What’s New in Silverlight 5? – Graphics Changes

What’s New in Silverlight 5?

شاهد كورس كامل سيلفرلايت 5 مجانا هنا.

This content is based on Beta release, expect many changes in the final release.

Read What’s New in Silverlight 5 series here.

 

Introduction

In this article, we’ll have a brief discussion of the new features in graphics stack in Silverlight 5.

 

Overview

Silverlight 5 has undergone few changes in the graphics stack:

  • Improved Performance and Rendering:
    Performance has been improved dramatically by using lessons learned from Windows Phone 7. More comes later in this article.
  • Hardware Acceleration:
    Silverlight 5 now depends more on GPU for graphics processing. This frees CPU from much work, and as a result, improves performance.
  • New 3D API:
    The most exciting feature yet. Silverlight 5 now supports native 3D API. More comes later.
  • Vector Printing:
    Very useful for certain cases, not available in the Beta.
  • Print Preview:
    The long-waited printing feature. Silverlight 5 now allows you to show the user a preview of what he is going to print. Yet not available in the Beta.

Now let’s look at the currently available features in details.

 

Performance Improvements

To improve rendering performance, Silverlight 5 uses the composition model available in Windows Phone 7. This model implies using a separate, dedicated thread for graphics rendering instead of using the UI thread. This helps freeing the UI thread from graphics work, and thus improves the performance of rendering UI elements and reduces flickers and glitchy animations happen when UI thread was interrupted.

In addition, moving the graphics rendering to another thread adds support for independent animations and helps with immediate-mode rendering on the GPU (in which graphics are sent directly and being rendered on the display.)

 

3D API

Silverlight 5 now supports natively a 3D API. This API is based on the XNA API; you have the same classes and the same code, however, the 3D API is Silverlight is not game-loop based.

While it’s so amazing to have a 3D API natively supported in Silverlight, things are not as good as they seem. The 3D API of Silverlight 5 is very low-level, means that you have access to the GPU, vertex shaders, and other 3D primitives. It’s not as easy as it should be; it requires that you have a solid understanding of low-level graphics and game development to be able to interact with this API. However, the good news is that community will likely wrap this low-level API into simpler components.

Technically, to draw graphics on the screen you need to use the new control DrawingSurface where all the rendering and graphics go on. This control offers a Draw event that you can use to supply your drawing calls. The calls are carried to a GraphicsDevice object and then be processed and carried to the display.

Because of the complexities in this low-level API, and because we assume that you are a business developer, we won’t discuss the 3D API. Instead, we’ll have a brief look at two of the great samples of this API.

Cube Sample

The cube sample (download from http://bit.ly/sl5-cubesample, colored, non-textured) demonstrates how to create and rotate a 3D cube in Silverlight 5. Here’s a screenshot of this sample:

Looking at the Solution Explorer at project files, we can see that the project contains some pixel shader (PS) and vertex shader (VS) files. Those files besides the HLSL files contain the code (in the HLSL language) for the effects required to render the cube.

Moving to MainPage.xaml you can see the DrawingSurface object used to display the graphics and drawings.

<DrawingSurface Draw="OnDraw" SizeChanged="OnSizeChanged" />

Looking at the code behind at the Draw event handler, we can see that the sample has encapsulated all the code required for drawing the cube and rotating it into a new class called Scene. The Draw event passes the GraphicsDevice object to the Scene to have it draw the cube and other graphics into the device:

// init the 3D scene
Scene scene = new Scene();

public MainPage()
{
    InitializeComponent();
}

void OnDraw(object sender, DrawEventArgs args)
{
    // draw 3D scene
    scene.Draw(args.GraphicsDevice, args.TotalTime);

    // invalidate to get a callback next frame
    args.InvalidateSurface();
}

Moving to the Scene class, we can see that it creates another class that handles drawing the Cube, and has configured the view and camera position and completes the drawing in the Draw() function by clearing the screen and calling the Draw() function of the cube.

public class Scene
{
    Matrix view; // The view or camera transform
    Matrix projection;

    // The single Cube at the root of the scene
    Cube Cube = new Cube();

    public Scene()
    {
        // the camera's position
        Vector3 cameraPosition = new Vector3(0, 0, 5.0f);
        // the place the camera is looking (towards world origin)
        Vector3 cameraTarget = Vector3.Zero;

        // the transform representing a camera at a position looking at a target
        view = Matrix.CreateLookAt(cameraPosition, cameraTarget, Vector3.Up);
    }

    ...

    public void Draw(GraphicsDevice graphicsDevice, TimeSpan totalTime)
    {
        // clear the existing render target
        graphicsDevice.Clear(ClearOptions.Target | ClearOptions.DepthBuffer, 
            Color.Transparent, 1.0f, 0);

        // draw the Cube
        Cube.Draw(graphicsDevice, totalTime, view * projection);
    }
}

Finally, the Cube class completes all the drawing by loading the vertex and pixel shaders in its constructor, configuring cube surfaces and surface colors in the CreateCube() function, and then performs the drawing and handling the animation in the Draw() function.

public class Cube
{
    // the device to use when creating resources
    static readonly GraphicsDevice resourceDevice 
        = GraphicsDeviceManager.Current.GraphicsDevice;

    // resources
    VertexShader vertexShader;
    PixelShader pixelShader;

    public Cube()
    {
        // Initialize resources required to draw the Cube
        vertexBuffer = CreateCube();

        Stream shaderStream = Application.GetResourceStream(
            new Uri(@"CubeSample;component/Cube.vs", UriKind.Relative)).Stream;
        vertexShader = VertexShader.FromStream(resourceDevice, shaderStream);

        shaderStream = Application.GetResourceStream(...);
        ,,,
    }

    VertexBuffer CreateCube()
    {
        // cube vertices
        var cube = new VertexPositionColor[36];

        // face coordinates
        Vector3 topLeftFront = new Vector3(-1.0f, 1.0f, 1.0f);
        Vector3 bottomLeftFront = new Vector3(-1.0f, -1.0f, 1.0f);
        ...

        return vb;
    }

    public void Draw(GraphicsDevice graphicsDevice, ...)
    {
        // update cube transform
        Matrix position = Matrix.Identity; // origin
        Matrix scale = Matrix.CreateScale(1.0f); // no scale modifier

        ...

        // setup pixel pipeline
        graphicsDevice.SetPixelShader(pixelShader);

        // draw using the configured pipeline
        graphicsDevice.DrawPrimitives(PrimitiveType.TriangleList, 0, 12);
    }
}

Lengthy, isn’t it? Now, let’s have a look at another example.

Solar Wind

The Solar Wind 3D sample (download from http://bit.ly/sl5-solarwind) uses the new 3D features of Silverlight 5 to draw the Earth with day and night transitions, atmosphere layers, and population density overlays. It demonstrates advanced concepts and it’s very cool that you’ll like to run and play with it.

Babylon3D

The most amazing sample yet (download from http://bit.ly/sl5-babylon3d), it shows a full 3D realtime engine with some advanced features and an integrated collisions system.

 

Summary

Silverlight 5 has got few improvements in the graphics stack:

  • Improved performance:
    Uses the composition model of Windows Phone 7; a separate, dedicated thread for graphics and drawing.
  • Hardware Acceleration:
    Depending more on GPU for graphics processing. Frees CPU from much work, and as a result, improves performance.
  • New 3D API:
    A low-level 3D API based on XNA Framework. Difficult to work with. Community will likely wrap to simplify use.
  • Vector Printing:
    Very useful for certain cases, not available in the Beta.
  • Print Preview:
    Allows for print previews. Not in Beta.

Now, check out other What’s New in Silverlight 5? articles.

What’s New in Silverlight 5? – Control and Text Improvements

What’s New in Silverlight 5?

شاهد كورس كامل سيلفرلايت 5 مجانا هنا.

This content is based on Beta release, expect many changes in the final release.

Read What’s New in Silverlight 5 series here.

Download Sample Code

 

Introduction

In this article, we’ll have a brief discussion of the new features of controls and text in Silverlight 5.

 

Overview

Silverlight 5 has undergone few improvements in controls and text; new added features for controls, and rendering and performance enhancements for text.

The following are the new features of controls in Silverlight 5:

  • Text tracking and leading control
  • Text overflow
  • Multi-click support
  • Type-ahead text searching
  • SaveFileDialog DefaultFilename
  • DataContextChanged event (not in Beta)

And text has been improved in in a few ways:

  • Rendering is now better
  • Performance of text layout has been improved
  • Text clarity is improved with Pixel Snapping
  • OpenType support has been enhanced

As improvements in text were all about rendering and performance, we won’t talk more about the text improvements. Instead, we’ll focus in this article on control stack and cover the changes that happened to it in details.

