Microsoft Feature Flags: Controlling Features with Feature Filters (Microsoft.FeatureManagement)

This is the third part in a series.

So far in this series, the configured feature flags have either been set to on (true) or off (false):

"FeatureManagement": {
  "Printing": true,
  "LiveChat": false
}

In addition to setting an absolute value, you can also make use of feature filters.

Essentially feature filters allow you to create conditional feature flags.

There are currently two feature filters built into the library and you can also create your own.

Percentage Feature Filter

If you want a feature enabled only for a percentage of users you can apply the Microsoft.Percentage feature filter.

To configure a feature filter in appsettings.json, instead of specifying a value of true/false, instead you add an EnabledFor section. For example to configure the Printing feature to be enabled 50% of the time:

{
  "Logging": {
    "LogLevel": {
      "Default": "Information",
      "Microsoft": "Warning",
      "Microsoft.Hosting.Lifetime": "Information"
    }
  },
  "AllowedHosts": "*",
  "FeatureManagement": {
    "Printing": {
      "EnabledFor": [
        {
          "Name": "Microsoft.Percentage",
          "Parameters": {
            "Value": 50
          }
        }
      ]
    },
    "LiveChat": false
  }
}

If you run the app now  you’ll get an error because feature filters have to be registered. In an ASP.NET Core app this can be done by chaining on the AddFeatureFilter method, for example in the Startup.cs  as follows:

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
    services.AddControllersWithViews();

    services.AddFeatureManagement()
            .AddFeatureFilter<PercentageFilter>();
}

To get access to the PercentageFilter you’ll need to add a using directive for Microsoft.FeatureManagement.FeatureFilters.

Now if you run the app (e.g. an ASP.NET Core web app) the printing feature will be available for 50% of requests.

Time Window Feature Filter

The second built-in feature filter, Microsoft.TimeWindow, allows a feature to be enabled for a specified range of time.

The first thing is to register the feature filter:

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
    services.AddControllersWithViews();

    services.AddFeatureManagement()
            .AddFeatureFilter<TimeWindowFilter>();
}

Next the configuration can be changed.

The time window feature filter accepts two parameters in the config, a Start date/time and an End date/time, for example the following feature would be enabled at 1 second past midnight for New Year’s Day 2021 and be disable at the end of the 1st Jan:

{
  "Logging": {
    "LogLevel": {
      "Default": "Information",
      "Microsoft": "Warning",
      "Microsoft.Hosting.Lifetime": "Information"
    }
  },
  "AllowedHosts": "*",
  "FeatureManagement": {
    "Printing": {
      "EnabledFor": [
        {
          "Name": "Microsoft.TimeWindow",
          "Parameters": {
            "Start": "Fri, 01 Jan 2021 00:00:01 GMT",
            "End": "Fri, 01 Jan 2021 23:59:59 GMT"
          }
        }
      ]
    },
    "LiveChat": false
  }
}

You can also specify that a feature should be enable after a specific date/time forever after by not specifying an end date, for example to enable a feature from the 1st may 2020, 1PM GMT:

"FeatureManagement": {
"Printing": {
  "EnabledFor": [
    {
      "Name": "Microsoft.TimeWindow",
      "Parameters": {
        "Start": "Fri, 01 May 2020 13:00:00 GMT"            
      }
    }
  ]
},

If you want a feature to be on until a date/time and then be off after that then you can just specify the end date, for example to have a feature enabled and then automatically turn off 5:10 AM on 15th may 2020:

"FeatureManagement": {
"Printing": {
  "EnabledFor": [
    {
      "Name": "Microsoft.TimeWindow",
      "Parameters": {
        "End": "Fri, 15 May 2020 05:10:00 GMT"
      }
    }
  ]
},

There is another advanced type of feature filtering called “targeting” that can be used to roll out new features based on a complex set of rules – I’ll cover this in a future part of this series.

You can also define your own feature filters which we’ll look at in the next part in this series.

SHARE:

Using C# Source Generators with Microsoft Feature Management Feature Flags

C# Source Generators allow you to generate and compile source code dynamically. You can read more about them in this previous article.

In my series on Microsoft Feature Management, part 2 showed how to reduce magic strings by using an enum.

Using this approach still requires that the enum and the configuration file be manually kept in sync.

One use case for C# Source Generators (that are currently in preview) is to generate code from a file in the project, for example generating a class from an XML settings file.

We can process any external file in a source generator, including json files such as appsettings.json.

This means that if the feature flags are defined in the appsettings.json file, we can create a source generator to read this file and output an enum containing all the features that have been defined in the appsettings.json. This means that the feature flags in the app will always be in sync with configuration file. It also means that if you were to remove a flag from the appsettings.json then compilation would break if you were still referencing the feature flag in the app.

Creating a C# Source Generator

To get this all to work in Visual Studio 2019 Preview first create a new .NET Standard 2.0 class library project called FeatureFlagGenerator.

Modify the FeatureFlagGenerator.csproj to the following:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">
    <PropertyGroup>
        <TargetFramework>netstandard2.0</TargetFramework>
        <LangVersion>preview</LangVersion>
    </PropertyGroup>
    
    <PropertyGroup>
        <RestoreAdditionalProjectSources>https://pkgs.dev.azure.com/dnceng/public/_packaging/dotnet5/nuget/v3/index.json ;$(RestoreAdditionalProjectSources)</RestoreAdditionalProjectSources>
    </PropertyGroup>
    
    <ItemGroup>
        <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.CSharp.Workspaces" Version="3.6.0-3.20207.2" PrivateAssets="all" />
        <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Analyzers" Version="3.0.0-beta2.final" PrivateAssets="all" />
    </ItemGroup>
</Project>

Next add a new class called FeatureFlagEnumGenerator with the following code:

using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis;
using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Text;

namespace FeatureFlagGenerator
{
    [Generator]
    public class FeatureFlagEnumGenerator : ISourceGenerator
    {
        public void Execute(SourceGeneratorContext context)
        {
            IEnumerable<AdditionalText> files = context.AdditionalFiles.Where(at => at.Path.EndsWith("appsettings.json"));

