Ajden Towfeek

Towfeek Solutions AB

Migrating ASP.NET MVC to WebApi with no breaking changes

Recently I've had the pleasure to upgrade our REST interface at work from Asp.Net MVC3 to WebApi so I thought a lessons learned or "watch out for this" blog post was suitable, especially since I managed to do it without the need to bump any version number on our server i.e. no breaking changes.

I think there are others out there that have been using the MVC framework as a pure REST interface with no front end, i.e. dropping the V in MVC, before webapi was available. 


First of all webapi is all about registering filters and message handlers and letting requests be filtered through them. A filter can either be registered globally, per controller or per action which imo already is more flexible than MVC.


Metod override header

Webapi doesn't accept the X-HTTP-Method-Override header by default, in our installations we often see that the PUT, DELETE and HEAD verbs are blocked. So I wrote the following message handler which I register in Application_Start.


Exception handling filter

In our controllers we throw HttpResponseExceptions when a resource isn't found or if the request is bad for instance, this is quite neat when you want to short-circuit the request processing pipeline and return a http error status code to the user. The thing that caught me off guard is that when throwing from a controller action the exception filter is not run, but when throwing from a filter the handler is run. After some head scratching I found a discussion thread on codeplex where it's explained that this is intentional, so do not throw exceptions in your filters.

We have a filter which looks at the clients accept header to determine if our versions (server/client) are compatible, this was previously checked in our base controller but with webapi it felt like an obvious filtering situation and we threw Not Acceptable if we weren't compatible. This needed to be re-written to just setting the response on the action context and not calling on the base classes OnActionExecuting which imo isn't as clean design.


Request body model binding and query params

In MVC the default model binder mapped x-www-form-encoded parameters to parameters on the action if the name and type matched, this is not the case with webapi. Prepare yourself to create classes and mark the parameters on your controller with the FromBody attribute even if you only want to pass in a simple integer that is not a part of the URI. Furthermore to get hold of the query params provided in the URL you'll need to pass in the request URI to the static helper method ParseQueryString on the HttpUtility class. It's exhausting but it will work and it still doesn't break any existing implementation.


Posting Files

There are plenty of examples out there on how to post a file with MVC or WebApi so I'm not going to cover that. The main difference here is that the MultipartFormDataStreamProvider needs a root path on the server that specifies where to save the file. We didn't need to do this in MVC, we could simply get the filename from the HttpPostedFiledBase class. I haven't found a way to just keep the file in-memory until the controller is done. I ended up with a couple of more lines of code where I create the attachments directory if it doesn't exist, save the file and then delete it once we've sent the byte data to our services.


Beaking change in serialization/deserialization JavaScriptSerializer -> Newtonsoft.Json

So WebApi is shipped with the Newtonsoft.Json serializer, there are probably more differences than I noticed but date time types are serialized differently with Newtonsoft. To be sure that we didn't break any existing implementations I implemented my own formatter which wrapped the JavaScriptSerializer and inserted it first in my formatters configuration. It is really easy to implement custom formatters, all you need to do is inherit MediaTypeFormatter.


MediaFormatters Content-Type header

Any real world REST interface needs to have a custom content type format and by default the xml and json formatter always returns application/xml respectively appliation/json. This is not good enough, I suggest that you create custom implementations of JsonMediaTypeFormatter and XmlMediaTypeFormatter and insert them first in your formatters configuration. In your custom formatter just add your media type that includes the vendor and version to the SupportedMediaTypes collection. In our case we also append the server minor version to content type as a parameter, the easiest way to do that is by overriding the SetDefaultContentHeaders method and append whichever parameter you want to the header content-type header.


I think that covers it all, good luck migrating your REST api!

I might cover upgrading from WIF 3.5 (Microsoft.IdentityModel) to WIF 4.5 in my next post, or thinktectures startersts to identity server v2. Take a wild guess what I've been busy with at work! ;-)

WinRT app @ Labdays

Installed win8 on my work laptop not too long ago so I decided to create my first winrt app during lab days at work. Due to lack of imagination I created a simple dashboard app for our product SAFE (really ugly page on saabgroup btw).

Started of by looking at some sessions on channel9 and googled design patterns, frameworks and ended up with the following:

I ended up writing a custom navigation service that I bootstrapped on application startup to make the IOC container from MVVM Light play nicely together with the AlternativeFrame from WinRT Xaml Toolkit. If you pay attention to the navigation between pages you can notice the nice dissolve transition which is done in AppShell.xaml in only 4 lines of markup.
Once I got the basic architecture in place I noticed that the panorama control from windows phone was missing for winrt. One google search later I found a blog post that addressed this issue so I ended up copying some code since I didn't want to install the entire nuget package win8nl. What it basically does is to add a panorama behvior to the FlipView control. The sad thing though is that you can't flick the screen if you don't have a touch screen, which is extremely frustrating!
As for what goes for component arts data viz library I really think it's not worth to pay for (trial is free), in the short time I played around with it I stumbled upon several bugs. An ugly work around for the PieChart control can be seen in the code behind file MainPage.xaml.cs. When data binding to an observable collection the control goes bananas as items are added to the collection, I needed to reset the DataSource for each added item for it to work properly.
All and all I'm pretty satisfied with the choice to use MVVM Light together with WinRT Xaml toolkit and the custom navigation service, I will definitely reuse that part for other projects.
Anyways the result can be seen in the vid below, you can get the source code here, if you're interested in how I hooked up the components and architecture. You will probably not be able to run the application since it requires our back-end and I didn't spend too much time on exception handling.