 

Text Tracking and Leading Control

Silverlight 5 has added three features to text controls (TextBlock, TextBox, and RichTextBox) to allow you to control precisely text tracking and leading space for characters and lines:

  • Character Spacing
  • Line Height
  • Line Stacking Strategy

Character Spacing

This feature allows you to precisely set how far apart each character is. This feature is available in all text controls through a property called CharacterSpacing that specifies the distance between characters. This distance is measured by 1000th of the current font size, means that for instance if you set the font size to 20px and character spacing to 500, then the distance will be 10px between each character (since 20 * 500 / 1000 = 10px.)

Here’s an example of a TextBlock that uses the character spacing feature to put 10px between each character:

<TextBlock FontSize="20" CharacterSpacing="500">
  Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
</TextBlock>

Line Height

This feature allows you to set precisely the height of each line of the content in a text controls. It’s available in all text controls through a property called LineHeight and, unlike CharacterSpacing, it’s measured in pixels.

The following code sets the height of each line in the text to 50px:

<TextBlock Margin="5" LineHeight="50">
  Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
  <LineBreak />
  Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
  <LineBreak />
  Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
</TextBlock>

Line Stacking Strategy

This feature allows you to specify how each line box is determined. For example, if you’re in a scenario like the following where you have some text larger than other text, what will you do?  Would you increase the height for each line to accommodate the size for the larger text and allow the text to be readable?  Or would you leave the text as it as if there wasn’t any text with different font size? That’s what the stacking strategy is all about.

<TextBlock Margin="25" FontSize="12">
  Lorem ipsum <Span FontSize="20">dolor sit amet</Span>, ...
  <LineBreak />
  Proin aliquam augue quis ipsum <Span FontSize="38">rhoncus</Span> ...
  <LineBreak />
  Quisque eleifend ante vitae velit vehicula luctus. ...
</TextBlock>

The stacking strategy is available to your code through a new property called LineStackingStrategy. This property takes one value of three:

  • MaxHeight (default):
    Increases the size of each line’s box enough to hold its content. If LineHeight is set, adds the value of LineHeight to the determined value of the height of line’s box.
  • BlockLineHeight:
    Uses value from LineHeight if specified. Otherwise, increases the size for each line’s box to hold its various font sizes content.
  • BaselineToBaseline:
    Uses value from LineHeight if sepified. Otherwise, uses the default line height that doesn’t care about whether the content has larger text or not.

The following figure compares between the three stacking strategies while setting LineHeight and while not setting it.

Makes sense?

 

Text Overflow

This feature allows for multi-column and free-form text layouts. It’s available for RichTextBoxes only. You set a RichTextBox as the master element, and link it to the new RichTextBoxOverflow to capture extra text that doesn’t fit in the master RichTextBox. You can also continue the chain and link another RichTextBoxOverflow to the previous one to capture extra text that doesn’t fit there and so on. To link an overflow control to another one, you use the new OverflowContentTarget property available in the previous control to bind to the next overflow control.

The following figure shows how you can use overflow controls to create multi-column text:

And the following shows an example of a free-form text where the text wraps around an object in the center:

The following example creates a multi-column text:

<Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
  <ColumnDefinition />
  <ColumnDefinition />
  <ColumnDefinition />
</Grid.ColumnDefinitions>

<RichTextBox OverflowContentTarget="{Binding ElementName=firstOverflow}" />

<RichTextBoxOverflow x:Name="firstOverflow" Grid.Column="1"
  OverflowContentTarget="{Binding ElementName=secondOverflow}"/>

<RichTextBoxOverflow x:Name="secondOverflow" Grid.Column="2" />

 

Multi-Click Support

Silverlight 5 now allows you to capture multi-clicks in controls. It can capture any n-clicks, but most of the time you’ll capture double-clicks and sometimes triple clicks. This feature is available through a property called ClickCount available in MouseButtonEventArgs. While MouseButtonEventArgs is available in ButtonDown and ButtonUp events, ClickCount is only valid on MouseLeftButtonDown and MouseRightButtonDown, it always return 1 from ButtonUp events.

The following code shows how you can capture multiple clicks in a TextBlock, it updates the TextBlock for each click:

private void theTextBlock_MouseLeftButtonDown(object sender, MouseButtonEventArgs e)
{
  if (e.ClickCount == 1)
    theTextBlock.Text += "Single-clickn";
  else if (e.ClickCount == 2)
    theTextBlock.Text += "Double-clicksn";
  else if (e.ClickCount == 3)
    theTextBlock.Text += "Triple-clicksn";
  else
    theTextBlock.Text += e.ClickCount.ToString() + "n";
}

 

Type-Ahead Text Searching

Type-ahead text searching capability in Silverlight 5 allows you to search in a collection control (e.g. ComboBox, ListBox, etc.) using keyboard; you reach the desired item by typing the first letters of its content.

The content that the control searches in must be specified in DisplayMemberPath. For example, in our books scenario to search in book titles you must set DisplayMemberPath to the Title field. This leads up to another problem, if you have set a data template, you cannot set DisplayMemberPath along with it. This problem can be solved by using the new Silverlight 5 XAML feature, implicit data templates, which has been covered earlier in the previous article.

In our books scenario, we have the following ComboBox that has an implicit data template applied:

<ComboBox x:Name="books" />

And we have also the following code that populates the ComboBox and sets the DisplayMemberPath to allow searching using keyboard:

books.ItemsSource = new BookData().OrderBy(b => b.Title);
books.DisplayMemberPath = "Title";

The application works perfectly now. But if you convert the data template to an explicit data template like the following:

<ComboBox x:Name="books>
  <ComboBox.ItemTemplate>
    <DataTemplate>
      <StackPanel>
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Title}" FontWeight="Bold" />
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Author}" />
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C'}" />
      </StackPanel>
    </DataTemplate>
  </ComboBox.ItemTemplate>
</ComboBox>

You receive the following error, because DisplayMemberPath cannot be set while setting an ItemTemplate:

 

SaveFileDialog DefaultFilename

Now in Silverlight 5 you can set the default filename in SaveFileDialog (using the new DefaultFileName property) that will show in the file name box when you launch the dialog:

SaveFileDialog dialog = new SaveFileDialog();
dialog.DefaultFileName = "Foo";
dialog.ShowDialog();

 

DataContextChanged Event

This feature is currently not available in Beta; it should be available in the final version. It occurs when the DataContext object for a control changes.

 

Summary

For controls in Silverlight 5, we have the following improvements:

  • Text tracking and leading control:
    Allows you to set character spacing, line height, and line stacking strategy for a text control.
  • Text overflow:
    Available for RichTextBoxes. Allows for multi-column and free-form text layouts.
  • Multi-click support:
    Allows you to capture any n-clicks.
  • Type-ahead text searching:
    Allows searching in a collection control using keyboard.
  • SaveFileDialog DefaultFilename:
    Allows you to set the default file name for SaveFileDialog.
  • DataContextChanged event:
    Not in beta. Occurs when the DataContext object for a control changes.

And in the text stack, there were some improvements related to performance and rendering:

  • Rendering is now better
  • Performance of text layout has been improved
  • Text clarity is improved with Pixel Snapping
  • OpenType support has been enhanced

Now, check out other What’s New in Silverlight 5? articles.

What’s New in Silverlight 5? – XAML Changes

What’s New in Silverlight 5?

شاهد كورس كامل سيلفرلايت 5 مجانا هنا.

This content is based on Beta release, expect many changes in the final release.

Read What’s New in Silverlight 5 series here.

Download Sample Code

 

Introduction

In this article, we’ll have a brief discussion of the new XAML features of Silverlight 5.

 

Overview

Silverlight 5 has the following changes in the XAML stack:

  • Implicit Data Templates
  • Ancestor RelativeSource
  • Binding in Styles
  • Markup Extensions
  • XAML Debugging

Let’s see them in action one after one.

