Tuesday, May 29, 2007

WCF: Duplex is awesome!

One of my first assignments in the new job has been to lookup into a couple of the fun new features in .NET 3.0, like WCF and WWF.

So far, I've found Communication Foundation really interesting, albeit a bit annoying to work with.
It's main force is it's flexibility. Where you would usually have to decide on either building a Web Service, your own custom coded TCP Server or use remoting, you can now just build a standard service and then just put in the configuration file which protocol it should use (like HTTP, TCP, Named Pipes, MSMQ, etc) - or well, at least thats the theory. The downside to this is of course that since there's a lot of stuff thats configurable, you really need to understand all the configuration concepts (like Bindings, MetadataExchange, Endpoints, Security, Contracts, etc) properly and configure it well in order to use it.
Another potential problem could be the performance of this communication since all the communication is handled using SOAP (which means that there's a lot of XML serialization and deserialization going on).

It would also seem that a couple of the problems known from WebServices has been addressed. For instance you now no longer need to put the webservices in IIS in order to use web-services - they'll just open a HTTP port for you and act as their own server. It also looks like error-handling has been improved and it looks like there's now some cross-service exception-handling (although not perfect. An ApplicationException thrown from the server will appear to be a "FaultException" on the client - but perhaps I'm missing something here).

The most awesome feature I've stumbled across until now in WCF is the possibility to make Duplex services, e.g. services that are able to initiate communication with the client.
Sure, you could yourself make each client a service as well as a client and then let them exchange connection information, but now this functionality is build into the communications framework.
Naturally this requires some coding/configuration inconviniences, but once they are done it's easy to implement a state-of-the-art Observer pattern across various machines.
Setup a service, allow multiple clients to call the service to register themself as subscribers to various events, and then let the Service notify them when the event occurs.
Jeff Barnes has put a great article on Codeproject with an example of this.

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