Archive for the ‘.Net 3.5’ Category

Why Use var?

Ever since the var keyword was released in C#, I’ve struggled with using it. To me var felt like using variant or object in VB, even though logically I know it is not.

List<string> items = new List<string>();
var items = new List<string>();

Since I bought Resharper, it’s been nagging me to use var in my declarations, so I  have acquiesced. Today that paid off. I had to refactor something which caused a few type changes. It was so much easier to deal with because I used var instead of writing out the declaration the old way, there were just fewer changes. I’m now a complete convert to var, thanks Resharper.

Printing a PDF from a web page

The requirement in this case is to print a PDF document, but not allow the user to manipulate the PDF in any other way. The user should see the Print Dialog box and be able to manipulate the settings. This requirement was born out of an auditing policy where the document is audited differently for printing or viewing the PDF.  I found lots of web discussion about printing a pop-up window from the parent window, or trying to print the contents of an IFrame, but none of it worked for me. I was hit with security errors from IE about cross-domain issues, even though my pages were in the same domain, or just got a blank page. So to get a working solution, I had to step out of the web page.

The tool that really allowed me to do this is iTextSharp, a C# implementation of the iText open source java library for manipulating PDF files, and the fact that you can use JavaScript within a PDF file. I used an ASPX page which manipulates and streams the PDF file into a zero-height, zero-width IFrame to keep the user from manipulating the PDF in any way (I realize tech-savvy users could still get the PDF).  I embedded the JavaScript into the PDF, where it runs once the document is loaded and pops up the Print dialog from Adobe Reader (not the browser).

The JavaScript for printing a PDF is not so complex, I embedded it into a function:

protected string GetAutoPrintJs()
    var script = new StringBuilder();

    script.Append("var pp = getPrintParams();");
    script.Append("pp.interactive = pp.constants.interactionLevel.full;");

    return script.ToString();

In the code-behind for the ASPX page that will stream the PDF and place the script inside the PDF file, I built this function:

protected void StreamPdf(Stream pdfSource)
    var outputStream = new MemoryStream();

    var pdfReader = new PdfReader(pdfSource);

    var pdfStamper = new PdfStamper(pdfReader, outputStream);

    //Add the auto-print javascript
    var writer = pdfStamper.Writer;


    var content = outputStream.ToArray();
    Response.ContentType = "application/pdf";

The PDFReader and PDFStamper  classes are members of the iTextSharp library. I used the classes together to get the stream for output and also access to PDFWriter object that allowed me to add the JavaScript.

A 64-bit 32-bit Dilemma

I recently ran into an interesting situation that I was able to solve through code. The project was to create a document migration tool, something I’ve done many times, so it seemed pretty straightforward. I was moving documents and metadata from a 3rd party content management system to SharePoint 2007. I was developing on a 32-bit OS on a machine provided by my client. The source system had an API, albeit 32-bit COM. There was some example code in their SDK for VB6, so at least there was something. It was easy enough to create a .Net wrapper to that COM DLL and figure out the API. The SharePoint code was not too difficult either, something I’ve done before. In this case I had to use the API, not the web services because I wanted to keep the original file created/modified dates from the source system. You can’t set those using the web services. Therefore, the tool is forced to run on the SharePoint server (this is important factor for the upcoming dilemma). Luckily the source system was accessible remotely.

Works on My Machine

Of course, in my dev environment everything works great. So I copy my app to a SharePoint server to test in an environment more like production. It crashes immediately with a COM exception:

 Retrieving the COM class factory for component with CLSID {FDD9199A-1BB4-4433-B9E1-D550D3118676} failed due to the following error: 80040154.

What?? After a little research I determine the problem: the SharePoint server is 64-bit. My .Net code was compiled for any CPU, so it ran as 64-bit on the server, while it was 32-bit on my dev box. When compiled for 64-bit, it can’t access the 32-bit COM DLL (there might be a solution for this, I didn’t find it). I went back, and forced the code to compile for 32-bit. The app soared right past the error for the COM DLL, but came to a screeching halt when trying to access the SharePoint API. If SharePoint is installed on a 64-bit server, the code has to run compiled for 64-bit in order to access the API. Now you see the dilemma. I have to use a 32-bit only COM DLL and a 64-bit app for accessing SharePoint. I can’t skirt the issue using the SharePoint web services because I need functionality only available in the API.

My Solution

I decided on using two applications, one compiled for 32-bit which accesses the source system and fetches the data, and a second one compiled for 64-bit to access the SharePoint API. Five years ago I probably would have done the same thing, and write the data to an XML file from the first app, and then launch the second app and read the data from the file. There were hundreds of thousands of documents to migrate, all that disk access would be a performance killer. But now that I have WCF, I could do this much more elegantly.