 

Model

Our demos in this section are based on a very simple model consists of just a collection of paper books and audio books. We have the following business model:

public class Book
{
  public string Title { get; set; }
  public string Author { get; set; }
  public decimal Price { get; set; }
}

public class PaperBook : Book
{
  public string Isbn { get; set; }
  public int Pages { get; set; }
}

public class AudioBook : Book
{
  public TimeSpan Duration { get; set; }
}

And here’s our collection:

public class BookData : List
{
  public List PaperBooks
  {
    get
    {
      return (from b in this where b is PaperBook
          select (PaperBook)b).ToList();
    }
  }

  public List AudioBooks
  {
    get
    {
      return (from b in this where b is AudioBook
          select (AudioBook)b).ToList();
    }
  }

  public BookData()
  {
    this.Add(new PaperBook()
    {
      Title = "The Sixth Man",
      Author = "David Baldacci",
      Isbn = "9780446573108",
      Pages = 432,
      Price = 14.28m,
    });

    ...

    this.Add(new AudioBook()
    {
      Title = "Water for Elephants",
      Author = "Sara Gruen",
      Duration = new TimeSpan(11, 29, 00),
      Price = 21.56m,
    });
  }
}

 

Implicit Data Templates

Silverlight 5 has got one of the great features of data templates in WPF, Implicit Data Templates. Instead of explicitly attaching the data template to every control, you can set a data type (through the DataType property) that the data template will apply to and then the data template will be applied automatically to any control that’s trying to display that data type.

Keep in mind that an implicit data template applies only to controls that…

  • Trying to display the data type specified
  • Have a templatable content (e.g. collection controls)
  • Defined in the scope of the template

So the implicit data template won’t apply to any other control doesn’t meet those requirements.

Implementation:

Let’s see implicit data templates in action. In the following scenario we have a list box that uses a data template to display some books and it gets populated through the code:

<ListBox x:Name="books">
  <ListBox.ItemTemplate>
    <DataTemplate>
      <StackPanel>
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Title}" FontWeight="Bold" />
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Author}" />
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C'}" />
      </StackPanel>
    </DataTemplate>
  </ListBox.ItemTemplate>
</ListBox>

We could refactor this code by making the data template implicit, and this can be done by moving the data template from the list box to application resources (for instance) and specifying the data type, and then the data template will be applied automatically to each templatable-content control trying to display the data type specified:

<Application.Resources>
  <DataTemplate DataType="loc:Book">
    <StackPanel>
      <TextBlock Text="{Binding Title}" FontWeight="Bold" />
      <TextBlock Text="{Binding Author}" />
      <TextBlock Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C'}" />
    </StackPanel>
  </DataTemplate>
</Application.Resources>

<ListBox x:Name="books" />

Clear and simple, right?

Now let’s do something more interesting to see the real power of implicit data templates. Instead of having a simple data template, we’ll have two templates for the two types of books, once for the paper books, and the other for the audio books:

<DataTemplate DataType="loc:PaperBook">
  <StackPanel>
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Title}" FontWeight="Bold" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Author}" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C'}" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Isbn}" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Pages}" />
  </StackPanel>
</DataTemplate>

<DataTemplate DataType="loc:AudioBook">
  <StackPanel>
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Title}" FontWeight="Bold" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Author}" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C'}" />
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Duration}" />
  </StackPanel>
</DataTemplate>

As you see, each data template will be applied to a templatable-content control that tries to display the data type it specifies. In addition, both the data templates would be applied to a collection control that tries to display a collection of both PaperBook and AudioBook.

 

Ancestor RelativeSource

This is another feature of XAML that Silverlight 5 has got from WPF. It allows you to bind to a property in a parent control. This is especially useful in situation where you are in a data template and wish to bind to a property in a control outside the template higher in the render tree.

Implementation:

You use {Binding.RelativeSource} to specify the source in the tree.

  • Use the AncestorType property to specify the type of the parent control that you wish to bind to.
  • Use AncestorLevel to specify how far is the parent control of the type specified from the current control.

The following TextBlock controls all bind to the same Tag property found in the root StackPanel:

<StackPanel Tag="Hello, World">

  <TextBlock Text="{Binding Tag, 
    RelativeSource={RelativeSource AncestorType=StackPanel}}" />

  <TextBlock Text="{Binding Tag, 
    RelativeSource={RelativeSource AncestorType=StackPanel, AncestorLevel=1}}" />

  <StackPanel>

    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Tag, 
      RelativeSource={RelativeSource AncestorType=StackPanel, AncestorLevel=2}}" />

    <Grid>

      <TextBlock Text="{Binding Tag, 
        RelativeSource={RelativeSource AncestorType=StackPanel, AncestorLevel=2}}" />

    </Grid>

  </StackPanel>

</StackPanel>

And here’s a more complex example. In the following example we change the color of a control inside an item template based on whether the item is selected or not. For this to work we bind to the IsSelected property of the ListBoxItem control (that represents an item on the list box) and we use a type converter to return a color based on a Boolean value:

<ListBox x:Name="books">
  <ListBox.ItemTemplate>
    <DataTemplate>
      <StackPanel>
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Title}" FontWeight="Bold"
          Foreground="{Binding IsSelected, Converter={StaticResource conv},  
          RelativeSource={RelativeSource AncestorType=ListBoxItem}}" />
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Author}" />
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C'}" />
      </StackPanel>
    </DataTemplate>
  </ListBox.ItemTemplate>
</ListBox>

 

 

Style Binding

This is another feature of XAML that Silverlight 5 has got from WPF. It allows you to bind directly in style setters, and that would allow changing styles automatically at runtime by changing source objects.

Implementation:

In the following scenario, we have a class that contains brushes used in the application:

public class MyBrushes
{
  public SolidColorBrush MainBrush { get; set; }

  public MyBrushes()
  {
    MainBrush = new SolidColorBrush(Colors.Red);
  }
}

And we have a style that binds to that class and gets the main brush from there (as you can see, all binding features are available now in style setters):

<loc:MyBrushes x:Key="brushes" />

<Style TargetType="TextBlock">
  <Style.Setters>
    <Setter Property="FontSize" Value="20" />
    <Setter Property="FontWeight" Value="Bold" />
    <Setter Property="Foreground"
        Value="{Binding MainBrush, Source={StaticResource brushes}}" />
  </Style.Setters>
</Style>

Finally, we can change the style automatically at runtime by changing the source brush using code like this:

  MyBrushes brshes = Application.Current.Resources["brushes"] as MyBrushes;
  brshes.MainBrush.Color = Colors.Red;

 

Markup Extensions

Markup extensions allow you to execute code at XAML parsing time, they are like {Binding}, {StaticResource}, {RelativeSource}, etc. The new feature of XAML in Silverlight 5 is the ability to create custom markup extensions. They provide more concise syntax, and they are easier and simpler than attached properties.

Implementation:

An example of a very simple markup extension is an extension that sums two numbers and returns the result to the control (the following TextBlock would have the text ‘3’ at runtime):

<TextBlock Text="{my:SumExtension FirstNumber=1, SecondNumber=2}" />

So how to create such an extension? You can create markup extensions by implementing the generic IMarkupExtenstion interface (in System.Xaml namespace) that accepts a type parameter specifies the return type from the extension (must be a reference type.) After that, you provide extension parameters as properties, and you implement ProvideValue() to do the work and return the results to the XAML.

The following code defines our summation extension:

public class SumExtension : IMarkupExtension<object>
{
  public int FirstNumber { get; set; }
  public int SecondNumber { get; set; }

  public object ProvideValue(IServiceProvider serviceProvider)
  {
    return (FirstNumber + SecondNumber).ToString();
  }
}

And here’s a more complex example. In the books scenario, we have defined a markup extension that returns a collection of books based on the book type (paper/audio):

public class BookLocatorExtension : IMarkupExtension<object>
{
  public BookType Type { get; set; }

  public object ProvideValue(IServiceProvider serviceProvider)
  {
    if (Type == BookType.Paper)
      return BookData.PaperBooks;
    else
      return BookData.AudioBooks;
  }
}

public enum BookType { Paper, Audio }

And here’s how we can use the extension:

<ListBox ItemsSource="{loc:BookLocator Type=Paper}" />

<ComboBox ItemsSource="{loc:BookLocator Type=Audio}" />

 

XAML Debugging

The last new XAML feature introduced in Silverlight 5 is the ability to debug data bindings. It is very useful when watching for binding errors and it works by placing a breakpoint inside the binding in XAML and watching the Locals window and other Visual Studio windows for binding details.

Keep in mind that XAML debugging works only in Internet Explorer 9.

