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Binding to Enums

I’ve seen numerous questions regarding data binding to Enums, together with many solutions on how to do it, but the question I’m asking myself is – do I really want to bind anything to an Enum?

I like to think about Enums purely as a coding aid – to help programmer code with some descriptive names instead of messing with pure numeric values. Similar to what constants are for, except Enums provide a set of values for describing a single parameter.

Instead of:

product.Quality = 3;

the programmer would write:

product.Quality = Quality.Good;
 
… providing that Quality Enum is declared something like:
 
public enum Quality
{
    JustBad, Poor, OK, Good, Excellent
}

Of course, you could set your enum values to some concrete numbers, like:

public enum Quality
{
    JustBad = 1, Poor = 2, OK = 3, Good = 4, Excellent = 5
}

… but in most cases you shouldn’t need to. Like I said, I see Enums only as a before-compilation, human <-> code communication, and therefore I believe no part of Enum should ever see the light of day (i.e. be exposed to the UI). And with that, there goes the need for binding to Enums…

Why would I want to bind to Enums anyway? Enum enumerators have no description (other than their names). If you need to provide spaces or even support localized descriptions, you’ll need to extend them significantly, so why not create a new class anyway? Here’s what I use instead of an Enum:

public sealed class Quality
{
    public const int JustBad = 1;
    public const int Poor = 2;
    public const int OK = 3;
    public const int Good = 4;
    public const int Excellent = 5;

    public Dictionary<int, string> Collection { get; private set; }

    public Quality()
    {
        Collection = new Dictionary<int, string>()
        {
            {JustBad,   "Just bad :("},
            {Poor,      "Poor"},
            {OK,        "OK"},
            {Good,      "Good"},
            {Excellent, "Excellent!"},
        };
    }
}

The programmer would still write:

product.Quality = Quality.Good;

so it makes it easy to refactor existing code. Additionally, you can put in any description for the values, support localization, and it’s easy bindable in Xaml - declare the class instance as a local resource:

<local:Quality x:Key="quality" />
and bind away:
 
<ListBox DisplayMemberPath="Value" 
         ItemsSource="{Binding Collection, Source={StaticResource quality}}" />

WPF vs. Silverlight: a subset or what?

For a WPF developer, crossing over to Silverlight development can be a pretty mindboggling adventure.

I mean - if you’re currently engaged with Windows Forms or ASP.NET and seeking new advancements, Silverlight would (should?) be a logical step forward in your life as a developer. There are, of course, a whole variety of new concepts and patterns to be learned, but compared to WPF, Silverlight is really not that big. When comparing Silverlight and WPF, I often describe WPF as Silverlight’s older brother: calm, capable & wise business man, dressed in a grey suit. On the other hand, Silverlight would be a very agile, very smart and witty teenager, popular among the crowd, although sometimes crossing the boundaries of what’s considered a good behavior. But at the same time he would be pushing the tolerance limits of his older brother, teaching him some new things and giving him a different, fresh perspective on life.

How so?

WPF is pretty big, framework-wise. Silverlight is substantially smaller, but:

a] Silverlight had Visual State Manager in v2. WPF VSM was announced only after Silverlight was out and is in the making, as of now. VSM was introduced to replace styling with the support of triggers, which don’t really exist in Silverlight (there’s the EventTrigger, but that’s pretty much it).
b] Silverlight had a DataGrid in v2. WPF DataGrid v1 has just been released.
c] Silverlight additionally allows some simpler Xaml constructs, like TargetTyping to a type name (TargetType=”Button”) rather than a type reference (WPF: TargetType=”{x:Type Button}”), etc. WPF is going to follow Silverlight on this too.

Silverlight clearly took the lead with introducing new features into the framework and improving what was considered as not so good in WPF. And with Silverlight v2 being RTW for only a few months now, we’re expecting some big announcements on MIX09about v3 , which is said to be released later this year. Silverlight is maturing fast.

Of course, there are currently some crucial things missing in Silverlight that ruins the experience with developing a decent (LOB) application:

a] No commanding support.
b] No real business objects validation support.
c] etc, etc… The web is full of Silverlight missing features. Google it. I’ll only post two MSDN links on differences between WPF and Silverlight: here, here.

