Archive for September, 2008

Silverlight Spy

September 29, 2008

By googling for “Silverlight Snoop” (Snoop is a tool for investigating WPF GUI) I came (via jimmangaly.blogspot.com across an interesting tool: Silverlight Spy.

Make sure you have all prerequisites before installing it.

Not only it allows you to disassemble and show the composition of your own Silverlight application, but it also allows you to do it to any Silverlight application accessible on the Internet. All you need to do is to type in the url of the page containing that Silverlight application: e.g. I did it for my AWebPros banner typing in “http://awebpros.com/AWebProsMain.aspx” URL. Then I go to the panel on the right and expand “Silverlight 2 Beta 2 Application (Xaml1)”. Here is the resulting layout:

Silverlight Spy

Silverlight Spy

As you can see, the TextBlock at the top is selected by selecting “textBlock” in the right hand panel!. When I try to select other text blocks, however, they are not shown in the right place – possibly because of the animation. Still it is a very impressive tool.

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Silverlight 2.0 In Examples: Part 1. Silverlight Elements: Panels and Controls

September 23, 2008

Introduction

This is part 1 of the tutorial, but there is also Part 0. You can access it through the following link: Part 0.
Part 0 of the tutorial was at an introductory level. Here we will switch to the more advanced concepts. In particular, we will assume that the readers are familiar with C# and most of the OO concepts it uses, e.g. inheritance. We will also assume that the readers have some basic knowledge of Visual Studio 2008.

This installment will include multiple simple examples showing how to use Silverlight elements: panels and controls, while, at the same time displaying the ways Silverlight works.

Overview of Panels and Controls

Silverlight 2.0 comes with many built-in objects ready to be used for building a business logic application. Such objects are sub-divided into Panels and Controls.
Panels are GUI objects that contain other GUI objects (their children object). Practically, any visual object can be placed within a panel: other panels, controls, etc. A panel’s main purpose is to position its child objects.
Controls usually serve to trigger some business logic behavior of an application or to provide (and change) some business logic values.

For a comprehensive demo with Silverlight 2.0 Beta 2 controls check the following site.

Both Panels and Controls derive from FrameworkElement class.
The figure below desplays a class Hierarchy for Panels and Controls.

ContentControls have a property “Content” that can be used to contain other controls (not quite true yet for Silverlight 2.0 Beta). ItemsControls are used to display collections of objects. Example of ItemControl is ListBox.

Controls

In this section, we are going to consider individual Control examples.

Button

Button is a ContentControl whose primary goal is to trigger some business logic when it is clicked. After the click, the usual button comes back to the original state and becomes ready for the next click.

Here is the source code for a simple project emphasizing the way buttons work: buttonsamplezip.doc. As always, remove the doc extension and rename it to ButtonSample.zip.

Here is the screen for the project:

Button Sample

Button Sample

Every time you click this button, the number of clicks increases.

Now, let us discuss the code. As was mentioned in Part 0 of this tutorial, most of the time we do not need modify App.xaml and App.xaml.cs files. So let us take a look at the Page.xaml and Page.xaml.cs files within the solution.
Here are the contents of Page.xaml file:

<UserControl x:Class=”ButtonSample.Page”

    xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation&#8221;

    xmlns:x=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml&#8221;

    Width=”400″ Height=”300″>

    <Grid x:Name=”LayoutRoot” Background=”White”>

        <Button

            x:Name=”MyButton”

            Width=”150″

            Height=”25″

            Content=”Clicked 0 Times”/>

    </Grid>

</UserControl>

One can see a simple button within a Grid. The button has a name (x:Name=”MyButton”). Name is used for accessing this control or element from the C# code (we’ll talk more about it below). It also has its Width, Height and Content properties set. You can play with the button by changing or removing the properties and watching the way the button changes.

Now, let us take a look at the C# code within the Page.xaml.cs file. Here are its contents: 

public partial class Page : UserControl

{

    intnumClicks = 0;

 

    public Page()

    {

        InitializeComponent();

        MyButton.Click += new RoutedEventHandler(MyButton_Click);

    }

 

    voidMyButton_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)

    {

        numClicks++;

 

        MyButton.Content = “Clicked “+ numClicks + ” times.”;

    }

}

 

Take a look at Page() constructor. One can notice that within that constructor we refer to MyButton as if it was a member of the class. Well, in fact, it is a member of the class; we’ve made it so, by naming it “MyButton” within XAML code. Now, all we have to do is to specify the desired behavior when the button is clicked. This is achieved by adding a handler to the “Click” event:

 

MyButton.Click += new RoutedEventHandler(MyButton_Click);

