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Programming Entity Framework: DbContext by Rowan Miller, Julia Lerman

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Chapter 1. Introducing the DbContext API

Since its first release, the most critical element in Entity Framework has been the ObjectContext. It is this class that allows us to interact with a database using a conceptual model. The context lets us express and execute queries, track changes to objects and persist those changes back to the database. The ObjectContext class interacts with other important Entity Framework classes such as the ObjectSet, which enables set operations on our entities in memory, and ObjectQuery, which is the brains behind executing queries. All of these classes are replete with features and functionality—some of it complex and much of it only necessary for special cases. After two iterations of Entity Framework (in .NET 3.5 SP1 and .NET 4) it was clear that developers were most commonly using a subset of the features, and unfortunately, some of the tasks we needed to do most frequently were difficult to discover and code.

Recognizing this, the Entity Framework team set out to make it easier for developers to access the most frequently used patterns for working with objects within Entity Framework. Their solution was a new set of classes that encapsulate this subset of ObjectContext features. These new classes use the ObjectContext behind the scenes, but developers can work with them without having to tangle with the ObjectContext unless they need to specifically use some of the more advanced features. The new set of classes was originally released as part of Entity Framework 4.1 (EF 4.1).

The prominent classes in this simplified API surface are the DbContext, DbSet, and DbQuery. This entire package of new logic is referred to as the DbContext API. The new API contains more than just the DbContext class, but it is the DbContext that orchestrates all of the new features.

The DbContext API is available in the EntityFramework.dll assembly, which also contains the logic that drives Entity Framework Code First. This assembly is separate from .NET and is even deployed separately as the EntityFramework NuGet package. A major portion of the Entity Framework is part of the .NET Framework (primarily System.Data.Entity.dll). The components that are included in .NET are considered the “core components” of Entity Framework. The DbContext API is completely dependent on these core components of Entity Framework. The Entity Framework team has indicated that they are working to move more of these core components out of .NET and into the EntityFramework.dll assembly. This will allow them to deliver more features between releases of the .NET Framework.

In Table 1-1, you can see a list of the high-level features and classes in the DbContext API, how they relate to the API surface from Entity Framework 4 (EF4), their general purpose, and their benefits.

Table 1-1. Overview of DbContext API features

DbContext API feature

Relevant EF4 feature/class

General purpose

Benefit of DbContext API



Represent a session with the database. Provide query, change tracking and save capabilities.

Exposes and simplifies most commonly used features of ObjectContext.



Provide set operations for entity types, such as Add, Attach and Remove. Inherits from DbQuery to expose query capabilities.

Exposes and simplifies most commonly used features of ObjectSet.



Provide querying capabilities.

The query functionality of DbQuery is exposed on DbSet, so you don’t have to interact with DbQuery directly.

Change Tracker API


Get access to change tracking information and operations (e.g., original values, current values) managed by the context.

Simpler and more intuitive API surface.

Validation API


Provide automatic validation of data at the data layer. This API takes advantage of validation features already existing in .NET 4.

New to DbContext API.

Code First Model Building


Reads classes and code-based configurations to build in-memory model, metadata and relevant database.

New to DbContext API.

Getting the DbContext API into Your Project

The DbContext API is not released as part of the .NET Framework. In order to be more flexible (and frequent) with releasing new features to Code First and the DbContext API, the Entity Framework team distributes EntityFramework.dll through Microsoft’s NuGet distribution feature. NuGet allows you to add references to your .NET projects by pulling the relevant DLLs directly into your project from the Web. A Visual Studio extension called the Library Package Manager provides an easy way to pull the appropriate assembly from the Web into your projects. Figure 1-1 displays a screenshot of the Library Package Manager being used to download and add the EntityFramework NuGet package into a project.

Getting EntityFramework.dll from the Library Package Manager

Figure 1-1. Getting EntityFramework.dll from the Library Package Manager


You can learn more about using NuGet and the Library Package Manager at nuget.org.

At the time of this book’s publication (early 2012), the current version of EntityFramework package is 4.3. Chapter 9 provides an overview of what to expect in future versions.

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