Implementation:

In our books scenario, we have the following data form:

<UserControl.Resources>
  <loc:BookData x:Key="data" />
</UserControl.Resources>

<Grid x:Name="LayoutRoot" Background="White">
  <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
  </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>

  <ListBox x:Name="booksList" 
            DataContext="{StaticResource data}"
            ItemsSource="{Binding}" />

  <StackPanel Grid.Column="1"
            DataContext="{Binding SelectedItem, ElementName=booksList}">

    <TextBlock>Title</TextBlock>
    <TextBox Text="{Binding Title, Mode=TwoWay}" />

    <TextBlock>Author</TextBlock>
    <TextBox Text="{Binding Author, Mode=TwoWay}" />

    <TextBlock>Price</TextBlock>
    <TextBox Text="{Binding Price, StringFormat='C', Mode=TwoWay}" />
  </StackPanel>
</Grid>

Now, put a breakpoint inside the binding in the list box and run the application to see what happens.

When you run the application, Visual Studio stops on the breakpoint while it loads the list box with data. Looking at the Locals window we can see binding details:

Here we have the details encapsulated in a BindingState, and the current state is UpdatingTarget means that it’s a Pull operation where list box gets loaded with data.

We can see that we have 5 items in the list referred by FinalSource. In addition, we don’t have any errors or validation errors yet.

Now stop the application, and let’s try something else. Try inserting the breakpoint into the Price text box instead and run the application.

As you can see, Visual Studio stops on both Push and Pull operations. The Pull operation happens when the text box get loaded by the data, and the Push operation happens when the value in the text box changes and gets updated to the source.

Now try writing some invalid data in the price text box (e.g. some letters) and watch the Locals Window:

Now you watch out any error that might happen in binding.

The last thing to mention is that conditions and filters can be used in the breakpoints. As an example, you can use the following condition to tell Visual Studio to stop only on binding errors and not in every operation:

((System.Windows.Data.Debugging.BindingDebugState)BindingState).Error != null

 

Summary

We had a discussion of the XAML stack in Silverlight 5 and we have talked about the 4 new features:

  • Implicit Data Templates:
    Allows you to automatically apply data templates to controls based on the data type the control uses.
  • Ancestor RelativeSource:
    Allows you to bind to a property in a parent control.
  • Binding in Styles:
    Allows you to use binding directly in style setters.
  • Markup Extensions:
    Allows you to execute code at XAML parsing time by using custom markup extensions.
  • XAML Debugging:
    Allows you debug data bindings.

Now, check out other What’s New in Silverlight 5? articles.

What’s New in Silverlight 5?

Silverlight 5

شاهد كورس كامل سيلفرلايت 5 مجانا هنا.

This content is based on Beta release, expect many changes in the final release.

Check out other Silverlight 5 articles here.

If you are new to Silverlight, check out this article.

What’s New – XAML Changes
What’s New – Control and Text Changes
What’s New – Graphics Changes
What’s New – Media Improvements
What’s New – Elevated-Trust Changes
What’s New – Other Improvements

Download Sourcecode

 

Silverlight 5

The first thing to know about Silverlight 5 is that it’s currently in beta, means that it definitely has bugs, and it also not yet feature-complete; some features are going to be shipped later in the final version. In addition, being in beta means that no go-live license available, this is for internal use and testing only so do not install on user’s machine.

Worth mentioning that Silverlight 5 was first announced at PDC 2010 conference (October 2010) and the beta version was shipped later at MIX11 (April 2011,) and the final version will be released soon this year.

 

Goal

Goals of the version 5 include:

  • Improving performance
  • Getting closer to WPF
  • Enabling line-of-business scenarios
  • Better development experience

 

Improvements

Silverlight 5 has come with lots of improvements and changes, and those improvements can be divided into several areas:

 

Getting Started

To get started you need to have first Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Service Pack 1 installed on you PC. After that, you can go to http://silverlight.net and download the beta SDK and tools for VS2010.

In addition, you can install Microsoft Expression Blend Preview for Silverlight 5 Beta if you like using it.

After you have VS2010 SP1 and Silverlight 5 SDK installed on your PC, you can continue reading and start making your cool stuff!

Now let’s start with XAML changes, but first let’s take a look at our model that’s going to be used through all the samples.

 

What’s next?

Start with…

Introduction to Microsoft Silverlight

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Contents

Contents of this article:

  • Contents
  • Overview
  • What is Silverlight
    • Definition
    • Platform Support
    • Rich Interactive Application
    • RIA Stats
    • Why Silverlight
    • Silverlight vs. Flash
    • Silverlight vs. WPF
    • Rich vs. Reach
    • Showcase
    • Deep Zoom
  • Deep Inside
    • Silverlight and XAML
    • Deployment Process
    • Silverlight Architecture
  • Silverlight 5
  • Tooling
    • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010
    • Microsoft Expression Studio 4
  • What’s Next
  • Demo
  • Summary

 

Overview

In this article we’ll have a brief introduction to Microsoft Silverlight, see how it fits with other technologies today, and watch it in action. Get ready!

 

What is Silverlight

Definition

Silverlight is a Microsoft technology aimed to help developers create rich interactive Web applications with the best user interface features and functionalities. It’s available as a plugin for almost all famous browsers available today, and it’s used to deliver the next generation media and Web applications.

Figure 1 - Silverlight Logo

Figure 1 - Silverlight Logo

When we say rich applications we don’t mean those with amazing interfaces and lots of graphics. Indeed, we mean by “rich” those have lots of functionalities not available for standard Web applications. Common examples of rich applications are online document editors and image processors; both are very interactive and offer lots of functionalities that are usually not available for standard Web applications. And that actually what Silverlight is devoted for, its main goal is to allow for developing rich interactive applications for the Web.

Platform Support

Unlike many other Microsoft technologies, Silverlight applications can run everywhere. It’s said to be cross-platform, cross-browser, and cross-device. It can run on Windows, Linux, and even Mac, it can run on Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and many others, and it also can run on PCs, mobile devices, and handhelds. Really it can run everywhere without any code changes!

One more interesting thing is that Silverlight Web applications can be hosted on any server. You can host your Silverlight application on a Windows, Linux, or Mac server without any additional code changes or configuration.

Rich Interactive Applications

We have been talking about rich interactive applications for a while; now let’s see what a rich interactive application really means.

A Rich Interactive/Internet Application (RIA) is a Web application that’s very interactive with the user and has lots of functionalities. It’s very similar to desktop applications comparing interactivity and features; however, it’s a Web application that runs on the browser not the desktop. So we can say that RIA applications have the best functionalities and user interface features of desktop applications and Web applications.

Figure 2 - RIA

Figure 2 - RIA

Today, there’re lots of technologies available for creating RIA applications. The most famous platforms are Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun Java. Worth mentioning that every platform of the above mentioned (that includes Silverlight of course) is available through a plugin for the browser, and therefore its runtime must be installed on user’s machine in order to be able to run the application.

RIA Stats

Now someone asks: Who wins the race? What’s the best RIA platform that one can spend his time and effort to learn?

First of all, let’s have a look at the following diagrams that represent penetration rates of Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun Java. The first diagram we have comes from http://riastats.com and it shows that Adobe Flash is installed on almost 96% of internet-connected machines. Microsoft Silverlight comes in the second place with about 74% of total internet-connected machines. And Sun Java comes third with about 73% of internet-connected machines.

Figure 3 - RIA Stats

Figure 3 - RIA Stats

StatOWL shows a bit different data with more details:

Figure 4 - Stats from StatOWL

Figure 4 - Stats from StatOWL

Looking at the above diagrams we can see that Microsoft Silverlight did a great job in a very short time (first release was on 2007.) However, we can’t depend much on this data since, as you know, Microsoft Silverlight is installed automatically on Windows machines via Windows Update.

Now, let’s have a look at Microsoft Silverlight features and see what makes it the best RIA platform yet.

Why Silverlight

Other than being delivered by Microsoft, some features of Silverlight are:

  • It’s FREE.
  • It runs on all popular browsers, platforms, and devices.
  • It can be run in browser and as a desktop application.
  • Easy to create excellent UIs that looks “WOW”.
  • Enables business application development.
  • Supports 2D/3D animations/graphics.
  • Natively supports CLR and .NET Framework.
  • Can be automated using JavaScript.
  • Supports a variety of media (audio/video) formats with streaming capabilities.
  • Supports a variety of rich controls including the DataGrid.
  • Supports a variety of enterprise technologies including WCF.

In addition, Silverlight is considered to be the main development framework for Windows Phone.

Figure 5 - Windows Phone

Figure 5 - Windows Phone

Silverlight vs. Flash

Silverlight and Flash are very similar, so which is better, Silverlight or Flash? Since I’m a Microsoft developer and since you are reading now in a .NET blog, and although I haven’t ever developed for Flash, I can say that Silverlight is the best RIA platform ever!!! However, we need to be more serious.

