database

#CASBAN6: Implementing the data model using EntityFramework Core (separate libraries)

#CASBAN6: Implementing the data model using EntityFramework Core (separate libraries)

EntityModel library

When I started the project, I started with creating the classes for all the tables that I need for my blog engine. I have put them into their own library to keep things clean.

The classes also use ICollection references for relationships whenever required. Let’s have a look at the Blog class:

public class Blog 
{
    public Guid BlogId { get; set; }

    public string Name { get; set; }

    public string Slogan { get; set; }

    public Uri LogoUrl { get; set; }

    public ICollection<Post> Posts { get; set; }

    public ICollection<Author> Authors { get; set; }

    public ICollection<Tag> Tags { get; set; }

    public ICollection<Medium> Media { get; set; }

}

The other classes are implemented similarly to reflect the data model I showed you in my last post. You can have a look at the other class implementations in the GitHub repo (folder: EntityModel).

EFCore library

The EFCore library has three main components:

  1. BlogContext
  2. Configurations
  3. Seed extension

BlogContext

The BlogContext is straight forward and follows the pattern described here in the documentation for using a factory (spoiler: we will do that later):

public sealed class BlogContext : DbContext
{
    public BlogContext(DbContextOptions<BlogContext> options) : base(options)
    {

    }

    public DbSet<Blog> Blogs { get; set; }
    public DbSet<Post> Posts { get; set; }
    public DbSet<Author> Authors { get; set; }
    public DbSet<MSiccDev.ServerlessBlog.EntityModel.Medium> Media { get; set; }
    public DbSet<MediumType> MediaTypes { get; set; }
    public DbSet<Tag> Tags { get; set; }
}

The class is declaring a constructor that uses the DBContextOptions<DBContext> parameter that allows our factory to configure the context later on for the migrations. Of course, we need references to all the possible DbSets as well to be able to access them via the BlogContext instance.

Configurations

In Entity Framework, we can configure our tables with configurations. By implementing the IEntityTypeConfiguration interface for all of our models in a separate file for each, we are continuing to keep our code clean and easily maintainable. Here is how the implementation for the Blog table:

public class BlogConfiguration : IEntityTypeConfiguration<Blog>
{
    public void Configure(EntityTypeBuilder<Blog> builder)
    {
        builder.Property(nameof(Blog.BlogId)).
            IsRequired();

        builder.Property(nameof(Blog.BlogId)).
            ValueGeneratedOnAdd();

        builder.HasKey(blog => blog.BlogId).
            HasName($"PK_{nameof(Blog.BlogId)}");

        builder.Property(nameof(Blog.Name)).
            HasMaxLength(255).
            IsRequired();

        builder.Property(nameof(Blog.Slogan)).
            HasMaxLength(255).
            IsRequired();

        builder.Property(nameof(Blog.LogoUrl)).
            IsRequired();
    }
}

Most of the fluent implementations above are self-explaining. The other classes of the project are implemented in a similar way, you can find them here in the Github repository.

I implemented my configurations by following the docs, which I absolutely recommend reading:

To apply the configurations, we need to override the OnModelCreating method:

protected override void OnModelCreating(ModelBuilder modelBuilder)
{
    modelBuilder.ApplyConfiguration(new BlogConfiguration());
    modelBuilder.ApplyConfiguration(new MediumypeConfiguration());
    modelBuilder.ApplyConfiguration(new MediumConfiguration());
    modelBuilder.ApplyConfiguration(new AuthorConfiguration());
    modelBuilder.ApplyConfiguration(new TagConfiguration());
    modelBuilder.ApplyConfiguration(new PostConfiguration());
}

Seed extension

To verify our configurations are working, we need some test data. This is where the seeding feature of EF Core comes in handy, and it helped me to improve my data model a lot. I am using the extension method approach here to implement a blog with three test posts, including all relations, constraints, and property configurations. You can find the full implementation here in the Github repository.

