Using compile options for version compatibility

Here’s the scenario; Your building a module and it needs to be compatible with different versions of a platform. e.g. Sitecore, and everything’s great up until the day you need to call different methods in different versions of the platform. You’d rather not drop support for the old versions, and nor do you want to start maintaining two code bases. So what do you do?

C# Preprocessor Directives

Preprocessor directives provide a way to give the compiler instructions to follow while its compiling a project. By using this we can give the compiler conditions to compile different versions in different ways. Thereby allowing us to maintain one codebase, but produce compilations for different versions of the platform. e.g. One for Sitecore 8.0 and another for Sitecore 9.0.

#if, #else and #endif

When the compiler encounters an #if followed by an #endif, it will only compile the code between the two if the specified symbol had been defined.

#if DEBUG
    Console.WriteLine("Debug version");
#else
    Console.WriteLine("Non Debug version");
#endif

Defining a preprocessor symbol

For the if statement to work, your going to need to define your symbol which is being evaluate.

This can be included in code as follows

#define YOURSYMBOL

A more useful was of defining this however is to include it in your call to MSBuild (this is particularly useful when using a build server).

-define:name[;name2]

If your compiling from Visual Studio an easier solution is to set up a new build configuration with a conditional compilation symbol.

  1. Right click your solution item in Solution Explorer and select Properties
  2. Click Configuration Properties on the left and then Configuration Manager on the right
  3. In the pop up window click the Active solution configuration drop down and then click New
    BuildConfiguration
  4. Enter the name of the build config. In my example above I have SC82 for Sitecore 8.2 and SC90 for Sitecore 9.0.
  5. Click Ok and close all the windows you just opened
  6. Right click the project that your going to build and select Properties
  7. Select the Build tab
  8. Select your build configuration from the configuration at the top
  9. Enter the symbol your using for the #if directives
    Conditional Compilation Symbols

Reference different versions of an assembly

Adding conditions to our code is good, but for this to fully work we also need to reference different versions of the assemblies that are causing the issue in the first place.

There’s no way of doing this through Visual Studio but by editing the .csproj file manually we can update the hint path on a reference to include the configuration name as a variable.

    
       ..\libraries\$(Configuration)\Sitecore.Kernel.dll
      False
    

This example shows how different versions of the Sitecore Kernel can be referenced by keeping each version in a subfolder that corresponds with the build configuration name.

As well as different versions of assemblies, it may also be needed to target different versions of the .net framework. This can be done in the .csproj file by including additional proerty groups that have a condition on the configuration name.

  
    bin\SC82\
    TRACE;SC82
    true
    v4.5.2
  
  
    bin\SC90\
    TRACE;SC90
    true
    v4.6.2
  

In this example I’m targeting .net 4.5.2 for my Sitecore 8.2 configuration and 4.6.2 for my Sitecore 9 configuration.

Useful Links

C# preprocessor directives
-define (C# Compiler Options)

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Adding Build Statuses to Pull Requests with TeamCity and GitHub

I’m always looking for ways to improve our build server setup and improve our overall efficiency. So a recent change I’ve made is to get Team City to start building pull requests and pushing the resulting status back to GitHub.

This improves our dev flow by eliminating the need to do any testing on a pull request if we can already see it will fail a build. Previously someone doing a code review would only find out once they’ve checked out the change and built it locally, or even worse after approving the request and then breaking the build.

Pull Request Build Status

What’s particularly good with this setup, is it’s testing the resulting merge rather than just the branch being merged in.

Team City Setup

As this is covering a different scenario to our normal build processes which are focused on preparing a build version to be deployed, I set this up as a second build configuration on our projects.

Version Control Settings Root (VCS Root)

The VCS Root needs to be configured to fetch each pull request that is creating in GitHub. To do this, you will need to add a Branch specification which will tell Team City to monitor additional branches rather than just the default branch specified.

Branch Specification

I’m using the branch specification +:refs/pull/(*/merge) .

This syntax is telling Team City to monitor references to pull for pull request, the * refers to any pull request, and the merge indicates that we only want to resulting merge of the pull request.