InfoWorld did a review and compared between Silverlight and Flash, and the results were so great, Silverlight passed Flash and scored 8.3 points, while Flash got 7.8 points only.

Figure 6 - Silverlight vs. Flash, InfoWorld

Figure 6 - Silverlight vs. Flash, InfoWorld

Silverlight vs. WPF

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is a graphical subsystem utilizing DirectX for rendering UI in Windows-based application, developed by Microsoft and introduced as part of Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 and Windows Vista. WPF is considered to be the replacement for WinForms (that considered now Feature-Complete,) while WinForms relies on the older GDI subsystem, WPF relies on DirectX.

On the other hand, Silverlight is actually a subset of WPF, and formerly Silverlight was codenamed WPF/E (WPF/Everywhere) because it’s considered to be the cross-platform version of WPF. And while WPF focuses on desktop development, Silverlight focuses on Web development.

Figure 7 - Silverlight vs. WPF

Figure 7 - Silverlight vs. WPF

Rich vs. Reach

The following diagram compares some of the available Web development technologies in terms of richness (i.e. UI functionalities) and reach (platform and browser support.)

Figure 8 - Rich vs. Reach

Figure 8 - Rich vs. Reach

From the above diagram we can see that WPF has the best UI features today. However, it’s devoted primarily for desktop development, and it can run only on Windows platforms.

On the other hand, ASP.NET can run everywhere, but unfortunately it doesn’t support the UI functionalities required for today’s Web.

And finally, Silverlight has the best of UI functionalities, and it also supports a wide range of platforms and browsers (its platform/browser support is expanded each release.)

Showcase

To get a solid understanding of what Silverlight can do, check out some of the Silverlight applications from around the world:

And one of the most impressive applications is SilveOs (http://silveos.com/); a mini-operating system for the Web.

And thousands of Silverlight applications are available here too:  http://www.silverlight.net/showcase.

Deep Zoom

And another great feature of Silverlight is the DeepZoom technology that was introduced by Microsoft as part of Silverlight. DeepZoom allows you to view very large high resolution images. It reduces the time of initial load by downloading only the region being viewed at the resolution it’s displayed at. Subsequent regions are downloaded as the user pans to (or zooms into) them.

Figure 9 - Deep Zoom, Microsoft Silverlight

Figure 9 - Deep Zoom, Microsoft Silverlight

 

Deep Inside

Silverlight and XAML

Like WPF, user interface in Silverlight is declared in a specific language called Extensible Markup Language (or XAML, pronounced ‘Zammel’.) XAML is an XML-based language created by Microsoft which is used to initialize structured values and objects. XAML elements are mapped directly to CLR objects (e.g. a <Button> element maps to a Button object.)

Figure 10 - XAML Logo

Figure 10 - XAML Logo

Former ASP.NET developers are somewhat familiar with the nature of XAML. You have a WYSIWYG XAML designer that you use to design the interface of your application. The code for this interface is available through a code-behind file, where you can write in your preferred .NET language.

The concept of two files for the same page (e.g. a XAML file for the interface and a CS file for the C# code) separates two main roles in application development, design and development. The designer can work in the XAML file, and the developer can work in the code file, and both files are linked together. This also leads to a loosely-coupled design that separates user interface code from the business logic.

Figure 11 - Designer vs. Developer

Figure 11 - Designer vs. Developer

Deployment Process

What steps you would follow to deploy your Silverlight application to your users? That’s what this section is devoted for.

When you build your Silverlight application, the XAML markup, as well as the code and all other resources, is compiled into .NET assemblies which are then compressed using ZIP and stored in a XAP (.xap) file.

Figure 12 - XAP Files

Figure 12 - XAP Files

The XAP file can then be hosted in a Web server and referenced by Web pages declaring the Silverlight plugin object. And when the user navigates to the page, the XAP file is downloaded to his PC and executed on the Web page by the Silverlight runtime.

Figure 13 - Silverlight Application Deployment Process

Figure 13 - Silverlight Application Deployment Process

So all you need is just to develop your application, get the XAP file, insert the plugin into a Web page, and then publish the page and the XAP file to the Web.

Silverlight Architecture

The following illustration shows the essential architecture and components of Microsoft Silverlight. It shows how the presentation (interface) core components fit together with other .NET and Silverlight components, and what services does the provider offer.

Figure 14 - Silverlight Architecture

Figure 14 - Silverlight Architecture

 

Silverlight 5

The current stable version of Silverlight is Silverlight 4. Back to PDC 2010 the 5th version of Silverlight was introduced, it’s still in Beta but it’s supposed to be released soon.

Figure 15 - Silverlight 5 Logo

Figure 15 - Silverlight 5 Logo

Here’s a brief overview of the forthcoming Silverlight 5 features:

  • Media:
    • Hardware Video Decode
    • Better Power Management
    • Remote Control Support
  • Text and Printing:
    • Better Text Rendering
    • Full OpenType Support
  • Graphics:
    • GPU Accelerated Graphics
    • 3D Graphics Support
  • XAML:
    • XAML Debugging
  • Application Development:
    • Windows Azure Support
    • P/Invoke
  • Testing and Performance:
    • Automated UI Testing
    • Faster Startup
    • Hardware Acceleration
    • 64-bit Support

More about Silverlight 5 can be found here: http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight/future.

 

Tooling

The most common tools for Silverlight are Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and Microsoft Expression Studio 4.

Microsoft Visual Studio 2010

Best for developers, good for designers. Check it out here: http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/en-us.

Figure 16 - Microsoft Visual Studio 2010

Figure 16 - Microsoft Visual Studio 2010

Microsoft Expression Studio 4

Consists of a 5 tools:

  • Microsoft Expression Blend
    Visual user interface builder for Silverlight and WPF.
  • Microsoft Expression Web
    WYSIWYG website designer and editor.
  • Microsoft Expression Design
    Raster and vector graphics editor.
  • Microsoft Expression Media
    Digital asset and media manager.
  • Microsoft Expression Encoder
    Profession media (video/audio) encoder
Figure 17 - Microsoft Expression Studio 4

Figure 17 - Microsoft Expression Studio 4

 

What’s Next

To start with Silverlight, you have to install the following components:

 

Demo

In the following example, we’ll create the Hello World application in Silverlight. Follow those steps:

First, ensure that Silverlight SDK is installed on your PC, and launch Visual Studio 2010 and select New Project.

Figure 18 - Creating a New Silverlight Application

Figure 18 - Creating a New Silverlight Application

From the New Project dialog, select your desired language from the left and select Silverlight as project type. From the middle pane, select Silverlight Application to start.

Now another dialog appears asks you to specify whether to create another Web application to host the Silverlight application or not. As you know, Silverlight applications run inside a plugin defined in a Web page, and that dialog asks if to create a new Web Application project for you to host the Silverlight application or to create just a simple HTML page to host it. Leave the dialog with no changes and ensure that you have selected Silverlight 4 from the Silverlight Version combo box and click OK to proceed.

Figure 19 - New Silverlight Application Settings

Figure 19 - New Silverlight Application Settings

Now let’s have a look at what Visual Studio has created for us. Looking at the Solution Explorer we can see that Visual Studio has created two projects, one is the Silverlight project, and the other is a Web project that’s going to host this Silverlight application.

Figure 20 - Silverlight Project in Solution Explorer

Figure 20 - Silverlight Project in Solution Explorer

Looking at the Web project we can see that VS has included two test pages in that project, the first is an ASPX page and the second is a simple HTML page, both define the Silverlight plugin and both are ready to show you your Silverlight application when you browse to them. The difference is that ASPX pages can define ASP.NET elements and code, while the simple static HTML cannot.

Back to the Silverlight application, we can see that it define 4 files:

  1. App.xaml:
    Define application-wide interface elements.
  2. App.xaml.cs (C# code file, linked to App.xaml):
    Define the startup logic and any other application-wide code.
  3. MainPage.xaml:
    The main application page; contains the interface elements.
  4. MainPage.xaml.cs (C# code file, linked to MainPage.cs):
    The business logic and code for the main application page.

Then we have two pages, the first is App.xaml that defines the application-wide elements and code (inside App.xaml.cs,) and the second is MainPage.xaml that defines the main page of your application where you can define your interface elements and code them (inside MainPage.xaml.cs.)