If you’ve learned (and practiced) WPF prior to Silverlight, those differences could easily turn out to be a wall, which you’re going to hit into when actively engaged in developing a real-world Silverlight project. Take, for example, the DependencyObject. The guy who posted this question obviously studied the wrong documentation when learning Silverlight. And it’s so easy to take a wrong turn when navigating through the links describing Silverlight classes and functionality. One wrong click and you may be directed to the WPF-version of the page, describing DependencyObject, for example. Not knowing that you’re really studying the WPF implementation (which differs significantly from what’s in Silverlight) you read all about it; and you learn it wrong!  I myself didn’t know about this difference until the mentioned post got me to start Reflecting on both versions of DependencyObject.

Here’s the short story: if you declare a DependencyProperty on the DependencyObject in WPF, any change to the value of this property will raise the PropertyChanged event, without the need to implement the INotifyPropertyChanged interface. In Silverlight, this is no go. Silverlight’s DependencyObject doesn’t implement the OnPropertyChanged method like WPF DO does, so you have to implement INotifyPropertyChanged interface on your object for it to properly propagate PropertyChanged event to its listeners. There is, however, a reasoning behind this: Silverlight’s Binding construct doesn’t support the ElementName property, which allows binding to some other control on the same page. All controls are descendants of a DependencyObject so therefore, if bound to, they should notify their listeners if one of dependency properties has changed. But because you can’t bind to those controls, there is no need for DependencyObjects to support PropertyChanged notification on dependency properties. You commonly bind your controls to business objects in Silverlight anyway, and putting DependencyProperties into business objects is not recommended even in WPF. Business objects should implement INotifyPropertyChanged-enabled properties, be that in Silverlight or WPF.

All those tiny little differences don’t make it easy for someone concurrently involved with Silverlight and WPF projects. Imagine working on two simultaneous projects, but one in C# and the other in VB. The syntax differences of those two can be easily compared to differences between Silverlight and WPF. Constantly switching between two similar mindsets can be a pain.

We’ve all been told several times that Silverlight is a subset of WPF. Well, rather than a subset, I like to call Silverlight a REset of WPF. I mean, with Silverlight, Microsoft now has this great opportunity to gradually create a fresh, true cross-platform, “runs-everywhere” presentation framework from the ground up, being able to cover all kinds of applications imagined, from games to business; the latter of course greatly powered by the web (services / cloud). They’ve learned what works and what not from working on WPF, so Silverlight would get only those bits that do work. At the same time WPF will continue to improve together with Silverlight, until… until Silverlight grows powerful enough to forget all about WPF :) Might be far-fetched, but hey…

So, will WPF eventually die? Is it a dead end? When?
Let me answer this question with another answer: is Windows Forms dead yet?

On the other hand, look what we’ve been programming about 10-15 years ago… looking 15 years in the future, I’m afraid there will be neither Silverlight nor WPF, but something uber-both. So whatever solves your current business problem, goes.

photoSuru install experience

Realizing that i don’t have any decent photo slideshow player installed on my machine I thought I’d install photoSuru and see what it can do for me.

photoSuru

While it’s a beautiful subscription-based WPF photo viewer, built on a Syndicated Client Experiences (SCE) Starter Kit , it was something else that caught my eye:

install

What kind of installer is this? Looks like the application itself… did I already install it and it’s now updating itself?

Yes, photoSuru is a ClickOnce application. Deployment-wise, it uses a hybrid MSI/ClickOnce installer, providing a consistent look, matching the appearance of the application itself. If you’ve deployed any ClickOnce application before, you know that you had no power to change that dull install dialog in any way.

.NET 3.5 SP1 changed this. With SP1 installed, you now do have the power to customize and brand your application’s progress dialog, including optional end-user license agreement page, localization, etc., you just have to do it all by putting together a bunch of Xml files, describing what you want it to look like.  Yup, there is no visual support for this yet (as in Visual Studio 2008 SP1). The future looks bright, though. Client Profile Configuration Designer is currently a part of WPF Futures, a taste of what is about to come. You can download and play with it - it’s certainly going to be of some help to you, at least to get you started and set up the basic dialogs and progress flow, but you might still have to get into the Xml files to fine-tune some details.

I’ve tried the CPC Designer with one of my WPF apps some time ago and I did manage to put together a quite decent looking installer, it just took me more time as it would if I went with the default ClickOnce option. But that goes without saying, doesn’t it?

Making the Silverlight TreeView bindable two-way

One of the most common scenarios in LOB applications is a list control, displaying some sort of items, and clicking on an item provides the user with some details about selected item. This is called a Master-detail scenario. Take Microsoft Outlook, as a typical three level example [Folder-Mail-Content]. I’m going to implement this scenario with Silverlight Toolkit’s TreeView using the MVVM pattern.