When you create a pull request in GitHub, this merge reference is automatically created for what the resulting merge would look like.

In the projects list, builds will now get labels indicating what they were for:

Pull Requests on dashboard

Build Steps

I created my build configurations by duplicating the existing ones we have that take care of creating builds to be passed onto Octopus Deploy for release. If you do this, it’s important to remember to disable all the steps you no longer need.

Build Steps

The less steps you have the quicker your build will run and the quicker the pull request will be updated with a status. Ideally you want the process to finish before someone starts doing a code review! Steps like running Inspections may prove counter productive if the builds are never finished on time.

Triggers

Having a build running automatically for your releases can be a drain on server resources, particularly if you never have any intention of actually doing a deploy for most of them. For this reason our builds are set to manual.

However for statuses to be of any use, they’re going to need to be running automatically so that the status is ready for the code reviewer, so we need to add a VCS Trigger.

Triggers

Build Features

To get Team City to start posting status updates back to GitHub we need to add a build feature. If your on a version of TeamCity prior between 7.1 and 10 then there is a plugin you can grab here https://github.com/jonnyzzz/TeamCity.GitHub. If your on a newer version of TeamCity. i.e. 10+ then the build feature is now built in and is called Commit status publisher. The built in version also has support for Bitbucket, Gerrit, GitLab, JetBrains Upsource and Visual Studio Team Services.

Add the build feature and fill in the config settings.

CommitStatusPublisher.PNG

And that’s it. Your pull requests will now automatically build and have the status sent back to GitHub.

Pull Status Pass.PNG

Not only will you be able to see this status in GitHub, you’ll also be able to click a details link to see the build. Useful in the event that it’s failed and you want to see why.

 

Cloud Hosting IaaS vs PaaS

A topic I hear from clients fairly regularly these days is a plan to move to “the cloud”, or we take over a site built by someone else thats hosted in “the cloud”. However in virtually every case it’s an IaaS setup and they don’t really know what the difference between IaaS and PaaS is.

What is IaaS?

So what is infrastructure as a service (IaaS for short)? To put it quite simply, IaaS in the cloud, be that Azure or AWS takes away the burden of managing your own or rented servers.

Anyone who’s worked in a corporate environment can tell you getting some new servers can be a lengthy process. Someone needs to arrange for them to be purchased, placed in a physical location, software installed etc. Even when the management of this has been outsourced to another company, it still remains a lengthy process.

Equally anyone working for a small company can tell you its not much better. There may be a lot less approval processes to jump through, but your on your own trying to buy and set up this kit from somewhere.

IaaS solves this by providing a very very quick service where you request a specific setup and a VM gets created for you ready to go in a couple of minutes. You can pick from a range of locations around the world and when you don’t need it any more you turn it off. There’s no large commitments to keeping a server for 6 months, you pay by the minute scaling up and down as needed.

IaaS is very simple to replace your current setup as its essentially the same thing just with much better management control around it.

What is PaaS?

Platform as a service (PaaS), is what people really mean when they talk about the future and the cloud. If you go to a conference and hear Microsoft talk about Azure, you can be 99% certain its a PaaS service they’re talking about.

To understand it think about the process of getting some office space. You could buy a plot of land, have a building placed on it and turn it into your office. But when the roof leaks you’ll need to arrange for that to be fixed, you’ll need to arrange regular fire alarm tests to make sure everyone remains safe, and when an issue is discovered in the buildings security you’ll need to get that fixed to. You didn’t really want to be a building manager, but that’s what’s happened.

The alternative is to rent some office space and leave the management to somebody else. All you have to do is follow some rules like don’t go on the roof and don’t go in that cupboard where all the fire alarm equipment is.

PaaS is a bit like this, we didn’t really want a box running Windows Server that we need to keep secure and up to date. We just want a SQL Server DB and that traditionally comes with a need to have a server to run it on. Equally for hosting a website we really just want somewhere our sites going to run, in the same way that for office space we just want somewhere for our staff to sit. It’s unlikely that we’re ever going to use these servers for more than one purpose so we don’t really need a generic system that allows us to install a multitude of things.

