Part 5 - Practical Code Sharing Strategies

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last updated: 2017-03

This section gives examples of how to share code for common application scenarios.

Data Layer

The data layer consists of a storage engine and methods to read and write information. For performance, flexibility and cross-platform compatibility the SQLite database engine is recommended for Xamarin cross-platform applications. It runs on a wide variety of platforms including Windows, Android, iOS and Mac.

SQLite

SQLite is an open-source database implementation. The source and documentation can be found at SQLite.org. SQLite support is available on each mobile platform:

Even with the database engine available on all platforms, the native methods to access the database are different. Both iOS and Android offer built-in APIs to access SQLite that could be used from Xamarin.iOS or Xamarin.Android, however using the native SDK methods offers no ability to share code (other than perhaps the SQL queries themselves, assuming they’re stored as strings). For details about native database functionality search for CoreData in iOS or Android’s SQLiteOpenHelper class; because these options are not cross-platform they are beyond the scope of this document.

ADO.NET

Both Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android support System.Data and Mono.Data.Sqlite (see the Xamarin.iOS documentation for more info). Using these namespaces allows you to write ADO.NET code that works on both platforms. Edit the project’s references to include System.Data.dll and Mono.Data.Sqlite.dll and add these using statements to your code:

using System.Data;
using Mono.Data.Sqlite;

Then the following sample code will work:

string dbPath = Path.Combine (
        Environment.GetFolderPath (Environment.SpecialFolder.Personal),
        "items.db3");
bool exists = File.Exists (dbPath);
if (!exists)
    SqliteConnection.CreateFile (dbPath);
var connection = new SqliteConnection ("Data Source=" + dbPath);
connection.Open ();
if (!exists) {
    // This is the first time the app has run and/or that we need the DB.
    // Copy a "template" DB from your assets, or programmatically create one like this:
    var commands = new[]{
        "CREATE TABLE [Items] (Key ntext, Value ntext);",
        "INSERT INTO [Items] ([Key], [Value]) VALUES ('sample', 'text')"
    };
    foreach (var command in commands) {
        using (var c = connection.CreateCommand ()) {
            c.CommandText = command;
            c.ExecuteNonQuery ();
        }
    }
}
// use `connection`... here, we'll just append the contents to a TextView
using (var contents = connection.CreateCommand ()) {
    contents.CommandText = "SELECT [Key], [Value] from [Items]";
    var r = contents.ExecuteReader ();
    while (r.Read ())
        Console.Write("\n\tKey={0}; Value={1}",
                r ["Key"].ToString (),
                r ["Value"].ToString ());
}
connection.Close ();

Real-world implementations of ADO.NET would obviously be split across different methods and classes (this example is for demonstration purposes only).

SQLite-NET – Cross-Platform ORM

An ORM (or Object-Relational Mapper) attempts to simplify storage of data modeled in classes. Rather than manually writing SQL queries that CREATE TABLEs or SELECT, INSERT and DELETE data that is manually extracted from class fields and properties, an ORM adds a layer of code that does that for you. Using reflection to examine the structure of your classes, an ORM can automatically create tables and columns that match a class and generate queries to read and write the data. This allows application code to simply send and retrieve object instances to the ORM, which takes care of all the SQL operations under the hood.

SQLite-NET acts as a simple ORM that will allow you to save and retrieve your classes in SQLite. It hides the complexity of cross platform SQLite access with a combination of compiler directives and other tricks.

Features of SQLite-NET:

  • Tables are defined by adding attributes to Model classes.
  • A database instance is represented by a subclass of SQLiteConnection , the main class in the SQLite-Net library.
  • Data can be inserted, queried and deleted using objects. No SQL statements are required (although you can write SQL statements if required).
  • Basic Linq queries can be performed on the collections returned by SQLite-NET.

The source code and documentation for SQLite-NET is available at SQLite-Net on github and has been implemented in both case-studies. A simple example of SQLite-NET code (from the Tasky Pro case study) is shown below.