            AdditionalText appsettings = files.First();

            StringBuilder enumString = new StringBuilder();

            enumString.AppendLine("namespace GeneratedCode");
            enumString.AppendLine("{");

            enumString.AppendLine("   public enum GeneratedFeatureFlags");
            enumString.AppendLine("   {");

            // Doing this manually because referencing JsonDocument etc causes unknown errors
            // Not very robust code, POC only
            bool isInFeatureManagamentSection = false;
            foreach (var line in appsettings.GetText(context.CancellationToken).Lines)
            {               
                if (isInFeatureManagamentSection && line.ToString().Contains("}"))
                {
                    isInFeatureManagamentSection = false;
                }

                if (isInFeatureManagamentSection)
                {
                    int featureNameStartIndex = line.ToString().IndexOf('"')+1;
                    int featureNameEndIndex = line.ToString().IndexOf(':')-1;
                    enumString.AppendLine(line.ToString().Substring(featureNameStartIndex, featureNameEndIndex - featureNameStartIndex) + ",");
                }

                if (line.ToString().Contains("FeatureManagement"))
                {
                    isInFeatureManagamentSection = true;
                }
            }

            enumString.AppendLine("   }");
            enumString.AppendLine("}");

            SourceText sourceText = SourceText.From(enumString.ToString(), Encoding.UTF8);
            const string desiredFileName = "GeneratedFeaturesEnum.cs";
            context.AddSource(desiredFileName, sourceText);
        }

        public void Initialize(InitializationContext context)
        {
            // Advanced usage
            
        }
    }
}

Essentially the preceding code will search for the appsettings.json file in the project where the source generator is being used and then find all the configured feature flag names - for some reason trying to use System.Text.Json was causing errors so I implemented a very clunky solution using string manipulation.

Using a C# Source Generator

Now the generator is defined, it can be used in another project.

Go and add a new ASP.NET Core MVC project to the solution and modify the .csproj file to the following:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web">

  <PropertyGroup>
      <TargetFramework>net5.0</TargetFramework>
      <LangVersion>preview</LangVersion>
  </PropertyGroup>

  <ItemGroup>
    <AdditionalFiles Include="appsettings.json">
      <CopyToOutputDirectory>PreserveNewest</CopyToOutputDirectory>
    </AdditionalFiles>
  </ItemGroup>

  <ItemGroup>
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.FeatureManagement.AspNetCore" Version="2.0.0" />      
  </ItemGroup>

  <ItemGroup>
    <ProjectReference Include="..\FeatureFlagGenerator\FeatureFlagGenerator.csproj" OutputItemType="Analyzer" ReferenceOutputAssembly="false" />
  </ItemGroup>

</Project>

There is a secret ingredient in the preceding project file and that is the AdditionalFiles Include="appsettings.json" part. This makes the file available to C# Source Generators and took me a while to work out.

Now when the web application is built, the source generator will run and create an enum with every configured flag name.

For example given the following appsettings.json:

{
  "Logging": {
    "LogLevel": {
      "Default": "Information",
      "Microsoft": "Warning",
      "Microsoft.Hosting.Lifetime": "Information"
    }
  },
  "AllowedHosts": "*",
  "FeatureManagement": {
    "Printing": true,
    "LiveChat": true
  }
}

This will generate and compile the following into the web application dll:

namespace GeneratedCode
{
  public enum GeneratedFeatureFlags
  {
    Printing,
    LiveChat,
  }
}

Notice the Printing and LiveChat enum values come from the appsettings FeatureManagement section.

Now the feature flags can be referenced in code:

if (await _featureManager.IsEnabledAsync(nameof(GeneratedCode.GeneratedFeatureFlags.Printing)))
{
    ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "On";
}
else
{
    ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "Off";
}

Or in the UI:

<feature name="@nameof(GeneratedCode.GeneratedFeatureFlags.Printing)">
    <li class="nav-item">
        <a class="nav-link text-dark" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Print">Print Preview</a>
    </li>
</feature>

It is these kinds of use cases, where there would otherwise be manual boilerplate code work, that C# Source Generators will be really useful.

SHARE:

Reducing Magic Strings with Microsoft Feature Toggles (Microsoft.FeatureManagement)

This is the second part in a series.

One of the downsides of Microsoft’s feature flags/feature toggle implementation is the reliance on magic strings in code to query the status of features.

For example, the following code checks for the state of the Printing feature:

if (await _featureManager.IsEnabledAsync("Printing"))
{
    ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "On";
}
else
{
    ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "Off";
}

Notice in the preceding code that the feature is referenced with the string “Printing”. These kind of magic strings in code can be problematic because they have no sematic compiler meaning, for example if the feature is mentioned in multiple places and the name of the feature changes in configuration you would need to update all the strings in the codebase. It is easy to miss one and then end up with errors in the app.

In the documentation, the recommended approach is to define an enum containing the feature you want to control, for example:

public enum Features
{
    Printing,
    QuickQuotes,
    OnlineChat
}

Now the code can be refactored to make use of the enum in conjunction with a nameof expression:

if (await _featureManager.IsEnabledAsync(nameof(Features.Printing)))
{
    ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "On";
}
else
{
    ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "Off";
}

There are a number of things that can (and should) happen when using feature toggles/flags. One of which is that when a feature becomes permanent then the toggle and associated code should be removed. First this means removing it from configuration, which as I mentioned in part 1 will not actually break anything. The next step will be to remove it from the enum, doing this will actually break compilation (which is a good thing) if the enum value is referenced in a nameof expression. The next step is to fix compilation errors by removing the conditional code that relies on the flag/toggle.

In part 1 I mentioned the <feature> tag helper that can be used to enable/disable UI elements based on a flag:

<feature name="Printing">
    <li class="nav-item">
        <a class="nav-link text-dark" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Print">Print Preview</a>
    </li>
</feature>

Notice in the preceding HTML that the name of the feature is still represented as a magic string “Printing”. If the enum value and config are removed, compilation will not beak if this HTML still exists. We can fix this by one again using nameof in the view:

<feature name="@nameof(Features.Printing)">
    <li class="nav-item">
        <a class="nav-link text-dark" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Print">Print Preview</a>
    </li>
</feature>

Now if we removed Printing from the enum we get a compilation error and we won’t accidentally release an app to production with incorrect UI elements.