 

and by creating the body of the handler as MyButton_Click function:

 

    voidMyButton_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)

    {

        numClicks++;

 

        MyButton.Content = “Clicked “+ numClicks + ” times.”;

    }

 

DatePicker

DatePicker is a control that allows to choose a date. The chosen date is specified by the SelectedDate property of the DatePicker. Here is the source code for DatePicker sample: datepickersamplezip.doc.
The sample allows the user to choose the date using the DatePicker. Then, whenever the button at the bottom is clicked, the content of the button is changed to the picked date:

Date Picker Sample

Date Picker Sample

Note, that in order to make DatePickerSample compile, we had to add System.Windows.Controls.Extended assembly to the project’s references. This is also reflected within the Page.xaml file by the following line:

xmlns:extended=”clr-namespace:System.Windows.Controls;assembly=System.Windows.Controls.Extended”

This line makes “extended” to be the XAML namespace for the functionality located within System.Windows.Controls namespace of System.Windows.Controls.Extended assembly.
Later within the XAML code, we can find DatePicker control by adding “extended:” prefix to it:

<extended:DatePicker

x:Name=”MyDatePicker”

      HorizontalAlignment=”Center”

VerticalAlignment=”Center”>

</extended:DatePicker>

Finally, if we look at the C# code, we notice that the Content property of the Button is set to SelectedDate property of the DatePicker:

DateTime? selectedDate = MyDatePicker.SelectedDate;

 

if(selectedDate != null)

    MyButton.Content = ((DateTime)selectedDate).ToString();

ListBox Control

ListBox is an ItemsControl. Its purpose is to display multiple items as a list. It can have one of the items selected. Here is a very simple example: listboxsamplezip.doc (more complicated examples with binding will be presented in subsequent parts of this tutorial).

ListBox Sample

ListBox Sample

Here is the interesting part of the Page.xaml file:

<ListBox Width=”100″ Height=”100″>

    <ListBoxItem Content=”Item1″/>

    <ListBoxItem Content=”Item2″/>

    <ListBoxItem Content=”Item3″/>

</ListBox>

You can see ListBox containing multiple ListBoxItems. The selected item is referenced by the SelectedItem property of the ListBox.

Other Controls

As one can see from Demo Controls there are many other important controls. Since currently I do not have time to provide examples for them all, I am going to briefly describe some of them in this section.

Border – purely visual control without any specific behaviors. It provides the visual presentation for the border of its content.

CheckBox – a control with two states: “Clicked” and “Not Clicked”. Its boolean property IsClicked reflects its state.

GridSplitter – allows resizing the rows or the columns within the GridPanel.

RadioButton – allows to create groups of mutually exclusive check buttons: if one is in the pressed state, the others are not.

Slider – slider control. Its Value property specifies how far the slider moved.

TextBlock – just a way to present the text that cannot be edited by the user. The text string is stored in its Text property.

TextBox – represents editable text. The text string is reflected by its Text property.

DataGrid – deserve a special section all to itself. Allows presenting data in table format.

TabControl – allows presenting multiple screens as tabs within the same window.

ToolTip – associates a popup message with any control. This message is displayed whenever the mouse is on top of the control.

Panels

As was mentioned before, panels are containers of Silverlight visual objects that have a say over where and how the objects are positioned.

Canvas

Canvas is a panel that positions its child objects by the coordinates (how much to the right the object is from the left end of the panel and how much down it is from the top).
The sample code can be downloaded from here: canvassamplezip.doc.
The figure below, shows a button positioned on top of a Canvas, 200 generic pixels down and 100 to the right.

Canvas Sample

Canvas Sample

The corresponding XAML code is the following:

<Canvas x:Name=”LayoutRoot” Background=”White”>

    <Button

        Canvas.Left=”100″

        Canvas.Top=”200″

        Content=”Hello World”/>

</Canvas>

As you can see, the property Canvas.Left sets the position of the button horizontally and Canvas.Top – vertically.