So with PaaS rather than buying a server your buying a service, which could be a web application, a db or many other things. As this is no longer just buying server space there are a number of restrictions. For example with a web application saving anything on the file system is rules out. Your application is going to be there but part of what makes it possible for all the server updates to be done for you is that at any time your application could be moved to a brand new server, anything not in the package to set it up will be lost.

The importance of build numbers

If I were to make a prediction, I would say that build numbers are something that are rarely treated as being important in the agency world of web development. That’s not to say milestone releases aren’t given names like “Phase 2”, “August Release” or a major feature name, but every build / release of a project in between, I’d sense largely have build numbers either ignored or never created.

It’s also easy to see why, after all it’s not like we’re producing software that’s going out to the masses to be installed. The solution is essentially just ending up having 1 install on a set of servers. When a new version is built, that replaces everything that came before it and if a bug is found we generally roll forward and fix the bug rather than ever reverting back.

Why use build numbers?

So when we’re constantly coding and improving applications in an agile world why should we care about and use build numbers?

To put it quite simply its just an easy way to identify a snapshot of code that could have actually have been built and then released to a server. This becomes hugely useful in scenarios such as:

  • A bug being reported by an end user
  • An issue being identified by some performance monitoring
  • An issue being picked up in some functionality further on from the site. e.g. in an integration

Without build numbers the only way to react to these scenarios is to look at commit dates in source control or manual release notes that may have been created to try and work out where an issue may have been created and what changed at that time. If the issue had subsequently been fixed you also can’t really give a version description when it was fixed other than a rough date.

Other advantages of build numbers can include:

  • Being able to reference a specific version that has been pen tested
  • Referencing a version that’s been tested with integrations
  • Having approval to release a specific version rather than just the latest on master
  • Anywhere you want to have a conversation referencing releases

Build numbers for deploys

The first step to use build numbers and with the rise in CI, possibly the one thing most people are doing is to start creating build numbers via a build server. By using any type of build server you will end up with build numbers. This instantly gives you a way to know when a build was created and what commits were new within the build.

Start involving an automated deployment setup either using your build server or with other tools like Octopus Deploy and you will now start to get a record of when each build was deployed to each server.

feature-1

Now you have an easy way to not only reference what build was on each environment and when through the deploy history, but also a way to see what went into a build through the build servers change log.

Tag builds in source control

Being able to see the changes that went into each build on your build server is all very good, but it’s still not an ideal situation for finding the exact code version a build relates to.

Thankfully if your using Team City it’s really easy to set it up to create a tag in your source control with each build number. Simply go to the build features section of your projects configuration and add a feature called “VCS Labeling”. This is a step that happens post build in the background and will create a tag in source control including the build number. It has lots of other configuration options, so if you need different tag formats for different branches its got you covered.

If your using GitHub once this is turned on you will be able to see a list of all the tags in the releases section.

GitHub Releases Screen

Update Assembly info

Being able to identify a build in source control and view a history of what should have been on a server at a particular time is all very good, but its also a good idea to be able to easily identify a build for a published version of code. That way just by looking at the code on a server you can tell which build version it is, and not rely on your deployment tool to be correct.

If your using Team City this also also made super simple through a build feature called “Assembly info patcher”. When using this the build number will automatically get patched in without having to edit AssemblyInfo.cs.

Conclusion

By following these tips you will now be able to identify a version by looking at the published code, see a history of when each version was not only built but also released to each envrionment and also have an easy way to find the exact source for that build.

The build number can then be used in any conversations around when a bug was introduced and also be referenced in release notes so everyone can keep track of what versions included what fix’s in a simple to understand format.

How to create a new instance of a dependency inject object

I decided to write this post after seeing it done wrong on a number of occasions and also not finding many great examples of how it should be done. Most articles of DI or IOC tend to focus on objects such as a logger being injected and then calling functions on that object.