Now let’s design our interface. Go to MainPage.xaml and inside the <Grid> element define a Button (you can also drag the button from the Toolbox to the designer to define it):

<Button Width="100" Height="25" Content="Say Hello" Click="Button_Click" />
Figure 21 - Button in the Page

Figure 21 - Button in the Page

From the previous line of code we can see that we have defined a Button control using a <Button> element, and we have also set the control’s characteristics and properties using the element attributes. And to have our button respond to user clicks, we have wired up the Click event into the function Button_Click() that we’re going to define it in the code file.

Now go to MainPage.xaml.cs and define the Click event handler for the button:

private void Button_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    MessageBox.Show("Hello, World!");
}
Figure 22 - The Code-Behind File

Figure 22 - The Code-Behind File

Now run the application and try it.

Figure 23 - Running Silverlight Application

Figure 23 - Running Silverlight Application

Before we leave this section, let’s have a look over the plugin required for Silverlight. Go to and of the test pages on the Web project and step down until you reach the <object> element that defines the plugin. Simply, the Silverlight application requires only the following HTML code to define its plugin:

<div id="silverlightControlHost">
  <object data="data:application/x-silverlight-2,"
    type="application/x-silverlight-2" width="100%" height="100%">
      <param name="source" value="ClientBin/SilverlightApplication1.xap"/>
      ...
  </object>
  <iframe id="_sl_historyFrame"
      style="visibility:hidden;height:0px;width:0px;border:0px"></iframe>
</div>

As you see, we have references the XAP file in the page by using the source parameter. When you build your application in Visual Studio, it will create a new folder besides the test page called ClientBin and put the XAP file inside it so you can reference it in the page.

Clear, aih?

 

Summary

  • Silverlight is a cross-platform application framework for writing and running rich Internet applications (RIA.)
  • Its runtime is available as a cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device plug-in.
  • It’s the main development framework for Windows Phone.
  • It’s a subset of WPF so it depends on XAML for UI design.
  • You define the interface using XAML, and write the code using your preferred .NET language.
  • The XAML markup, as well as the code, is compiled into .NET assemblies and compressed into a XAP file.
  • The XAP file is then referenced by a prepared Web page and then downloaded to client’s PC when he navigates to the page.
  • Version 4 is the current stable version of Silverlight.
  • Silverlight 5 is currently in beta and it will be released soon.
  • You use Visual Studio 2010 and Microsoft Expression Studio for developing and designing your Silverlight application.
  • Microsoft Expression Studio is preferred for you if you are a designer.

 

Building Applications that Can Talk

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Overview

Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous people using speech synthesis to communicate

Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous people using speech synthesis to communicate

In this article we are going to explore the Speech API library that’s part of the TTS SDK that helps you reading text and speaking it. We’re going to see how to do it programmatically using C# and VB.NET and how to make use of LINQ to make it more interesting. The last part of this article talks about…… won’t tell you more, let’s see!

Introduction

The Speech API library that we are going to use today is represented by the file sapi.dll which’s located in %windir%System32SpeechCommon. This library is not part of the .NET BCL and it’s not even a .NET library, so we’ll use Interoperability to communicate with it (don’t worry, using Visual Studio it’s just a matter of adding a reference to the application.)

Implementation

In this example, we are going to create a Console application that reads text from the user and speaks it. To complete this example, follow these steps:

As an example, we’ll create a simple application that reads user inputs and speaks it. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a new Console application.
  2. Add a reference to the Microsoft Speech Object Library (see figure 1.)

    Figure 1 - Adding Reference to SpeechLib Library

    Figure 1 - Adding Reference to SpeechLib Library

  3. Write the following code and run your application:
// C#

using SpeechLib;

static void Main()
{
    Console.WriteLine("Enter the text to read:");
    string txt = Console.ReadLine();
    Speak(txt);
}

static void Speak(string text)
{
    SpVoice voice = new SpVoiceClass();
    voice.Speak(text, SpeechVoiceSpeakFlags.SVSFDefault);
}
' VB.NET

Imports SpeechLib

Sub Main()
    Console.WriteLine("Enter the text to read:")
    Dim txt As String = Console.ReadLine()
    Speak(txt)
End Sub

Sub Speak(ByVal text As String)
    Dim voice As New SpVoiceClass()
    voice.Speak(text, SpeechVoiceSpeakFlags.SVSFDefault)
End Sub

If you are using Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4.0 and the application failed to run because of Interop problems, try disabling Interop Type Embedding feature from the properties on the reference SpeechLib.dll.

Building Talking Strings

Next, we’ll make small modifications to the code above to provide an easy way to speak a given System.String. We’ll make use of the Extension Methods feature of LINQ to add the Speak() method created earlier to the System.String. Try the following code:

// C#

using SpeechLib;

static void Main()
{
    Console.WriteLine("Enter the text to read:");
    string txt = Console.ReadLine();
    txt.Speak();
}

static void Speak(this string text)
{
    SpVoice voice = new SpVoiceClass();
    voice.Speak(text, SpeechVoiceSpeakFlags.SVSFDefault);
}
' VB.NET

Imports SpeechLib
Imports System.Runtime.CompilerServices

Sub Main()
    Console.WriteLine("Enter the text to read:")
    Dim txt As String = Console.ReadLine()
    txt.Speak()
End Sub

<Extension()> _
Sub Speak(ByVal text As String)
    Dim voice As New SpVoiceClass()
    voice.Speak(text, SpeechVoiceSpeakFlags.SVSFDefault)
End Sub

I Love YOU ♥

Let’s make it more interesting. We are going to code a VBScript file that says “I Love YOU” when you call it. To complete this example, these steps:

  1. Open Notepad.
  2. Write the following code:
    CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice").Speak "I love YOU!"

    Of course, CreateObject() is used to create a new instance of an object resides in a given library. SAPI is the name of the Speech API library stored in Windows Registry. SpVoice is the class name.

  3. Save the file as ‘love.vbs’ (you can use any name you like, just preserve the vbs extension.)
  4. Now open the file and listen, who is telling that he loves you!

Microsoft Speech API has many voices; two of them are Microsoft Sam (male), the default for Windows XP and Windows 2000, and Microsoft Ann (female), the default for Windows Vista and Windows 7. Read more about Microsoft TTS voices here.

Thanks to our friend, Mohamed Gafar, for providing the VBScript.

Consuming URL Shortening Services – 1click.at

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Read more about URL Shortening Services here.

Source- Elsheimy.Samples.ShortenSvcs.zip

Contents

Contents of this article:

  • Contents
  • Overview
  • Introduction
  • API
  • What’s next

Overview

Another article of our endless series that talks about accessing URL shortening services programmatically.

This article is talking about 1click.at shortening service, how you can use it, and how to access it via your C#/VB.NET application.

Introduction

We can’t say that 1click.at is not one of the well-known services nor it has anything special, however, as long as it provides an API we are very interested in it.

When you visit service website, http://1click.at, you can see that nothing easier from 1click.at, just push your long URL into the text box and click the shortening button.

API

1click.at provides you a very simple easy-to-use API. This API contains only one function that’s used for shortening URLs. Another good thing is that this function doesn’t require any kind of authentication for users. Therefore, you need just to send it your long URL (as you did with the website.)

The shortening function function is called http://1click.at/api.php, it accepts 3 arguments:

  1. action:
    Yet, it can accept only one value, shorturl, which orders the function to shorten the specified url.
  2. url:
    The long URL to be shortened.
  3. format:
    The format of the returned data from the function. Can be simple, xml, or json.

As you know, the .NET BCL doesn’t support JSON (some third-party components do,) and thus, we won’t cover JSON data returned from the function. Rather, we’ll concentrate on plain and XML data returned.

When the format of this function is XML, the returned data, if the function succeeded, is like the following if this is your first time you shorten this URL:

<result>
    <url>
        <keyword>GFbA1zL</keyword>
        <url>http://WithDotNet.net</url>
        <date>2010-12-17 20:14:04</date>
        <ip>0.0.0.0</ip>
    </url>
    <status>success</status>
    <message>http://WithDotNet.net added to database</message>
    <shorturl>http://1click.at/GFbA1zL</shorturl>
    <statusCode>200</statusCode>
</result>

If, however, this isn’t your first time you shorten this URL, you would get data like this:

<result>
    <status>fail</status>
    <code>error:url</code>
    <message>http://WithDotNet.net already exists in database</message>
    <shorturl>http://1click.at/GFbA1zL</shorturl>
    <statusCode>200</statusCode>
</result>

Anyway, you can retrieve the value of shorturl and forget about the rest.