Besides the docs on EF Core data seeding, these links helped me to understand and write my seed implementation:

With this extension method in place, applying the seed is just one line of code at the end of the OnModelCreating override away:

modelBuilder.Seed();

Now we have everything together, we finally can turn to actually migrate our code to database.

EFCore.DesignDummy library

Because I am running this whole thing on a Mac, I need to use the CLI tools for all migrations. To keep also this step in its own library, I created a DesignDummy library which I use for pushing the migrations to my local database.

The library requires a reference to the EFCore library as well as to the EntityModel library. On top of that, we need the Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Design NuGet package.

Now that our dependencies are in place, we just need to create an implementation of the IDesignTimeDbContextFactory interface as described here in the docs:

public class BlogContextFactory : IDesignTimeDbContextFactory<BlogContext>
{
    public BlogContext CreateDbContext(string[] args)
    {
        BlogContext? instance = null;

        var optionsBuilder = new DbContextOptionsBuilder<BlogContext>();

        optionsBuilder.UseSqlServer(dbContextBuilder =>
            dbContextBuilder.MigrationsAssembly("EFCore.DesignDummy")).
            EnableSensitiveDataLogging();

        instance = new BlogContext(optionsBuilder.Options);

        return instance;
    }
}

Now let’s create our first migration and push it to the database (find the docs here). In your terminal window, change to the folder of your dummy project. Once you’re in the correct folder, create a new migration with the add command:

dotnet ef migrations add {MigrationName}

To push the migration you just created to the database, use the update command with the connection parameter:

dotnet ef database update --connection 'Data Source=localhost;Initial Catalog=localDB;User ID=sa;Password=thisShouldB3Stronger!'

If all goes well, you should now be able to view your database with the seeded data:

database seeded

Conclusion

In this post, I showed you how to create the model for the database and their matching IEntityTypeConfiguration implementations. We learned how to create a IDesignTimeDbContextFactory and how to add migrations and push them to the database. The full code is on GitHub for your further exploration.

As always, I hope this post is helpful for some of you.

Until the next post, happy coding, everyone!

Posted by msicc in Azure, Database, Dev Stories, 3 comments
#CASBAN6: the data model explained

#CASBAN6: the data model explained

Preface

Initially, this post should have been about the direct implementation and design of the data model for my serverless blog engine. As the data model became a bit more complex, I decided to split the data model post into two posts. The first aims to explain the data model, while the second post is for the implementation with Entity Framework Core.

The data model

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. So here is a complete picture of the data model:

CASBAN6 data model

I will go through the model table by table and tell you a sentence or two on each of it for the rest of this post.

The tables

__EFMigrationsHistory

This table just stores all the MigrationIds and is handled by the Entity Framework. I recommend you to not touch this table.

Blogs

In theory, the database could hold more than one blog. By adding a new row to this table, you are creating a new blog in the database. The BlogId is essential for a range of other tables.

Authors

To be able to issue blog posts, our blog needs at least one author. As you may have more than one person to fill your blog, a collection of authors can be saved within this table. One author can only be assigned to one blog (at least for now, this is intentional).

Posts

The content fuelling our blog is in the posts table. One post can only be on one blog. The published date will be set on insert, all subsequent changes will modify the LastModified column. Also, one post can only have one author. The author can be replaced on updating the row in the table.

The slug can be used to create a human-readable URL for the post (instead of the PostId, which is a GUID). The slug must be unique across all blogs.

Tags

In order to group and categorize posts, I decided to go with a tags-only approach (unlike other platforms, which allow both categories and tags). Tags are unique to a blog, but can be used in multiple posts.

Media

Of course, our blog should support also media content like images, videos and other types. I opted in for a URL-based approach, which is making it easier to add content from other platforms (like videos hosted on dedicated platforms). A medium can be used in several posts.

MediaTypes

To make it a bit easier to determine a medium’s type, I added the MediaTypes table. It holds information about the MIME-Type and possibly also the encoding of a file. The uniqueness is based off the MIME-Type.