Merry x-mas everybody and a happy new year, I'm off for two whole weeks!


Performance measurement ASP.NET MVC vs. WebAPI

I've been playing around with WebAPI for a couple of days now and I'm quite pleased with most of it so far. At work we have a stripped down a MVC3 site (threw away the M and the V) for ur public REST interface. Except for the ugly ActionResults in the controllers we are satisfied with it so far. I've read some articles on how the web api pipeline is supposed to be more optimized so I thought I'd put it up for a test before trying to sell in the platform upgrade to our product owners, also it would result in our first major version bump so we need to be sure that we can benefit from it and not just do it for the sake of fun (for me :-)).

The server side is a simple controller with 4 actions, 1 get, 1 post, 1 put and 1 delete method that only returns a status code, no I/O or business logic we just want to compare the pipelines. The test will run a five parallel threads executing 100 000 requests all together. The MVC site is hosted on a IIS 8 Express server and the WebAPI is both self hosted and hosted on a IIS8 Express server. The test was performed on my developer laptop running on Intel Core i7 CPU @ 2.67 (dual core with two threads on each CPU), 8GB RAM and 64 bit Win7 operating system.

 Avg. request time (ms)Total run time (s)Requests per second
MVC (IIS) 0.42 41.83 2391
WebAPI (IIS) 0.35 35.06 2852
WebAPI (Self Hosted) 0.12 11.67 8567


The results don't say much since the average request time is very fast in all three cases but a relative comparison shows that MVC vs. WebAPI on IIS is ~20% and the self hosted console application is a whole ~260% faster. Although this pure pipeline time will be negligible when adding business logic with I/O operations or even a single WCF call (~50ms perhaps?).

There's a whole lot more I could write about asp.net webapi but I'll save it for future blog posts and leave you with the performance measure for now. 

The code for the test is available for download here, please don't contact me about translating it to VB ;-)


Dell 5530 HSPA Driver for Windows 7 on E6410

So after a couple of hours of struggling I finally managed to get it working!

What I basically needed to do was to remove the machine check for the Dell 5530 Windows 7 driver installer for E6400 http://downloads.dell.com/comm/R251153.exe.

I've uploaded the modified msi here, hope it saves somebody a headache.


Noticed that my modified msi will make the OS crasch when recovering from sleep or hibernation. A better solution is to uninstall the old driver, download the enterprise client cab and update the drivers for the unknown devices from the device manager. Just browse the top level of the unpacked cab (E6410-win7-A09-9TW7N\E6410\x64) and check the "Include subfolders" checkbox. After a reboot new unknown devices appeared, just did the same thing and violá it worked, works on my win8 machine as well!


Building real-time web app with SignalR

We just recently had lab days at work which for me basically means that I can play around with some new tech to keep myself up to date. Anywho, one of the things I tried out was SignalR which is a .net library for building real-time, multi-user interactive web applications.

To goal was to build a simple chat, textbook example, shouldn't be any fuzz, right? I started out with an asp.net mvc 3 empty project and installed the EntityFramework, SignalR and knockoutjs nuget packages. Lately I've been using knockoutjs pretty much in all my web projects, I'm a big fan!

PM> Install-Package EntityFramework
PM> Install-Package knockoutjs
PM> Install-Package SignalR

I'm not a big fan of entity framework code first but it was enough for my throw-it-away-when-you're-done requirements. The basic idea is to just create POCOs and decorate the properties with attributes and the db will be generated for you. 

The only entity I want to store is a chat message:

public class Message
    public int MessageId { get; set; }

    [Required, MaxLength(200)]
    public string Text { get; set; }

and the actual database context as 

public class DatabaseContext : DbContext
    public DbSet<Message> Messages { get; set; }

keeping it really simple, no relations at all. And let's not forget to register the initializer in Application_Start.

Database.SetInitializer(new DropCreateDatabaseIfModelChanges<DatabaseContext>());

Now to the fun part, SignalR. We simply create a Hub that runs on the server that will be able to invoke methods on our clients.

public class Messages : Hub
    public void GetAll() { ... }
    public bool Add(Message newMessage) { ... Clients.messageAdded(message); ... }

and on our page we only need to 1) create a proxy on the fly, 2) declare a function on the hub so the server can invoke it, 3) call on the add method on the server.

$(function () {
    // proxy created
    this.hub = $.connection.messages;

    // method invoked by the server when a message is added
    this.hub.messageAdded = function (m) { ... };

    // how we send a message to the server
    this.sendMessage = function () { ... this.hub.add(m); ... };

The server-side code is telling all the clients to call the messageAdded() JavaScript function. Mind blowing? We are actually calling the client back from the server by sending the name of the client method to call from the server via our connection. SignalR handles all the connection stuff on both client and server and makes sure the channel stays open and alive.

Screenshot of desktop browser and windows phone emulator browser:

Download the code (793,9KB) for full example.