Now, let’s try this function. We’ll try to shorten the URL http://WithDotNet.net with our function. First, connect the arguments, e.g. http://1click.at/api.php?action=shorturl&url=http://WithDotNet.net&format=xml. Now copy this address and paste it into your favorite browser. If everything was OK, you should see the short URL after clicking ‘Go’ in the browser toolbar.

Now, let’s do it in C# and VB.NET. Check the following function that tries to shorten long URLs via the id.gd API:

// C#

string Shorten(string url, bool xml)
{
    url = Uri.EscapeUriString(url);
    string reqUri =
String.Format("http://1click.at/api.php?action=shorturl&url={0}&format={1}",
        url, xml ? "xml" : "simple");

    HttpWebRequest req = (HttpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(reqUri);
    req.Timeout = 10000; // 10 seconds

    // if the function fails and format==txt throws an exception
    Stream stm = req.GetResponse().GetResponseStream();

    if (xml)
    {
        XmlDocument doc = new XmlDocument();
        doc.Load(stm);

        // error checking for xml
        if (doc["result"]["statusCode"].InnerText != "200")
            throw new WebException(doc["result"]["statusCode"].InnerText);

        return doc["result"]["shorturl"].InnerText;
    }
    else // Text
        using (StreamReader reader = new StreamReader(stm))
            return reader.ReadLine();
}
' VB.NET

Private Function Shorten(url As String, xml As Boolean) As String
	url = Uri.EscapeUriString(url)
	Dim reqUri As String = "http://1click.at/api.php?action=shorturl&url={0}&format={1}"
	If (xml) Then
		reqUri = String.Format(reqUri, url, "xml")
	Else
		reqUri = String.Format(reqUri, url, "simple")
	End If

	Dim req As HttpWebRequest = DirectCast(WebRequest.Create(reqUri), HttpWebRequest)
	req.Timeout = 5000
	Dim stm As Stream = req.GetResponse().GetResponseStream()

	If xml Then
		Dim doc As New XmlDocument()
		doc.Load(stm)

		' error checking for xml
		If doc("result")("statusCode").InnerText <> "200" Then
			Throw New WebException(doc("result")("statusCode").InnerText)
		End If

		Return doc("result")("shorturl").InnerText
	Else
		' Simple
		Using reader As New StreamReader(stm)
			Return reader.ReadLine()
		End Using
	End If
End Function

Notice that we have used the function System.Net.Uri.EscapeUriString() to eliminate unacceptable characters from the URL by encoding them.

Notice too that we have included our code in a Try-Catch block so we can catch exceptions before they blow up our application.

What’s next

Consider reading other articles in this series here.

.NET Interoperability at a Glance 3 – Unmanaged Code Interoperation

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See more Interoperability examples here.

Contents

Contents of this article:

  • Contents
  • Read also
  • Overview
  • Unmanaged Code Interop
  • Interop with Native Libraries
  • Interop with COM Components
  • Interop with ActiveX Controls
  • Summary
  • Where to go next

Read also

More from this series:

Overview

This is the last article in this series, it talks about unmanaged code interoperation; that’s, interop between .NET code and other code from other technologies (like Windows API, native libraries, COM, ActiveX, etc.)

Be prepared!

Introduction

Managed code interop wasn’t so interesting, so it’s the time for some fun. You might want to call some Win32 API functions, or it might be interesting if you make use of old, but useful, COM components. Let’s start!

Unmanaged Code Interop

Managed code interoperation isn’t so interesting, but this is. Unmanaged interoperation is not easy as the managed interop, and it’s also much difficult and much harder to implement. In unmanaged code interoperation, the first system is the .NET code; the other system might be any other technology including Win32 API, COM, ActiveX, etc. Simply, unmanaged interop can be seen in three major forms:

  1. Interoperation with Native Libraries.
  2. Interoperation with COM components.
  3. Interoperation with ActiveX.

Interop with Native Libraries

This is the most famous form of .NET interop with unmanaged code. We usually call this technique, Platform Invocation, or simply PInvoke. Platform Invocation or PInvoke refers to the technique used to call functions of native unmanaged libraries such as the Windows API.

To PInvoke a function, you must declare it in your .NET code. That declaration is called the Managed Signature. To complete the managed signature, you need to know the following information about the function:

  1. The library file which the function resides in.
  2. Function name.
  3. Return type of the function.
  4. Input parameters.
  5. Other relevant information such as encoding.

Here comes a question, how could we handle types in unmanaged code that aren’t available in .NET (e.g. BOOL, LPCTSTR, etc.)?

The solution is in Marshaling. Marshaling is the process of converting unmanaged types into managed and vice versa (see figure 1.) That conversion can be done in many ways based on the type to be converted. For example, BOOL can simply be converted to System.Boolean, and LPCTSTR can be converted to System.String, System.Text.StringBuilder, or even System.Char[]. Compound types (like structures and unions) are usually don’t have counterparts in .NET code and thus you need to create them manually. Read our book about marshaling here.

Figure 1 - The Marshaling Process
Figure 1 – The Marshaling Process

To understand P/Invoke very well, we’ll take an example. The following code switches between mouse button functions, making the right button acts as the primary key, while making the left button acts as the secondary key.

In this code, we’ll use the SwapMouseButtons() function of the Win32 API which resides in user32.dll library and has the following declaration:

BOOL SwapMouseButton(
    BOOL fSwap
    );

Of course, the first thing is to create the managed signature (the PInvoke method) of the function in .NET:

// C#
[System.Runtime.InteropServices.DllImport("user32.dll")]
static extern bool SwapMouseButton(bool fSwap);
' VB.NET
Declare Auto Function SwapMouseButton Lib "user32.dll" _
    (ByVal fSwap As Boolean) As Boolean

Then we can call it:

// C#

public void MakeRightButtonPrimary()
{
    SwapMouseButton(true);
}

public void MakeLeftButtonPrimary()
{
    SwapMouseButton(false);
}
' VB.NET

Public Sub MakeRightButtonPrimary()
    SwapMouseButton(True)
End Sub

Public Sub MakeLeftButtonPrimary()
    SwapMouseButton(False)
End Sub

Interop with COM Components

The other form of unmanaged interoperation is the COM Interop. COM Interop is very large and much harder than P/Invoke and it has many ways to implement. For the sake of our discussion (this is just a sneak look at the technique,) we’ll take a very simple example.

COM Interop includes all COM-related technologies such as OLE, COM+, ActiveX, etc.

Of course, you can’t talk directly to unmanaged code. As you’ve seen in Platform Invocation, you have to declare your functions and types in your .NET code. How can you do this? Actually, Visual Studio helps you almost with everything so that you simply to include a COM-component in your .NET application, you go to the COM tab of the Add Reference dialog (figure 2) and select the COM component that you wish to add to your project, and you’re ready to use it!

Figure 2 - Adding Reference to SpeechLib Library
Figure 2 – Adding Reference to SpeechLib Library

When you add a COM-component to your .NET application, Visual Studio automatically declares all functions and types in that library for you. How? It creates a Proxy library (i.e. assembly) that contains the managed signatures of the unmanaged types and functions of the COM component and adds it to your .NET application.

The proxy acts as an intermediary layer between your .NET assembly and the COM-component. Therefore, your code actually calls the managed signatures in the proxy library that forwards your calls to the COM-component and returns back the results.

Keep in mind that proxy libraries also called Primary Interop Assemblies (PIAs) and Runtime Callable Wrappers (RCWs.)

Best mentioning that Visual Studio 2010 (or technically, .NET 4.0) has lots of improved features for interop. For example, now you don’t have to ship a proxy/PIA/RCW assembly along with your executable since the information in this assembly can now be embedded into your executable; this is what called, Interop Type Embedding.

Of course, you can create your managed signatures manually, however, it’s not recommended especially if you don’t have enough knowledge of the underlying technology and the marshaling of functions and types (you know what’s being said about COM!)

As an example, we’ll create a simple application that reads user inputs and speaks it. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a new Console application.
  2. Add a reference to the Microsoft Speech Object Library (see figure 2.)
  3. Write the following code and run your application:
// C#

using SpeechLib;

static void Main()
{
    Console.WriteLine("Enter the text to read:");
    string txt = Console.ReadLine();
    Speak(txt);
}

static void Speak(string text)
{
    SpVoice voice = new SpVoiceClass();
    voice.Speak(text, SpeechVoiceSpeakFlags.SVSFDefault);
}
' VB.NET

Imports SpeechLib

Sub Main()
    Console.WriteLine("Enter the text to read:")
    Dim txt As String = Console.ReadLine()
    Speak(txt)
End Sub

Sub Speak(ByVal text As String)
    Dim voice As New SpVoiceClass()
    voice.Speak(text, SpeechVoiceSpeakFlags.SVSFDefault)
End Sub

If you are using Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4.0 and the application failed to run because of Interop problems, try disabling Interop Type Embedding feature from the properties on the reference SpeechLib.dll.