StackPanel

StackPanel allows to put visual objects one after another vertically or horizontally. One can only space out the objects one from another by using their Margin property. Margin consists of 4 numbers specifying in the same order the distance from the left, from the top and the extra space before next element from the right and from the bottom.
Here is the source code for StackPanel example: stackpanelsamplezip.doc.
The following figure shows the screen for the sample:

Stack Panel Sample

Stack Panel Sample

The sample includes 2 StackPanels: Vertical and Horizontal. Horizontal StackPanel is placed inside the Vertical one.
Here is the corresponding XAML:

<StackPanel

    x:Name=”LayoutRoot”

    Background=”White”>

    <Button

        Width=”200″

        Height=”25″

        Margin=”0,10,0,0″

        Content=”Vertical Button 1″/>

    <Button

        Width=”200″

        Height=”25″

        Margin=”0,10,0,0″

        Content=”Vertical Button 2″/>

    <StackPanel

        Margin=”0,10,0,0″

        Orientation=”Horizontal”>

        <Button

            Width=”150″

            Height=”25″

            Margin=”10,0,0,0″

            Content=”Horizontal Button 1″/>

        <Button

            Width=”150″

            Height=”25″

            Margin=”10,0,0,0″

            Content=”Horizontal Button 2″/>

    </StackPanel>

</StackPanel>

One can see that the top level StackPanel has Vertical (default) orientation and contains two buttons and another StackPanel as children. With the help of Margin property the buttons and the child StackPanel are spaced vertically 10 generic pixels apart. The child StackPanel has Horizontal orientation (controlled by the property “Orientation”) and contains 2 buttons spaced horizontally by 10 generic pixels.

Grid

Grid allows to split the area it occupies into rows and columns. There can be different number of rows and columns; the rows can have different height and the columns can have different width.
Here is a code sample for the Grid: gridsamplezip.doc.
When run, this sample produces the following window:

Grid Sample

Grid Sample

Let us take a look at the XAML:

<Grid x:Name=”LayoutRoot” Background=”White”>

    <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>

        <ColumnDefinition Width=”80″/>

        <ColumnDefinition Width=”80″/>

    </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>

    <Grid.RowDefinitions>

        <RowDefinition Height=”55″/>

        <RowDefinition Height=”55″/>

    </Grid.RowDefinitions>

    <TextBlock

        Grid.Row=”0″

        Grid.Column=”0″

        Text=”Cell (0, 0)”/>       

    <TextBlock

        Grid.Row=”0″

        Grid.Column=”1″

        HorizontalAlignment=”Right”

        Text=”Cell (1, 0)”/>

    <TextBlock

        Grid.Row=”1″

        Grid.Column=”0″

        Text=”Cell (0, 1)”/>

    <TextBlock

        Grid.Row=”1″

        Grid.Column=”1″

        VerticalAlignment=”Bottom”

        Text=”Cell (1, 1)”/>

</Grid>

The rows and columns are defined by RowDefinition and ColumnDefinition tags correspondingly. The item can be placed to a certain cell by defining Grid.Row and Grid.Column properties. Within each cell, the item position is controlled by HorizontalAlignment and VerticalAlignment properties. In addition, one can use Margin property to position an element within each cell.

Conclusion

In this part of the tutorial, we presented several Silverlight controls and panels, which are the building blocks of business logic applications. Later we are going to use them to create some cooler stuff.

Silverlight 2.0 In Examples: Part 0. Introduction

September 23, 2008

Introducing Introduction

Although, this tutorial is called “Silverlight 2.0 In Examples”, this introduction will not have many examples. The main purpose of this article is to describe what Silverlight is, where it can be used, its advantages and shortcomings.

What is Silverlight

Silverlight is a framework for developing browser based applications. In this sense it is similar to Html and JavaScript. Just like Html and JavaScript, the Silverlight application is downloaded by the client’s machine from the web server after which it runs within the client’s browser.

There is a difference, however, between Silverlight and Html. In order for Silverlight to work in your browser you need to install the Silverlight framework from Microsoft. Silverlight framework is a small package (around 5Mb) which can be downloaded and installed pretty fast. In that sense Silverlight is closer to Adobe Flash which requires Flash framework installed, or, for that matter, to Java applets, which require Java Virtual Machine.

Silverlight can run on different platforms within different browsers. It runs on Windows within IE and Firefox. It also runs on Mac under Safari and Firefox. This should cover most of the possible clients. For the full list of platforms, take a look at the Silverlight article on Wiki. Microsoft also promises to expand the list of platforms and browsers.

Silverlight 1.0 is an old version that will not be discussed here. It only allows programming in JScript language.

Instead I will be concentrating on Silverlight 2.0 (still in Beta – according to some unconfirmed internet rumors it will be released at the PDC conference at the end of October). In spite of still being in beta, it was used by the major networks for the coverage of 2008 Olympics and Democratic convention.

Silverlight 2.0 allows creating applications in many different programming languages. Here, however, I’ll be concentrating on creating Silverlight 2.0 applications in C#.

C# or other programming languages can be used to program the business logic of the Silverlight application. The presentation and static content are usually created in XAML (though it is possible to create the whole application in C#).

