NBusiness integration with Visual Studio 2008

The Visual Studio Extensibility (VSX) team has recently written a blog post announcing the Visual Studio 2008 SDK 1.0. I am pretty excited for this I will be probably wrapping up the last touches on NBusiness v2.1 soon and release it so I can get on to working with Visual Studio 2008. I’m pretty excited about it actually. Once I release it I will write a blog post outlining some of the changes and new features.
The one question I have at this point is when hosting providers (such as Go Daddy) will be providing the .net Framework v3.5 on their servers. I believe that they don’t even have v3.0 right now so I’m a little skeptical that they’ll be providing support for 3.5 anytime soon. However it really seems like that, even though 3.0 have been out for a while, a lack of official tooling has caused a lot of people to stick with 2.0 and VS2005 for the time being. There are lots of exciting things about VS2008 and .NET 3.5 and now that it’s all officially released I bet we’ll see a surge in applications using this technology and probably prompting Go Daddy (and others) to support it.
Along these lines I have been playing around with the new MVC framework some and I have to say… it’s pretty damn nice. I am all for dropping the overly complex ASP.NET page life cycle we currently have to deal with. Other than some issue I was having with rendering a custom view (could be my fault but it’s basically an Alpha preview so I expected a few issues, I’m not really worried) I definitely prefer this model. Without a doubt NBusiness will fit in nicely as the “model” portion of the framework.
I also went ahead and used the LINQ to SQL datasets that come with the v3.5 framework to see how that works to… wow it’s great. In fact I’m sort of going through a bit of an identity crisis with NBusiness as I try to decide if it’s even worth bothering to try to compete with it. I’m trying to come up with enough benefits in NBusiness to outweigh the benefits of LINQ to SQL before I decide to really go for it.
So here are a few of the reasons that I have come up with so far, they’re mostly just cerebral arguments at this point I can’t say that they’re correct because when it comes down to it I think that it’s practicality that really decides what is better.

In favor of NBusiness

NBusiness supports business objects

Data validation, access and authorization rules are all very easy to setup in NBusiness. You could still probably do this with the objects generated by the linq to sql datasets but it doesn’t appear to be built right into the base class objects nor is there a way to specify these things in the designers.

NBusiness is not dependent on a database for metadata

The datasets are dependent on having an active server connection, I’m not sure how it works exactly but I’m guessing it is pulling in the schema each time you build. I’m not sure how well I like this, there are definitely lots of problems with this such as the situation where the database has yet to even be designed or you have a large database with lots of columns and tables. There are ways to deal with these situations but I’m not sure as a matter of principle that I really like having my build process dependent on pulling meta-data out of another process at build time. It would be really nice if you could just have SQL scripts lying around and it was able to infer the schema out of that but as far as I know that isn’t how it works. Also, of course mapping your objects to your database 1:1 is undesirable and it is yet to be seen how editing a data set in design mode will be when working with a large database full of ugly naming conventions and missing key constraints and all of the other various problems legacy databases tend to have.
In the case of NBusiness, your entity definitions are the metadata for your build process. It can generate for you a simple database based on those definitions but in the case of an existing database or legacy database will do the mapping in stored procedures yourself but you end up with business objects rather than a data access layer.

NBusiness code is template driven

You have full control over the code that is generated. Maybe I’m wrong about this but I didn’t see any obvious way to change what is output by the designer when you build your project. The objects that the designer creates are partial classes, so that’s nice that they can be extended but what if you want to control everything about their output? It seems (at first glance) that they are breaking one of the 5 laws of code generation.

