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Don’t Write WPF Converters; Write C# Inline In Your XAML Instead Using QuickConverter

December 13th, 2013 6 comments

If you’ve used binding at all in WPF then you more then likely have also written a converter.  There are lots of tutorials on creating converters, so I’m not going to discuss that in length here.  Instead I want to spread the word about a little known gem called QuickConverter.  QuickConverter is awesome because it allows you to write C# code directly in your XAML; this means no need for creating an explicit converter class.  And it’s available on NuGet so it’s a snap to get it into your project.

 

A simple inverse boolean converter example

As a simple example, let’s do an inverse boolean converter; something that is so basic I’m surprised that it is still not included out of the box with Visual Studio (and why packages like WPF Converters exist).  So basically if the property we are binding to is true, we want it to return false, and if it’s false, we want it to return true.

The traditional approach

This post shows the code for how you would traditionally accomplish this.  Basically you:

1) add a new file to your project to hold your new converter class,

2) have the class implement IValueConverter,

3) add the class as a resource in your xaml file, and then finally

4) use it in the Converter property of the xaml control.  Man, that is a lot of work to flip a bit!

Just for reference, this is what step 4 might look like in the xaml:

<CheckBox IsEnabled="{Binding Path=ViewModel.SomeBooleanProperty, Converter={StaticResource InverseBooleanConverter}" />

 

Using QuickConverter

This is what you would do using QuickConverter:

<CheckBox IsEnabled="{qc:Binding '!$P', P={Binding Path=ViewModel.SomeBooleanProperty}}" />

That it! 1 step! How freaking cool is that!  Basically we bind our SomeBooleanProperty to the variable $P, and then write our C# expressions against $P, all in xaml! This also allows us to skip steps 1, 2, and 3 of the traditional approach, allowing you to get more done.

 

More examples using QuickConverter

The QuickConverter documentation page shows many more examples, such as a Visibility converter:

Visibility="{qc:Binding '$P ? Visibility.Visible : Visibility.Collapsed', P={Binding ShowElement}}"

 

Doing a null check:

IsEnabled="{qc:Binding '$P != null', P={Binding Path=SomeProperty}"

 

Checking a class instance’s property values:

IsEnabled="{qc:Binding '$P.IsValid || $P.ForceAlways', P={Binding Path=SomeClassInstance}"

 

Doing two-way binding:

Height="{qc:Binding '$P * 10', ConvertBack='$value * 0.1', P={Binding TestWidth, Mode=TwoWay}}"

 

Doing Multi-binding:

Angle="{qc:MultiBinding 'Math.Atan2($P0, $P1) * 180 / 3.14159', P0={Binding ActualHeight, ElementName=rootElement}, P1={Binding ActualWidth, ElementName=rootElement}}"

 

Declaring and using local variables in your converter expression:

IsEnabled="{qc:Binding '(Loc = $P.Value, A = $P.Show) => $Loc != null &amp;&amp; $A', P={Binding Obj}}"

* Note that the "&&" operator must be written as "&amp;&amp;" in XML.

 

And there is even limited support for using lambdas, which allows LINQ to be used:

ItemsSource="{qc:Binding '$P.Where(( (int)i ) => (bool)($i % 2 == 0))', P={Binding Source}}"

 

Quick Converter Setup

As mentioned above, Quick Converter is available via NuGet.  Once you have it installed in your project, there are 2 things you need to do:

1. Register assemblies for the types that you plan to use in your quick converters

For example, if you want to use the Visibility converter shown above, you need to register the System.Windows assembly, since that is where the System.Windows.Visibility enum being referenced lives.  You can register the System.Windows assembly with QuickConverter using this line:

QuickConverter.EquationTokenizer.AddNamespace(typeof(System.Windows.Visibility));

In order to avoid a XamlParseException at run-time, this line needs to be executed before the quick converter executes.  To make this easy, I just register all of the assemblies with QuickConverter in my application’s constructor.  That way I know they have been registered before any quick converter expressions are evaluated.

