dependency service

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
Xamarin Forms, the MVVMLight Toolkit and I: loading bundled assets in the Forms project

Xamarin Forms, the MVVMLight Toolkit and I: loading bundled assets in the Forms project

The scenario …

The reason I came up with this is that I am writing on an Xamarin.Forms web reader app. It is an app that uses a  WebView to display the contents of web articles. Of course, I am using a CSS-file to style the content that gets displayed. I am using the default font of every platform, plus some platform specific settings in there. The easiest way to get it working right is to give every platform its own CSS-file. In the Xamarin.Forms project however, I just want to call one method that gets the thing done.

For this scenario, the well documented Files access in Xamarin.Forms does not work.

This post will not yet be reflected in my ongoing XfMvvmLight project on Github as I have another one building on top of this in my queue. Once the second one is written, the project will show these changes, too. This post will contain the full classes however, so you could C&P them if you want/need.

DependencyService and another interface

If you are following this series already, you might already know that the easiest way to achieve my goal is to use the built-in Xamarin.FormsDependencyService and the needed interface with the native implementations.

So let’s start with the interface:

namespace XfMvvmLight.Abstractions
{
    public interface IAssetPathHelper
    {
        string GetResourceFolderPath(string folderName, bool forWeb = false);

        string GetResourcePath(bool forWeb = false);

        string GetResourceFilePath(string folder, string fileName, bool forWeb = false);
    }
}

The interface dictates three string-returning methods that will either return the base path of the platform resources, a specific folder or the full path to the bundled file. This interface covers most usage scenarios I came across. Feel free to leave any feedback if I am missing out a common one.

The only thing left to do is to register the interface in our ViewModelLocator, like we did already before in the RegisterServices() method:

var assetPathHelper = DependencyService.Get();
SimpleIoc.Default.Register(()=> assetPathHelper);

We are getting the platform implementation via the built in DependecyService and assign in to our Xamarin.Forms interface (like we have done already before). By registering it with our SimpleIoc instance, we can now use it wherever we want in our Xamarin.Forms project.

Platform implementations

Android

If you add files in the Resources folder, you can easily access them via the Resource class in your Android project. However, files like CSS-files are normally placed within the Assets folder of your Xamarin.Android project.

Depending on the usage scenario, we have two ways to access the files in the ‘Assets’ folder. If we are residing in the Xamarin.Android project and want to access the content of those bundled assets, we are able to access them using the Android.App.Context.Assets property and assign it to the Android.Content.Res.AssetManager class. We can then use streams to get the data contained in those files.

This does not help however if we want to access those files from a WebView (both in the Android and the Xamarin.Forms project), that’s why we have to use the ‘file:///android_asset‘ uri-scheme. Here is the platform implementation:

using XfMvvmLight.Abstractions;
using XfMvvmLight.Droid.PlatformImplementation;
using System.Diagnostics;
using System.IO;

[assembly: Xamarin.Forms.Dependency(typeof(AssetPathHelper))]
namespace XfMvvmLight.Droid.PlatformImplementation;
{
    public class AssetPathHelper : IAssetPathHelper
    {
        public string GetResourceFolderPath(string folderName, bool forWeb = false)
        {
            return Path.Combine(GetResourcePath(),folderName);
        }

        public string GetResourcePath(bool forWeb = false)
        {
            //reminding ourselves to double check if this way is really necessary
            if (!forWeb)
            {
                Debug.WriteLine("**********************************");
                Debug.WriteLine("You should consider using AssetManager if you are not using this in a WebView.");
                Debug.WriteLine("See: https://developer.xamarin.com/guides/android/application_fundamentals/resources_in_android/part_6_-_using_android_assets/");
                Debug.WriteLine("**********************************");
            }
            
            //but we are always returning the uri scheme 
            return $"file:///android_asset"; 
        }

        public string GetResourceFilePath(string folder, string fileName, bool forWeb = false)
        {
            var folderPath = string.IsNullOrEmpty(folder) ? GetResourcePath() : GetResourceFolderPath(folder);

            return Path.Combine(folderPath,fileName);
        }
    }
}

The implementation is pretty straight forward. Although we could call all three methods, the one we use probably the most is the GetResourceFilePath method. It will give us the complete path to the resource file, which we can then use in our calling code of our Xamarin.Forms project.

By using the Path.Combine method we make sure we get a valid file path string, which is exactly what we need if we are accessing assets in this way. As most of the scenarios for accessing assets could be easily covered by using AssetManager (see above), I am printing a reminder message that it exists to the output window of VisualStudio.