XAML is an XML based language which (very successfully from my point of view) uses XML hierarchical structure to reflect the containment hierarchy of objects (primarily GUI objects). It will be discussed in more detail later.

Silverlight applications are usually embedded into HTML or ASP pages. They can be initialized by the user clicking on a certain HTML hyperlink or a button.

Why I Love Silverlight

  1. Using Silverlight, one can achieve clean separation between business objects and the way they are displayed. That means that the underlying business logic of an application does not have to be polluted with the visual presentation details. Instead XAML files contain DataTemplates that know how to present the data provided by the business logic. These DataTemplates are mapped to the underlying business objects with the help of a technique called binding.
  2. Silverlight controls can be developed lookless (without the visual representation). E.g. a button can be simplified to a control that only has “Click” event. The way the actual button looks and behaves when clicked can be provided by the Control Templates and Styles. This again helps to separate the underlying logic from the visual representation. It also allows having multiple ways in which the same controls are shown without changing the underlying logic.
  3. Silverlight has a powerful set of geometric tools that allow creation of various 2-D drawings. It also has a powerful set of geometric transforms which are easy to user and which can be applied to any Silverlight visual objects.
  4. Silverlight has a rich set of built-in controls, even though, at this point some important controls are missing. WrapPanel, ComboBox, TreeView, ContextMenu are just several examples of missing controls. However, there are some publicly available open source implementations of those controls.
  5. Silverlight includes powerful animation functionality.
  6. On a personal note, I came to Silverlight from the the WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation). Silverlight, from the developer’s point of view is almost a subset of WPF. So, WPF developers should not have any problem mastering Silverlight.

Because of the clean separation between the business logic and the presentation, I think Silverlight will take a much more prominent role in business application development than Adobe Flash.

Silverlight Resources

The best on-line silverlight resource is located at siverlight.net. From there you can get to Jesse Liberty blog. Jesse is a renowned author whose latest passion became Silverlight. There are other valuable places on the internet including codeproject.com.

Finally an Example: “Hello World” Application in Silverlight

In order to build Silverlight applications you need to have the following packages installed: VS 2008 and Silverlight Tools Beta 2 for Visual Studio 2008.

To create a Silverlight application, open VS 2008, go to File menu and choose New->Project. On the left side panel choose Visual C#->Silverlight to be the Project Type. Choose “Silverlight Application” on the right hand side. Also choose the path where you want your solution to reside and choose the name of the solution (and the project) to be “HelloWorld”. At the next screen choose “Dynamically generate an HTML test page to host Silverlight within this project” for simplicity.

In your VS solution window you will see that Visual Studio generated 4 files containing C# and XAML code: App.xaml, App.xaml.cs, Page.xaml, Page.xaml.cs. You do not have to pay much attention to the App.xaml and App.xaml.cs files. They are only used to initialize the Silverlight application. Most times you won’t have to touch them. The really interesting files are Page.xaml and Page.xaml.cs.

Here is the content of Page.xaml file: 

<UserControl x:Class=”HelloWorld.Page”

    xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation&#8221;

    xmlns:x=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml&#8221;

    Width=”400″ Height=”300″>

    <Grid x:Name=”LayoutRoot” Background=”White”>

 

    </Grid>

</UserControl>

Let us investigate its contents line by line.
UserControl is the superclass from which our Page control is derived.
HelloWorld.Page is the namespace and the class name of our control.
Two lines that start with xmlns should be present in almost every XAML file. They declare the default and “x:” namespaces, making available much of Silverlight functionality to be used within the file.
Width and Height properties specify Width and Height of our Page control.
Finally Grid is a panel. Panels are controls in charge of positioning other controls.
To Display “Hello World” within the Silverlight application all we need to do is to add the following line to the Grid:

<TextBlock Text=”Hello World”/>

Eventually we never touched Page.xaml.cs file. That is because we did not want our application to have any behavior: all we wanted was to display a static “Hello World” message.
The code for this example can be found at helloworldzip.doc. This is a simple .zip file. Remove “.doc” extension and change the name of the file to HelloWorld.zip.

Silverlight Tutorial Project

September 21, 2008

I would like to start a Silverlight tutorial in several installments, and, perhaps, crosspost it at several other web sites. I would appreciate if people specify what they want to know about Silverlight in the comments.

