28 October, 2009

The hardest thing about programming.

When asked what the hardest thing about programming is, Bill Gates answered:

The hardest part is deciding what the algorithms are, and then simplifying them as much as you can. It’s difficult to get things down to their simplest forms. You have to simulate in your mind how the program’s going to work, and you have to have a complete grasp of how the various pieces of the program work together. The finest pieces of software are those where one individual has a complete sense of exactly how the program works. To have that, you have to really love the program and concentrate on keeping it simple, to an incredible degree.
What's interesting, however, is that the hardest thing about programming is also the best thing about programming.

I love programming because learning it is relatively easy, but mastering the art is extremely difficult. Like Gates says, reducing things to their simplest form is difficult - but fortunately, it's also beautiful. It's also true that the finest software is written by those who love the program and make a deliberate effort to keep it simple - and again, although difficult, being able to model an entire system in your head is pretty awesome!

06 October, 2009

Simple Events In ASP.NET MVC

We've been busy improving our customer facing applications. Our new marketing VP noticed some significant improvements that could be made in the workflow of our customer acquisition funnel.

Making the changes that our marketing VP recommended required some major code changes so we took the opportunity to move our web apps into ASP.NET MVC.

One of the early decisions we made was to put as little business and application logic on our controllers as possible. Finding a place for business logic is straightforward most of the time; it usually belongs in your (domain) Models.

Placing application logic in the right place gets a little more complicated. We don't really have services for stuff like sending out emails, etc. so we have to write classes to do all that work.

Invoking email code, authentication code, etc. right in the controller is an ugly solution. To solve our problem, I came up with a simple eventing mechanism that allows us to move all application code out of our controllers.

Let's first start with what the code in one of the controllers would look like:

[AcceptVerbs(HttpVerbs.Post), ValidateAntiForgeryToken]
public ActionResult Index(IndexModel model)
//code to interact with your model goes here.

//And now the event code:
AcmeEvents.Raise(new IndexRanEvent { IndexModel = model });


The great thing about the code above is that all sort of things could now happen once your index runs; there may be 1 or N subscribers to the event above. Furthermore, you could (at run time) change the code that runs when the event triggers... but I'm getting ahead of my self; we'll look at how that could happen in just a second.

Let's now look at the "raise event code". To do this, I decided to just use Unity's IoC container to resolve the code should trigger when the event get's raised:

public static void Raise<T>(T args) where T : IAcmeEvent
foreach(var handler in unityContainer.ResolveAll<Handles<T>>())

Some assumptions the code above makes: (1) IAcmeEvent has a Hanlde method; (2) by the time the Raise method runs, the IoC container must have been initialized to map the different "event types" to the specific implementations that will execute.

How you initialize the container is really not that important: you could do it in code, through a config, or any other method of your choice. What is important, however, is that when you initialize your container, you do it in such a way that code from other assemblies can execute. If you do this, you could literally just drop assemblies in your application and add to or change the behavior of your app.

So there you have it; a simple eventing mechanism to keep your MVC controllers unpolluted from application logic. I'm really happy about coming up with this solution; I hope you find it useful too.