My Presentation @ Dev4Devs

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Fri, 05/08/2009 - 14:17

If you are attending Dev4Devs on Saturday (or are here after the event) and you are looking for a copy of the slides and code you can get them below! If are looking for the ADO.NET Data Services cheat sheet I mentioned then you need to go here.


The code here is also different from what I presented in the following ways:

  • There is a timer control in it - so if you add items to the DB while on the site, it updates and shows those changes within 5 seconds.
  • The layout is slightly bigger (bigger header) and has buttons (to make it look like an email client) - these were removed because it doesn’t work at 1024x768 (aka the projector resolution). So they back in their graphical beauty.
  • There is a feed button which links to a ATOM feed for the last 10 emails - something I mentioned you could do, well now you can see it.
  • There is a database creation script, but no data. You need to create your own data.
Slide Show

VSTT Reference Guide

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 04/06/2009 - 13:30

If you are looking for some serious guidance on Visual Studio test, then the Rangers have come to the rescue (again) with a lovely 83 page document on VSTT. Get it from CodePlex

It sounds like a contraction that 83 pages is a reference guide but from my use this morning of it (couldn’t of come out at a better time for me), it isn’t. It is not meant to be read from beginning to end, rather you can easily skip between parts because the material is presented in a Q&A format which is easy to manage.

What’s in it?


How to convert a VS standard class library to a Workflow activity library

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Thu, 04/02/2009 - 08:42


image VS. image

If you are working in a workflow foundation project you may find you have created a class library (see image below) and want to put workflow activities into it but you may have issues with that because you didn’t create a Workflow activity library.


Some of the issues you may find are the add item menu doesn’t have the options you expect and the workflow designer interface doesn’t work.

image VS. image


To solve this you need to modify the class library project file very slightly. To do that simply open the file with a text editor such as Notepad or use the options in Visual Studio to unload and edit the project.


The first thing is to add a ProjectTypeGuids node to the base PropertyGroup node. To get there you need to navigate to the PropertyGroup node (it is under the Project node) without any Condition attributes. On my machine that is on line 3


Next add the following line in the node:


Example: image

Next you need add a new project target into the Project node. You should already have one of these  around line 56


Right below that you need to add a new one (so you will have two), the line to add is:

<Import Project="$(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\Microsoft\Windows Workflow Foundation\v3.5\Workflow.Targets" />

Example: image

Now save the project file and re-open it in Visual Studio and the problems should be gone!


You may find that the designer is not working or you get errors when adding new activities still. In such a case it could be that you are missing the workflow foundation assemblies (System.Workflow.Activities; System.Workflow.ComponentModel; System.Workflow.Runtime):


Once you have those added everything should be working fine.

Workflow Foundation Activity Template

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Thu, 02/05/2009 - 09:04

WF has two two types of activities you can create, the easy one and the hard one. That’s not really their names (though it would be cool), the first (easy) is a composite activity. This is is the one that Visual Studio lets you create and is in effect just another sequential workflow which you build up and reuse.


However when you use them they just look like sequence activities. If you want something that looks like a “real” (read: what you get out of the box) activity to need to create the hard one which is call an activity (so clear a name, ain’t it). The smallest this can be is one class and the biggest it can be is five classes and they all basically have the same structure. So it’s weird that there is no easy way to build these, say a template. Well I have created one which sets up the base for an activity and lets you get going as quickly as possible.


To use it, select the normal Add -> New Project, and under Visual C#, My Templates will be the template called WF Activity! Some things that should become clear from that little sentence

  • You need Visual Studio 2008 (yeah, that wasn’t clear but I need to sneak it in somewhere).
  • It’s C# only
  • It creates a project for your new activity for ease of packaging purposes.
  • And for some reason if I put a space in the name, if crashes my Visual Studio - so um, that could just be me.