First, the TodoItem class uses attributes to define a field to be a database primary key:

public class TodoItem : IBusinessEntity
{
    public TodoItem () {}
    [PrimaryKey, AutoIncrement]
    public int ID { get; set; }
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public string Notes { get; set; }
    public bool Done { get; set; }
}

This allows a TodoItem table to be created with the following line of code (and no SQL statements) on an SQLiteConnection instance:

CreateTable<TodoItem> ();

Data in the table can also be manipulated with other methods on the SQLiteConnection (again, without requiring SQL statements):

Insert (TodoItem); // 'task' is an instance with data populated in its properties
Update (TodoItem); // Primary Key field must be populated for Update to work
Table<TodoItem>.ToList(); // returns all rows in a collection

See the case study source code for complete examples.

File Access

File access is certain to be a key part of any application. Common examples of files that might be part of an application include:

  • SQLite database files.
  • User-generated data (text, images, sound, video).
  • Downloaded data for caching (images, html or PDF files).

System.IO Direct Access

Both Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android allow file system access using classes in the System.IO namespace.

Each platform does have different access restrictions that must be taken into consideration:

  • iOS applications run in a sandbox with very restricted file-system access. Apple further dictates how you should use the file system by specifying certain locations that are backed-up (and others that are not). Refer to the Working with the File System in Xamarin.iOS guide for more details.
  • Android also restricts access to certain directories related to the application, but it also supports external media (eg. SD cards) and accessing shared data.
  • Windows Phone 8 (Silverlight) do not allow direct file access – files can only be manipulated using IsolatedStorage.
  • Windows 8.1 WinRT and Windows 10 UWP projects only offer asynchronous file operations via Windows.Storage APIs, which are different from the other platforms.

Example for iOS and Android

A trivial example that writes and reads a text file is shown below. Using Environment.GetFolderPath allows the same code to run on iOS and Android, which each return a valid directory based on their filesystem conventions.

string filePath = Path.Combine (
        Environment.GetFolderPath (Environment.SpecialFolder.Personal),
        "MyFile.txt");
System.IO.File.WriteAllText (filePath, "Contents of text file");
Console.WriteLine (System.IO.ReadAllText (filePath));

Refer to the Xamarin.iOS Working with the File System document for more information on iOS-specific filesystem functionality. When writing cross-platform file access code, remember that some file-systems are case-sensitive and have different directory separators. It is good practice to always use the same casing for filenames and the Path.Combine() method when constructing file or directory paths.

Windows.Storage for Windows 8 and Windows 10

The Creating Mobile Apps with Xamarin.Forms book Chapter 20. Async and File I/O includes samples for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

Using a DependencyService it's possible to read and file files on these platforms using the supported APIs:

StorageFolder localFolder = ApplicationData.Current.LocalFolder;
IStorageFile storageFile = await localFolder.CreateFileAsync("MyFile.txt",
                                        CreationCollisionOption.ReplaceExisting);
await FileIO.WriteTextAsync(storageFile, "Contents of text file");

Refer to the book chapter for more details.

Isolated Storage on Windows Phone 7 & 8 (Silverlight)

Isolated Storage is a common API for saving and loading files across all iOS, Android, and older Windows Phone platforms.

It is the default mechanism for file access in Windows Phone (Silverlight) that has been implemented in Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android to allow common file-access code to be written. The System.IO.IsolatedStorage class can be referenced across all three platforms in a Shared Project.

Refer to the Isolated Storage Overview for Windows Phone for more information.

The Isolated Storage APIs are not available in Portable Class Libraries. One alternative for PCL is the PCLStorage NuGet

Cross-platform file access in PCLs

There is also a PCL-compatible Nuget – PCLStorage – that facilities cross-platform file access for Xamarin-supported platforms and the latest Windows APIs.

Sample code is available on the related component page.

Network Operations

Most mobile applications will have networking component, for example:

  • Downloading images, video and audio (eg. thumbnails, photos, music).
  • Downloading documents (eg. HTML, PDF).
  • Uploading user data (such as photos or text).
  • Accessing web services or 3rd party APIs (including SOAP, XML or JSON).

The .NET Framework provides a few different classes for accessing network resources: HttpClient, WebClient, and HttpWebRequest.

