Silverlight: Breaking the daisy chain?

This post discusses the consequences of calling asynchronous calls in Silverlight (or any other scenario that lets you pass in event handlers for completion notification).

Everything is asynchronous in Silverlight. With each call you make, you pass down event handlers that are called when the operation is done. When trying to program a sequential execution flow in your Silverlight program, you’ll see the daisy-chain ‘pattern’ emerge. This is where a method starts an asynchronous call, the event handler does some work and starts another asynchronous call then the next event handler performs another asynchronous call, etc. Look at your own Silverlight code and see if you can detect this pattern.

You see your logic spread out over a couple of methods/event handlers. Question is: does this need fixing? From a puristic standpoint I would say yes. On the other hand I can see that a daisy chain might not be the worst you have to live with. When the logic is simple enough and following the chain is easy, it is all right to leave it at that. But what if at some point you have to branch of the chain? For instance you have a condition (if-then-else) that determines to call one asynchronous method or -if it is not true- it will call another asynchronous method. Now you have two parallel tracks the execution flow can follow down the chain. This can get messy very quickly.

Another issue to remember is that the thread that is used to call your event handler and notify you of the outcome of the asynchronous call, is not necessarily the same thread that was used to create the UI. So you cannot call into the UI directly from within the event handler. You have to marshal the call using Invoke.

But how do we solve this? One pattern comes to mind is the state table. Define a state for each step in the daisy chain and determine what state to go to next when an event handler is called. But this doesn’t do anything for the fragmentation of the code. Its just a different way of cutting it into pieces and I would argue its less obvious than the original daisy chain (its also not entirely what the state table was meant for).

You could use anonymous methods (or lambda’s) to pull everything into one method, but the question is if this is more readable and maintainable than a daisy chain.

Although I have not worked out the details of this idea, I was thinking of a base class that would implement some helper methods to perform asynchronous calls and provide event handlers. This should allow you to implement all your code in one method (or as many as like) and call asynchronous methods and gather their responses almost transparently. Not sure if this idea will work, though.

What I would like is to code out my Silverlight code in a normal sequential flow using “normal” programming paradigms and patterns. But until someone comes up with a good solution for that, we just have to experiment with our own solutions and patterns.

 

  1. One thought on “Silverlight: Breaking the daisy chain?

    This is where the new Reactive Framework of Microsoft can be used for. The Reactive Framework allows developers to write Language Integrated Query (LINQ) expressions against events.

    As Erik Meijer explains in this (http://channel9.msdn.com/shows/Going+Deep/Expert-to-Expert-Brian-Beckman-and-Erik-Meijer-Inside-the-NET-Reactive-Framework-Rx/) channel9 video, the Reactive Framework is the mathematical dual of LINQ to Objects.

    A copy of the Reactive Framework can be found as part of the Silverlight 3 Toolkit, see http://martinkruszynski.blogspot.com/2009/08/silverlight-toolkit-july-2009-rx.html

    Also there will be a PDC’09 session: Rx: Reactive Extensions for .NET

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