When you create it, it creates 4 files which all start with the name you choose (that will also be the name for your activity, so I don’t suggest putting activity in it) - For example mine was called ConsoleWriteLine so my files are:

  • ConsoleWriteLineActivity.cs
  • ConsoleWriteLineActivityDesigner.cs
  • ConsoleWriteLineActivityDesignerTheme.cs
  • ConsoleWriteLineActivityValidator.cs


Special Features

I will come back to what they do but I thought I would point out that I have taken special care with the code so that if you run code analysis (fxcop) you get no issues with the code - you will get five for the project not being signed and com visibility stuff - and that StyleCop also reports no issues. I have also added in three TODO’s (if you use the VS task list)


  • The first one (Write Code) takes you to the Execute method in the {Project}Activity.cs file. This is what will run when your activity is executed.
  • The second one (Pick some nice colours) takes you to {Project}ActivityDesignerTheme.cs file where you can specify the start and end colours for the gradient. By default it’s dark to light blue.


  • The third one (Add validation) takes you to the Validate method in the {Project}ActivityValidator.cs file where you can add any design time validation you need. It even has a sample of how to add a validation failure message.


What do I need to add to use it?

Basically all you need to do to get up and running is

1) Add the properties you need to the {Project}Activity.cs file.

2) Add the code as indicated by the task item.

3) Compile and use.

Optionally you can change the colours, add validation, add an icon or change what is shown on the component. The changing of what is shown is controlled via the SetText method in {Project}ActivityDesigner.cs and it has been wired up so that it will respond to property changes. So you can actually have the text change if the properties change with very little code needed.

How do I deploy it?

To use it just dump the ZIP file in the Visual Studio 2008 > Templates> ProjectTemplates > Visual C# in your documents folder and restart Visual Studio!


Where can I get it?


Note: My hosting provider has something that corrupts zip files so it has been uploaded in 7-zip format which you will need to extract it.

Hopefully you get some productivity benefit from this component or it helps you learn how to write your own, and if it does please leave a comment here so I know (and get that warn fuzzy feeling I like so much).

Scott Hanselman - Last night at Microsoft

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 10:31

Being on the southern tip of the world and add the slowest bandwidth anywhere (confirmed by Scott himself) we seldom get the greats like Scott Hanselman out to talk to us, let alone for free, and when he is on holiday… but that is what the S.A. Developer community got last night and what a night it was. He spoke last night on MVC and I made some notes I thought I would share.

The first concept is that

  • ASP.NET > Web Forms

It’s an interesting way of thinking that ASP.NET is not Web Forms, since it is normally that we use those two interchangeable. ASP.NET is a framework for building web applications, if we use web forms on that framework is a choice not a requirement. Web forms in itself is a lie, it tries to make us believe that the web is stateful… so that we get the RAD/VB6 experience for development. The problem is that like the Matrix, the lie constrains us. MVC is the anti-RAD in a way, it opens up a lot more to the developer than Web Forms traditionally does. Knowing there is a lie, and knowing the truth can hurt you (the same way Neo knew there was no gravity, yet fell) and so MVC can hurt you. MVC is NOT a replacement for Web Forms, it is another way to solve a set of problems and some problems are better solved in web forms, and others in MVC (or ASP.NET Dynamic Data).

MVC is made up of models, viewers and controls and all of these are changeable. So the viewers uses web forms to render the HTML, but there are other options. One of those is NHaml which is a very different way to create HTML (can read about it here) and I thought that looked very interesting. Viewers should contain no logic, they should focus on rendering HTML only. What is very nice is that for the rendering side JQuery is bundled directly into MVC! It is also important to note that ascx files (ASP.NET controls) are not a

Separate from the viewers is the controls which uses the ASP.NET Routing feature of 3.5 SP 1 heavily. It is very elegant in it’s implementation and shows a forward thinking of convention over configuration. In other words it if you type in a URL like http://test/account/view, it will first check in the viewers\account folder for a view.aspx or ascx file and then in the viewers\shared folder for a view.aspx or ascx file. No config to say that this URL maps to this file. Controllers should contain the bulk of the logic but should not have any web concepts (i.e. don’t use the Request object). Obviously you could, but this breaks the important separation in the MVC design. What is nice, is that because the design of MVC is to help enforce separation, unit testing is amazingly simple and if you have the full versions of Visual Studio then it even builds unit tests for you! So while it may be very easy to put some code in a controller to check if a user is authenticated, you need to decide what level of tolerance for code smell you can handle.

