Archive for the 'Silverlight' Category

The Asynchronous Command Pattern for HTTP in Silverlight and GWT

When you’re writing RIA applications in an environment like Silverlight or GWT, you’re restricted to doing asynchronous http calls to the server — this leaves you with a number of tricky choices, such as, where to put your callback functions. To be specific, imagine we’ve created a panel in the user interface where a user enters information, then clicks on a form to submit it. The first place you might think of putting the callback is in the class for the panel, something like

public class MyPanel:StackPanel {
	... other functions ...

        void SubmitButton_Click(Object sender,EventArgs e) {
           ... collect data from forms ...

        void SubmissionCallback(SubmissionResult result) {
           ... update user interface ...

(Although code samples are in C#, the language I’m using now, I developed this pattern when working on a Java project.) This is a straightforward pattern for the simplest applications, but it runs out of steam when your application becomes more complex. It can become confusing to keep track of your callback functions when your object does more than one kind of asynchronous call: for instance, if it has multiple buttons. If the same action can be done on the server from more than one place in the UI, it’s not clear where the callback belongs.

One answer to the problem is to use the Command Pattern, to organize asynchronous activities into their own classes that contain both the code that initiates an asynchronous request and the callback that runs when the request completes. Continue Reading »

Optimistic Locking For Retrieving Result Sets

I’m in the middle of updating my Silverlight code to use asynchronous HTTP requests — fortunately, I spent last summer writing a GWT application, where HTTP requests have always been asynchronous, so I’ve got a library of patterns for solving common problems.

For instance, suppose that you’re doing a search, and then you’re displaying the result of the search. The most reliable way to do this is to use Pattern Zero, which is, do a single request to the server that retrieves all the information — in that case you don’t need to worry about what happens if, out of 20 HTTP requests, one fails.

Sometimes you can’t redesign the client-server protocol, or you’d like to take advantage of caching, in which case you might do something like this (in psuedo code):

getAListOfResults(new AsyncCallback {
     ... clearGUI();
         foreach(result as item) {
            fetchItem(item,new AsyncCallback {
               ... addItemToGui()

First we retrieve a list of items, then we retrieve information about each item: this is straightforward, but not always reliable. Even if your application runs in a single thread, as it would in GWT or if you did everything in the UI thread in Silverlight, you can still have race conditions: for instance, results can come back in a random order, and getAListOfResults() can be called more than once by multiple callbacks — that’s really the worst of the problems, because it can cause results to appear more than once in the GUI.

There are a number of solutions to this problem, and a number of non-solutions. A simple solution is to make sure that getAListOfResults() never gets called until the result set has come back. I was able to do that for quite a while last summer, but the application finally reached a level of complexity where it was impossible… or would have required a major redesign of the app. Another is to use pessimistic locking: to not let getAListOfResults() run while result sets are coming back — I think this can be made to work, but if you’re not careful, your app can display stale data or permanently lock up.

Fortunately there’s a pattern to retrieve result sets using optimistic locking that displays fresh data and can’t fail catastrophically

Continue Reading »