SHARE:

Using the Microsoft Feature Toggle Library in ASP.NET Core (Microsoft.FeatureManagement)

This is the first part in a series.

As the creator of the open source FeatureToggle library for .NET it was with some interest that I learned about Microsoft’s own offering to the feature toggle/feature flags landscape.

Microsoft’s offering is know as “.NET Core Feature Management” and they use the term “feature flag” in place of other terms such as “feature toggle”, “feature flappers”, etc. The root namespace is “Microsoft.FeatureManagement”.

Getting Started with Microsoft Feature Management in ASP.NET Core

As a simple example, first create a new ASP.NET Core 3.1 web app project with MVC support and then install the Microsoft.FeatureManagement.AspNetCore NuGet package.

Next, open the Startup.cs class, add a using directive for Microsoft.FeatureManagement and opt in to feature management:

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
    services.AddControllersWithViews();

    services.AddFeatureManagement();
}

Feature flags can be configured in a number of ways, such as in appsettings.json, environment variables, and Azure App Configuration.

Open up the appsettings.json file and add a feature to be managed in a new FeatureManagement section, for example the following defines a feature called “Printing”:

{
  "Logging": {
    "LogLevel": {
      "Default": "Information",
      "Microsoft": "Warning",
      "Microsoft.Hosting.Lifetime": "Information"
    }
  },
  "AllowedHosts": "*",
  "FeatureManagement": {
    "Printing": true    
  }
}

In the preceding json, the Printing feature is currently enabled.

Now we have a configured feature flag/toggle we can make use of it.

Programmatically Querying Feature Flags in Controllers

If you want to execute conditional logic in a controller based on a feature flag you can do this by first getting a reference to an IFeatureManager. To do this, it can be injected as a dependency into the controller via its constructor:

private readonly IFeatureManager _featureManager;

public HomeController(IFeatureManager featureManager)
{
    _featureManager = featureManager;
}

Now the IFeatureManager instance can be used to make decisions by calling the IsEnabledAsync method and providing the string of the feature that was configured in the appsettings.json – in this case “Printing”:

public async Task<IActionResult> Index()
{
    if (await _featureManager.IsEnabledAsync("Printing"))
    {
        ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "On";
    }
    else
    {
        ViewData["PrintMessage"] = "Off";
    }
    
    return View();
}

In the view you could have some HTML to output the contents of the PrintMessage viewdata:

@{
    ViewData["Title"] = "Home Page";
}

<div class="text-center">
    <h1 class="display-4">Welcome</h1>
    <p>Printing is currently @ViewData["PrintMessage"]</p>
</div>

In the controller you could of course do more complex logic such as calling additional services or swapping out different algorithms based on flags.

One thing I don’t like about the FeatureManagement library is that if a flag is not configured or has a typo in the configuration, then the app still runs with the feature disabled. By default I think that the app should error if  a flag is used but not defined, otherwise you may have important features/logic that does not get executed; I feel that the sooner you know about these kind of problems the better. For example some important legal/compliance text might not be shown when it should.

Managing Controllers and Actions Based On Feature Flags

Controller actions (and also entire controllers) can be enabled/disabled based on a feature flag. For example an action could be based on the printing flag by decorating the action method with the [FeatureGate] attribute as follows:

[FeatureGate("Printing")]
public IActionResult Print()
{
    return View();
}

If you try and navigate to the Print page when the flag is disabled then you’ll get a 404.

You can also apply the [FeatureGate] attribute at the controller class level and this will affect all actions contained therein.

Modifying The Generated HTML View Based On Flags

Sometimes you will have UI elements that should be shown or hidden based on a flag.

To control an entire block of HTML you can surround it with the <feature> tag. To enable this you should first modify _ViewImports.cshtml and add the tag helper as shown below:

@using WebApplication1
@using WebApplication1.Models
@addTagHelper *, Microsoft.AspNetCore.Mvc.TagHelpers
@addTagHelper *, Microsoft.FeatureManagement.AspNetCore

As an example, suppose we have disabled the Print page/action – we would also not want it to be displayed in the menu. We could modify the HTML to make the menu item display conditional on the Printing flag:

<nav class="navbar navbar-expand-sm navbar-toggleable-sm navbar-light bg-white border-bottom box-shadow mb-3">
    <div class="container">
        <a class="navbar-brand" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Index">WebApplication1</a>
        <button class="navbar-toggler" type="button" data-toggle="collapse" data-target=".navbar-collapse" aria-controls="navbarSupportedContent"
                aria-expanded="false" aria-label="Toggle navigation">
            <span class="navbar-toggler-icon"></span>
        </button>
        <div class="navbar-collapse collapse d-sm-inline-flex flex-sm-row-reverse">
            <ul class="navbar-nav flex-grow-1">
                <li class="nav-item">
                    <a class="nav-link text-dark" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Index">Home</a>
                </li>
                <li class="nav-item">
                    <a class="nav-link text-dark" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Privacy">Privacy</a>
                </li>
                <feature name="Printing">
                    <li class="nav-item">
                        <a class="nav-link text-dark" asp-area="" asp-controller="Home" asp-action="Print">Print Preview</a>
                    </li>
                </feature>
            </ul>
        </div>
    </div>
</nav>

Notice in the preceding HTML that the <feature name=”Printing”> element is wrapped around the printing menu option <li>.

Now if the Printing flag is set to true the menu item will be shown, otherwise it won’t appear in the rendered HTML.

SHARE:

C# Source Generators: Less Boilerplate Code, More Productivity

One exciting feature of the upcoming .NET 5 are Source Generators.

Source Generators as the name suggests generate C# source code as part of the compilation process. Code generation is not a new concept in Visual Studio and .NET – for example T4 templates have been around for a while now and enable you to programmatically generate/transform content that can be compiled. There are also techniques such as IL Weaving that tools such as Fody use to manipulate the assembly that is produced from the compilation process.