Mapping tables

As we learned already above, both tags and media can be used in multiple posts. At the same time, posts can have multiple media and also multiple tags. To cover this many-to-many relationships, I use two mapping-tables with a composite primary key to ensure their uniqueness across the blog.

Conclusion

In this post, I outlined the data model of my serverless blog engine. In the next post, I will show you the implementation of this model with Entity Framework Core.

Until the next post, happy coding, everyone!

Posted by msicc in Azure, Database, Dev Stories, 2 comments
Xamarin.Forms, Akavache and I: ensuring protection of sensitive data

Xamarin.Forms, Akavache and I: ensuring protection of sensitive data

Recap

Some of you might remember my posts about encryption for Android, iOS and Windows 10. If not, take a look here:

Xamarin Android: asymmetric encryption without any user input or hardcoded values

How to perform asymmetric encryption without user input/hardcoded values with Xamarin iOS

Using the built-in UWP data protection for data encryption

It is no coincidence that I wrote these three posts before starting with this Akavache series, as we’ll use those techniques to protect sensitive data with Akavache. So you might have a look first before you read on.

Creating a secure blob cache in Akavache

Akavache has a special type for saving sensitive data  – based on the interface ISecureBlobCache. The first step is to extend the IBlobCacheInstanceHelperinterface we implemented in the first post of this series:

    public interface IBlobCacheInstanceHelper
    {
        void Init();

        IBlobCache LocalMachineCache { get; set; }

        ISecureBlobCache SecretLocalMachineCache { get; set; }
    }

Of course, all three platform implementations of the IBlobCacheInstanceHelperinterface need to be updated as well. The code to add for all three platform is the same:

public ISecureBlobCache SecretLocalMachineCache { get; set; }     

private void GetSecretLocalMachineCache()
{
    var secretCache = new Lazy<ISecureBlobCache>(() =>
                                                 {
                                                     _filesystemProvider.CreateRecursive(_filesystemProvider.GetDefaultSecretCacheDirectory()).SubscribeOn(BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler).Wait();
                                                     return new SQLiteEncryptedBlobCache(Path.Combine(_filesystemProvider.GetDefaultSecretCacheDirectory(), "secret.db"), new PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider(), BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler);
                                                 });

    this.SecretLocalMachineCache = secretCache.Value;
}

As we will use the same name for all platform implementations, that’s already all we have to do here.

Platform specific encryption provider

Implementing the platform specific code is nothing new. Way before I used Akavache, others have already implemented solutions. The main issue is that there is no platform implementation for Android and iOS (and maybe others). My solution is inspired by this blog post by Kent Boogart, which is (as far as I can see), also broadly accepted amongst the community. The only thing I disliked about it was the requirement for a password – which either would be something reversible or causing a (maybe) bad user experience.

Akavache provides the IEncryptionProviderinterface, which contains two methods. One for encryption, the other one for decryption. Those two methods are working with byte[]both for input and output. You should be aware and know how to convert your data to that.

Implementing the  IEncryptionProvider interface

The implementation of Akavache’s encryption interface is following the same principle on all three platforms.

  • provide a reference to the internal TaskpoolSchedulerin the constructor
  • get an instance of our platform specific encryption provider
  • get or create keys (Android and iOS)
  • provide helper methods that perform encryption/decryption

Let’s have a look at the platform implementations. I will show the full class implementation and remarking them afterwards.

Android

[assembly: Xamarin.Forms.Dependency(typeof(PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider))]
namespace XfAkavacheAndI.Android.PlatformImplementations
{
    public class PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider : IEncryptionProvider
    {
        private readonly IScheduler _scheduler;

        private static readonly string KeyStoreName = $"{BlobCache.ApplicationName.ToLower()}_secureStore";

        private readonly PlatformEncryptionKeyHelper _encryptionKeyHelper;

        private const string TRANSFORMATION = "RSA/ECB/PKCS1Padding";
        private IKey _privateKey = null;
        private IKey _publicKey = null;

        public PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider()
        {
            _scheduler = BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_scheduler), "Scheduler is null");