Interop with ActiveX Controls

ActiveX is no more than a COM component that has an interface. Therefore, nearly all what we have said about COM components in the last section can be applied here except the way we add ActiveX components to our .NET applications.

To add an ActiveX control to your .NET application, you can right-click the Toolbox, select Choose Toolbox Items, switch to the COM Components tab and select the controls that you wish to use in your application (see figure 3.)

Figure 3 - Adding WMP Control to the Toolbox
Figure 3 – Adding WMP Control to the Toolbox

Another way is to use the aximp.exe tool provided by the .NET Framework (located in Program FilesMicrosoft SDKsWindowsv7.0Abin) to create the proxy assembly for the ActiveX component:

aximp.exe "C:WindowsSystem32wmp.dll"

Not surprisingly, you can create the proxy using the way for COM components discussed in the previous section, however, you won’t see any control that can be added to your form! That way creates control class wrappers for unmanaged ActiveX controls in that component.

Summary

So, unmanaged code interoperation comes in two forms: 1) PInvoke: interop with native libraries including the Windows API 2) COM-interop which includes all COM-related technologies like COM+, OLE, and ActiveX.

To PInvoke a method, you must declare it in your .NET code. The declaration must include 1) the library which the function resides in 2) the return type of the function 3) function arguments.

COM-interop also need function and type declaration and that’s usually done for you by the Visual Studio which creates a proxy (also called RCW and PIA) assembly that contains managed definitions of the unmanaged functions and types and adds it to your project.

Where to go next

Read more about Interoperability here.

More from this series:

.NET Interoperability at a Glance 2 – Managed Code Interoperation

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See more Interoperability examples here.

Contents

Contents of this article:

  • Contents
  • Read also
  • Overview
  • Introduction
  • Forms of Interop
  • Managed Code Interop
  • Summary
  • Where to go next

Read also

More from this series:

Overview

In the previous article, you learnt what interoperability is and how it relates to the .NET Framework. In this article, we’re going to talk about the first form of interoperability, the Managed Code Interop. In the next article, we’ll talk about the other forms.

Introduction

So, to understand Interoperation well in the .NET Framework, you must see it in action. In this article, we’ll talk about the first form of .NET interoperability and see how to implement it using the available tools.

Just a reminder, Interoperability is the process of communication between two separate systems. In .NET Interop, the first system is always the .NET Framework; the other system might be any other technology.

Forms of Interop

Interoperability in .NET Framework has two forms:

  • Managed Code Interoperability
  • Unmanaged Code Interoperability

Next, we have a short discussion of each of the forms.

Managed Code Interop

This was one of the main goals of .NET Framework. Managed Code Interoperability means that you can easily communicate with any other .NET assembly no matter what language used to build that assembly.

Not surprisingly, because of the nature of .NET Framework and its runtime engine (the CLR,) .NET code supposed to be called Managed Code, while any other code is  unmanaged.

To see this in action, let’s try this:

  1. Create a new Console application in the language you like (C#/VB.NET.)
  2. Add a new Class Library project to the solution and choose another language other than the one used in the first project.
  3. In the Class Library project, add the following code (choose the suitable project):
    // C#
    
    public static class Hello
    {
        public static string SayHello(string name)
        {
            return "Hello, " + name;
        }
    }
    ' VB.NET
    
    Public Module Hello
        Public Function SayHello(ByVal name As String) As String
            Return "Hello, " & name
        End Function
    End Module
  4. Now, go back to the Console application. Our goal is to call the function we have added to the other project. To do this, you must first add a reference to the library in the first project. Right-click the Console project in Solution Explorer and choose Add Reference to open the Add Reference dialog (figure 1.) Go to the Projects tab and select the class library project to add it.

    Figure 1 - Add Reference to a friend project

    Figure 1 - Add Reference to a friend project

  5. Now you can add the following code to the Console application to call the SayHello() function of the class library.
    // C#
    
    static void Main()
    {
        Console.WriteLine(ClassLibrary1.Hello.SayHello("Mohammad Elsheimy"));
    }
    ' VB.NET
    
    Sub Main()
        Console.WriteLine(ClassLibrary1.Hello.SayHello("Mohammad Elsheimy"))
    End Sub

How this happened? How could we use the VB.NET module in C# which is not available there (or the C#’s static class in VB which is not available there too)?

Not just that, but you can inherit C# classes from VB.NET (and vice versa) and do all you like as if both were created using the same language. The secret behind this is the Common Intermediate Language (CIL.)

When you compile your project, the compiler actually doesn’t convert your C#/VB.NET code to instructions in the Machine language. Rather, it converts your code to another language of the .NET Framework, which is the Common Intermediate Language. The Common Intermediate Language, or simply CIL, is the main language of .NET Framework which inherits all the functionalities of the framework, and which all other .NET languages when compiled are converted to it.

So, the CIL fits as a middle layer between your .NET language and the machine language. When you compile your project, the compiler converts your code to CIL statements and emits them in assembly file. In runtime, the compiler reads the CIL from the assembly and converts them to machine-readable statements.

How CIL helps in interoperation? The communication between .NET assemblies is now done through the CIL of the assemblies. Therefore, you don’t need to be aware of structures and statements that are not available in your language since every statement for any .NET language has a counterpart in IL. For example, both the C# static class and VB.NET module convert to CIL static abstract class (see figure 2.)

Figure 2 - CIL and other .NET languages

Figure 2 - CIL and other .NET languages

Managed Interop is not restricted to C# and VB.NET only; it’s about all languages run inside the CLR (i.e. based on .NET Framework.)

If we have a sneak look at the CIL generated from the Hello class which is nearly the same from both VB.NET and C#, we would see the following code:

.class public abstract auto ansi sealed beforefieldinit ClassLibrary1.Hello
       extends [mscorlib]System.Object
{

    .method public hidebysig static string  SayHello(string name) cil managed
    {
      // Code size       12 (0xc)
      .maxstack  8
      IL_0000:  ldstr      "Hello, "
      IL_0005:  ldarg.0
      IL_0006:  call       string [mscorlib]System.String::Concat(string,
                                                              string)
      IL_000b:  ret
    } // end of method Hello::SayHello

} // end of class ClassLibrary1.Hello

On the other hand, this is the code generated from the Main function (which is also the same from VB.NET/C#):

.class public abstract auto ansi sealed beforefieldinit ConsoleApplication1.Program
       extends [mscorlib]System.Object
{

    .method private hidebysig static void  Main() cil managed
    {
      .entrypoint
      .maxstack  8
      IL_0000:  ldstr      "Mohammad Elsheimy"
      IL_0005:  call       string [ClassLibrary1]ClassLibrary1.Hello::SayHello(string)
      IL_000a:  call       void [mscorlib]System.Console::WriteLine(string)
      IL_000f:  ret
    } // end of method Program::Main

} // end of class ConsoleApplication1.Program

You can use the ILDasm.exe tool to get the CIL code of an assembly. This tool is located in Program FilesMicrosoft SDKsWindows<version>bin.

Here comes a question, is there CIL developers? Could we write the CIL directly and build it into .NET assembly? Why we can’t find much (if not any) CIL developers? You can extract the answer from the CIL code itself. As you see, CIL is not so friendly and its statements are not so clear. Plus, if we could use common languages to generate the CIL, we we’d like to program in CIL directly? So it’s better to leave the CIL for the compiler.

Now, let’s see the other form of .NET interoperation, Unmanaged Code Interoperability.

Summary

So, the secret of Managed Code Interoperation falls in the Common Intermediate Language or CIL. When you compile your code, the compiler converts your C#/VB.NET (or any other .NET language) to CIL instructions and saves them in the assembly, and that’s the secret. The linking between .NET assemblies of different languages relies on the fact that the linking is actually done between CILs of the assemblies. The assembly code doesn’t (usually) have any clue about the language used to develop it. In the runtime, the compiler reads those instructions and converts them to machine instructions and execute them.

Next, we’ll talk about the other form of .NET Interoperation, it’s the interoperation with unmanaged code.

Where to go next

Read more about Interoperability here.

More from this series: