Where are you from? A journey into WCF with Dojo.

To celebrate the upgrading of the JavaScript API to 1.5 I decided to have a little play with adding a where are you from page to the site (you can get too it from the page link above). This is a little routine to take your IP address and geo-locate where you are. It’s a very simple application in the style of Al Pascual’s imageMap Stats Silverlight application that you can get here. In fact it’s almost the same, except it works with Dojo uses a different IP geolocator from IPInfoDB as the one used by Al didn’t know places like New Zealand existed.

It was an interesting application to write, not only did it let me get acquainted again with the JS API, but also accessing simple WCF services from Dojo (easier than you might think) and working with the .NET JSON data contract serializer’s. Once you have the basics of those then the world is your oyster in terms of getting functionality into the browser. The Dojo bits were easy, a few bits of JavaScript on the page a call to a service using xhrGet and were cooking on gas, all we need now is the working WCF service. Hmm now that should be easy yes?

WCF Learning Pains

I’ve always been amazed about how Microsoft took a nice simple thing such as Web Services and made it so much harder with WCF. I do understand that you can to so much more, but with the Visual Studio IDE imageyou just used the template to create the webservice (add new!) and there it was, easy as the proverbial pie. Now with WCF it’s all about message contracts and whether they right information has been dumped into your web.config file. Now I do understand the power of data contracts and how they can be extremely powerful, but the fact that after creating a new WCF service, I had to make sure everything was decorated correctly down to specifying the right binding on my endpoint (if you don’t know what I mean then don’t worry it’s not really worth knowing, if you do I think you should get out more). Why do I have to do this? I think I’ve become lazy when developing with Microsoft products, when the tools fail me I have to start relying on my brain again (ok I use Google’s brain, but haven’t we all outsourced our thinking to Google already?), I think I last used that was when I was developing Java applications (or come to think of it debugging JavaScript!). So my new checklist for getting WCF services ready to be used with Dojo is:

  • Is your endpoints binding set to webHttpBinding in your web.config, mine wasn’t it caused me grief.
  • Have you set your AspNetCompatibilityRequirements to allowed in your service attributes? I think this matters, stuff works once it’s been added in (lots more info about WCF and ASP.NET can be gained here, a must read).
  • Does your operating contract (contained in your interface file if you didn’t know) specify the right parameter names for the Dojo request (mine didn’t it took me a while to realise why nothing was actually being passed in, classic brain-fail!). image
    Now I can actually see that these things are going to help me in the long run, I just wished that stuff I could have knocked up in about 5 minutes in the old way takes me so much longer and a great deal more fiddling to do. It’s like having to do real coding again, not just concerning myself with actually getting the applications to do what the customer wants, yeah I remember those days, they weren’t good in my opinion!

serviceHostingEnvironment what’s this then?

Once I had the code working there was one final journey into the unknown depths of the servicemodel section of the web.config file. This had to do with deploying my application onto my host, which has a number of URL’s that are assigned to my domain. This confuses WCF and gives a strange error when it cannot seem to resolve the correct one. So it was back to the web.config file to set the baseAddressPrefixFilters element within the serviceHostingEnvironment tag. Fortunatley my Googlebrain was able to help me out again and I managed to find this post (ironically from my host!) although the simple solution is contained in the comments.

I am not Spock.

Yeah I know you think I’m making it all up, I wish I was. When designing this stuff they should have read Jol Spolsky’s duct tape programmer post to understand whilst many people can get software to work and be delivered on time, were not all Spock.  Nor do we wish to devote out life to being Spock, I have games to play and wine to drink (and if I have any time left over a family to be with, well maybe I can spend a little more time coding!).

Anyway after all this I managed to get my simple, yeah it’s not very complicated once this bits fall into place, location application working. I’ve got a few more plans for it (integration with Firefox location, addition of Tweets in your area, <insert additional social API integration here>, you get the idea.

Once complete I’ll post some of the code up and if your really interested, sometime I’ll go through how I wrote a WCF class to consume the ArcGIS Server REST API, yeah I know you can’t wait. In the meantime I’ll put the existing code up soon but head over to the page to find out where you are (if you don’t already know!) and remember as you develop all this ninja code the following adage…

 

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