            _encryptionKeyHelper = new PlatformEncryptionKeyHelper(Application.Context, KeyStoreName);
            GetOrCreateKeys();
        }

        public IObservable<byte[]> DecryptBlock(byte[] block)
        {
            if (block == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(block), "block cannot be null");
            }

            return Observable.Start(() => Decrypt(block), _scheduler);
        }

        public IObservable<byte[]> EncryptBlock(byte[] block)
        {
            if (block == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(block), "block cannot be null");
            }

            return Observable.Start(() => Encrypt(block), _scheduler);
        }


        private void GetOrCreateKeys()
        {
            if (!_encryptionKeyHelper.KeysExist())
                _encryptionKeyHelper.CreateKeyPair();

            _privateKey = _encryptionKeyHelper.GetPrivateKey();
            _publicKey = _encryptionKeyHelper.GetPublicKey();
        }


        public byte[] Encrypt(byte[] rawBytes)
        {
            if (_publicKey == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_publicKey), "Public key cannot be null");
            }

            var cipher = Cipher.GetInstance(TRANSFORMATION);
            cipher.Init(CipherMode.EncryptMode, _publicKey);

            return cipher.DoFinal(rawBytes);
        }

        public byte[] Decrypt(byte[] encyrptedBytes)
        {
            if (_privateKey == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_privateKey), "Private key cannot be null");
            }

            var cipher = Cipher.GetInstance(TRANSFORMATION);
            cipher.Init(CipherMode.DecryptMode, _privateKey);

            return cipher.DoFinal(encyrptedBytes);
        }
    }

As you can see, I am getting Akavache’s  internal TaskpoolSchedulerin the constructor, like initial stated. Then, for this sample, I am using RSA encryption. The helper methods pretty much implement the same code like in the post about my KeyStore implementation. The only thing to do is to use these methods in the EncryptBlock and DecyrptBlock method implementations, which is done asynchronously via Observable.Start.

iOS

[assembly: Xamarin.Forms.Dependency(typeof(PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider))]
namespace XfAkavacheAndI.iOS.PlatformImplementations
{
    public class PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider : IEncryptionProvider
    {
        private readonly IScheduler _scheduler;

        private readonly PlatformEncryptionKeyHelper _encryptionKeyHelper;


        private SecKey _privateKey = null;
        private SecKey _publicKey  = null;

        public PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider()
        {
            _scheduler = BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler ??
                         throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_scheduler), "Scheduler is null");

            _encryptionKeyHelper = new PlatformEncryptionKeyHelper(BlobCache.ApplicationName.ToLower());
            GetOrCreateKeys();
        }

        public IObservable<byte[]> DecryptBlock(byte[] block)
        {
            if (block == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(block), "block can't be null");
            }

            return Observable.Start(() => Decrypt(block), _scheduler);
        }

        public IObservable<byte[]> EncryptBlock(byte[] block)
        {
            if (block == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(block), "block can't be null");
            }

            return Observable.Start(() => Encrypt(block), _scheduler);
        }


        private void GetOrCreateKeys()
        {
            if (!_encryptionKeyHelper.KeysExist())
                _encryptionKeyHelper.CreateKeyPair();

            _privateKey = _encryptionKeyHelper.GetPrivateKey();
            _publicKey = _encryptionKeyHelper.GetPublicKey();
        }

        private byte[] Encrypt(byte[] rawBytes)
        {
            if (_publicKey == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_publicKey), "Public key cannot be null");
            }

            var code = _publicKey.Encrypt(SecPadding.PKCS1, rawBytes, out var encryptedBytes);

            return code == SecStatusCode.Success ? encryptedBytes : null;
        }

        private byte[] Decrypt(byte[] encyrptedBytes)
        {
            if (_privateKey == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_privateKey), "Private key cannot be null");
            }

            var code = _privateKey.Decrypt(SecPadding.PKCS1, encyrptedBytes, out var decryptedBytes);

            return code == SecStatusCode.Success ? decryptedBytes : null;
        }

    }
}

The iOS implementation follows the same schema as the Android implementation. However, iOS uses the KeyChain, which makes the encryption helper methods itself different.