So my App.xaml.cs file contains this:

public partial class App : Application
{
	public App() : base()
	{
		// Setup Quick Converter.
		QuickConverter.EquationTokenizer.AddNamespace(typeof(object));
		QuickConverter.EquationTokenizer.AddNamespace(typeof(System.Windows.Visibility));
	}
}

Here I also registered the System assembly (using “typeof(object)”) in order to make the primitive types (like bool) available.

 

2. Add the QuickConverter namespace to your Xaml files

As with all controls in xaml, before you can use a you a control you must create a reference to the namespace that the control is in.  So to be able to access and use QuickConverter in your xaml file, you must include it’s namespace, which can be done using:

xmlns:qc="clr-namespace:QuickConverter;assembly=QuickConverter"

 

So should I go delete all my existing converters?

As crazy awesome as QuickConverter is, it’s not a complete replacement for converters.  Here are a few scenarios where you would likely want to stick with traditional converters:

1. You need some very complex logic that is simply easier to write using a traditional converter.  For example, we have some converters that access our application cache and lock resources and do a lot of other logic, where it would be tough (impossible?) to write all of that logic inline with QuickConverter.  Also, by writing it using the traditional approach you get things like VS intellisense and compile-time error checking.

2. If the converter logic that you are writing is very complex, you may want it enclosed in a converter class to make it more easily reusable; this allows for a single reusable object and avoids copy-pasting complex logic all over the place.  Perhaps the first time you write it you might do it as a QuickConverter, but if you find yourself copy-pasting that complex logic a lot, move it into a traditional converter.

3. If you need to debug your converter, that can’t be done with QuickConverter (yet?).

 

Summary

So QuickConverter is super useful and can help speed up development time by allowing most, if not all, of your converters to be written inline.  In my experience 95% of converters are doing very simple things (null checks, to strings, adapting one value type to another, etc.), which are easy to implement inline.  This means fewer files and classes cluttering up your projects.  If you need to do complex logic or debug your converters though, then you may want to use traditional converters for those few cases.

So, writing C# inline in your xaml; how cool is that!  I can’t believe Microsoft didn’t think of and implement this.  One of the hardest things to believe is that Johannes Moersch came up with this idea and implemented it while on a co-op work term in my office!  A CO-OP STUDENT WROTE QUICKCONVERTER!  Obviously Johannes is a very smart guy, and he’s no longer a co-op student; he’ll be finishing up his bachelor’s degree in the coming months.

I hope you find QuickConverter as helpful as I have, and if you have any suggestions for improvements, be sure to leave Johannes a comment on the CodePlex page.

Happy coding!

Categories: C#, WPF, XAML Tags: , , , , , , ,

Adding and accessing custom sections in your C# App.config

September 25th, 2012 33 comments

Update (Feb 10, 2016): I found a NuGet package called simple-config that allows you to dynamically bind a section in your web/app.config file to a strongly typed class without having to write all of the boiler-plate code that I show here. This may be an easier solution for you than going through the code I show below in this post.

So I recently thought I’d try using the app.config file to specify some data for my application (such as URLs) rather than hard-coding it into my app, which would require a recompile and redeploy of my app if one of our URLs changed.  By using the app.config it allows a user to just open up the .config file that sits beside their .exe file and edit the URLs right there and then re-run the app; no recompiling, no redeployment necessary.

I spent a good few hours fighting with the app.config and looking at examples on Google before I was able to get things to work properly.  Most of the examples I found showed you how to pull a value from the app.config if you knew the specific key of the element you wanted to retrieve, but it took me a while to find a way to simply loop through all elements in a section, so I thought I would share my solutions here.

Due to the popularity of this post, I have created a sample solution that shows the full implementation of both of the methods mentioned below.