The 32-bit app contained the UI, and was able to use the 32-bit COM DLL to fetch documents and metadata. Once it had a logical set of data in memory, it used WCF with named pipes as the transport protocol to pass the data structure to the second app. The second app was 64-bit, and launched by the first app as a process using the System.Diagnostics namespace. It communicated just fine with the SharePoint API. The second app had no GUI, but I kept the console window for writing messages and to provide a way to manually exit the app in case things went awry. The first app kept a handle on the process that launched the second app, so that when a user closed the first app, it could close the second app for  the user.

WCF was a good fit for this dilemma. The only issue I encountered was managing the message size, because WCF expects you to configure a maximum size for that. Of course configuring WCF is not that easy, but you only have to do it once. I was pleased that I could make a mex endpoint in the 64-bit app, and then use Visual Studio to make a Service reference to it from the 32-bit app, and the configuration comes out for named pipes even though the mex endpoint was http. Another feature I didn’t know but managed to discover. In the end, the process is seamless to the user, and does what I need without much disk access to slow it down.

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Using Linq Against a Custom ConfigurationElementCollection

By default, ConfigurationElementCollections don’t implement IEnumerable<T>, so if you are using custom configuration sections you can’t query them with linq. I found a casting solution, but I figured I could do better because the custom configuration classes are under my control, so it would be cleaner to implement the required functionality instead of using the clunky cast in the code consuming the collection. I implemented IEnumerable<T> against the ConfigurationElementCollection. It’s pretty straightforward, just calling the base class BaseGet function and casting the result properly using the As keyword. Now I can execute linq queries against my collection.

using System;

using System.Collections.Generic;

using System.Configuration;


namespace Config.Demo


    public class MapConfig : ConfigurationSection



        public MapConfigCollection Fields { get { return this[“fields”] as MapConfigCollection; } }


    public class MapConfigElement : ConfigurationElement



        public string Server { get { return this[“server”] as string; } }



        public string Name { get { return this[“name”] as string; } }



        public int Id { get { return (int)this[“id”]; } }


    public class MapConfigCollection : ConfigurationElementCollection, IEnumerable<MapConfigElement>


        public MapConfigElement this[int index]


            get { return base.BaseGet(index) as MapConfigElement; }



                if (base.BaseGet(index) != null)



                    this.BaseAdd(index, value);





        protected override ConfigurationElement CreateNewElement()


            return new MapConfigElement();



        protected override object GetElementKey(ConfigurationElement element)


            return ((MapConfigElement)element).Id;



        #region IEnumerable<MapConfigElement> Members


        public new IEnumerator<MapConfigElement> GetEnumerator()


            int count = base.Count;

            for (int i = 0; i < count; i++)


                yield return base.BaseGet(i) as MapConfigElement;







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Creating an Extraction Rule for VSTS 2008 Web Tests

Extraction rules are essentially for finding data in the HTTP response and placing it in the output context of the web test. There are a few built-in tests, but they mostly focus on the HTML tags themselves and the attributes. In my case I really needed the data between span tags. I think this could probably be done with the existing rules and some regular expressions, but I couldn’t resist the chance to write some code and learn something new.

All you need to do is place the class file in the Test Project and compile it. The rule automatically becomes available to the tests in the project.  Here is my class that finds a span for a given ClientId. It overrides the Execute method of the ExtractionRule base class and attempts to find a span for the given ID. If the span is found, it parses the HTML string to find the content of the span tag.

namespace WebTestDemo


    [System.ComponentModel.DisplayName(“Span Extractor”)]

    public class ExtractSpan : ExtractionRule


        // The name of the desired input field

        private string nameValue;

        public string ClientId


            get { return nameValue; }

            set { nameValue = value; }



        public override void Extract(object sender, ExtractionEventArgs e)


            string[] tagTypeFilter = new string[] { “span” };


            //Fail the test if nothing is found (this may need to be modified)

            e.Success = false;


            if (e.Response.HtmlDocument != null && e.Response.IsHtml)




                    //Find the span tag based on ID. Exception if none found

                    HtmlTag result = e.Response.HtmlDocument.GetFilteredHtmlTags(tagTypeFilter).First(t => string.Equals(t.GetAttributeValueAsString(“ID”), this.nameValue, StringComparison.OrdinalIgnoreCase));


                    //The span was found (no exception), now find the data


                    //Get the location of the ID in the span tag

                    int startPosition = e.Response.BodyString.IndexOf(this.nameValue);


                    //Find the position of the data immediately following the closing angle bracket of the span,

                    //  accounting for the > character as well

                    startPosition = e.Response.BodyString.IndexOf(“>”, startPosition) + 1;


                    //Get the position of the closing tag for the span

                    int endPosition = e.Response.BodyString.IndexOf(“</span>”, startPosition);


                    //Fetch the content

                    string content = e.Response.BodyString.Substring(startPosition, endPosition – startPosition);


                    //Add the value to the context output. This could just as easily go to a file or a DB

                    // this step is not necessary for the extraction to succeed

                    e.WebTest.Context.Add(this.ContextParameterName, content);


                    //Mark the extraction as successful

                    e.Success = true;


                catch (Exception)


                    e.Success = false;

                    e.WebTest.Context.Add(this.ContextParameterName, string.Format(“span tag id={0} not found”, this.nameValue));






Now that I have the class, I need to wire it up to a URL in a web test. Right-click the URL and choose Add Extraction Rule…


I need to set two properties:

  1. Context Parameter Name. This comes from the base ExtractionRule class, and is the name for the data that ends up in the output.
  2. ClientId. This is a custom property from my class. It is the ClientId of the rendered control in the HTML output. The class finds the span with this name and returns the data.