UWP

[assembly: Xamarin.Forms.Dependency(typeof(PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider))]
namespace XfAkavacheAndI.UWP.PlatformImplementations
{
    public class PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider : IEncryptionProvider
    {
        private readonly IScheduler _scheduler;

        private string _localUserDescriptor = "LOCAL=user";
        private string _localMachineDescriptor = "LOCAL=machine";

        public bool UseForAllUsers { get; set; } = false;

        public PlatformCustomAkavacheEncryptionProvider()
        {
            _scheduler = BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler ??
                         throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(_scheduler), "Scheduler is null");
        }

        public IObservable<byte[]> EncryptBlock(byte[] block)
        {
            if (block == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(block), "block can't be null");
            }

            return Observable.Start(() => Encrypt(block).GetAwaiter().GetResult(), _scheduler);
        }

        public IObservable<byte[]> DecryptBlock(byte[] block)
        {
            if (block == null)
            {
                throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(block), "block can't be null");
            }

            return Observable.Start(() => Decrypt(block).GetAwaiter().GetResult(), _scheduler);
        }


        public async Task<byte[]> Encrypt(byte[] data)
        {
            var provider = new DataProtectionProvider(UseForAllUsers ? _localMachineDescriptor : _localUserDescriptor);

            var contentBuffer = CryptographicBuffer.CreateFromByteArray(data);
            var contentInputStream = new InMemoryRandomAccessStream();
            var protectedContentStream = new InMemoryRandomAccessStream();

            //storing data in the stream
            IOutputStream outputStream = contentInputStream.GetOutputStreamAt(0);
            var dataWriter = new DataWriter(outputStream);
            dataWriter.WriteBuffer(contentBuffer);
            await dataWriter.StoreAsync();
            await dataWriter.FlushAsync();

            //reopening in input mode
            IInputStream encodingInputStream = contentInputStream.GetInputStreamAt(0);

            IOutputStream protectedOutputStream = protectedContentStream.GetOutputStreamAt(0);
            await provider.ProtectStreamAsync(encodingInputStream, protectedOutputStream);
            await protectedOutputStream.FlushAsync();

            //verify that encryption happened
            var inputReader = new DataReader(contentInputStream.GetInputStreamAt(0));
            var protectedReader = new DataReader(protectedContentStream.GetInputStreamAt(0));

            await inputReader.LoadAsync((uint)contentInputStream.Size);
            await protectedReader.LoadAsync((uint)protectedContentStream.Size);

            var inputBuffer = inputReader.ReadBuffer((uint)contentInputStream.Size);
            var protectedBuffer = protectedReader.ReadBuffer((uint)protectedContentStream.Size);

            if (!CryptographicBuffer.Compare(inputBuffer, protectedBuffer))
            {
               return protectedBuffer.ToArray();
            }
            else
            {
                return null;
            }
        }

        public async Task<byte[]> Decrypt(byte[] encryptedBytes)
        {
            var provider = new DataProtectionProvider();

            var encryptedContentBuffer = CryptographicBuffer.CreateFromByteArray(encryptedBytes);
            var contentInputStream = new InMemoryRandomAccessStream();
            var unprotectedContentStream = new InMemoryRandomAccessStream();

            IOutputStream outputStream = contentInputStream.GetOutputStreamAt(0);
            var dataWriter = new DataWriter(outputStream);
            dataWriter.WriteBuffer(encryptedContentBuffer);
            await dataWriter.StoreAsync();
            await dataWriter.FlushAsync();

            IInputStream decodingInputStream = contentInputStream.GetInputStreamAt(0);