HttpClient

The HttpClient class in the System.Net.Http namespace is available in Xamarin.iOS, Xamarin.Android, and most Windows platforms. There is a Microsoft HTTP Client Library Nuget that can be used to bring this API into Portable Class Libraries (and Windows Phone 8 Silverlight).

var client = new HttpClient();
var request = new HttpRequestMessage(HttpMethod.Get, "https://xamarin.com");
var response = await myClient.SendAsync(request);

WebClient

The WebClient class provides a simple API to retrieve remote data from remote servers.

Universal Windows Platofrm operations must be async, even though Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android support synchronous operations (which can be done on background threads).

The code for a simple asychronous WebClient operation is:

var webClient = new WebClient ();
webClient.DownloadStringCompleted += (sender, e) =>
{
    var resultString = e.Result;
    // do something with downloaded string, do UI interaction on main thread
};
webClient.Encoding = System.Text.Encoding.UTF8;
webClient.DownloadStringAsync (new Uri ("http://some-server.com/file.xml"));

WebClient also has DownloadFileCompleted and DownloadFileAsync for retrieving binary data.

HttpWebRequest

HttpWebRequest offers more customization than WebClient and as a result requires more code to use.

The code for a simple synchronous HttpWebRequest operation is:

var request = HttpWebRequest.Create(@"http://some-server.com/file.xml ");
request.ContentType = "text/xml";
request.Method = "GET";
using (HttpWebResponse response = request.GetResponse() as HttpWebResponse)
{
    if (response.StatusCode != HttpStatusCode.OK)
        Console.WriteLine("Error fetching data. Server returned status code: {0}", response.StatusCode);
    using (StreamReader reader = new StreamReader(response.GetResponseStream()))
    {
        var content = reader.ReadToEnd();
        // do something with downloaded string, do UI interaction on main thread
    }
}

There is an example in our Web Services documentation.

Reachability

Mobile devices operate under a variety of network conditions from fast Wi-Fi or 4G connections to poor reception areas and slow EDGE data links. Because of this, it is good practice to detect whether the network is available and if so, what type of network is available, before attempting to connect to remote servers.

Actions a mobile app might take in these situations include:

  • If the network is unavailable, advise the user. If they have manually disabled it (eg. Airplane mode or turning off Wi-Fi) then they can resolve the issue.
  • If the connection is 3G, applications may behave differently (for example, Apple does not allow apps larger than 20Mb to be downloaded over 3G). Applications could use this information to warn the user about excessive download times when retrieving large files.
  • Even if the network is available, it is good practice to verify connectivity with the target server before initiating other requests. This will prevent the app’s network operations from timing out repeatedly and also allow a more informative error message to be displayed to the user.

There is a Xamarin.iOS sample available (which is based on Apple’s Reachability sample code ) to help detect network availability.

WebServices

See our documentation on Working with Web Services, which covers accessing REST, SOAP and WCF endpoints using Xamarin.iOS. It is possible to hand-craft web service requests and parse the responses, however there are libraries available to make this much simpler, including Azure, RestSharp, and ServiceStack. Even basic WCF operations can be accessed in Xamarin apps.

Azure

Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform that provides a wide variety of services for mobile apps, including data storage and sync, and push notifications.

Visit azure.microsoft.com to try it for free, and include the Azure Component to get started.

RestSharp

RestSharp is a .NET library that can be included in mobile applications to provide a REST client that simplifies access to web services. It helps by providing a simple API to request data and parse the REST response. RestSharp can be useful

The RestSharp website contains documentation on how to implement a REST client using RestSharp. RestSharp provides Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android examples on github.

There is also a Xamarin.iOS code snippet in our Web Services documentation.

ServiceStack

Unlike RestSharp, ServiceStack is both a server-side solution to host a web service as well as a client library that can be implemented in mobile applications to access those services.

The ServiceStack website explains the purpose of the project and links to document and code samples. The examples include a complete server-side implementation of a web service as well as various client-side applications that can access it.

There is a Xamarin.iOS example on the ServiceStack website, and a code snippet in our Web Services documentation.

WCF

Xamarin tools can help you consume some Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) services. In general, Xamarin supports the same client-side subset of WCF that ships with the Silverlight runtime. This includes the most common encoding and protocol implementations of WCF: text-encoded SOAP messages over the HTTP transport protocol using the BasicHttpBinding.

Due to the size and complexity of the WCF framework, there may be current and future service implementations that will fall outside of the scope supported by Xamarin’s client-subset domain. In addition, WCF support requires the use of tools only available in a Windows environment to generate the proxy.

Threading

Application responsiveness is important for mobile applications – users expect applications to load and perform quickly. A ‘frozen’ screen that stops accepting user-input will appear to indicate the application has crashed, so it is important not to tie up the UI thread with long-running blocking calls such as network requests or slow local operations (such as unzipping a file). In particular the startup process should not contain long-running tasks – all mobile platforms will kill an app that takes too long to load.

This means your user interface should implement a ‘progress indicator’ or otherwise ‘useable’ UI that is quick to display, and asynchronous tasks to perform background operations. Executing background tasks requires the use of threads, which means the background tasks needs a way to communicate back to the main thread to indicate progress or when they have completed.

Parallel Task Library

Tasks created with the Parallel Task Library can run asynchronously and return on their calling thread, making them very useful for triggering long-running operations without blocking the user interface.

A simple parallel task operation might look like this:

using System.Threading.Tasks;
void MainThreadMethod ()
{
    Task.Factory.StartNew (() => wc.DownloadString ("http://...")).ContinueWith (
        t => label.Text = t.Result, TaskScheduler.FromCurrentSynchronizationContext()
    );
}

The key is TaskScheduler.FromCurrentSynchronizationContext() which will reuse the SynchronizationContext.Current of the thread calling the method (here the main thread that is running MainThreadMethod) as a way to marshal back calls to that thread. This means if the method is called on the UI thread, it will run the ContinueWith operation back on the UI thread.

If the code is starting tasks from other threads, use the following pattern to create a reference to the UI thread and the task can still call back to it:

static Context uiContext = TaskScheduler.FromCurrentSynchronizationContext();

Invoking on the UI Thread

For code that doesn’t utilize the Parallel Task Library, each platform has its own syntax for marshaling operations back to the UI thread:

  • iOSowner.BeginInvokeOnMainThread(new NSAction(action))
  • Androidowner.RunOnUiThread(action)
  • Xamarin.FormsDevice.BeginInvokeOnMainThread(action)
  • WindowsDeployment.Current.Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(action)

Both the iOS and Android syntax requires a ‘context’ class to be available which means the code needs to pass this object into any methods that require a callback on the UI thread.

To make UI thread calls in shared code, follow the IDispatchOnUIThread example (courtesy of @follesoe). Declare and program to an IDispatchOnUIThread interface in the shared code and then implement the platform-specific classes as shown here:

// program to the interface in shared code
public interface IDispatchOnUIThread {
    void Invoke (Action action);
}
// iOS
public class DispatchAdapter : IDispatchOnUIThread {
    public readonly NSObject owner;
    public DispatchAdapter (NSObject owner) {
        this.owner = owner;
    }
    public void Invoke (Action action) {
        owner.BeginInvokeOnMainThread(new NSAction(action));
    }
}
// Android
public class DispatchAdapter : IDispatchOnUIThread {
    public readonly Activity owner;
    public DispatchAdapter (Activity owner) {
        this.owner = owner;
    }
    public void Invoke (Action action) {
        owner.RunOnUiThread(action);
    }
}
// WP7
public class DispatchAdapter : IDispatchOnUIThread {
    public void Invoke (Action action) {
        Deployment.Current.Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(action);
    }
}

Xamarin.Forms developers should use Device.BeginInvokeOnMainThread in common code (Shared Projects or PCL).

Platform and Device Capabilities and Degradation

Further specific examples of dealing with different capabilities are given in the Platform Capabilities documentation. It deals with detecting different capabilities and how to gracefully degrade an application to provide a good user experience, even when the app can’t operate to its full potential.

Xamarin Workbook

If it's not already installed, install the Xamarin Workbooks app first. The workbook file should download automatically, but if it doesn't, just click to start the workbook download manually.