Client Driven Design and Development of an Enterprise Software System

September 21, 2008

Enterprise System Definition

By enterprise software system I mean a system that involves a database that can be accessed by multiple users at the same time.
As shown at the figure below, such system usually consists of three parts:

  1. Front End (whether it is a stand alone or a browser based application). Front End is part of the system that the users are aware of: some Graphical interface through which the users can view and/or modify the data.
  2. Middle Tier for connecting the Front End application and the Back End. In addition to connecting the database and the Front End, the Middle Tier can also play role in other aspects of the application such as security, load balancing, failover, error handling, etc.
  3. Back End for storing, updating and reading the data in the database or in multiple databases. 

Enterprise System
Enterprise System

In order to create an enterprise application one needs to develop all the above layers (tiers).
Front End is usually built using languages that have packages for developing GUI (Graphical User Interface), e.g. C#, Visual Basic, or Java for stand alone application; Html, JavaScript, Flash, Silverlight for browser based applications.
The Back End database tier is usually written in a superset of SQL language: Transact SQL for Microsoft SQL Server and PL/SQL for oracle.
The Middle Tier, whose main purpose is to connect the database and the Front End application, is usually built in one of the common programming languages: C#, Java, C++ or Visual Basic.

To speed up the development, the Middle Tier and the Back End are often developed together. This was made possible by the code generators (which generate code for calling the database stored procedures from the Middle Tier language) or by frameworks like hibernate (which generate both the database code and its middle tier accessors).

Client Driven Design and Development

When a brand new enterprise product is about to be built, the team or company in charge of its development, faces obvious questions: which tier to start building it from, which tier should be given more importance at the beginning.

In my experience, many times the companies have all three tiers built at the same time by different people. Sometimes, the database and middle tier pieces are given priority since they are the core of the system, and the Front End development is considered to be an icing on the cake.
The point I am trying to make here is that the above approaches are wrong, and actually the Front End development should be given priority while the middle tier and the Back End development should be determined by the Front End needs.
The reasons for such an approach are the following:

  1. Front End is closest to the customers, so the Front End developers understand the customer or Product Management requirements the best. While developing the Front End, they can write requests for the Back End and the Middle Tier functionality that they need; those requests being fulfilled by the Back End and the Middle Tier developers.
  2. In the same way that the end users or product managers are the customers of the Front End developers, the Front End developers are the customers of the Back End and the Middle Tier developers.
  3. When Middle Tier and Back End developers work in a vacuum they are risking spending a lot of time developing functionality unnecessary for the Front End development and skipping what is really important.

This is not to say that no database and Middle Tier work can be done in parallel or even preceding the Front End design and development. Everything that does not have a direct impact on the Front End, everything that the end user does not know about, like security framework, failover, load balancing, error handling, etc, can be developed without existing Front End design. Preferably it should be developed in a way that would have minimal effect on the Front End functionality.

Vertical Development

In the case where the team posesses the right set of skills, I would advocate something I call Vertical Development. This is an ultimate case of the Client Driven Development. Under Vertical Development, the same person creates the Front End, the Back End (up to creating and modifying the database tables) and the Middle Tier functionality for a specific chunk of the Front End application. The great plus of such approach, is that the developer is given more power to change and prototype: the developer does not have to request changes from somebody else for every minor change in the Front End application. Also, the unit testing is simplified: the Back End and Middle Tier changes can be tested via the Front End application.
There are two manageable shortcomings to such approach:

  1. There are more opportunities for the developers to “step on each other” if they work across all three tiers. This should be mitigated by more care on the developer’s side and by the developers’ goals being defined in such way as to minimize the collisions.
  2. Datables and stored procedures might be developed in completely different styles which would lead to confusion later. This should be taken care of by the setting the rigorous standards for code development and by the architects carefully reviewing the code and asking the developers to re-factor it if necessary.

There are two questions with respect to Vertical Development aproach that can arise

  1. If developers A, B and C work at the same time on different screens or different sets of screens of the same application using Vertical Development approach, how easy is it going to be to put their stuff together? The answer is that usually it is much easier to integrate the code developed vertically, than horizontally. The reason for that is that different screens of the same application have much less dependency on each other than the Front End of the same screen on the Back End and the Middle Tier. Still even under Vertical Development, the team needs to have good procedures in place for integrating their work.
  2. The second question is about the code reuse. Would not code reuse be weaker under Vertical Development; can it be that multiple developers will be working on similar functionality? In my experience this is not the case. Both in case of Vertical and Horizontal development methods, the code reuse requires good procedures, good communications between the developers, a lot of effort by the architect and the willingness to spend time re-factoring the code.

There is another advantadge to Vertical Development method. Since the developers are less depended on each other, it is much easier figure out who is actually responsible for success or failure.

Please tell me what you think in the comments.

Why I started this blog

September 19, 2008

I have a lot of thoughts, sketches and projects that I would like to share with the world.