Source Generators essentially enable you to add new code dynamically as part of the build process, for example adding new classes based on the hand written code in the project.

One thing to note is that Source Generators are designed to add additional generated code and not modify the code you have already written.

Source Generators can examine the existing code you have written and make decisions about what new code to generate, they can also access other files to determine what to generate.

When using Source Generators the sequence looks like this: Begin Compilation –> Any Source Generators Being Used? –> Yes –> Analyse Source Code –> Generate New Source Code –> Add Generated Source Code to Compilation –> Compile Hand-Written and Generated Source Into Output Assembly.

Creating a Simple C# Source Generator

Step 1: Creating the Source Generator

The first step is to actually define the Source Generator, this is done by creating a separate project and once it’s created, referencing it in the project you want to add generated source to.

First off you will need Visual Studio Preview and .NET 5 Preview installed.

Once installed, open VS Preview and create a new C# .NET Standard 2.0 Class Library Project project called “CheeseSourceGenerator”.

Once the project is created, you’ll need to modify the project file by double clicking on it. Source Generators are currently in preview so we can expect better tooling support in the final versions. Change the project file to the following:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">
    <PropertyGroup>
        <TargetFramework>netstandard2.0</TargetFramework>
        <LangVersion>preview</LangVersion>
    </PropertyGroup>
    
    <PropertyGroup>
        <RestoreAdditionalProjectSources>https://pkgs.dev.azure.com/dnceng/public/_packaging/dotnet5/nuget/v3/index.json ;$(RestoreAdditionalProjectSources)</RestoreAdditionalProjectSources>
    </PropertyGroup>
    
    <ItemGroup>
        <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.CSharp.Workspaces" Version="3.6.0-3.20207.2" PrivateAssets="all" />
        <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Analyzers" Version="3.0.0-beta2.final" PrivateAssets="all" />
    </ItemGroup>
</Project>

Save the project file and build the project to check there are no errors.

The next thing to do is to actually define a Source Generator. To do this add a new class to hold the generator called “Generator” and implement the ISourceGenerator interface and decorate the class with the [Generator] attribute – both of these are from the Microsoft.CodeAnalysis namespace:

using System;
using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis;


namespace CheeseSourceGenerator
{
    [Generator]
    public class Generator : ISourceGenerator
    {
        public void Execute(SourceGeneratorContext context)
        {
            throw new NotImplementedException();
        }

        public void Initialize(InitializationContext context)
        {
            throw new NotImplementedException();
        }
    }
}

The Execute method is where the actual source code generation takes place and the Initialize method allows for some more complex scenarios. In this simple example we’ll just add code to the Generate method and leave the method empty.

In this simple example we’ll just add a new class to the compilation – in this simple example there is no logic involved in the generation:

using System;
using System.Text;
using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis;
using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Text;

namespace CheeseSourceGenerator
{
    [Generator]
    public class Generator : ISourceGenerator
    {
        public void Execute(SourceGeneratorContext context)
        {
            const string source = @"
namespace GeneratedCheese
{
    public class CheeseChooser
    {
        public string BestCheeseForPasta => ""Parmigiano-Reggiano"";
        public string BestCheeseForBakedPotato => ""Mature Cheddar"";
    }
}
";
            const string desiredFileName = "CheeseChooser.cs";
            
            SourceText sourceText = SourceText.From(source, Encoding.UTF8); // If no encoding specified then SourceText is not debugable

            // Add the "generated" source to the compilation
            context.AddSource(desiredFileName, sourceText);
        }

        public void Initialize(InitializationContext context)
        {
            // Advanced usage
        }
    }
}

Notice in the preceding code that the SourceGeneratorContext passed to the Execute method is the object that allows us to add the source to the compilation.

Build the project. At this point no source code generation has taken place, we’ve just compiled the generator into an assembly.

Step 2: Register the C# Source Generator in a Project

Add a new .NET Core Console project to the solution called “CheeseConsole”.

Once created add a project reference to the CheeseSourceGenerator project. This will allow the console app to generate source code as part of its compilation.

The project file will now look like:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">

  <PropertyGroup>
    <OutputType>Exe</OutputType>
    <TargetFramework>net5.0</TargetFramework>
  </PropertyGroup>

  <ItemGroup>
    <ProjectReference Include="..\Cheese\CheeseSourceGenerator.csproj" />
  </ItemGroup>

</Project>

To actually opt-in to the code generation, the CheeseConsole project file needs to modified to add <LangVersion>preview</LangVersion> and change the reference to the generator project to be an analyser reference:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">

  <PropertyGroup>
    <OutputType>Exe</OutputType>
    <TargetFramework>net5.0</TargetFramework>
    <LangVersion>preview</LangVersion>
  </PropertyGroup>

  <ItemGroup>
      <ProjectReference Include="..\Cheese\CheeseSourceGenerator.csproj" 
                        OutputItemType="Analyzer"
                        ReferenceOutputAssembly="false"/>
  </ItemGroup>

</Project>

If you build everything now you should see no errors.

Step 3: Use the Generated Code

In the console app Program.cs add a using directive to the namespace that was used in the source code string, namely using GeneratedCheese;

In the Main method we can now create an instance of a CheeseChooser and make use of it. Add the following code and notice that you get Intellisense support when referencing the  BestCheeseForPasta and BestCheeseForBakedPotato properties.

The Program.cs file should look like:

using System;
using GeneratedCheese;

namespace CheeseConsole
{
    class Program
    {
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            var cheeseChooser = new CheeseChooser();

            Console.WriteLine($"The best cheese for pasta is: {cheeseChooser.BestCheeseForPasta}");
            Console.WriteLine($"The best cheese for potato is: {cheeseChooser.BestCheeseForBakedPotato}");

            Console.ReadLine();
        }
    }
}

If you run the console app you should see the following:

The best cheese for pasta is: Parmigiano-Reggiano
The best cheese for potato is: Mature Cheddar

This example is very simplistic but there are a  number of other use cases that I’ll cover in future posts such as:

  • Augmenting existing code
  • Auto-implementing boilerplate code (such as INotifyPropertyChanged)
  • Generation from (non C#) external file
  • Generation from database contents
  • Serialization without reflection
  • etc.

SHARE:

Pretty Method Display in xUnit.net

One little-known feature of the xUnit.net testing framework is the ability to write test method names in a specific way and then have them converted to a ‘pretty’ version for example in Visual Studio Test Explorer.

Take the following test method:

using ClassLibrary1;
using Xunit;

namespace XUnitTestProject2
{
    public class CalculatorShould
    {
        [Fact]
        public void Add2PositiveNumbers()
        {
            var sut = new Calculator();

            sut.Add(1);
            sut.Add(1);

            Assert.Equal(2, sut.Value);
        }
    }
}

By default, this will look like the following screenshot in Visual Studio Test Explorer:

Default xUnit.net Test Method Name Display

The first thing that can be modified to to simplify the test method name display to only display the test method name and not the preceding namespace and class name, for example “XUnitTestProject2.CalculatorShould.Add2PositiveNumbers” becomes more simply “Add2PositiveNumbers” by making a simple configuration change.

Displaying Only Test Method Names in xUnit.net Tests

To control the rendering of method names in xUnit.net, the first thing to do is add a new file called “xunit.runner.json” to the root of the test project and set the Copy To Output Directory property to Copy if newer. This will make this file copy to the output bin directory. Once this is done, if you open the project file you should see something like:

<ItemGroup>
  <None Update="xunit.runner.json">
    <CopyToOutputDirectory>PreserveNewest</CopyToOutputDirectory>
  </None>
</ItemGroup>

Next, modify the json file to the following:

{
  "$schema": "https://xunit.net/schema/current/xunit.runner.schema.json",
   "methodDisplay": "method"
}

Notice in the preceding json configuration the methodDisplay has been set to “method”, this will prevent the namespace and class being prepended to the method name in Test Explorer.

Now if you head back to Test Explorer you should see the following:

Method name only display in xUnit.net tests

Enabling Pretty Method Names in xUnit.net

In addition to shortening test method name display we can also make use of xUnit.net’s “pretty method display”.

To enable this feature, modify the json configuration file and add the "methodDisplayOptions": "all" configuration as follows:

{
  "$schema": "https://xunit.net/schema/current/xunit.runner.schema.json",
  "methodDisplay": "method",
  "methodDisplayOptions": "all"
}

Now the previous test can be renamed to “Add_2_positive_numbers” as follows:

[Fact]
public void Add_2_positive_numbers()
{
    var sut = new Calculator();

    sut.Add(1);
    sut.Add(1);

    Assert.Equal(2, sut.Value);
}

In test explorer this test method will show up as “Add 2 positive numbers” as the following screenshot shows:

xUnit.net pretty method display names

You can use other items in the test method name, for example you can use the monikers eq, ne, lt, le, gt, ge that get replaced with =, !=, <, <=, >, >= respectively, for example a test name of “Have_a_value_eq_0_when_multiplied_by_zero” would be displayed as “Have a value = 0 when multiplied by zero”. Here the eq has been replaced with =.

You can also use ASCII or Unicode escape sequences, for example the test name “Divide_by_U00BD” gets displayed as “Divide by ½” and the test “Email_address_should_only_contain_a_single_U0040” gets displayed as “Email address should only contain a single @”, or “The_U2211_of_1U002C_2_and_3_should_be_6” becomes “The ∑ of 1, 2 and 3 should be 6”:

xUnit Pretty methods

You could also combine the "methodDisplay": "classAndMethod" to create something like  and the following:

namespace Given_a_cleared_calculator
{
    public class when_a_number_gt_0_is_added
    {
        [Fact]
        public void then_the_value_should_be_gt_0()
        {
            // etc.
        }

        [Fact]
        public void then_the_value_should_eq_the_one_added()
        {
            // etc.
        }
    }
}

This would produce the following tests in Test Explorer:

xUnit.net Pretty Display Names

If you want to learn more about writing tests with xUnit.net check out my Pluralsight course today.

SHARE:

Simplifying Parameter Null and Other Checks with the Pitcher Library

In a previous post I looked at the GaurdClauses library that can simplify the usual guard checks we sometimes need to write. In the comments someone mentioned the Pitcher library that accomplishes the same thing so I thought I’d check it out here.

First, the NuGet package needs to be installed and a using Pitcher; directive added, then we can make use of the library.

As an example, without the library you might end up with some code like the following:

public static void AddNewPerson(string name, int ageInYears)
{
    if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(name))
    {
        throw new ArgumentException($"Cannot be null, empty, or contain only whitespace.", nameof(name));
    }

    if (ageInYears < 1)
    {
        throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException(nameof(ageInYears), "Must be greater than zero.");
    }

    // Add to database etc.
}

This is just some boilerplate type code to check for null/empty strings and that the age that’s passed in is positive.

With the Pitcher library this could be refactored to the following (I’ve left the GaurdClauses code commented as a comparison):

public static void AddNewPerson(string name, int ageInYears)
{
    // GuardClauses version:
    // Guard.Against.NullOrWhiteSpace(name, nameof(name));
    // Guard.Against.NegativeOrZero(ageInYears, nameof(ageInYears));


    // Pitcher version:
    Throw.ArgumentNull.WhenNullOrWhiteSpace(name, nameof(name));

    Throw.ArgumentOutOfRange.WhenLessThan(ageInYears, mustBeMoreThan:0, nameof(ageInYears));
    // or more simply:
    Throw.ArgumentOutOfRange.WhenNegativeNumber(ageInYears, nameof(ageInYears));            
}

Pitcher allows you to throw either an ArgumentOutOfRangeException or an ArgumentNullException when using this syntax and also provides ways to throw other exception types when a given condition is true, for example:

Throw.When(ageInYears == 42, new InvalidOperationException("This age has no meaning"));

You can find the source code and more examples on GitHub and don’t forget to say hi/thanks to the project maintainer Alex Kamsteeg and tell him you heard about Pitcher here :)

SHARE:

You Can Watch All My Pluralsight Training Videos for Free This April

No credit card needed, sign up for free now and start watching all my Pluralsight training courses for free.