Important: you have to make sure the Build Action of your files is set to AndroidAsset, otherwise you’ll see nothing, in some scenarios it will even throw exceptions. This accounts for the AssetManager as well as for the AssetPathHelper implementations.

iOS

On iOS, we are able to access bundled assets via the NSBundle class. The implementation is even easier than the one for Android, as this is the only way to get those assets. That’s why we are ignoring the forWeb parameter in this case. Here is the implementation:

using System.IO;
using Foundation;
using XfMvvmLight.Abstractions;
using XfMvvmLight.iOS.PlatformImplementation;

[assembly: Xamarin.Forms.Dependency(typeof(AssetPathHelper))]
namespace XfMvvmLight.iOS.PlatformImplementation
{
    //forWeb is ignored on iOS!
    public class AssetPathHelper : IAssetPathHelper
    {
        public string GetResourceFolderPath(string folderName, bool forWeb = false)
        {
            return Path.Combine(GetResourcePath(), folderName);
        }

        public string GetResourcePath(bool forWeb = false)
        {
            return NSBundle.MainBundle.BundlePath;
        }

        public string GetResourceFilePath(string folder, string fileName, bool forWeb = false)
        {
            var folderPath = string.IsNullOrEmpty(folder) ? GetResourcePath() : GetResourceFolderPath(folder);

            return Path.Combine(folderPath, fileName);
        }
    }
}

Important: Make sure your files have the Build Action set to BundleResource, because otherwise you will once again get some errors flying around your head.

UWP

The implementation of the UWP Assets is once again the one with the most places involved. Let’s have a look at the implementation itself first:

using System.IO;
using XfMvvmLight.Abstractions;

namespace XfMvvmLight.UWP.PlatformImplementations
{
    public class AssetPathHelper : IAssetPathHelper
    {
        public string GetResourceFolderPath(string folderName, bool forWeb = false)
        {
            return Path.Combine(GetResourcePath(forWeb),folderName);
        }

        public string GetResourcePath(bool forWeb = false)
        {
            if (forWeb)
            {
                return $"ms-appx-web:///";
            }
            else
            {
                return $"ms-appx:///";
            }
        }

        public string GetResourceFilePath(string folder, string fileName, bool forWeb = false)
        {
            var folderPath = string.IsNullOrEmpty(folder) ? GetResourcePath(forWeb) : GetResourceFolderPath(folder, forWeb);

            return Path.Combine(folderPath,fileName);
        }
    }
}

The UWP platform uses a separate uri-scheme for all web related things. That’s where the  forWeb parameter comes in handy. If we are not loading a bundled asset for the web, we can use this implementation for other resources as well (bundled placeholder images are a good example here).

The next step is to add the assembly again to the list of assemblies that must be included, like we have done before in the OnLaunched method within App.xaml.cs:

//modified for .NET Compile
//see https://developer.xamarin.com/guides/xamarin-forms/platform-features/windows/installation/universal/#Target_Invocation_Exception_when_using_Compile_with_.NET_Native_tool_chain
List<Assembly> assembliesToInclude =
    new List<Assembly>
    {
        typeof(OsVersionService).GetTypeInfo().Assembly,
        typeof(PlatformDialogService).GetTypeInfo().Assembly, 
        typeof(AssetPathHelper).GetTypeInfo().Assembly
    };

The last step involved in the UWP project is to register the implementation with the DependencyService
after the Xamarin.Forms framework is initialized:

Xamarin.Forms.DependencyService.Register<AssetPathHelper>();

The resources should be packed with a Build Action of Content for the UWP platform.

Back to the Xamarin.Forms project

Now that we have everything in place on our platform projects as well as our Xamarin.Forms project, we finally can start using these methods. Here is an example of loading a CSS-file into a string. We can pass this string together with an HTML-string into a HtmlWebViewSource:

private static string GetCssString(string cssFileName)
{
    var resourcePath = SimpleIoc.Default.GetInstance<IAssetPathHelper>().GetResourceFolderPath("HtmlResources", true);

    return $"<link rel=\"stylesheet\" href=\"{resourcePath}/{cssFileName}\">";
}

Summary

Using the DependencyService of Xamarin.Forms allows us once again to use platform specific functionality very easily. When we are working with WebView and HTML, this comes in handy. If you have other valid scenarios for this implementations or even ideas on how to improve them, feel free to leave a comment below or ping me on my social network accounts. Otherwise, I hope this post is helpful for some of you.

As this is the last post before xmas, I wish you all a merry xmas in addition to my traditional

Happy coding, everyone!

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