I’ll use the same PageViewModel, used in the first post of my TreeView Editing series and begin working on the user interface, first using a ListBox, not the TreeView. The PageViewModel is, again, set as the DataContext of the main page.

ListBox

Selecting a help topic from the list will get its description shown in a TextBlock below the ListBox. How this works is that when an item is selected, the ViewModel is notified. The ViewModel then gets the selected item’s details and notifies the TextBlock when the details are available. Sounds complicated? It’s not, really.

Let’s do this the easy way – I’m going to use the HelpTopic class as a list item and as a detail. That means both the ListBox and the TextBlock will be bound to the new SelectedTopic property on the ViewModel:

private HelpTopic selectedTopic;
public HelpTopic SelectedTopic
{
    get { return selectedTopic; }
    set
    {
        if (selectedTopic == value)
        {
            return;
        }
        selectedTopic = value;
        OnPropertyChanged("SelectedTopic");
    }
}

with ListBox and TextBlock bound as displayed in this parts of Xaml:

<ListBox ItemsSource="{Binding HelpTopics}" DisplayMemberPath="Name"
SelectedItem="{Binding SelectedTopic, Mode=TwoWay}" />

<TextBlock Text="{Binding SelectedTopic.Name}" />

Now let’s add a Tree and bind it the same way as the ListBox. Here’s the complete Xaml:

<StackPanel>
    <StackPanel Orientation="Horizontal">
        <ListBox ItemsSource="{Binding HelpTopics}" DisplayMemberPath="Name" 
                 SelectedItem="{Binding SelectedTopic, Mode=TwoWay}" Width="300"
                 HorizontalAlignment="Stretch" /> <slt:TreeView VerticalAlignment="Stretch" ItemsSource="{Binding HelpTopics}"
                      SelectedItem="{Binding SelectedTopic, Mode=TwoWay}" Width="300"> <slt:TreeView.ItemTemplate> <slt:HierarchicalDataTemplate ItemsSource="{Binding SubTopics}"> <TextBlock Text="{Binding Name}" VerticalAlignment="Center" /> </slt:HierarchicalDataTemplate> </slt:TreeView.ItemTemplate> </slt:TreeView> </StackPanel> <Border BorderBrush="Black" BorderThickness="1" HorizontalAlignment="Stretch"> <StackPanel Orientation="Horizontal"> <TextBlock Text="You selected: " Margin="4" /> <TextBlock Text="{Binding SelectedTopic.Name}" VerticalAlignment="Center" Margin="4" /> </StackPanel> </Border> </StackPanel>

We have two controllers now (ListBox and TreeView). But let’s observe how they like being controlled.

image

image

TreeView differs from the ListBox in having a private SelectedItem property setter, which makes two-way binding impossible. Almost impossible anyway, there is a way around it.

Let’s extend the TreeView by creating a new attached property which will provide us with “the-missing-way binding”, needed to update the TreeView from the ViewModel:

public class SelectionService
{
    public static readonly DependencyProperty SelectedItemProperty = 
           DependencyProperty.RegisterAttached("SelectedItem", typeof(object), typeof(SelectionService),
           new PropertyMetadata(null, OnSelectedItemChanged)); public static void SetSelectedItem(DependencyObject o, object propertyValue) { o.SetValue(SelectedItemProperty, propertyValue); } public static object GetSelectedItem(DependencyObject o) { return o.GetValue(SelectedItemProperty); } private static void OnSelectedItemChanged(DependencyObject d, DependencyPropertyChangedEventArgs e) { TreeView treeView = d as TreeView; if (treeView == null) { return; } TreeViewItem item = treeView.ItemContainerGenerator.ContainerFromItem(e.NewValue) as TreeViewItem; if (item == null) { return; } item.IsSelected = true; } }

There’s really just two lines of code that actually do anything. In the OnSelectedItemChangedMethod, I’m getting the container TreeViewItem of the selected HelpTopic and set its IsSelected property to true.

To attach this property to the TreeView, add the following to the above-defined TreeView:

<slt:TreeView ... local:SelectionService.SelectedItem="{Binding SelectedTopic}">

There’s however two minor issues to this approach… TreeView’s native SelectedItem property is still two-way bound so when ViewModel tries to call its private setter, an exception is still thrown, which may affect performance. What we would need here is a OneWayToSource type binding, which exists in WPF, but unfortunately not in Silverlight.

