Category Archives: visual studio

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Hands on with ASP.Net Membership, SQL Express and Server 2008

Is it worth using the built-in membership framework in your ASP.Net application, or should you roll your own? I’ve been trying it out recently, and I have mixed feelings.

On the plus side, it does get you up and running quickly with user login and role-based permissions, saving time and possibly achieving more reliable results, on the grounds that Microsoft and countless other users should have found and fixed any bugs by now.

One the negative side, there are annoying limitations. The most obvious one is that a user as defined in the framework only has a minimal number of fields, not including information you probably want to store like first and last name. You are meant to fill this gap by using profiles, another ASP.Net feature which lets you store arbitrary name-value pairs in a database as a kind of persistent session. That works, but the way profile properties are stored makes it hard to do things like sorting users by last name. Therefore, you will probably end up managing your own user database and joining it to the membership system with the user ID, at which point you begin to lose some of the benefits.

Some of the supplied controls, like the CreateUserWizard, seem rough-and-ready too.

Still, the real fun began when I tried to deploy my demo app to Server 2008 and SQL Server Express 2008. By the way, make sure you install .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 and Windows Installer 4.5 before installing the latest SQL Server Express, otherwise the setup spends ages unpacking its files and then exits with a brief message. I got there eventually, copied my application across, and optimistically tried to run it.

When you debug a web application in Visual Studio, it defaults to a SQL Express database in the App_Data folder within the web site, attached on demand. In theory, that should make it easy to deploy to another machine with SQL Express installed: just copy it across, right? There must be a way of getting this to  work, but it seems a lot of people have problems. I got the message:

Login failed for user ‘NT AUTHORITY\NETWORK SERVICE’.

This makes sense, insofar as ASP.NET runs as this user. I temporarily attached the database and added the login, to be rewarded with a different and more perplexing error:

Failed to generate a user instance of SQL Server due to a failure in starting the process for the user instance.

A quick Google shows that many users have suffered from these errors, and that a large number of remedies have been proposed. I abandoned the idea of attaching the database on demand and set up a new database, made ready with Aspnet_regsql. I still got one or other of these errors.

Eventually I realised that my application was using more than one connection string. The problem is that the membership framework uses three different "providers", one for membership, one for roles, and one for profiles. By default in IIS 7.0, these all use an attach-on-demand connection string, defined as LocalSqlServer, and inherited from machine.config buried deep within your Microsoft .NET Framework system folder. In order to prevent ASP.Net membership from using this, you have to override all three providers in the web.config for your application. There’s an example in this article from ISP MaximumASP. I wish I’d come across it sooner; but my demo works fine now.

SharpDevelop 3.0: everything .NET from Boo to F#

I’ve been researching open source .NET and noticed that SharpDevelop, the free IDE for .NET on Windows, completed version 3.0 earlier this month. Congratulations to the team. Along with Windows Forms and ASP.NET applications in C# or Visual Basic, you get extras like support for F#, Boo and Python. Another welcome feature is built-in support for Subversion version control. There’s even an ASCII table in the IDE, which brings back memories: 15 years ago every programming manual had one at the back.

SharpDevelop has two major challenges. One is keeping up with Microsoft; right now there are discussions about improving WPF support, for example. The other is that Microsoft offers free Express versions of Visual Studio, which leaves SharpDevelop with those niche users for whom the Express products are unsuitable, but who do not want to pay for a full version, or who are wedded to some exclusive SharpDevelop feature.

In favour of SharpDevelop, it installs more easily and loads more quickly than Microsoft’s effort, and certainly proves the point that native C# applications do not have to be slow.

A more interesting though less complete product is the forked MonoDevelop, which is cross platform and targets Mono, the open source implementation of .NET. Mono now looks good on Linux; but the idea of WORA (Write Once Run Anywhere) has never really caught on in the .NET world. How many significant Mono applications for Windows have you seen? My guess is that if it happens at all, it will be in the form of Silverlight/Moonlight running in the browser.

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First screenshots of Visual Studio 2010 UI

Jason Zander has posted some screenshots and info about the new WPF-based UI for Visual Studio 2010.

An early build of VS 2010 was handed out at PDC last year, but lacked the new UI.

Floating document windows is a great new feature. That said, Visual Studio 2008 works rather well; I hope the new version is equally fast and stable.