            IOutputStream protectedOutputStream = unprotectedContentStream.GetOutputStreamAt(0);
            await provider.UnprotectStreamAsync(decodingInputStream, protectedOutputStream);
            await protectedOutputStream.FlushAsync();

            DataReader reader2 = new DataReader(unprotectedContentStream.GetInputStreamAt(0));
            await reader2.LoadAsync((uint)unprotectedContentStream.Size);
            IBuffer unprotectedBuffer = reader2.ReadBuffer((uint)unprotectedContentStream.Size);

            return unprotectedBuffer.ToArray();
        }
    }   
}

Last but not least, we have also an implementation for Windows applications. It is using the DataProtection API, which does handle all that key stuff and let’s us focus on the encryption itself. As the API is asynchronously, I am using .GetAwaiter().GetResult()Task extensions to make it compatible with Observable.Start.

Conclusion

Using the implementations above paired with our instance helper makes it easy to protect data in our apps. With all those data breach scandals and law changes around, this is one possible way secure way to handle sensitive data, as we do not have hardcoded values or any user interaction involved.

For better understanding of all that code, I made a sample project available that has all the referenced and mentioned classes implemented. Feel free to fork it and play with it (or even give me some feedback). For using the implementations, please refer to my post about common usages I wrote a few days ago. The only difference is that you would use SecretLocalMachineCacheinstead of LocalMachineCache for sensitive data.

As always, I hope this post is helpful for some of you.

Until the next post, happy coding!


P.S. Feel free to download my official app for msicc.net, which – of course – uses the implementations above:
iOS Android Windows 10

Posted by msicc in Android, Dev Stories, iOS, UWP, Xamarin, 3 comments
Xamarin.Forms, Akavache and I: storing, retrieving and deleting data

Xamarin.Forms, Akavache and I: storing, retrieving and deleting data

Caching always has the same job: provide data that is frequently used in very little time. As I mentioned in my first post of this series, Akavache is my first choice because it is fast. It also provides a very easy way to interact with it (once one gets used to Reactive Extensions). The code I am showing here is living in the Forms project, but can also be called from the platform projects thanks to the interface we defined already before.

Enabling async support

First things first: we should write our code asynchronously, that’s why we need to enable async support by adding using System.Reactive.Linq;to the using statements in our class. This one is not so obvious, and I read a lot of questions on the web where this was the simple solution. So now you know, let’s go ahead.

Simple case

The most simple case of storing data is just throwing data with a key into the underlying database:

//getting a reference to the cache instance
var cache = SimpleIoc.Default.GetInstance<IBlobCacheInstanceHelper>().LocalMachineCache;
var dataToSave = "this is a simple string to save into the database";
await cache.InsertObject<string>("YourKeyHere", dataToSave);

Of course, we need a reference to the IBlobCacheinstance we have already in place. I am saving a simple string here for demo purposes, but you can also save more complex types like a list of blog posts into the cache. Akavache uses Json.NET , which will serialize the data into a valid json string that you can be saved. Similarly, it is very easy to get the data deserialized from the database:

var dataFromCache = cache.GetObject<string>("YourKeyHere");

That’s it. For things like storing Boolean values, simple strings (unencrypted), dates etc., this might already be everything you need.

Caching data from the web

Of course it wouldn’t be necessary to implement an advanced library if we would have only this scenario. More often, we are fetching data from the web and need to save it in our apps. There are several reasons to do this, with saving (mobile) data volume and performance being the two major reasons.

Akavache provides a bunch of very useful Extensions. The most prominent one I am using is the GetOrFetchObject<T>method. A typical implementation looks like this:

var postsCache = await cache.GetOrFetchObject<List<BlogPost>>(feedName,
    async () =>
    {
        var newPosts = await _postsHandler.GetPostsAsync(BaseUrl, 20, 20, 1, feedName.ToCategoryId()).ConfigureAwait(false);

        await cache.InsertObject<List<BlogPost>>(feedName, newPostsDto);

        return newPosts;
    });

The GetOrFetchObject<T>method’s minimum parameters are the key of the cache entry and an asynchronous function that shall be executed when there is no data in the cache. In the sample above, it loads the latest 20 posts from a WordPress blog (utilizing my WordPressReader lib) and saves it into the cache instance before returning the downloaded data. The method has an optional parameter of DateTimeOffset, which may be interesting if you need to expire the saved data after some time.