NBusiness prefers stored procedures

I’m a little skeptical about the dynamic SQL approach used by LINQ. I mean it’s nice to be able to do dynamic sql but it seems wise to use stored procedures as much as possible and probably exclusively. For small applications where you’re trying to rapidly produce results and performance isn’t really that big of a deal for certain uncommon calls, sure do dynamic SQL. But the backbone of your application should really be with stored procedures. I believe it is possible to call stored procedures still with these datasets but I really seems like there is a heavy focus on LINQ and dynamic SQL which will no doubt result in entire applications using dynamic SQL everywhere, which I’m skeptical of.
I have recently added support for dynamic sql in NBusiness (v2.1). It’s obviously not as well tested and robust as LINQ to SQL at this point but it’s pretty good I think. In the 3.0 version there will probably be a way to use LINQ directly on NBusiness objects just like with these datasets too (I’ll probably write another post about this). But I would like to keep the preference of NBusiness strongly on stored procedures as much as possible.

In favor of LINQ to SQL Datasets

Awesome tooling

Of course the VS integration blows NBusiness out of the water. It’s fast and pretty and everything works like it should. This alone is a good reason to use it over NBusiness. I believe I can get NBusiness to this point eventually but it is definitely going to be hard. Also there is nothing extra to download or install to get this working; it’s just built into VS 2008, very hassle free.

Very lightweight, simple, flexible

It’s so easy once you have your database created and the objects it makes are so lightweight and simple there is virtually no learning curve. It’s so light weight it’s almost worth just saying ‘screw it’ to the robust business object in favor sweet simplicity. I’m actually struggling with this one the most at this point. I suspect that a larger application may push this theory over the edge however.

Promotes database to be designed separately

I have this theory that having a single source of meta-data (or the source of truth) rather than being dependent on a database’s schema for meta-data is superior. However I’m having some doubts right now. Shouldn’t it be true that separating the concerns of the database and the objects by handling them in separate tools be the most correct theory? What is the best strategy for bridging these two together? The implementation of DLINQ is so good it’s causing me to doubt myself here.
I’m still leaning towards continuing on with NBusiness and with some of the new 3.0 features I have been kicking around in my head it will be even better than it is now but I just want to make sure I’m not wasting my time here. I want to really think about it and make sure I continue on, not as a victim of my own ego but because it is genuinely a worthwhile endeavor.

Twin Cities Code Camp Wrapup

So not long ago I presented at the Fall 2007 Twin Cities Code Camp about NBusiness. It was a great experience and really forced me to crystalize a lot of the thoughts I had been coming up with while working on NBusiness. I tried to put in a half and half dose of theory and code. In the end I had more questions than I could really answer in the hour and a half time span we had available. Which is good! I also had a few really interesting questions that really got me thinking about some necessary capabilities for the next version, namely Entity Models and data hiding.

I’ve uploaded the slide deck from the presentation for anyone who’s interested in seeing it. I realize it’s hard to fully grasp of the meaning of a slide without the corresponding talk but, who knows, maybe you’ll find it interesting anyway. I just got my evaluations and I’ll post the results here.

Quality Ideas and information Presenter Abilities Relevant Average Comments
3 3 4 3 3.333333  
4 4 5 3 4.333333 very impressed. this guy is great.
4 4 4 3 4  
4 5 5 4 4.666667  
5 5 5 5 5 Nice job Justin…
5 5 5 5 5 Justin did really well for his first presentation…and he really knows his topic because he was ready with answers to nearly every question that came up.
4.166667 4.333333 4.666667 3.833333 4.25  

So I’ll take this as pretty positive results. If anyone has a need for a presenter on NBusiness you know how to call! I wonder if I should do another presentation at the next code camp? Depends on how much I get done on the next version I suppose. I’m guessing I’ll be right in the middle of some big changes at that time so maybe I’ll defer to the next code camp.

Speaking of which, there is a conference in Redmond at the end of January I am thinking about attending. The conference is called the 2008 Lang.NET Symposium and is all about the creation of .NET languages, compilers and development tools. I really can’t imagine a more perfect conference for me to attend! I’m still trying to figure out the cost of this but if it’s at all feasible then I will definitely go. I would love to learn some things and get a chance to talk to some other people who are interested in the same things.