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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

How to save a List or a Collection on a NFC tag

 

WP8_NFC_PostLogo

As I am currently working again on my NFC app, I needed to save an ObservableCollection to a tag. My first attempts resulted in a heavily overlong string that I wasn’t able to save.

Anyways, after a short convo on Twitter, I went for the right way – serialize to JSON.

The first thing you’ll need for that is the JSON.NET library, which you can get here or via the NuGet package manager in Visual Studio.

After that, you will be able to save your List or ObservableCollection in a few easy steps.

One thing I need to recommend is to make the names in your class/viewmodel as short as possible. Here is my example:

public class ListItems
    {
        //ListItems
        public string i { get; set; }
        //isChecked
        public bool iC { get; set; }
    }

You will need every space you can get on your tag, so you really should go for a similar way like I did above.

After you are done with that, you only need one line of code to convert your List/Collection for writing on your tag:

var ListToSave = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(ItemsList);

Now you will be able to save it as a Text record or  whatever record type you need to save it to.

Deserializing the JSON string works also with only one line of code:

ItemsList = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<ObservableCollection<ListItems>>(StringFromYourTag);

Then you set the ItemsSource of your ListBox to that (or whatever else the List/Collection is for).

I my case, I was able to save a Collection of 25 items to my tag (writable size 716 bytes) with having still about 200 bytes left in this way.

As always, I hope this will be helpful for some of you.

Happy coding!

Posted by msicc in Dev Stories, windev, 0 comments