Saving images/documents from the web

If you need to download files, be it images or other documents, from the web, Akavache provides another helper extension:

byte[] bytes = await cache.DownloadUrl("YourFileKeyHere", url);

Personally, I am loading all files with this method, even though there are some special image loading methods available as well (see the readme at Akavache’s repo). The main reason I am doing so is that until now, I always have a platform specific implementation for such cases – mainly due to performance reasons. I one of the following blog posts you will see such an implementation for image caching using a custom renderer on each platform.

Deleting data from the cache

When working with caches, one cannot avoid the situation that data needs to be removed manually from the cache.

//delete a single entry by key:
cache.Invalidate("KeyToDelete");

//delete all entries with the same type:
cache.InvalidateAllObjects<BlogPost>();

//delete all entries
cache.InvalidateAll();

If you want to continue with some other action after deletion completes, you can use the Subscribe method to invoke this action:

cache.InvalidateAll().Subscribe(x => YourMethodToInvoke());

Conclusion

Even though Akavache provides more methods to store and retrieve data, the ones I mentioned above are those that I use frequently and without problems in my Xamarin.Forms applications, while still being able to invoke them in platform specific code as well. If you want to have a look at the other methods that are available, click the link above to the GitHub repo of Akavache. As always, I hope this blog post is helpful for some of you.

Until the next post, happy coding, everyone!

Posted by msicc in Android, Dev Stories, iOS, UWP, Xamarin, 1 comment
Xamarin.Forms, Akavache and I: Initial setup (new series)

Xamarin.Forms, Akavache and I: Initial setup (new series)

Caching is never a trivial task. Sometimes, we can use built-in storages, but more often, these take quite some time when we are storing a large amount of data (eg. large datasets or large json strings). I tried quite a few approaches, including:

  • built-in storage
  • self handled files
  • plugins that use a one or all of the above
  • Akavache (which uses SQLite under the hood)

Why Akavache wins

Well, the major reason is quite easy. It is fast. Really fast. At least compared to the other options. You may not notice the difference until you are using a background task that relies on the cached data or until you try to truly optimize startup performance of your Xamarin Android app. Those two where the reason for me to switch, because once implemented, it does handle both jobs perfectly. Because it is so fast, there is quite an amount of apps that uses it. Bonus: there are a lot of tips on StackOverflow as well as on GitHub, as it is already used by a lot of developers.

Getting your projects ready

Well, as often, it all starts with the installation of NuGet packages. As I am trying to follow good practices wherever I can, I am using .netStandard whenever possible. The latest stable version of Akavache does work partially in .netStandard projects, but I recommend to use the latest alpha (by the time of this post) in your .netStandard project (even if VisualStudio keeps telling you that a pre release dependency is not a good idea). If you are using the package reference in your project files, there might be some additional work to bring everything to build and run smoothly, especially in a Xamarin.Android project.

You mileage may vary, but in my experience, you should install the following dependencies and Akavache separately:

After installing this packages in your Xamarin.Forms and platform projects, we are ready for the next step.

Initializing Akavache

Basically, you should be able to use Akavache in a very simple way, by just defining the application name like this during application initialization:

BlobCache.ApplicationName = "MyAkavachePoweredApp";

You can do this assignment in your platform project as well as in your Xamarin.Forms project, both ways will work. Just remember to do this, as also to get my code working, this is a needed step.

