Rory Primrose

Learn from my mistakes, you don't have time to make them yourself

View project on GitHub

TFS and WF4 - The diff noise problem

For a long time the most popular post I have on this site is about how to configure Visual Studio to use WinMerge as the merge/diff tool for TFS rather than using the feature poor out of the box software. Sometimes the nature of the files under development result in version differences that have a lot of noise regardless of the diff/merge tool that you use.

Unfortunately WF is one of the common offenders. I absolutely love WF, but am disappointed that designer state information is persisted with the workflow definition rather than in a user file that is merged in the IDE. The result of this is that the activity xaml file changes if you collapse a composite activity, such as the Sequence activity. The actual workflow definition has not changed, but it is a new version of the file as far as a diff tool and TFS goes.

Read More

BusinessFailureScope activity with deep nested support

I wrote a series of posts late last year about a custom WF activity that collates a set of business failures that child evaluator activities identify into a single exception. At the time, the only way I could get the child evaluator activities to communicate failures to the parent scope activity was by using a custom WF extension to store the failures and manage the exception throwing logic.

The relationship between the parent scope activity and child evaluator activity works like this. The parent scope activity registers all the child evaluator activities with the extension in order to create a link between them. The extension then holds on to the failures from the child activities so that it can throw an exception for them as a set when the parent scope completes. If there was no link between the parent scope and a child evaluator then the extension would throw the exception directly for the singular failure.

Read More

WF content correlation and security

I have posted previously about using content correlation in WF services to implement a service session. One issue that must be highlighted regarding content correlation is about the security of the session in relation to hijack attacks.

I am writing a workflow service that is a combination of IIS, WCF, WF, WIF and AppFabric. WIF is used to secure the WCF service to ensure that only authenticated users can hit the endpoint. WIF then handles claim demands raised depending on the actions taken within the service by the authenticated user. A session hijack can occur with content correlation where authenticated UserA starts the service and then authenticated UserB takes the content used for correlation and makes their own call against the service. In this case UserB is authenticated and passes through the initial WIF authentication. UserB could then potentially take actions or obtain data from the service related to UserA.

Read More

Calling a workflow service operation multiple times

Ron Jacobs has just answered an interesting question over on his blog. The question is about whether a workflow service operation can be invoked multiple times. Ron does not provide the details of the question but the example he provides implies that the implementation of the two invocations of the same service operation may be different as the same operation name is implemented twice in the workflow. This seems like a design issue as far as the service goes but the question itself is still interesting.

If we assume that the implementation of the service operation is the same (as it should be), how do we keep the service alive so that we can invoke the same method multiple times?

The answer is by using some kind of service session using WF correlation. Content correlation is my preferred option because it is independent of infrastructure concerns and does not restrict the WCF bindings available to you. I have previously posted about how to get a workflow service to create a session using content correlation.

Read More

Custom DisposalScope activity

The previous post outlined the issues with working with unmanaged and IDisposable resources in WF. To recap, the issues with these resources in WF are:

  • Persistence
  • Restoration after persistence
  • Error handling
    • Messy WF experience to handle this correctly

A custom activity can handle these issues in a much more elegant way than the partially successful implementation in the previous post.

Read More

Working with unmanaged and IDisposable resources in WF

Generally speaking you will want to steer clear of unmanaged or IDisposable resources when authoring WF workflows. The primary reasons for this are:

  • Persistence
  • Restoration after persistence
  • Error handling

A workflow may be persisted at any time (with the exception of a No Persist Zone). There are two problems for unmanaged or IDisposable resources with regard to persistence. Firstly, the resource may not be released when the workflow is persisted. Secondly the state of the resource when the workflow is restored is unlikely to be the same as when the workflow was persisted. There is no native support in WF for dealing with these two issues.

Read More

Custom IfThen activity

The two most common WF activities to use when implementing decision branching are the If activity and the Flowchart activity. Using a Flowchart is overkill for a simple/singular decision branch so the If is often chosen. Unfortunately the If activity that comes with WF4 forces an Else branch to be visible on the designer even if you are not using it. This can make workflows unnecessarily cluttered.image

The solution is to author a custom activity that only executes an If-Then branch rather than an If-Then-Else branch and provide appropriate designer support for this. A simplistic example of such an activity was provided in the January MSDNMag by Leon Welicki in his Authoring Control Flow Activities in WF 4 article.

Read More

WF Retry activity

One of the tools missing out of the WF toolbox is the ability to run some retry logic. Applications often have known scenarios where something can go wrong such that a retry of the last action could get a successful outcome. One such example is a connection timeout to a database. You may want to try a couple of times before throwing the exception in order to get more success over time.

The specific scenario I am addressing is a little different. I have created some custom MSF providers that will allow me to run a MSF sync session behind a WCF service. The main issue with this design is that it is possible that multiple clients may want to sync the same data set at the same time. MSF stores the metadata (Replica) that describes the items to sync in a SQLCE file. It will throw an exception if the replica is already open and in use. This doesn’t work well in a services environment. The way I will attempt to manage this is to limit the amount of time the replica is in use and then implement some retry logic around opening the replica in order to run a sync.

Read More

Extract WCF identity into a WorkflowServiceHost activity

I came across an issue with the combination of WCF, WF, WIF and AppFabric in December that had me a little worried. The issue was how to get the identity of the user calling a WCF service inside a WorkflowServiceHost workflow when using WIF to manage security and AppFabric for WF persistence.

The WIF documentation says the following:

As a note, when WIF is enabled inside WCF, the WCF ServiceSecurityContext does not work for obtaining the caller’s identity and claims; the application code must use the IClaimsPrincipal to access the caller’s information. You can obtain the IClaimsPrincipal instance using Thread.CurrentPrincipal. This is available for every authentication type as soon as WIF is enabled for the WCF application.

I had been developing my service application using Thread.CurrentPrincipal based on this information. Everything was fine until I started using WF persistence. Unfortunately enabling persistence (via AppFabric) had the affect of wiping out Thread.CurrentPrincipal.

Read More

Restricting the types available in TypePresenter in WF designers

The TypePresenter control is the UI that the WF designer displays for selecting a type. It is often seen on generics based activities and the InvokeMethod activity.image

This drop down list provides some common types and includes some of the types already found in the current activity context. Selecting “Browse for Types …” allows for all referenced types to be searched in a dialog.image

Sometimes you don’t want the TypePresenter to provide every available type. The TypePresenter has a great feature that allows you to restrict the types it displays in this list and the associated “Browse for Types …” dialog. This is done by providing a Func<Type, Boolean> reference on the TypePresenter’s Filter property.

Read More