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The frustration of developing for Facebook with C#

I am researching a piece on developing for Facebook with Microsoft Azure, and of course the first thing I did was to try it out.

It is not easy. The first problem is that Facebook does not care about C#. There are four SDKs on offer: JavaScript, Apple iOS, Google Android, and PHP. This has led to a proliferation of experimental and third-party SDKs which are mostly not very good.

The next problem is that the Facebook API is constantly changing. If you try to wrap it neatly in an SDK, it is likely that some things will break when the next big change comes along.

This leads to the third problem, which is that Google may not be your friend. That helpful article or discussion on developing for Facebook might be out of date now.

Now, there are a couple of reasons why it should be getting better. Jim Zimmerman and Nathan Totten at Thuzi (Totten is now a technical evangelist at Microsoft) created a new C# Facebook SDK, needing it for their own apps and frustrated with what was on offer elsewhere. The Facebook C# SDK looks like it has some momentum.

C# 4.0 actually works well with Facebook, thanks to the dynamic keyword, which makes it easier to cope with Facebook’s changes and also lets it map closely to the official PHP SDK, as Totten explains.

Nevertheless, there are still a few problems. One is that documentation for the SDK is sketchy to say the least. There is currently no reference for it on the Codeplex site, and most of the comments are the kind that produces impressive-looking automatic documentation but actually tells you nothing of substance. Plucking one at random:

FacebookClient.GetAsync(System.Collections.Generic.IDictionary<string,object>)

Summary:
Makes an asynchronous GET request to the Facebook server.

Parameters:
parameters: The parameters.

Another problem, inherent to dynamic typing, is that IntelliSense (auto-completion in Visual Studio) has limited value. You constantly need to reference the Facebook documentation.

Finally, the SDK has changed quite a bit in different versions and some of the samples reference old versions.

In particular, I found it a struggle getting OAuth authentication and access token retrieval working and ended up borrowing Totten’s sample code here which mostly works – though note that the code in the sample does not cope with the same users logging out and logging in again; I fixed this by changing his InMemoryUserStore to use a ConcurrentDictionary instead of a ConcurrentBag, though there are plenty of other ways you can store users.

I’m puzzled why Microsoft does not invest more in making this easier. Microsoft invested in Facebook and it is easy to get the impression that Microsoft and Facebook are in some sort of informal alliance versus Google. Windows Phone 7, for example, ties in closely with Facebook and is probably the best Facebook phone out there.

As it is, although I prefer coding in C# to PHP, I would say that choosing PHP as the platform for your Facebook app will present less friction.

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