Simple and Easy

The easiest way to use the app.config is to use the built-in types, such as NameValueSectionHandler.  For example, if we just wanted to add a list of database server urls to use in my app, we could do this in the app.config file like so:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<configuration>
    <configSections>
        <section name="ConnectionManagerDatabaseServers" type="System.Configuration.NameValueSectionHandler" />
    </configSections>
    <startup>
        <supportedRuntime version="v4.0" sku=".NETFramework,Version=v4.5" />
    </startup>
    <ConnectionManagerDatabaseServers>
        <add key="localhost" value="localhost" />
        <add key="Dev" value="Dev.MyDomain.local" />
        <add key="Test" value="Test.MyDomain.local" />
        <add key="Live" value="Prod.MyDomain.com" />
    </ConnectionManagerDatabaseServers>
</configuration>

And then you can access these values in code like so:

string devUrl = string.Empty;
var connectionManagerDatabaseServers = ConfigurationManager.GetSection("ConnectionManagerDatabaseServers") as NameValueCollection;
if (connectionManagerDatabaseServers != null)
{
    devUrl = connectionManagerDatabaseServers["Dev"].ToString();
}

Sometimes though you don’t know what the keys are going to be and you just want to grab all of the values in that ConnectionManagerDatabaseServers section.  In that case you can get them all like this:

// Grab the Environments listed in the App.config and add them to our list.
var connectionManagerDatabaseServers = ConfigurationManager.GetSection("ConnectionManagerDatabaseServers") as NameValueCollection;
if (connectionManagerDatabaseServers != null)
{
    foreach (var serverKey in connectionManagerDatabaseServers.AllKeys)
    {
        string serverValue = connectionManagerDatabaseServers.GetValues(serverKey).FirstOrDefault();
        AddDatabaseServer(serverValue);
    }
}

And here we just assume that the AddDatabaseServer() function adds the given string to some list of strings.

One thing to note is that in the app.config file, <configSections> must be the first thing to appear in the <configuration> section, otherwise an error will be thrown at runtime. Also, the ConfigurationManager class is in the System.Configuration namespace, so be sure you have

using System.Configuration

at the top of your C# files, as well as the “System.Configuration” assembly included in your project’s references.

So this works great, but what about when we want to bring in more values than just a single string (or technically you could use this to bring in 2 strings, where the “key” could be the other string you want to store; for example, we could have stored the value of the Key as the user-friendly name of the url).

More Advanced (and more complicated)

So if you want to bring in more information than a string or two per object in the section, then you can no longer simply use the built-in System.Configuration.NameValueSectionHandler type provided for us.  Instead you have to build your own types.  Here let’s assume that we again want to configure a set of addresses (i.e. urls), but we want to specify some extra info with them, such as the user-friendly name, if they require SSL or not, and a list of security groups that are allowed to save changes made to these endpoints.

So let’s start by looking at the app.config:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<configuration>
    <configSections>
        <section name="ConnectionManagerDataSection" type="ConnectionManagerUpdater.Data.Configuration.ConnectionManagerDataSection, ConnectionManagerUpdater" />
    </configSections>
    <startup>
        <supportedRuntime version="v4.0" sku=".NETFramework,Version=v4.5" />
    </startup>
    <ConnectionManagerDataSection>
        <ConnectionManagerEndpoints>
            <add name="Development" address="Dev.MyDomain.local" useSSL="false" />
            <add name="Test" address="Test.MyDomain.local" useSSL="true" />
            <add name="Live" address="Prod.MyDomain.com" useSSL="true" securityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges="ConnectionManagerUsers" />
        </ConnectionManagerEndpoints>
    </ConnectionManagerDataSection>
</configuration>

The first thing to notice here is that my section is now using the type “ConnectionManagerUpdater.Data.Configuration.ConnectionManagerDataSection” (the fully qualified path to my new class I created) “, ConnectionManagerUpdater” (the name of the assembly my new class is in).  Next, you will also notice an extra layer down in the <ConnectionManagerDataSection> which is the <ConnectionManagerEndpoints> element.  This is a new collection class that I created to hold each of the Endpoint entries that are defined.  Let’s look at that code now:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Configuration;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.Threading.Tasks;

namespace ConnectionManagerUpdater.Data.Configuration
{
    public class ConnectionManagerDataSection : ConfigurationSection
    {
        /// <summary>
        /// The name of this section in the app.config.
        /// </summary>
        public const string SectionName = "ConnectionManagerDataSection";

        private const string EndpointCollectionName = "ConnectionManagerEndpoints";