Now when I run the test, if the ClientId I specified was found, it shows up in the Context output after running the test. The Context Parameter Name was “SpanData” in this case:


This could be made more robust by not coding specifically for spans. Certainly there could be issues if the tag ID is used more than once or if there is significant nesting of spans within the tag you are trying to find. This code is intended to prove out the concept, it could certainly be made stronger.

One thing I want to mention is that all the code samples I have run across (MSDN included) show the RuleName property as the way to display the extraction rule name in the Visual Studio UI. But under compilation this property comes up as obsolete. I found the answer on Ed Glas’s blog. The obsolete message mentioned using attributes, but this info was not discoverable, so I was quite grateful for that posting to get the syntax correct.

Helpful Links

Must Read VSTS – Testing Related Blogs and Introductory Articles

How to: Create a Custom Extraction Rule

Custom Extraction Rule and Generating a Code Test from VSTS

Another “Why didn’t someone tell me this earlier” Post

90% of the projects I work on need to send emails, and most clients don’t allow developer SMTP servers floating around their network (for good reason). So a big headache ensues trying to get access to an Exchange or SMTP server somewhere. I have been doing this same dance for years. But today I find a blog post about sending emails without an SMTP server. The .Net calls to SMTP just write the emails out on the file system. It’s just configuration even. So much to know, so little time.

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Casting a Null

Found an interesting tidbit today. There is an ASP.NET page that is using session variables. The user has visited the page, and populated the session. But then the user lingers, and the session times out on a page that is not protected. The user then clicks a button, and the following line of C# code executes:

User foo = (User)Session[“bar”];

So what should happen here? An Exception? That’s what I would have thought. But not true. Since the session has expired, the session variable is now null, and you can cast a null into another data type having a value of null. Just as long as that type is nullable. So the line above is the same as:

User foo = (User)null;

which is perfectly valid.

I got the null reference exception down the line when trying to access a property of foo. So once again, defensive programming is the rule. Check your session variables for null!

LINQ: Selecting in Nested Collections

This took me longer than it should have to figure it out, so I am documenting it for later reuse. The case here is described as such:

I have a collection of person objects, which themselves contain a collection of address objects. I want to find all the addresses in a given city:

public class Address


     public string Street { get; set; }

     public string City { get; set; }

     public string Region { get; set; }

     public string Postal { get; set; }

     public AddressType Location { get; set; }



public class Person


     public string Name { get; set; }

     public string ID { get; set; }

     public string Title { get; set; }

     public List<Address> Addresses { get; set; }



IEnumerable<Address> results = from guy in allPersons

                               from addressResult in guy.Addresses

                               where addressResult City == “London”

                               select addressResult;

I understand this is similar to a join in a SQL statement, but in my case the data does not come from a database but a service where I can’t control data selection in that way.

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Invalid postback or callback argument – AJAX Control Toolkit

I was working to add some Ajax interactivity to a page that needed some asynchronous workings. Unfortunately, after displaying a ModalPopupExtender and the user clicking the Close button on the “popup”, the page would throw the following exception:

System.ArgumentException occurred
  Message=”Invalid postback or callback argument.  Event validation is enabled using <pages enableEventValidation=\”true\”/> in configuration or <%@ Page EnableEventValidation=\”true\” %> in a page.  For security purposes, this feature verifies that arguments to postback or callback events originate from the server control that originally rendered them.  If the data is valid and expected, use the ClientScriptManager.RegisterForEventValidation method in order to register the postback or callback data for validation.”
       at System.Web.UI.ClientScriptManager.ValidateEvent(String uniqueId, String argument)

There are lots of explanations out there for this kind of problem, but none of the common answers really fit. The most common answer was to disable event validation. That wasn’t a good answer for me, I don’t think disabling an important security feature because you have complex code is a good solution. The other common answer was to override the render event to register the control posting back with the ScriptManager. This did not work at all for me.

After finding an reading through this post and the comments, I realized the problem was indeed in the code. After the call to ModalPopupExtender.Show(), the original code was re-binding a grid on the page. This order of events was causing the problem. I changed the binding to occur before the call to the ModalPopupExtender by changing which event containing the rebinding call, and the error went away.

Linq Foray

I’m working on a website with lots of user controls interacting with one another using ASP.NET Ajax using events. So I end up needing to find other controls often, especially within repeaters. Nested controls all over the place. I found this wonderful post about using an extension method to the Controls Collection that flattens the tree and allows for much simpler Linq queries. The extension method adds and All() function which is seriously useful.