Some suggestions:

C#

Testing Frameworks:

Testing Tools You May Not Know About:

Expand Your Software Development Horizons:

The following are some suggested courses on topics that may not be on your radar but that your may find interesting.

Skills Paths Featuring My and Other Author’s Courses:

If you want a ready made “curriculum” in the form of a skills path check out the follow paths that feature some of my courses and courses by fellow Pluralsight authors:

P.s. Remember to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally during these trying times.

From the Pluralsight website: "Free April is open to anyone who is not a current, active subscriber."

SHARE:

Running ASP.NET Core Apps on a Synology NAS with Docker

Now I’ve got the Synology NAS up and running, I thought it would be interesting to see what the Docker support is like. You can essentially run Docker container instances on the NAS box which also means you can deploy your own custom .NET Core apps to the Synology box.

This post is organized into 3 parts:

  1. Creating and testing a Docker-enabled ASP.NET Core app locally
  2. Deploying the app to the Synology NAS via Docker Hub
  3. Deploying the app locally to the NAS

Part 1: Creating and Testing a Docker ASP.NET Core App Locally

There’s a few things to setup to allow you to deploy and Test  Docker containers locally.

The first is to enable Hyper-V in Windows, this is a prerequisite of Docker Desktop for Windows:

Installing Windows Hyper-V Feature

Once you’ve enabled Hyper-V (a restart will probably be required) you can go and download and install Docker Desktop for Windows – this will allow you to enable Docker support when you create the project in Visual Studio.

Once Docker Desktop is installed and running you can check it’s running with PowerShell:

PS C:\Users\Admin> docker version
Client: Docker Engine - Community
 Version:           19.03.8
 API version:       1.40
 Go version:        go1.12.17
 Git commit:        afacb8b
 Built:             Wed Mar 11 01:23:10 2020
 OS/Arch:           windows/amd64
 Experimental:      false

Server: Docker Engine - Community
 Engine:
  Version:          19.03.8
  API version:      1.40 (minimum version 1.12)
  Go version:       go1.12.17
  Git commit:       afacb8b
  Built:            Wed Mar 11 01:29:16 2020
  OS/Arch:          linux/amd64
  Experimental:     false
 containerd:
  Version:          v1.2.13
  GitCommit:        7ad184331fa3e55e52b890ea95e65ba581ae3429
 runc:
  Version:          1.0.0-rc10
  GitCommit:        dc9208a3303feef5b3839f4323d9beb36df0a9dd
 docker-init:
  Version:          0.18.0
  GitCommit:        fec3683
PS C:\Users\Admin>

Now you can fire up Visual Studio and create a new ASP.NET Core web application and tick the Enable Docker Support checkbox:

Creating an ASP.NET Core Web App with Docker Support

Once the project is created, you can click the Run button in Visual Studio (it should say “Docker” next to it).

Checking  the Output window for Container Tools you should can see something like:

========== Checking for Container Prerequisites ==========
Verifying that Docker Desktop is installed...
Docker Desktop is installed.
========== Verifying that Docker Desktop is running... ==========
Verifying that Docker Desktop is running...
Docker Desktop is running.
========== Verifying Docker OS ==========
Verifying that Docker Desktop's operating system mode matches the project's target operating system...
Docker Desktop's operating system mode matches the project's target operating system.
========== Pulling Required Images ==========
Checking for missing Docker images...
Pulling Docker images. To cancel this download, close the command prompt window.
docker pull mcr.microsoft.com/dotnet/core/aspnet:3.1-buster-slim

After a while the build might fail with the following error: Error    CTC1001    Volume sharing is not enabled. On the Settings screen in Docker Desktop, click Shared Drives, and select the drive(s) containing your project files.  

To fix this, open up the Docker Desktop UI, and find the File Sharing section and enable C: drive if you want to make it available to Docker – this should fix the error:

Enabling File Sharing in Docker Desktop

 

Once this this change is applied and Docker Desktop restarted, click the Start button again in Visual Studio and after accepting dialog boxes to do with firewall and local certificate the web app should start up and run successfully and Docker Desktop should show the web app container running:

ASP.NET Core app running in Docker Desktop for Windows

So now you have a Docker-enabled .NET Core web app and have tested it locally you can deploy it to the Synology NAS.

Part 2: Deploying an ASP.NET Core Docker App To a Synology NAS Via Docker Hub (AKA There And Back Again – a Docker Hub Tale)

Docker Hub is place (“registry”) where you can store and manage Docker images. These images can then be pulled (downloaded) by  a Docker host and then a container started from this image.

Visual Studio has built-in support for pushing an image to Docker Hub and the Synology Docker app has the ability to pull images from Docker Hub. Images on Docker Hub can be public or private (depending on what plan you are using).

Once you’ve created a Docker Hub account, in Visual Studio go to the Build menu and choose Publish WebApplication1 (or whatever the name of your project is) and click Start. You will need to choose a publish target of Container Registry and choose Docker Hub:

Choosing Docker Hub as a publish target in Visual Studio

Click Create Profile - you’ll need to supply your Docker Hub user name and password and click save.

You can now click the Publish button and wait for a little while:

Publishing a ASP.NET Core web app to Docker Hub

You should see the app being pushed to Docker Hub:

Pushing to Docker Hub

Once the publish is complete you can head over to Docker Hub and you should see your image:

Docker Hub image

Now the image is in Docker Hub, you can enable Docker support on the Synology NAS, pull the image from Docker Hub, and start a container on the NAS.

First log into the Synology as an admin account and open the Package Center. Here you can search for “Docker” and install the Docker app:

Installing Docker support on a Synology NAS

Once you’ve installed the Docker app, open it and head to the Image section, click the Add button and choose Add From Url. Now you can head over to Docker Hub and copy the URL for your image, for example it will look something like this: https://hub.docker.com/r/jrdontcodetired/webapplication1:

Pulling an image from Docker Hub to a Synology NAS

Click Add and the image will be downloaded from Docker Hub to the NAS.