        [ConfigurationProperty(EndpointCollectionName)]
        [ConfigurationCollection(typeof(ConnectionManagerEndpointsCollection), AddItemName = "add")]
        public ConnectionManagerEndpointsCollection ConnectionManagerEndpoints { get { return (ConnectionManagerEndpointsCollection)base[EndpointCollectionName]; } }
    }

    public class ConnectionManagerEndpointsCollection : ConfigurationElementCollection
    {
        protected override ConfigurationElement CreateNewElement()
        {
            return new ConnectionManagerEndpointElement();
        }

        protected override object GetElementKey(ConfigurationElement element)
        {
            return ((ConnectionManagerEndpointElement)element).Name;
        }
    }

    public class ConnectionManagerEndpointElement : ConfigurationElement
    {
        [ConfigurationProperty("name", IsRequired = true)]
        public string Name
        {
            get { return (string)this["name"]; }
            set { this["name"] = value; }
        }

        [ConfigurationProperty("address", IsRequired = true)]
        public string Address
        {
            get { return (string)this["address"]; }
            set { this["address"] = value; }
        }

        [ConfigurationProperty("useSSL", IsRequired = false, DefaultValue = false)]
        public bool UseSSL
        {
            get { return (bool)this["useSSL"]; }
            set { this["useSSL"] = value; }
        }

        [ConfigurationProperty("securityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges", IsRequired = false)]
        public string SecurityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges
        {
            get { return (string)this["securityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges"]; }
            set { this["securityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges"] = value; }
        }
    }
}

So here the first class we declare is the one that appears in the <configSections> element of the app.config.  It is ConnectionManagerDataSection and it inherits from the necessary System.Configuration.ConfigurationSection class.  This class just has one property (other than the expected section name), that basically just says I have a Collection property, which is actually a ConnectionManagerEndpointsCollection, which is the next class defined.

The ConnectionManagerEndpointsCollection class inherits from ConfigurationElementCollection and overrides the required fields.  The first tells it what type of Element to create when adding a new one (in our case a ConnectionManagerEndpointElement), and a function specifying what property on our ConnectionManagerEndpointElement class is the unique key, which I’ve specified to be the Name field.

The last class defined is the actual meat of our elements.  It inherits from ConfigurationElement and specifies the properties of the element (which can then be set in the xml of the App.config).  The “ConfigurationProperty” attribute on each of the properties tells what we expect the name of the property to correspond to in each element in the app.config, as well as some additional information such as if that property is required and what it’s default value should be.

Finally, the code to actually access these values would look like this:

// Grab the Environments listed in the App.config and add them to our list.
var connectionManagerDataSection = ConfigurationManager.GetSection(ConnectionManagerDataSection.SectionName) as ConnectionManagerDataSection;
if (connectionManagerDataSection != null)
{
    foreach (ConnectionManagerEndpointElement endpointElement in connectionManagerDataSection.ConnectionManagerEndpoints)
    {
        var endpoint = new ConnectionManagerEndpoint() { Name = endpointElement.Name, ServerInfo = new ConnectionManagerServerInfo() { Address = endpointElement.Address, UseSSL = endpointElement.UseSSL, SecurityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges = endpointElement.SecurityGroupsAllowedToSaveChanges.Split(',').Where(e => !string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(e)).ToList() } };
        AddEndpoint(endpoint);
    }
}

This looks very similar to what we had before in the “simple” example.  The main points of interest are that we cast the section as ConnectionManagerDataSection (which is the class we defined for our section) and then iterate over the endpoints collection using the ConnectionManagerEndpoints property we created in the ConnectionManagerDataSection class.

Also, some other helpful resources around using app.config that I found (and for parts that I didn’t really explain in this article) are:

How do you use sections in C# 4.0 app.config? (Stack Overflow) <== Shows how to use Section Groups as well, which is something that I did not cover here, but might be of interest to you.

How to: Create Custom Configuration Sections Using Configuration Section (MSDN)

ConfigurationSection Class (MSDN)

ConfigurationCollectionAttribute Class (MSDN)

ConfigurationElementCollection Class (MSDN)

I hope you find this helpful.  Feel free to leave a comment.  Happy Coding!

Categories: .NET, C# Tags: , , , ,