There are static properties  like BlobCache.LocalMachineone can use to cache data. However, once your app will use an advanced library like Akavache, it is very likely that he complexity of your app will force you into a more complex scenario. In my case, the usage of a scheduled job on Android was the reason why I am doing the initialization on my own. The scheduled job starts a process for the application, and the job updates data in the cache that the application uses. There were several cases where the standard initialization did not work, so I decided to make the special case to a standard case. The following code will also work in simple scenarios, but keeps doors open for more complex ones as well. The second reason why I did my own implementation is the MVVM structure of my apps.

IBlobCacheInstanceHelper rules them all

Like often when we want to use platform implementations, all starts with an interface that dictates the functionality. Let’s start with this simple one:

public interface IBlobCacheInstanceHelper
{
    void Init();
    IBlobCache LocalMachineCache { get; set; }
}

We are defining our own IBlobCacheinstance, which we will initialize with the Init() method on each platform. Let’s have a look on the platform implementations:

[assembly: Xamarin.Forms.Dependency(typeof(PlatformBlobCacheInstanceHelper))]
namespace [YOURNAMESPACEHERE]
{
    public class PlatformBlobCacheInstanceHelper : IBlobCacheInstanceHelper
    {
        private IFilesystemProvider _filesystemProvider;

        public PlatformBlobCacheInstanceHelper() { }

        public void Init()
        {
            _filesystemProvider = Locator.Current.GetService<IFilesystemProvider>();
            GetLocalMachineCache();
        }

        public IBlobCache LocalMachineCache { get; set; }

        private void GetLocalMachineCache()
        {

            var localCache = new Lazy<IBlobCache>(() => 
                                                  {
                                                      _filesystemProvider.CreateRecursive(_filesystemProvider.GetDefaultLocalMachineCacheDirectory()).SubscribeOn(BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler).Wait();
                                                      return new SQLitePersistentBlobCache(Path.Combine(_filesystemProvider.GetDefaultLocalMachineCacheDirectory(), "blobs.db"), BlobCache.TaskpoolScheduler);
                                                  });

            this.LocalMachineCache = localCache.Value;
        }

        //TODO: implement other cache types if necessary at some point
    }
}

Let me explain what this code does.

As SQLite, which is powering Akavache, is file based, we need to provide a file path. The Init() method assigns Akavache’s internal IFileSystemProviderinterface to the internal member. After getting an instance via Splat’s Locator, we can now use it to get the file path and create the .db-file for our local cache. The GetLocalMachineCache()method is basically a copy of Akavache’s internal registration. It lazily creates an instance of BlobCache through the IBlobCacheinterface. The create instance is then passed to the LocalMachineCacheproperty, which we will use later on. Finally, we will be using the DependencyServiceof Xamarin.Forms to get an instance of our platform implementation, which is why we need to define the Dependency attribute as well.

Note: you can name the file whatever you want. If you are already using Akavache and want to change the instance handling, you should keep the original names used by Akavache. This way, your users will not lose any data.

This implementation can be used your Android, iOS and UWP projects within your Xamarin.Forms app. If you are wondering why I do this separately for every platform, you are right. Until now, there is no need to do it that way. The code above would also work solely in your Xamarin.Forms project. Once you are coming to the point where you need encrypted data in your cache, the platform implementations will change on every platform. This will be topic of a future blog post, however.

If you have been reading my series about MVVMLight, you may guess the next step already. This is how I initialize the platform implementation within my ViewModelLocator:

//register:
var cacheInstanceHelper = DependencyService.Get<IBlobCacheInstanceHelper>();
if (!SimpleIoc.Default.IsRegistered<IBlobCacheInstanceHelper>())
     SimpleIoc.Default.Register<IBlobCacheInstanceHelper>(()=> cacheInstanceHelper);

//initialize:
//cacheInstanceHelper.Init();
//or
SimpleIoc.Default.GetInstance<IBlobCacheInstanceHelper>().Init();

So that’s it, we are now ready to use our local cache powered by Akavache within our Xamarin.Forms project. In the next post, we will have a look on how to use akavache for storing and retrieving data.

Until then, happy coding, everyone!

Posted by msicc in Android, Dev Stories, iOS, UWP, Xamarin, 1 comment