Once the image has downloaded, click on it and click the Launch button. This will enable you to start a container instance from the image.

You’ll need to click on Advanced Settings and go to the Port Settings tab. In the Dockerfile in Visual Studio, the image is set to use port 80. We need to map a port on the NAS to this port 80 in the container. For example you could set up port 7500 on the NAS itself to map traffic to port 80 in the container:

Mapping Synology port to docker container port

Click Apply and then Next. You will be given a summary of the settings (the “Run this container after the wizard is finished” box is ticked) and click Apply to finish the wizard and start the container.

You should now be able to see the container running in the Container section:

Docker container running on a Synology NAS

You can now point your browser to your NAS IP and the port your chose when staring the container, for example: http://192.168.20.17:7500/

You should now see your ASP.NET Core web app being served from the Docker container on the Synology NAS:

ASP.NET Core Web App running in a Docker container on a Synology NAS

Part 3: Directly Deploying Docker Container to a Synology NAS

The first step is to publish the web app and copy the published files to the Synology. You could also publish directly to a folder on the NAS such as: \\SYN001\Test1\DockerPublish

In Visual Studio from the Build menu choose Publish WebApplication1. Create a new Publish Profile this time using a Folder Target and as the folder choose a folder on the Synology:

Publish to Synoloy NAS folder from Visual Studio

Click Create Profile and then click Publish. Once this is finished you should see the web app files published to the Synology folder.

In the DockerPublish folder (this is an arbitrary name) on the NAS create a new Dockerfile with the following contents:

FROM mcr.microsoft.com/dotnet/core/aspnet:3.1-buster-slim
COPY . /app
WORKDIR /app
EXPOSE 80
ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "WebApplication1.dll"]

Your folder on the Synology should now look like something like this:

image

The next step is to build the Docker image on the Synology NAS. To do this you can SSH into the NAS and use Docker build.

The first step is to enable SSH access on the Synology, you can do this from the Synology Control Panel in the Terminal & SNMP section – tick the Enable SSH Service box and click Apply:

Enabling SSH on a Synology NAS

Next in Windows, open a new PowerShell window and enter:

ssh Jason@192.168.20.17

Replace “Jason” with the name of one of your admin users and the IP address with the address of your Synology NAS – you will then need to enter the user’s password.

We need to SSH in as root (or set up a new user on the NAS). Be careful working in root or you could seriously mess your NAS up or introduce security problems. To get root access enter:

sudo -i

And once again enter the password.

You can now change to the folder that contains the published web app and Dockerfile:

cd /volume1/Test1/DockerPublish

And now build the image:

docker build -t manualwebapp .

This will produce the following output:

Sending build context to Docker daemon  4.706MB
Step 1/5 : FROM mcr.microsoft.com/dotnet/core/aspnet:3.1-buster-slim
3.1-buster-slim: Pulling from dotnet/core/aspnet
c499e6d256d6: Pull complete
251bcd0af921: Pull complete
852994ba072a: Pull complete
f64c6405f94b: Pull complete
9347e53e1c3a: Pull complete
Digest: sha256:a9e160dbf5ed62c358f18af8c4daf0d7c0c30f203c0dd8dff94a86598c80003b
Status: Downloaded newer image for mcr.microsoft.com/dotnet/core/aspnet:3.1-buster-slim
 ---> c819eb4381e7
Step 2/5 : COPY . /app
 ---> 0beff55307c9
Step 3/5 : WORKDIR /app
 ---> Running in e731c0fa1d6e
Removing intermediate container e731c0fa1d6e
 ---> b64c09a9d51e
Step 4/5 : EXPOSE 80
 ---> Running in 6fddd1f77f4e
Removing intermediate container 6fddd1f77f4e
 ---> 9aa4035379dc
Step 5/5 : ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "WebApplication1.dll"]
 ---> Running in 4f0b086e44d3
Removing intermediate container 4f0b086e44d3
 ---> ead6395bf486
Successfully built ead6395bf486
Successfully tagged manualwebapp:latest

If you now head to the Docker app on the Synology you will see the manualwebapp image:

Docker build image on Synology NAS

You can start a container from this image as we did before using the Synology GUI or from the PowerShell prompt - we can start it with the following command (notice we’re mapping port 7501 on the NAS to port 80 in the container):

docker run --name manualtestcontainer -p 7501:80 -d manualwebapp

Now heading back the the Synology GUI you should see a container called manualtestcontainer running:

Docker container running on Synology NAS

 

 

Now you can head to the URL in a browser (e.g. http://192.168.20.17:7501/) and see the ASP.NET Core web app running in the Docker container:

ASP.NET Core running in Docker app running on Synology NAS

Summary

The ability to run Docker containers on a NAS is really nice, not only can you develop your own apps and deploy them as containers, you can also use images from a registry such as Docker Hub, for example MySQL, ghost blogging engine, etc. You should of course only use images you trust.

If you have any cool containers running on your Synology let me know in the comments!

SHARE:

Synology DiskStation DS1618 Plus Setup And Initial Review

Early this year I tweeted this:

After seeing this, Synology reached out to me and asked if they could give me a unit to review. The contents of this post are my opinions based purely on my experience and this article was not pre-approved or edited by Synology.

What is a NAS?

A NAS device or Network Attached Storage device allows you to serve files over a network. A NAS can be a purpose built piece of hardware (like the Synology unit being discussed in this article) or a server set up with specific software to make it act like a NAS.

A NAS is like a hard disk that you can access over the network (potentially by multiple users) but depending on the hardware/software it can do a lot more. For example a NAS can enable you to fit multiple individual hard disks in a RAID configuration. RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks or Redundant Array of Independent Disks) allows you to combine multiple disks/SSDs in a number of different ways.

RAID comes in a number of flavours (“levels”) with  names such as RAID 0 or RAID 10. Each RAID level has its own benefit/trade-offs in terms of number of redundant disks, read/write speeds, and storage efficiency. For example, given 4 hard disks you could set up RAID to allow 2 disks to fail without loosing data, but you will not be able to use all the disk space on all the drives for your own storage.

