010 16:27:50 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)