Separate still from both of those is the models. Which is your data model for example LINQ to SQL. The purest form of MVC is you have your data model and then a model to talk to controllers so there is a separation in the models and everything is clean. How much benefit that has in real world is unfortunately not that much and because you have the power (you took the red pill) you can share the model from the models to the controllers.

After that Scott showed his latest project, called NerdDinner. Which is based on MVC and will be an open source solution through CodePlex one day. He showed a lot of the code and highlighted the good bits and the bad bits. This really highlighted what he was talking about and some of the problems you need to solve when working with MVC. After that was Q&A with Pizza.

Defiantly one of the best talks I have attended in a long time. He is on his way to Cape Town (taking a day out of his holiday to fly specially to CT) so if you are in CT, you must go and see him! Details can be found on S.A. Developer!

Deciding what UI technology to use?

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 11/25/2008 - 16:28

Herman, who you may know as “The man without a blog” or “The Delegator” or the guy who works over the partition from me, has released a poster detailing UI interface choices there are and what are the factors involved with choosing that. Very good to have if you trying to decide between Silverlight, Flash, Flex, ASP.NET, WinForms, WPF etc…

Download details available on Willy’s blog.


A picture of the poster… it’s much bigger when you download it.

Update 10 Jan 2011 - The link to Willy-Peter's blog no longer works.

Team Foundation Server could not resolve the user or group

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 07/28/2008 - 17:48
One of my recent tasks was to setup a TFS 2008 server, and migrate our VSS system across to it. Once done setup the projects and users. Well since I have a good knowledge of the systems and I did a TFS 2005 deployment previously (although it was not adopted), I felt confident that the install wouldn’t be an issue. I did the usual prep of reading blogs and learning from others and that did help me avoid some pit falls.
Next up was the migration of VSS to TFS, which was actually not a major requirement as it is just there for legacy projects. All active projects would have to check their code into new TFS projects planned to create in TFS. The key benefit of this is it would allow us to align with EPM better than the migration tool would allow us to. I created a project, and imported the 1.7Gb of source code into it! It took some time. Then I needed to add the users, and this is where I met a problem.
Regardless if I used the command line, or the TFS admin tool or the GUI I kept getting an error: Team Foundation Server could not resolve the user or group. <AD Distinguished Name of the User>. The user or group might be a member of a different domain, or the server might not have access to that domain. Verify the domain membership of the server and any domain trusts.

The AD issue and TFS issue both revolved around the fact that in our AD the Authenticated Users (AuthUsers) group does not have read permissions to our users and the containers they are in. This is odd to the outside person because when AD is setup the AuthUsers group does have permissions, so why would our AD be different and what are the implications of changing it. The reason there is a difference is because our AD is setup according to Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (you can read more about it here) which specifically removes the AuthUsers group permissions for security reasons (i.e. to prevent users from seeing other customers). Because of this change, the GPO could not access the users accounts and neither could TFS read from AD what it needed.
To solve this for TFS meant giving AuthUsers read permissions to the users who needed to access TFS and their immediate container while for AD/GPO it required just AuthUsers to have permissions on the container for the users (it doesn’t need the permissions on the actual users) and all it’s parent containers. Once those were done the group policies and TFS started to work 100%.
That’s great but what is the impact to the hosted environment and is this the best way to solve the issue? Well this does open up a security risk in that customers could see other customers, simply by logging into the domain. For us this is mitigated as we are not offering hosted TFS, this is just for our own internal staff who are aware of who our customers are and we aren’t worried if our customers know about our staff. It is also very difficult for a customer to see other customers as most applications don’t allow it and those that do allow it in their standard configurations, such as MSCRM, ignore it in a HMC environment.
In regards to is this the best way to solve the issue, my view is that it is not it. You should run a separate AD for each customer, this is a normal AD system which runs at the client premises and using the Customer Integration component of HMC (which is based on MIIS) sync the customer AD to the hosted AD. This means that you could run GPO’s and TFS on the customer site without the need to change anything in a hosted way.