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Visual Studio 2008 as a JavaScript editor

I’ve been doing some work on JavaScript editors recently, and was impressed by Microsoft’s Visual Studio in this respect. Here’s my post on the subject. By the way, even the free Express edition works fine for this; and you don’t need to use ASP.NET. You do need to use Internet Explorer of course; that’s another story.

Amethyst from SapphireSteel: Develop Flex in Visual Studio, an alternative to Tofino

Not long ago I looked at an early preview of Ensemble’s Tofino, an extension to Visual Studio for developing Flex applications that target the Adobe Flash runtime. It was disappointing, though I’ve been assured that an improved build is in preparation. Ensemble had better be quick: I’ve just been informed of an alternative called Amethyst, from SapphireSteel software, creators of the Ruby Visual Studio extension Ruby in Steel. Here’s what I know so far about Amethyst:

  • ActionScript and MXML editing and project management
  • Installs into commercial editions of Visual Studio or the free Visual Studio shell
  • Initial beta of free personal edition available next week
  • Planned for the 2nd quarter of 2009: commercial Professional Edition with drag-and-drop Flex/AIR visual design environment, IntelliSense and graphical debugging tools
  • Can integrate with Ruby In Steel to create a multi-language Visual Studio solution with Flex at the front end and Rails at the back
  • Amethyst Personal will remain completely free

All sounds good; and Ruby in Steel is well-regarded so this is worth watching out for if you have any interest in developing for Flex in Visual Studio.

A high quality Visual Studio design tool for Flex would help Adobe gain adoption for Flex and AIR among Microsoft-platform developers.

Embarcadero RAD Studio 2009 is done

Embarcadero / CodeGear has released RAD Studio 2009, which includes Delphi 2009, C++ Builder 2009 and Delphi Prism. Note that Prism has its own IDE, which is actually the Visual Studio shell; this is the new take on Delphi for .NET that targets Mono as well as Microsoft .NET. You can also install Prism into an existing Visual Studio installation.

Looking at the UK prices, RAD Studio starts at £979.00, whereas Delphi starts at £549.00. Upgrades are much cheaper – less than half the price in some cases. The message seems to be: get RAD Studio if you think you might need more than one of these three products.

I’ve been asked whether the upgrade to Delphi 2009 is worth it. I have no idea, of course, since it depends what you need it for – though if you need Unicode I’d have thought it was worth it for that alone. I do think it is the best so far in the post-Delphi 7 series. Personally I prefer it to Delphi 7 as well; though check Mason Wheeler’s comments to a previous post for a contrary view. Vista compatibility is another advantage, though you can hack this in any version of Delphi. I doubt that Windows 7 will be much problem here; it is close to enough to Vista that the same stuff should work fine.

Develop for Adobe Flex in Microsoft Visual Studio – or maybe not

News from the Adobe MAX conference this week in San Francisco: Ensemble has developed an add-in for Visual Studio for Flex development, code-name Tofino. It’s currently in beta and available for download. Flex is Adobe’s developer-focused SDK for Flash applications.

I installed it this morning, and so far it does not impress. There is zero documentation (just a few links to the standard Flex docs on Adobe’s site), and it lacks even MXML Intellisense, let alone a visual designer. When you go to project properties, there is nothing to configure. The toolbox is also empty. On the plus side, it successfully invoked the Flex compiler to build the project, and managed to open it as a static file in Internet Explorer when I clicked Debug. I’d prefer an option to use Visual Studio’s built-in web server for debugging. There must be more to it than this; then again it is advertised as a beta which is meant to mean well advanced (ha ha). I suggest sticking firmly with Flex Builder for the time being.

Adobe has largely ignored .NET in its Flex and AIR technology, though it does support SOAP. I am not sure whether this is caused by aversion to Microsoft, or an assumption that Microsoft developers will use Microsoft technologies like Silverlight or Windows Forms, or a bit of both. Integration with Visual Studio and server-side .NET could be significant for Flex adoption, though it would be better if Adobe itself were doing the add-in.

You can see the same thing happening on Microsoft’s side, with a half-hearted Silverlight project for Eclipse (which only works on Windows), or the well-regarded Teamprise which integrates Eclipse with Visual Studio Team System. In both cases Microsoft keeps itself at arms length, which does not have the same impact as in-house support.

There are always concerns about the quality of third-party applications. I am sure Adobe itself would not have put such an inadequate preview up for download, as Ensemble has done for Tofino.