In summary, a NAS is a network device that exposes file storage from one or more drives and may also use RAID for some redundancy.

One thing to bear in mind is RAID is not the same as backup. RAID gives you redundancy for hardware (drive) failure. If a drive fails in a RAID array you can usually keep working and just replace the damaged drive with a new one. You should still have a good backup strategy in place that backups data on the NAS, for example making sure you have off-site backups in case the building where the NAS is burns down, gets flooded, etc.. There are a number of ways you could do this on the Synology such as setting up Cloud Sync to Dropbox/Onedrive/etc or using an actual backup service that integrates with the Synology such as Synology C2, Backblaze, etc.

Setting Up a Synology DS1618+

Synology DS1618+ Box

The first think is to decide what redundancy characteristics  you want for your data that you’ll be storing on the Synology. Synology have a handy RAID calculator to help you work out how many drives will give you what amount of storage for different RAID levels.

For this device I decided I wanted 2 disk redundancy. This mean that even if 2 disks fails no data will be lost (using SHR-2). SHR (Synology Hybrid Raid) and SHR-2 are RAID-like configurations but allow mixing disks of different sizes.

I decided I wanted to start with 6 TB of accessible storage to start with to keep initial costs low. This means with 2 redundant disks (using SHR-2) I need a total of 4 drives each one being 3 TB in size.

There are hard drives that are designed for NAS applications and offer features such as rotational vibrational sensors and other features that make them more suitable than normal desktop hard drives. I decided for this Synology NAS I would go with 2 Western Digital Red NAS drives and 2 Seagate IronWolf NAS drives. The reason I went with 2 different brands is to minimize the chance of a manufacturing error in a single batch failing all the drives at once. This might however be overkill.

For maximum compatibility you should choose drives that have been verified as compatible, there is a handy compatibility list you can use though I found it almost impossible to find drives here in Australia that exactly matched the drive model numbers/firmware/etc. On the compatibility list you can also see drives that are explicitly incompatible. Before ordering the drives I checked that they were not explicitly marked as incompatible even though they also did not match exactly the drives on the compatible list.

Out of the box, the DS1618+ comes with a couple of network cables, a power cord, some mounting screws if you are using 2.5” drives.

DS1618+ unboxing

Installing Drives

Installing the drives is pretty easy, each bay pops open and the tray slides out into which the hard drive is inserted. For 3.5” drives no screws are required, instead the drives are help in place by a plastic strip on each side. These plastic were a bit fiddly however and felt a bit fragile and I was worried that I was going to snap them when trying to remove them from the tray. When the drive is inserted and the plastic strips clipped back in they feel like they hold the drive solidly in place however. Once the drive is held in place it can be slotted back into the NAS.

Adding a drive to the DS1618+

The drives can be secured in place using the supplied “key” to prevent the drives from accidentally being removed.

DS1618+ Setup

Once all 4 disks were installed, I connected the power cord and the network cable to the modem/router.

Back on my PC in a browser I navigated to http://find.synology.com – this then forwarded the browser to the NAS.

A wizard like setup process leads you through the required steps to install the NAS OS, create an admin user account, and optionally enable QuickConnect that allows you to access the management interface on your NAS over the Internet without needing to setup complex port forwarding rules which is a nice feature.

Once the setup is complete the web interface opens.

Synology DiskStation interface

From here you can manage the NAS and install additional packages such as Dropbox/Onedrive/etc cloud sync. This ability to install “apps” onto the NAS is a powerful feature that helps to add extra value to the NAS proposition.

Synology Package Center

At this point I had not actually setup or chosen a RAID level so I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Eventually I found the Main Menu button at the top left that allowed be to open the Storage Manager app that allows the setup of disks – it would have been nice if this was part of the initial setup wizard/guided workflow – at least for beginner users like myself.

There are 2 key concepts: Storage Pools and Volumes.This is where things started to get a little confusing for as a first-time NAS user, I knew that I wanted a single volume using SHR-2 but was not sure how to get there.

After a few minutes looking at the documentation I understood that a storage pool is a collection of drives. There are 2 types of storage pools: “Storage pool for better performance” and “Storage pool for higher flexibility” with the performance pool “better performance but less storage management flexibility” –unfortunately the doc I was looking at didn’t link to what this “storage management flexibility” refers to.

So I decided to just go and click the create storage pool button and see what happens. The popup then told me that the “flexible” pool is the one that supports SHR so I chose that option.

I gave the pool a not very original name of “MainPool” and chose SHR-2 as the RAID type. Then I proceed through the wizard and selected the 4 drives I installed to be part of this pool.

Next I clicked on the create new volume button and chose the storage pool I just created. I set the volume size to max because I only want 1 volume for all the 4 drives and then I was offered the choice of file system: Btrfs or ext – I went with the Btrfs option as it was the recommended option..

Once all this was done the NAS started running a parity consistency check check on the drives.

Setting Up A Share

Now the pool and volume are up and running it’s time to store some files!

I went to the Shared Folder Creation wizard and created a test share and then setup read/write permissions for myself.

Now heading over to Windows File Explorer and navigating to the NAS I had to provide credentials which I did for the user I created earlier:

Connecting to Synology Shared Folder in Windows

Now I can navigate to the Test1 share and create my first NAS-ed file :)

Setup Summary and First Impressions

One thing to bear in mind is that setting up a NAS is not the same as just plugging in an external USB. The Synology DS1618+ offers loads of configuration options and other than a short stumble where I learned about Storage Pools and Volumes the process was pretty painless. I now have the ability to store and retrieve files from anywhere in the house and also know that even if 2 of the 4 hard disks failed I would not lose data.

At this point I have not setup any backups so I won’t be putting any critical files on the NAS yet, I’m also looking forward to setting up things such as Cloud Sync that will sync Dropbox, Onedrive, etc to the NAS – at the moment due to smaller SSD sizes on my machines I’m having to make use of Dropbox selective sync all the time which is a bit annoying – having my entire Dropbox account on my local network will hopefully make things a lot nicer!.

I’m also looking forward to playing with the Synology Docker container support.

SHARE: