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Async Commands with Codon FX

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1 Apr 2018CPOL9 min read
Learn how to leverage the asynchronous ICommand implementation in Codon FX to support commands that kick-off long-running operations.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Have you ever created a view-model for your app that contains an ICommand that needs to perform some asynchronous activity? Such as calling a web API or saving data to a file? If you have, you'll know that the synchronous ICommand interface doesn't lend itself easily to asynchronous operations. You end up having to build a mini-state-machine to disable and re-enable the command target when the command completes. Wouldn't it be nice if commands could function asynchronously? Well, in Codon, they can.

Codon FX is a cross-platform framework for building maintainable applications. Codon comes with rich commanding infrastructure. As you'd expect there is a basic ICommand implementation: ActionCommand, that allows you to supply delegates that are called during command execution or when evaluating the command's Enabled property. There is also a UICommand class that, in addition to the features of the ActionCommand class, provides text, icon, and visibility support.

Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking that these ICommand implementations, residing in Codon's core .NET Standard library, are all that Codon has to offer as far as commanding goes. But they're not. In Codon's Extras package there exists a number of other commands, which are analogous to those in the core library, but offer async support. AsyncActionCommand brings in asynchronous method support, yet also implements ICommand seamlessly, making it compatible with the built-in commanding infrastructure of UWP, WPF, Xamarin Forms, and Codon's Xamarin Android binding system.

In this post you look at using the AsyncActionCommand. You see how to create a view-model with an asynchronous command that kicks of a potentially long running operation. You also explore how to globally handle exceptions that occur during the execution of an asynchronous operation.

Getting Started with Codon FX

Codon is built on .NET Standard. It has platform specific packages to support its dialog service and a number of other services. But, if you don't need the IDialogService implementation, page navigation, or any of the other platform specific features, then a NuGet reference to Codon or Codon.Extras.Core will suffice.

The sample UWP app makes use of Codon's IDialogService. For that reason, I've added a reference to the Codon.Extras.Uwp package.

The MainViewModel class in the sample contains a single ICommand named DoWorkCommand. See Listing 1.

DoWorkCommand is created with the following two parameters:

  • An async execute method named DoWorkAsync,
  • and an async can-execute method names CanDoWorkAsync.

There isn't a traditional getter or setter for the DoWorkCommand property. Instead I've used a C# 7.0 expression bodied getter to lazy-load the command. You don't need to do it this way, I just happen to like the conciseness of this syntax.

Listing 1. The Asynchronous DoWorkCommand

C#
public class MainViewModel : ViewModelBase, IExceptionHandler
{
    ...
    
	AsyncActionCommand doWorkCommand;

	public ICommand DoWorkCommand => doWorkCommand
		?? (doWorkCommand = new AsyncActionCommand(
				DoWorkAsync, CanDoWorkAsync));
		
    ...
}

MainViewModel extends Codon's ViewModelBase class. The Codon.UIModel.ViewModelBase class extends ObservableBase, which implements INotifyPropertyChanged (and INotifyPropertyChanging) via a PropertyChangeNotifier object.

The MainViewModel contains a boolean Busy property, which, as we shall see, is used to display a busy progress ring on a page. The property is defined in the view-model as shown:

C#
bool busy;

public bool Busy
{
	get => busy;
	private set => Set(ref busy, value);
}

Before we look at the DoWorkCommands delegates, lets briefly examine Codon's property setter infrastructure and at the way property change notification happens behind the scenes.

Understanding Codon's Property Setter API

The ViewModelBase class's Set method updates the field only if it has changed, and ensures that the update occurs on the UI thread so no cross-thread exceptions are thrown.

The Set method returns one of the following AssignmentResult enum values:

  • Success
  • Cancelled
  • AlreadyAssigned
  • OwnerDisposed

Success indicates that the field was not equal to the value being applied and that the field is now set to the specified value.

Cancelled may be returned if a subscriber to the view-model's INotifyPropertyChanging method, marks the PropertyChangingEventArgs as Cancelled, which prevents the field value from being updated.

If AlreadyAssigned is returned, then the field is equal to the value being applied. Neither the PropertyChanging event nor the PropertyChanged event is raised in this case.

ViewModelBase extends ObservableBase, which makes use of a PropertyChangeNotifier object. The PropertyChangeNotifier class allows you to aggregate the INPC (INotifyPropertyChanged) behavior, and alleviates the need to inherit from a base class implementing INotifyPropertyChanged.

FUN FACT: You can use PropertyChangeNotifier to enable INPC on any class.

If you're interested in the inner workings of Codon's INPC infrastructure please see the Codon.ComponentModel.ObservableBase class.

Understanding Async Command Actions

In this part of the post we look at the two method delegates passed to the AsyncActionCommand's constructor. The first is a the command's execution func DoWorkAsync, the second, CanDoWorkAsync, is a func that determines the Enabled state of the command and whether it can be executed.

The CanDoWorkAsync method relies on the busy flag, as shown in the following excerpt:

C#
Task<bool> CanDoWorkAsync(object arg)
{
	return Task.FromResult(!busy);
}

When the view-model's Busy property is set to true, the CanDoWorkAsync method returns a Task<bool> equal to false, which sets the Enabled state of the command to false. There's some magic that happens behind the scenes to make all this happen asynchronously. Please see the source of AsyncActionCommand if you're interested.

Did you know? Codon commands also support parameter type coercion. Codon's generic support means that if, for example, a command expects a bool parameter, then a parameter specified in XAML as true is automatically converted to a bool. This mechanism is also extensible; you can add your own type coercion capabilities by creating a custom IImplicitTypeConverter class which you then add to the IoC container, like so:

C#
Dependency.Register<IImplicitTypeConverter, MyImplicitTypeConverter>();

Let's return to the command's DoWorkAsync method.

The DoWorkAsync method is called when the DoWorkCommand is executed. See Lising 2. This method is marked async, which means we can await other async methods within its body.

It begins by setting a Busy flag to true. It then signals to the doWorkCommand that it should re-evaluate its Enabled property. Because busy is true at that point, the command's Enabled property is set to false.

NOTE: In contrast to traditional synchronous ICommand implementations, RaiseCanExecuteChanged may occur asynchronously, and so the Enabled state may not have necessarily changed after the call to its RaiseCanExecuteChanged method. To wait for the command to update its Enabled property, await its RefreshAsync method.

You'll notice that there is a if (raiseException) block within the method. We explore its purpose in a moment.

We use a Task.Delay call to prevent the method from completing for a few seconds, after which we use Codon's IDialogService to display an Activity Complete message to the user.

The finally block sets the Busy flag to false and once again calls the command's RaiseCanExecuteChanged method, which updates the command's Enabled property to true.

Listing 2. DoWorkAsync Method

C#
async Task DoWorkAsync(object arg)
{
	try
	{
		Busy = true;
		doWorkCommand.RaiseCanExecuteChanged();

		if (raiseException)
		{
			throw new Exception(
				"This exception is handled by the ShouldRethrowException method.");
		}

		/* Wait for a few seconds before completion. */
		await Task.Delay(5000);

		await Dependency.Resolve<IDialogService>().ShowMessageAsync(
			"The command has finished processing asynchronously.", "Activity Complete");
	}
	finally
	{
		Busy = false;
		doWorkCommand.RaiseCanExecuteChanged();
	}
}

So, what's with the if (raiseException) block? The view-model contains a RaiseException property that when set to true causes an exception to be thrown when the command executes. The purpose of this is to demonstrate the commanding infrastructure's global exception handling.

Exceptions thrown from a non-UI thread are notoriously difficult to handle properly. Especially if your code is running on different platforms. Codon attempts to alleviate that fact by providing a exception handling extensibility point. This is true for the commanding infrastructure, the decoupled messaging system, and the application settings system.

For example, to be notified of, and have the opportunity to handle, exception that are thrown during command execution, we can register a custom IExceptionHandler with the IoC container. We can do this globally, using a service that is separate from any particular view-model (an approach I favor), or we can take the easy road and implement IExceptionHandler in a view-model and register that view-model with the IoC container, as I did in this example. See Listing 3.

Listing 3. Registering an IExceptionHandler

C#
public class MainViewModel : ViewModelBase, IExceptionHandler
{
	public MainViewModel()
	{
		/* If an exception occurs during the execution of a command,
			* the ShouldRethrowException method is called. */
		Dependency.Register<IExceptionHandler>(this);
	}
}

When an exception is thrown during the executeAsync or the canExecuteAsync funcs, then the IExceptionHandler implementation has the opportunity to handle (disregard/log etc.) the exception. See Listing 4.

The MainViewModel's ShouldRethrowException method displays the exception in a dialog using the IDialogService. It could just as easily log the exception using Codon's ILog and evaluate some rules to determine if the exception should be rethrown or not; as indicated by the return value. If the method returns true, the commanding infrastructure re-throws the exception.

Now, if you're as old as I am, you may be thinking: Oh, this reminds me of that awfully complicated Exception Handling Application Block of the Enterprise Library from Patterns and Practices. And yes, it is a little bit like that. But, its real purpose, rather than being a way of applying policies to application errors, is to give your app the opportunity to handle exceptions raised by first or third-party components that might occur on a different thread and crash your app. When using Xamarin Android, for example, there isn't a way to globally handle exceptions.

Listing 4. MainViewModel ShouldRethrowException Method

C#
bool IExceptionHandler.ShouldRethrowException(Exception exception, object owner, 
	[CallerMemberName]string memberName = null, 
	[CallerFilePath]string filePath = null,
	[CallerLineNumber]int lineNumber = 0)
{
	Dependency.Resolve<IDialogService>().ShowMessageAsync(
		"Exception thrown: " + exception.Message);
			
	return false;
}

Let's now explore how the view-model is wired-up to the view. The MainPage class of the app sports a ViewModel property of type MainViewModel. See Listing 5.

We expose the MainViewModel as a property to allow the use of x:Bind binding expressions in XAML. The page's DataContext property is also set to the MainViewModel for good measure. I find it useful to do this for cases where I need the flexibility of old style Binding expressions.

Listing 5. MainPage.xaml.cs

C#
public sealed partial class MainPage : Page
{
	public MainPage()
	{
		this.InitializeComponent();

		DataContext = Dependency.Resolve<MainViewModel>();
	}

	public MainViewModel ViewModel => (MainViewModel)DataContext;
}

The MainPage.xaml file is bound to the view-model's DoWorkCommand. See Listing 6.

The ProgressRing and the StackPanel both share row 0 of the parent Grid. The ProgressRing sits on top of the other elements.

Listing 6. MainPage.xaml Excerpt

XML
<Page x:Class="AsyncCommandsExample.MainPage" ...>
    <Grid Background="{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
		<StackPanel>		
			<Button Command="{x:Bind ViewModel.DoWorkCommand}" 
                    Content="Show Dialog with Timer" />					
			<ToggleSwitch IsOn="{x:Bind ViewModel.RaiseException, Mode=TwoWay}"
                    Header="Raise Exception during Command Execution" />				
		</StackPanel>
		<ProgressRing IsActive="{x:Bind ViewModel.Busy, Mode=OneWay}" />
    </Grid>
</Page>

A ProgressRing control is shown when the view-model's Busy property is set to true, which occurs for 5 seconds when the button is clicked. See Figure 1.

Image 1
Figure 1. View-model in busy state as command executing.

When the DoWorkCommand completes a dialog is presented and the busy state is restored to false. See Figure 2.

Image 2
Figure 2. Command execution complete and busy state restored to false.

A ToggleSwitch is bound to the view-model's RaiseException property. When IsOn is set to true, and the button is clicked, an exception is raised in the DoWorkAsync method of the view-model. See Figure 3.

Image 3
Figure 3. Exception raised during command execution.

Conclusion

In this post you've seen how Codon comes with rich commanding infrastructure. As you'd expect there is a basic ICommand implementation: ActionCommand, that allows you to supply delegates that are called during command execution or when evaluating the command's Enabled property. There is also a UICommand class that, in addition to the features of the ActionCommand class, provides text, icon, and visibility support. However, in Codon's Extras package there exists a number asynchronous commands, which are analogous to those in the core library, and offer async support. AsyncActionCommand brings in asynchronous method support, yet also implements the ICommand interface seamlessly, making it compatible with the built-in commanding infrastructure of UWP, WPF, Xamarin Forms, and Codon's Xamarin Android binding system.

You saw how to create a view-model with an asynchronous command that kicks of a potentially long running operation. You also explored how to globally handle exceptions that occur during the execution of an asynchronous operation.

I hope you find this project useful. If so, then I'd appreciate it if you would rate it and/or leave feedback below. This will help me to make my next article better.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Daniel Vaughan
Engineer Microsoft
United States United States
Daniel Vaughan is a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft.

Previously Daniel was a nine-time Microsoft MVP and co-founder of Outcoder, a Swiss software and consulting company.

Daniel is the author of Windows Phone 8 Unleashed and Windows Phone 7.5 Unleashed, both published by SAMS.

Daniel is the developer behind several acclaimed mobile apps including Surfy Browser for Android and Windows Phone. Daniel is the creator of a number of popular open-source projects, most notably Codon.

Would you like Daniel to bring value to your organisation? Please contact

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