The other issue is that the above code only works for the root level. If you want to select any node in the hierarchy, you would traverse the tree unit you find the one that should be selected. But… the TreeView creates TreeViewItems only when needed (when their parent node is expanded). In order to fix this, each item has to be expanded before inspecting their children and then collapsed, if that was its original state. Additionally, this approach can be even more time consuming. Let’s look at the quick and dirty implementation:

private static void OnSelectedItemChanged(DependencyObject d, DependencyPropertyChangedEventArgs e)
{
    TreeView treeView = d as TreeView;
    if (treeView == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    TreeViewItem item = treeView.ItemContainerGenerator.ContainerFromItem(e.NewValue) as TreeViewItem;
    if (item != null)
    {
        item.IsSelected = true;
        return;
    }

    for (int i = 0; i < treeView.Items.Count; i++)
    {
        SelectItem(e.NewValue, treeView.ItemContainerGenerator.ContainerFromIndex(i) as TreeViewItem);
    }
}

private static void SelectItem(object o, TreeViewItem parent)
{
    if (parent == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    bool isExpanded = parent.IsExpanded;
    if (!isExpanded)
    {
        parent.IsExpanded = true;
        parent.UpdateLayout();
    }
    TreeViewItem item = parent.ItemContainerGenerator.ContainerFromItem(o) as TreeViewItem;
    if (item != null)
    {
        item.IsSelected = true;
        return;
    }

    for (int i = 0; i < parent.Items.Count; i++)
    {
        SelectItem(o, parent.ItemContainerGenerator.ContainerFromIndex(i) as TreeViewItem);
    }

    if (parent.IsExpanded != isExpanded)
    {
        parent.IsExpanded = isExpanded;
    }
}

OK, now we have a two-way bindable TreeView, playing nice with the ViewModel, but with some performance hit for that “other-way binding”. I’m sure the Silverlight Toolkit guys would make this much more performant, so if you would like to see TreeView’s SelectedItem property to be made public, you can vote here.

Design a Vista-like account display picture for Silverlight application

If you like the way how Windows Vista shows your account picture on the Login screen, or how Windows Live Messenger’s display picture looks like on, you have probably already thought about putting something like it in your Silverlight application, either for a login screen or just to display a picture in a nice frame.

To take a short break from coding, I’m going to write about how to design a frame, similar to what the above examples use, and put it on a Silverlight page.

I’ll start by opening Expression Design.

Create a new document, then select a Rectangle tool and draw two squares on the canvas. Their size should be set to 110x110 and 97x97. Make sure the stroke of both is set to 1 px width, black.

Set the smaller square’s Corner Radius to 2 px, and the bigger one should be set to 4px.

With the bigger square selected, select Object | Envelope Distort | Make Warp Group then decrease group’s resolution by selecting Object | Envelope Distort | Decrease Resolution.

Squares

With the Direct Selection tool selected, select each of the four handles on the sides (not corners) and move them away from the center by approx. 4 px.

Rectagle

With the square still selected, select Object | Envelope Distort | Edit Warp Group.

In the Properties window, under Appearance, select Fill Gradient Color tool. Choose your base color (I’ve chosen one from the default set) and build a custom gradient on it. Setting it up like this:

Gradient

got me this:

Gradient

Return to the main panel. If the square isn’t updated with the gradient, do something to it to get it refresh itself.

Now, select both rectangles and align them vertically and horizontally (Arrange | Align | Vertical Centers, Arrange | Align | Horizontal Centers). If the smaller square disappears (falls behind the bigger one), send the big one to back (Arrange | Order | Send to Back).

Select the smaller square and set its fill color to White and allow some transparency (80% Opacity in this case).

Voila:

Picture frame

If that's not enough, you can experiment by setting the outer square’s stroke color to a lighter black/grey, add a drop shadow, etc. Expression Design allows great effects to be applied to your objects, would be a waste not to use them :)

Now, for the Silverlight part…

Select Edit | Options | Clipboard (XAML)… Set Clipboard format to XAML Silverlight Canvas. You can uncheck the Place grouped objects in a XAML layout container option.

Group all objects (Arrange | Group) into one group and move the whole thing into left top corner. Edit | Copy XAML (Ctrl+Shift+C) and paste into your Silverlight page (Xaml view).

Note: all of the above applies if you’re building a display picture for your WPF application too. Just select the proper Clipboard/XAML settings in Expression Designer and you’re ready to go.

Now, replace the Canvas declaration with a Grid and remove all Canvas-related attributes from its child elements.

Now you can fill the empty content with a picture of your choice.

Display picture

In one of the forthcoming posts I’ll make this a custom control and most likely build a multiple user login screen, but in a rather unusual way ;)