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Building Web, Cloud, and Mobile Solutions with F#

Cover of Building Web, Cloud, and Mobile Solutions with F# by Daniel Mohl Published by O'Reilly Media, Inc.
  1. Building Web, Cloud, and Mobile Solutions with F#
  2. Preface
    1. Who This Book Is For
    2. Getting Set Up to Run the Examples
    3. How This Book Is Organized
    4. Conventions Used in This Book
    5. Using Code Examples
    6. Safari® Books Online
    7. How to Contact Us
    8. Acknowledgments
  3. 1. Building an ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Application with F#
    1. The F# ASP.NET MVC 4 Project Templates
      1. Finding and Installing the Templates
      2. Exploring the C# Project
      3. Dissecting the F# Project
    2. F# Controllers and Models
      1. Controllers
      2. Models
    3. Interacting with a Database
      1. Entity Framework
      2. Querying the Data
      3. Querying with Type Providers
    4. Taking Advantage of F#
      1. Moving to a More Functional Approach
      2. Understanding Pipelining and Partial Function Application
      3. Making the Controller More Functional
      4. Simplification with Pattern Matching
    5. Related Advanced Topics and Concepts
      1. Improving Responsiveness with Async Workflows
      2. Caching with MailboxProcessor
      3. Jumping on the Message Bus
      4. Continuation-Passing Style
      5. Creating a Custom Computation Expression
    6. Summary
  4. 2. Creating Web Services with F#
    1. Installing the Existing WCF Project Template
    2. Exploring the Output Code
      1. Consuming the Service
      2. Diving into Records
    3. Building an ASP.NET Web API Service
      1. Analyzing the Template
      2. Interacting with the HTTP Service
    4. Exploring Other Web Frameworks
      1. Service Stack
      2. Nancy
      3. Frank
    5. Testing Your Creation
      1. Getting Set Up
      2. Improving Tests with F#
      3. FsUnit
      4. Unquote
      5. NaturalSpec
    6. Summary
  5. 3. To the Cloud! Taking Advantage of Azure
    1. Building and Hosting F# on Azure
    2. Creating an F# Worker Role
    3. Introducing Fog
    4. Interacting with Azure Storage Options
      1. Blobs
      2. Tables
      3. Queue Storage
      4. SQL Azure
    5. Taking Advantage of the Azure Service Bus
      1. Queues
      2. Topics
    6. Exploring Authentication and Authorization
      1. Authentication and Authorization with ACS
      2. Claims-based Authentication
      3. Claims-based Authorization
    7. Building for Scalability
      1. Building the Web Role
      2. Understanding the PlaceOrderCommand
      3. On to the Worker Roles
      4. Wrapping Up the SQL Azure Worker Role
      5. Adding the Finishing Touches
      6. Caching
      7. CDN and Autoscaling
    8. Shining F# Examples
      1. {m}brace
      2. Cloud Numerics
      3. Framework for .NET Hadoop MapReduce
    9. Summary
  6. 4. Constructing Scalable Web and Mobile Solutions
    1. Scaling with Web Sockets
      1. Building a Web Socket Example with .NET 4.5 and IIS 8
      2. Creating a Web Socket Server with Fleck
    2. Using SignalR
      1. Building a Persistent Connection Example
      2. A JavaScript Client
      3. An F# Client
      4. Constructing a Hub Example
    3. Going Mobile
      1. The jQuery Mobile Approach
      2. Adding Windows Phone
    4. Combining F# and NoSQL
      1. MongoDB
      2. RavenDB
      3. CouchDB
    5. Summary
  7. 5. Functional Frontend Development
    1. Setting the Stage
    2. Looking at LiveScript
      1. Benefits
      2. Usage
      3. Example
    3. Exploring Pit
      1. Benefits
      2. Usage
      3. Example
    4. Diving into WebSharper
      1. Benefits
      2. Usage
      3. Example
    5. Summary
  8. A. Useful Tools and Libraries
    1. FAKE (F# Make)
    2. NuGet
      1. Basic Usage
      2. Useful NuGet Packages
    3. ExpectThat
  9. B. Useful Websites
    1. fssnip.net
    2. tryfsharp.org
    3. Visual Studio Gallery
    4. jQueryMobile.com
  10. C. Client-Side Technologies That Go Well with F#
    1. CoffeeScript
    2. Sass
    3. Underscore.js
  11. Index
  12. About the Author
  13. Colophon
  14. Copyright
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Chapter 4. Constructing Scalable Web and Mobile Solutions

The most important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.

Sir William Bragg

If you’re like me, it takes very little for you to recall your first experience with a computer. In fact, the act of reading that last sentence probably took you back in your mind’s eye to whenever that time was.

I first touched a computer in 1985 when my parents brought home an IBM PC. It was decked out with two 5×7-inch floppy disk drives and a lovely green-screen monitor. I was instantly intrigued and quickly started diving into the several instruction binders that came with this mystical machine so that I could learn the magic that would allow me to harness its power. A few successful lines of BASICA later and I was hooked.

While massive advancements have been made in the area of computers, many of the core concepts have remained the same. These advancements were often made by discovering new ways to think about existing facts. Without these new ways of thinking, we would certainly not be where we are today.

New ways of thinking continue to be developed daily and the constant advances in technology reflect this. Many of these advances have had a positive side effect of causing more and more people to have access to the Internet than ever before. These users of the Web expect sites that are highly responsive and that work with a variety of modern devices. Other advances have shifted the access of the Internet from the traditional stationary locations to mobility. In fact, the CTIA Wireless Association has indicated that there are more wireless subscriber connections in the United States and its territories than people, according to a CNET News article.

In order to provide responsive and adaptive solutions that scale to the number of users that are now required, we too must discover new ways to think about various technologies and approaches. I’ve already shown several ways to help your solutions meet increasing speed and scalability needs. This chapter provides additional approaches and F# examples to further this knowledge.

Scaling with Web Sockets

Web Sockets has been getting a lot of press recently. This highly publicized feature is part of the in-progress HTML5 specification. Though the spec is still in-progress, this hasn’t stopped many of the major players from building HTML5 features into their browsers. The feature known as Web Sockets is no exception.

Web Sockets provides a mechanism for two-way communication between the client and the server. This makes your site faster and more scalable by reducing the number of requests and shrinking the payload size of any sent packets. Additionally, the full-duplex communication channel that a web socket provides allows the information on a page to update in near−real time. You can find more information about the benefits of Web Sockets here.

Note

While Web Sockets can certainly improve the performance and scalability of your site, you should use it responsibly. More information can be found here.

You may be wondering what areas of your solution or types of solution would best benefit from the use of Web Sockets. The typical response would be “anything that needs to be updated in real time,” but that seems a bit too generic. Here are a few specific ideas that seem to be a great fit: real-time site usage statistics and reporting, stock ticker displays, the canonical chat example, real-time games, a Kanban board, and user alerts and notifications. In practice, you will need to evaluate your solution to determine which pieces require the advantages that Web Sockets provides, and utilize them only in these areas.

Building a Web Socket Example with .NET 4.5 and IIS 8

There are a few options when it comes to building web socket servers. Versions of IIS earlier than IIS 8 do not support Web Sockets. So if you want to host your web socket in IIS, you’ll have to use IIS 8 and .NET 4.5. Paul Batum talks more about this and shows a C# example in his blog. The F# example that follows takes a similar approach as defined in Paul’s post.

Note

There is an unsupported prototype for Web Sockets that will work in theory in earlier versions of IIS.

Let’s build a simple survey that will provide a charted view of the responses in real time via a web socket. The survey will provide a single question that asks, “What is your favorite programming language?” Possible answers include F#, C#, Erlang, JavaScript, and Other. With a tiny bit of help from the Twitter Bootstrap CSS, the web version of the question aspect of our survey appears as shown in Figure 4-1. The image shows two instances of Chrome side by side, with our survey loaded in each. This will make it easy for us to see how responsive our website becomes when using Web Sockets.

Note

You will need to run Visual Studio in administrator mode to execute this example.

Survey form

Figure 4-1. Survey form

The view that displays after you have submitted the answer to the survey question shows a chart that represents all responses to the survey. This is the view we want to update in real time. We’ll use a JavaScript charting library called D3. Since it’s not directly related to the web socket aspects of this example, I won’t show the D3-related code. However, you can find it in the mainModule.js file in the WebSocketIIS8Example project.

After enabling web sockets in IIS 8, we create a new ASP.NET MVC 4 application and make sure all projects are set to use .NET 4.5. We can now install the Microsoft.WebSockets NuGet package. We can also add a new .ashx file to the C# project and a few supporting .fs files to the F# WebApp project.

The first .fs file in this example is named ChartWebSocket.ashx.fs and it’s similar in concept to the code-behind .cs file that is often created when an .ashx item is created in a C# project. The code in this file creates a class that implements IHttpHandler. When a web socket request is processed, a new instance of a WebSocketChartHandler class is instantiated. The code looks like this:

namespace FsWeb

open System
open System.Web
open Microsoft.Web.WebSockets
open WebSocketServer

type ChartWebSocket() =
    interface IHttpHandler with 
        member x.ProcessRequest context = 
            if context.IsWebSocketRequest then
                context.AcceptWebSocketRequest(new WebSocketChartHandler())
        member x.IsReusable = true

The WebSocketChartHandler.fs file is composed of a few different pieces. First a WebSocketCollection is created to keep track of all the clients. Second, a VoteCounts record is defined. This will be used as the container that later gets serialized to JSON and sent to each web socket client. These two pieces of code look like the following:

let mutable clients = WebSocketCollection()

type VoteCounts = { language : string; count : int }

To help us out, a MailboxProcessor is used to keep a running total of the votes that have been cast for each programming language. This example could easily be extended to store the survey results in a database, but for the sake of simplicity we will be storing the responses in memory. The MailboxProcessor implementation looks like this:

type Message = 
    | Vote of string * AsyncReplyChannel<seq<string*int>>

let votesAgent = MailboxProcessor.Start(fun inbox ->
    let rec loop votes =
        async {
            let! message = inbox.Receive()
            match message with
            | Vote(language, replyChannel) -> 
                let newVotes = language::votes 
                newVotes
                |> Seq.countBy(fun lang -> lang)
                |> replyChannel.Reply 
                do! loop(newVotes) 
            do! loop votes 
        }
    loop List.empty)

The MailboxProcessor implementation isn’t all that different from the one shown in Chapter 1, so I will only spend time explaining the code that is emphasized.

When a Vote message is received from the virtual queue, it’s added to an F# list. F# lists are singly linked list data structures, which allow them to perform well while remaining immutable. This list performs well because a copy of the list isn’t created each and every time a new value is added. Instead, the new value is added to a new address space and a reference is used to point to the rest of the list. We use the cons operator (::) to make this happen. After the operation is complete the new survey result will effectively be at the front of the list.

The votes are then counted for each language and a sequence of string * int is returned. For example, if three votes for F# have been cast, along with one for C# and two for JavaScript, the result of pushing a new vote for F# into the MailboxProcessor would be a sequence that conceptually contains F#, 4; C#, 1; JavaScript, 2.

The last bit of code contained in the WebSocketChartHandler.fs file is the WebSocketChartHandler class definition. This class inherits WebSocketHandler and overrides three of the methods it contains. The code looks like this:

type WebSocketChartHandler() =
    inherit WebSocketHandler()
    
    override x.OnOpen() = clients.Add x            
    override x.OnMessage(language:string) =  
        votesAgent.PostAndReply(fun reply -> Message.Vote(language, reply))   
        |> Seq.map(fun v -> { language = fst v; count = snd v } )
        |> JsonConvert.SerializeObject 
        |> clients.Broadcast
    override x.OnClose() =
        clients.Remove x |> ignore

Each method is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll concentrate on the emphasized code in the OnMessage method. The first line sends the vote to the MailboxProcessor and waits for the reply. The result of that call is passed to Seq.map to be projected into a sequence of the VoteCounts record that was shown previously. This sequence of VoteCounts is then serialized to JSON using Json.NET. Lastly, the result is broadcast to all clients of the web socket.

The following is an abbreviated version of the JavaScript that connects to the web socket server:

$(function () {
    var uri,
        updateChart,
        $pages = $(".page");

    $pages.hide();
    $pages.first().toggle();

    updateChart = function (data) {
        /* Removed for brevity */
    };

    uri = "ws://localhost/WebSocketExample/ChartWebSocket.ashx";

    websocket = new WebSocket(uri);

    websocket.onopen = function () {
        $("#vote").click(function (event) {
            var vote = $("input:radio[name=langOption]:checked");

            if (vote.length) {
                websocket.send(vote.val());
            };

            $pages.hide();
            $("#results").toggle();

            event.preventDefault();
        });
    };

    websocket.onmessage = function (event) {
        updateChart($.parseJSON(event.data));
    };
});

You can see this in action by opening two browser instances as shown in Figure 4-1 and casting votes for your favorite language(s). Each browser will show a bar chart that contains the total votes cast for each language that has at least one vote. Additionally, the bar chart on each browser will update to display the latest totals almost immediately after clicking the Cast Vote button from any of the clients. Figure 4-2 shows an example of this.

Survey results

Figure 4-2. Survey results

Creating a Web Socket Server with Fleck

Although the example I just showed works well, what do we do when we don’t have IIS 8, don’t want to upgrade to .NET 4.5, or want to host the web socket outside of IIS? Luckily, there are several options available to us. My favorite is a library called Fleck. To get started with Fleck, install the Fleck NuGet package. You can then use code such as the following to stand up a self-hosted web socket server:

module FsFleckServer

open System
open System.Collections.Generic
open Fleck
open Newtonsoft.Json

type VoteCounts = { language : string; count : int }  
     
type Message = 
    | Vote of string * AsyncReplyChannel<seq<string*int>>

let votesAgent = MailboxProcessor.Start(fun inbox ->
    let rec loop votes =
        async {
            let! message = inbox.Receive()
            match message with
            | Vote(language, replyChannel) -> 
                let newVotes = language::votes 
                newVotes
                |> Seq.countBy(fun lang -> lang)
                |> replyChannel.Reply 
                do! loop(newVotes) 
            do! loop votes 
        }
    loop List.empty)

let main() = 
    FleckLog.Level <- LogLevel.Debug
    let clients = List<IWebSocketConnection>()
    use server = new WebSocketServer "ws://localhost:8181"

    let socketOnOpen socket = clients.Add socket

    let socketOnClose socket = clients.Remove socket |> ignore

    let socketOnMessage language = 
        let results = 
            votesAgent.PostAndReply(fun reply -> Message.Vote(language, reply))   
            |> Seq.map(fun v -> { language = fst v; count = snd v } )
            |> JsonConvert.SerializeObject 
        clients |> Seq.iter(fun c -> c.Send results)

    server.Start(fun socket ->
                    socket.OnOpen <- fun () -> socketOnOpen socket
                    socket.OnClose <- fun () -> socketOnClose socket
                    socket.OnMessage <- fun message -> socketOnMessage message)
    
    Console.ReadLine() |> ignore

main()

The two type definitions and the defined agent are exactly the same as what we had in the IIS 8 example. The emphasized code instantiates a WebSocketServer; defines three methods to handle socket open events, socket close events, and messaging events, respectively; and starts up the server.

To use it, all you have to do is change the JavaScript uri assignment in the previously shown JavaScript code to point at the URL of the Fleck server and clear your browser cache. In the end, the application works exactly as it did in the IIS 8 example.

Using SignalR

I think we all will agree that Web Sockets is pretty cool. The type of bidirectional communication it affords opens up a world of opportunity. Unfortunately, support for Web Sockets is still spotty. So, while Web Sockets is certainly a glimpse of the future, it may not seem like a viable option for the systems you are building today. If only we had some way to take advantage of Web Sockets when it is available, but fall back to other options when it isn’t.

As I’m sure you have guessed, this is certainly achievable, and one option for doing so is built into a set of libraries named SignalR. SignalR is something that two Microsoft employees started as an open source project that was later adopted by Microsoft as an officially sponsored project. SignalR makes it easy to build real-time solutions using asynchronous signaling approaches. SignalR makes it possible for us to build modern solutions today that will automatically take advantage of Web Sockets when available.

So what does SignalR do when Web Sockets support isn’t available? It checks for a few different options, and uses the one that is best suited to the task at hand. Web Sockets is checked first. If that isn’t supported then Server-Sent Events, Forever Frame, and Long Polling are checked.

Note

SignalR isn’t the only game in town when it comes to falling back to other techniques such as Forever Frame and Long Polling. Socket.IO and NowJS are a few options that do this as well. However, SignalR goes about it in an easier way and is specifically designed to play well with ASP.NET.

Building a Persistent Connection Example

Two primary options are available for building the SignalR server-side aspects. The first is a persistent connection and the second is a hub. The persistent connection option is pretty similar to what we’ve seen in the Fleck and IIS 8 web socket server implementations provided in this chapter.

As you’ll see, it doesn’t take much code to get this set up. You start by installing the SignalR NuGet package. After that, it’s a simple matter of adding a custom route map and implementing a class that derives from PersistentConnection. A snippet from a Global.fs file with the new code emphasized is shown in the following example:

type Global() =
    inherit System.Web.HttpApplication() 

    static member RegisterRoutes(routes:RouteCollection) =
        routes.IgnoreRoute("{resource}.axd/{*pathInfo}")
        routes.MapRoute("Default", 
                        "{controller}/{action}/{id}", 
                        { controller = "Home"; action = "Index"
                          id = UrlParameter.Optional } )

    member this.Start() =
        RouteTable.Routes
            .MapConnection<ChartServer>("chartserver", 
                                        "chartserver/{*operation}") |> ignore

        AreaRegistration.RegisterAllAreas()
        Global.RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes)

The new class that inherits PersistentConnection is shown in the next example. As I mentioned, it’s not that much different from the previously shown IIS 8 web socket server examples. Here we’re simply overriding the OnReceivedAsync method rather than the OnMessage method:

module SignalRExample

open System
open SignalR
open Newtonsoft.Json

// Code from previous examples removed for brevity

type ChartServer() =
    inherit PersistentConnection()

    override x.OnReceivedAsync(request, connectionId, data) = 
        votesAgent.PostAndReply(fun reply -> Message.Vote(data, reply))   
        |> Seq.map(fun v -> { language = fst v; count = snd v } )
        |> JsonConvert.SerializeObject 
        |> base.Connection.Broadcast

A JavaScript Client

The client-side aspects of SignalR change slightly depending on whether the client is using JavaScript or F# as well as whether the server is using PersistentConnection or Hub. Additionally, the JavaScript option is a little bit different from the previously seen web socket client-related JavaScript. This difference is partially due to the jQuery plug-in that helps SignalR do its magic. Here is a JavaScript example for the PersistentConnection that we built in the earlier example:

/* Some code removed for brevity */
    
var connection = $.connection("/chartserver");

connection.received(function (data) {
    updateChart($.parseJSON(data));
});

$('#vote').click(function (event) {
    var vote = $('input:radio[name=langOption]:checked');

    if (vote.length) {
        connection.send(vote.val());
    };

    $pages.hide();
    $("#results").toggle();

    event.preventDefault();
});

connection.start();

Using the client and server together results in the same effect we achieved in the previous web socket examples. The output looks just like Figure 4-2.

An F# Client

What if you want to connect to a SignalR server from F# instead of JavaScript? That’s no problem at all. The next example shows an F# console application that can cast a vote for a favorite programming language.

To build this, create a new F# console application, install the SignalR.Client NuGet package, and add code such as the following:

module SignalRExample

open System
open SignalR.Client

let connection = 
    Connection "http://localhost:2920/chartserver"

connection.Start().Wait()

connection.Send "F#" 
|> Async.AwaitIAsyncResult 
|> Async.Ignore 
|> ignore

connection.Stop() |> ignore

printfn "Vote cast for F#"
Console.ReadLine() |> ignore

Constructing a Hub Example

As I mentioned previously, SignalR provides another option, which is known as a Hub. This option provides a higher-level abstraction over PersistentConnection. This abstraction makes it possible for the server to call named JavaScript functions. Let’s look at an example.

The server side

The next example provides a self-hosted SignalR Hub. It’s an F# console application that has had the SignalR.Hosting.Self package installed. To set up the hub, you create a class that inherits from Hub. You then add the methods you wish to be available for calls from clients. To call functions declared in JavaScript, you can use the Clients dynamic object followed by the name of the desired function. This code is emphasized in the following example:

// Code from previous examples removed for brevity

type ChartHub() =
    inherit Hub()
    member x.Send (data:string) = 
       let result = 
           votesAgent.PostAndReply(fun reply -> Message.Vote(data, reply))   
           |> Seq.map(fun v -> { language = fst v; count = snd v } )
       try
           base.Clients?updateChart(result)
       with
       | ex -> 
           printfn "%s" ex.Message

let server = Server "http://*:8181/"
server.MapHubs() |> ignore

server.Start()

printfn "Now listening on port 8181"
Console.ReadLine() |> ignore

One thing you may have noticed in the preceding example is the use of the ? operator when working with the dynamic Clients object. F# doesn’t provide the exact same dynamic object option that is provided in C#. Instead, it provides a more powerful option that allows you to implement whatever dynamic functionality you require. This option is provided in the form of dynamic lookup operators.

Dynamic lookup operators can provide the same functionality as what is offered in C#, though they’re not restricted to that functionality only. You can customize the implementation of dynamic lookup operators in whatever way you see fit, allowing power beyond that of its cousin language. One implementation that has gained popularity is available via the ImpromptuInterface.FSharp library, which can be installed with a NuGet package ID of the same name. The Hub example uses this library.

The client side

The JavaScript code changes slightly when using a Hub as well. Here’s the example we have been reviewing, with the changes that are required to interact with a Hub emphasized:

$.connection.hub.url = 'http://localhost:8181/signalr'

var chartHub = $.connection.chartHub;

chartHub.updateChart = function (data) {
    updateChart(data);
};

$('#vote').click(function (event) {
    var vote = $('input:radio[name=langOption]:checked');

    if (vote.length) {
        chartHub.send(vote.val())
    }

    $pages.hide();
    $("#results").toggle();

    event.preventDefault();
});

$.connection.hub.start();

One other key thing we have to do to make this work is to add a few script references such as the following:

<script src="@Url.Content("~/Scripts/jquery.signalR-0.5.2.min.js")"></script>
<script src="http://localhost:8181/signalr/hubs" type="text/javascript"></script>

Going Mobile

Adding support for mobile devices that also interact with SignalR is pretty easy now that we have the basics built. In this section I’ll show a few different approaches for extending the simple survey application to mobile devices. The first uses jQuery Mobile. The second is a native Windows Phone 7 application.

The jQuery Mobile Approach

I’ve shown several examples throughout this book that use jQuery Mobile and I mentioned briefly how you can quickly configure ASP.NET MVC 4 to react differently for different devices. However, I haven’t actually shown an example of this in action. Since we already have a web version of the survey application in place, this is a perfect opportunity to quickly walk through what is needed to switch out the views in an ASP.NET MVC 4 web application when a page is accessed by a mobile device.

You first need to add a new _Layout.cshtml file named _Layout.mobile.cshtml. The typical jQuery Mobile references are then added to this new _Layout file along with the same SignalR, D3, and mainModule JavaScript references that were included in the original _Layout file.

All we need to do now is to make a few adjustments to the HTML in the existing Index.cshtml file. With these changes, the one Index.cshtml file can be reused for both views. The markup, with changes emphasized, is as follows:

<div id="survey" class="page" data-role="page" >
  <div class="row" data-role="content">
    <form class="well"> 
      <fieldset data-role="controlgroup">
        <legend>What is your favorite programming language?</legend>
        <div class="controls">
          <label class="radio">
            <input type="radio" name="langOption" id="fsharp" value="F#" />F#
          </label>
          <label class="radio">
            <input type="radio" name="langOption" id="csharp" value="C#" />C#
          </label>
          <label class="radio">
            <input type="radio" name="langOption" id="erlang" value="Erlang" />
            Erlang
          </label>
          <label class="radio">
            <input type="radio" name="langOption" id="javascript"
              value="JavaScript" />
            JavaScript
          </label>
          <label class="radio">
            <input type="radio" name="langOption" id="other" value="Other" />
              Other
          </label>
        </div>
      </fieldset>
      <div class="buttonContainer"><button id="vote" class="btn" />
        Cast Vote</div>
    </form>
  </div>
</div>

<div id="results" class="page" data-role="page" >
  <div id="barChart" class="barChart" data-role="content" >
  </div>
</div>

Note

Instead of using the same Index.cshtml for both views, we could have created a new ASP.NET MVC view named Index.mobile.cshtml to house mobile-specific markup. This is a workable approach if we need to have completely different markup for specific device types; however, I believe it is best to try to keep the markup the same for both views and use media types and other adaptive and/or responsive design techniques to tailor the experience appropriately.

We can verify that things are working by switching out the user agent in a browser such as Chrome. Additionally, we can use emulators and/or simulators such as TestiPhone to see how things will look when displayed on screens of different sizes. The new look with an iPhone 5 user agent on a simulator is shown in Figure 4-3.

Adding Windows Phone

While the jQuery Mobile approach will work for all the major mobile players, we may wish to develop specific native apps that also take advantage of SignalR. As an example, perhaps we wish to take our simple survey application and create a native Windows Phone 7 version. The resultant visual aspects of the app are shown in Figure 4-4.

jQuery Mobile survey

Figure 4-3. jQuery Mobile survey

Windows Phone 7 survey

Figure 4-4. Windows Phone 7 survey

A deep dive into how to create Windows Phone 7 applications in F# could easily fill another book. However, you don’t need to read a whole other book to quickly get a simple Windows Phone 7 app with F# up and running. Simply install the Windows Phone SDK, then install one of the F# and C# Windows Phone project templates from Visual Studio Gallery, such as the one here.

I won’t spend a lot of time going into the details of the non-SignalR aspects of this example. You can find the full source at the GitHub website. One other thing to point out is that this example uses a self-hosted, persistent connection SignalR server. The code for this is available here.

Note

At the time of this writing, the Windows Phone 7 development tools are not yet supported in Visual Studio 2012. Because of this, the example provided in this section uses Visual Studio 2010.

After creating a new F# Windows Phone 7 project, we can add the desired XAML to make things appear as shown in Figure 4-4. Next, we need to install the SignalR.Client NuGet package in both the App and AppHost projects. We’re now ready to modify the AppLogic.fs file so that it interacts with the SignalR server.

To get started, we’ll first create a record that will act as a Model as well as a class to act as a ViewModel. To keep things simple, I’ve hardcoded the language choices and associated box color. Each of these is shown in the following example:

type LanguageChoice = { Language : string; BoxColor : string } 
    
type LanguageChoiceViewModel() =   
    member x.LanguageChoices = 
        let result = List<LanguageChoice>()
        result.Add { Language = "F#"; BoxColor = "#F29925" }
        result.Add { Language = "C#"; BoxColor = "#5492CD" }
        result.Add { Language = "Erlang"; BoxColor = "#E41F26" }
        result.Add { Language = "JavaScript"; BoxColor = "#70BE46" }
        result.Add { Language = "Other"; BoxColor = "#535353" }
        result

Note

Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM) is a common design pattern that is often used when building XAML-based solutions. You can find more information about MVVM on John Gossman’s blog. It should be noted that the example provided in this section does not follow MVVM fully. Instead, the example is optimized for simplicity and set up to show different approaches.

Now that the Model and ViewModel are created, we can modify the MainPage class to include the logic needed to send the selected vote information to the SignalR server. The code to accomplish this is shown in the next example and I’ll point out various interesting aspects in the next several paragraphs:

type MainPage() as this =
    inherit PhoneApplicationPage()
    do this.DataContext <- LanguageChoiceViewModel()
    do Application.LoadComponent(this, 
        new System.Uri("/WindowsPhoneApp;component/MainPage.xaml", 
            System.UriKind.Relative))

    let confirmationLabel : TextBlock = this?Confirmation

    member this.AnswerButton_Click(sender:obj, e:RoutedEventArgs) =
        let answerButton = sender :?> Button
        SignalR.connection.Send(answerButton.Tag)
            .Start(TaskScheduler.FromCurrentSynchronizationContext())
        confirmationLabel.Text <- "Thanks for Voting!"

The first few lines of code in this class are wiring up the class to the XAML. The class inherits PhoneApplicationPage, sets our ViewModel as the DataContext, and finally associates MainPage.xaml to the class.

The next line locates the TextBlock with a name of Confirmation in the XAML and binds it to a value named confirmationLabel. This shows a little bit of the power of the dynamic lookup operator that I talked about previously in this chapter. In the default output of this Windows Phone 7 project template, an implementation of the dynamic lookup operator is provided with the primary goal of locating resources in a ResourceDictionary or finding controls in XAML.

The AnswerButton_Click member shows a traditional code-behind type of click event handler. This is where we see the first mention of anything related to SignalR. Within this event handler, we determine which button was pressed and send the information to the SignalR server by starting the task from the current synchronization context. Lastly, the text of a label is set to a desired confirmation message.

The only other thing to discuss is how the SignalR server connection information is determined. In this example, this is accomplished by defining a module with a function named startConnection. This function is called whenever the application launches. Conversely, the connection is stopped whenever the application is closed. Here is the code for defining the module with the startConnection function:

module SignalR =
    let connection = 
        Connection "http://localhost:8081/chartserver"
    let startConnection() =
        if connection.State = ConnectionState.Disconnected then 
            connection.Start().Start(
                TaskScheduler.FromCurrentSynchronizationContext())

Combining F# and NoSQL

NoSQL data storage options have been gaining in popularity over the past few years. This class of data store breaks away from the traditional RDBMS databases that have ruled for so long. NoSQL databases generally store data in unstructured or semi-structured formats rather than with the strict schemas used in relational databases. This approach makes it easier to scale horizontally, support redundancy, and handle massive amounts of data while making insertion and retrieval of that data amazingly fast. If you want to achieve faster and more scalable F# solutions that work well for both mobile and web applications, you’ll definitely want to learn about NoSQL databases and how to interact with them through F#.

In this section, I’ll show you how to use F# to interact with a few document-oriented NoSQL options. I’ll use a simple example of a basic grid that lists a minimal amount of information (first name, last name, and phone number) for a contact list. Additionally, a simple form for creating new contacts is provided. Since the primary focus is to show methods for getting started with inserting and retrieving records from these databases, I won’t spend much time on the UI aspects. You can see the full examples here.

MongoDB

MongoDB is one of the most popular NoSQL options in the .NET space. Like the other NoSQL databases discussed in this section, MongoDB is a document-oriented database. This means information pushed in the database is stored with a key and an associated document. When a document is later requested by the key, retrieval is exceptionally fast. Instructions on setting up MongoDB on Windows are available here.

Once you follow the steps for getting MongoDB up and running, the next step is to create a client to interact with that instance. The easiest way to get up and running with MongoDB and F# is to install the NuGet package with ID MongoFs into a project. This will pull the official C# MongoDB client as well as a simple F# wrapper that helps make interaction with the C# MongoDB client API from F# a little nicer.

As I mentioned previously, I will be showing a simple example for each of the three document-oriented data stores discussed in this section. Each example is an ASP.NET MVC 4 project that was set up with the C#/F# ASP.NET MVC 4 template that we discussed in Chapter 1. The example uses a record called Contact, as shown here:

namespace FsWeb.Models

open MongoDB.Bson
open System.ComponentModel.DataAnnotations

[<CLIMutable>]
type Contact = {
    _id : ObjectId
    [<Required>] FirstName : string
    [<Required>] LastName : string
    [<Required>] Phone : string
}

There are two aspects of this code that probably need a little explanation. The first is the ObjectId type. ObjectId is a 12-byte binary type provided by MongoDB. This type is commonly used as the unique ID for documents.

The second aspect is the CLIMutable attribute, which I briefly mentioned in all of the chapters up to this point. This attribute is a lesser-known feature of F# 3.0 that has tremendous value when working with records that need to be serialized or deserialized, such as when going to or from a document data store. When the F# compiler sees the attribute it automatically adds a parameterless constructor as well as getters and setters for the properties. This one little attribute opens the door for records to be used in places that were previously more difficult, such as in the controllers of an ASP.NET MVC application.

The code needed to retrieve all the stored contacts from MongoDB, as well as create new contacts, is shown in the following example:

namespace FsWeb.Controllers

open System.Linq
open System.Web
open System.Web.Mvc
open FsWeb.Models 

[<HandleError>]
type HomeController() =
    inherit Controller()

    let contacts = 
        createLocalMongoServer()
        |> getMongoDatabase "contactDb"
        |> getMongoCollection "contacts"

    member this.Index () =
        contacts.FindAll().ToList() |> this.View

    [<HttpGet>] 
    member this.Create () =
        this.View() 
    
    [<HttpPost>]      
    member this.Create (contact:Contact) =     
        if base.ModelState.IsValid then   
            contact |> contacts.Insert |> ignore
            this.RedirectToAction("Index") :> ActionResult
        else
            this.View() :> ActionResult

The emphasized code shows how little is needed to interact with MongoDB from F# when using MongoFs. The first four emphasized lines identify the MongoDB instance, database, and collection with which you wish to interact. Additionally, if the database or collection doesn’t already exist, it will be created. The pipelining approach used to accomplish these tasks is provided by the MongoFs library. The one line required for retrieving all records as well as the one line needed to insert a contact are achieved solely by the great syntax of F# combined with the API of the official C# MongoDB client.

One other thing you may have noticed is that I never open the MongoFs module in this example. This is due to another feature of F#, called the AutoOpen attribute. When the AutoOpen attribute is added to a module, that module will not need to be explicitly opened or referenced. Here’s an example of the AutoOpen attribute in use:

[<AutoOpen>]
Module MongoFs

// Code removed for brevity

RavenDB

RavenDB is another document-oriented database that has been taking the world by storm. A few of the big benefits of RavenDB include support for transactions, full-text search via Lucene, a “safe by default” core principle, and ease of embedding the DB when desired.

For the example that follows, download and extract the latest build of RavenDB. You can then launch the RavenDB server. Once that is complete, you should be able to run the example. The example was built by installing version 1.0.960 of the RavenDB.Client.FSharp NuGet package into an F#/C# ASP.NET MVC solution. The code needed to get our contacts list up and running is shown in the following example:

namespace FsWeb.Controllers

open System.Linq
open System.Web
open System.Web.Mvc
open FsWeb.Models
open Raven.Client.Document

[<HandleError>]
type HomeController() =
    inherit Controller()

    let ravenUrl = "http://localhost:8080/"

    let executeRavenAction action = 
        use store = new DocumentStore()
        store.Url <- ravenUrl
        store.Initialize() |> ignore
        use session = store.OpenSession()
        action session        

    member this.Index () =
        executeRavenAction
        <| fun session -> session.Query<Contact>().ToList()
        |> this.View

    [<HttpGet>] 
    member this.Create () =
        this.View() 
    
    [<HttpPost>]      
    member this.Create (contact:Contact) =     
        if base.ModelState.IsValid then   
            executeRavenAction
            <| fun session -> 
                 session.Store contact
                 session.SaveChanges()
            this.RedirectToAction("Index") :> ActionResult
        else
            this.View() :> ActionResult

While the code is a bit more verbose than the MongoDB example, you get a few key benefits such as inherent usage of the Unit of Work pattern. In addition to showing the RavenDB F# client API in use, the preceding code also showcases a higher-order function named executeRavenAction that abstracts away the common code that is used for the majority of interactions with RavenDB.

CouchDB

The last NoSQL option that I will showcase is CouchDB. Built with Erlang, CouchDB is one of the most fault-tolerant NoSQL options available. It’s also easy to distribute and fast. You can find out more about CouchDB here.

Note

The creator of CouchDB is now primarily focusing on a project called Couchbase, which has a different API and a number of additional features. I have chosen to only show CouchDB in this book; however, I recommend checking out Couchbase to see if it is right for you. A comparison of CouchDB and Couchbase is available here.

There are a number of client options for interacting with CouchDB. One of these options is one that I created, called FSharpCouch. To use it, install the FSharpCouch NuGet package in the desired project and use any of the functions described here. Here’s a quick example using the same contacts list application that was shown in the examples for the other two NoSQL options:

namespace FsWeb.Controllers

open System.Linq
open System.Web
open System.Web.Mvc
open FsWeb.Models
open FSharpCouch

[<HandleError>]
type HomeController() =
    inherit Controller()

    let couchUrl = "http://localhost:5984"
    let dbName = "people"

    member this.Index () =
        getAllDocuments<Contact> couchUrl dbName
        |> Seq.map(fun c -> c.body)
        |> this.View
        
    [<HttpGet>] 
    member this.Create () =
        this.View() 
    
    [<HttpPost>]      
    member this.Create (contact:Contact) =     
        if base.ModelState.IsValid then               
            contact |> createDocument couchUrl dbName |> ignore
            this.RedirectToAction("Index") :> ActionResult
        else
            this.View() :> ActionResult

One interesting aspect of this implementation is that F# records are used without any mutation required. The Contact record used for the create request only includes the things directly related, such as first name, last name, and phone. However, the entity or entities that are returned from a create or from either of the get options will return a record that includes an ID and a revision. This is made possible by returning the record shown in the following, with body set to a populated instance of a record that matches what was originally added (this is the main reason for the Seq.map call in the Index method of the previous example):

type CouchDocument<'a> = {
    id : string
    rev : string
    body : 'a
}

Summary

This chapter covered a few additional approaches that can help you build faster and more scalable web and mobile solutions with F# and other technologies. You learned a few different ways to create and consume Web Sockets as well as various options for interacting with a few common document-oriented data stores. Throughout the chapter, I introduced and explained a handful of features of F# of which you may not have previously been aware.

In the next chapter, I’ll show you a few options for creating frontend code with the beauty and elegance of a functional style. The options discussed in the next chapter will allow you to build full stacks using functional concepts and will open your eyes to new thoughts and ideas. You won’t want to miss it!

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