Take for instance, this example in the Simple Injector documentation:

using System;
using System.Web.Mvc;

public class UserController : Controller {
    private readonly IUserRepository repository;
    private readonly ILogger logger;

    public UserController(IUserRepository repository, ILogger logger) {
        this.repository = repository;
        this.logger = logger;
    }

    [HttpGet]
    public ActionResult Index(Guid id) {
        this.logger.Log("Index called.");
        IUser user = this.repository.GetById(id);
        return this.View(user);
    }
}

Here we can see the implementation of IUserRepository and ILogger get passed in the constructor and are then used in the Index method.

However what would the example be if we wanted to create a new user and call the user repository to save it? Creating a new instance of IUser from our controller becomes an issue as we don’t know what the implmentation of IUser is.

The incorrect implementation I usually see is someone adding a reference to the implementation and just creating a new instance of it. A bit like this:

public class UserController : Controller {
    [HttpPost]
    public ActionResult SaveUser(UserDetails newUserInfo) {

        IUser user = new User;
        user.FirstName = newUserInfo.FirstName;
        user.LastName = newUserInfo.LastName;
        this.repository.SaveUser(user);
        return this.View(user);
    }
}

This will work, but fundamentally defeats the point of using dependency injection as we now have a dependency on the user objects specific implementation.

The solution I use is to add a factory method to our User Repository which takes care of creating a User object.

public class UserRepository : IUserRepository {
    public User CreateUser() {
        return new User();
    }
}

Responsibility of creating the object now remains with its implmentation and our controller no longer needs to have a reference to anything other than the interface.

public class UserController : Controller {
    [HttpPost]
    public ActionResult SaveUser(UserDetails newUserInfo) {

        IUser user = this.repository.CreateUser();
        user.FirstName = newUserInfo.FirstName;
        user.LastName = newUserInfo.LastName;
        this.repository.SaveUser(user);
        return this.View(user);
    }
}

Redirect to https using URL Rewrite

There’s always been reasons for pages to be served using https rather than http, such as login pages, payment screens etc. Now more than ever it’s become advisable to have entire sites running in https. Server speeds have increased to a level where the extra processing involved in encrypting page content is less of a concern, and Google now also gives a boost to a pages page ranking in Google (not necessarily significant, but every little helps).

If all your pages work in https and http you’ll also need to make sure one does a redirect to the other, otherwise rather than getting the tiny page rank boost from Google, you’ll be suffering from having duplicate pages on your site.

Redirecting to https with URL Rewrite

To set up a rule to redirect all pages from is relatively simple, just add the following to your IIS URL Rewrite rules.

<rule name="Redirect to HTTPS" stopProcessing="true">
  <conditions>
    <add input="{HTTPS}" pattern="^OFF$" />
  </conditions>
  <action type="Redirect" url="https://{HTTP_HOST}{REQUEST_URI}" appendQueryString="false" />
</rule>

The conditions will ensure any page not on https will be caught and the redirect will do a 301 to the same page but on https.

301 Moved Permanently or 303 See Other

I’ve seen some posts/examples and discussions surrounding if the redirect type should be a 301 or a 303 when you redirect to https.

Personally I would choose 301 Moved Permanently as you want search engines etc to all update and point to the new url. You’ve decided that your url from now on should be https, it’s not a temporary redirection and you want any link ranking to be transfered to the new url.

Excluding some URL’s

There’s every chance you don’t actually want every url to redirect to https. You may have a specific folder that can be accessed on either for compatibility with some other “thing”. This can be accomplished by adding a match rule that is negated. e.g.

<rule name="Redirect to HTTPS" stopProcessing="true">
  <match url="images" negate="true" />
  <conditions>
    <add input="{HTTPS}" pattern="^OFF$" />
  </conditions>
  <action type="Redirect" url="https://{HTTP_HOST}{REQUEST_URI}" appendQueryString="false" />
</rule>

In this example any url with the word images in would be excluded from the rewrite rule.

Increasing the Maximum file size for Web.Config

Web-Config-Exceeds-Max-File-Size

This can happen in any ASP.NET Web Application, but as Sitecore 8’s default web.config file is now 246 kb this makes it extremely susceptible to exceeding the default 250 kb limit.

To change the size limit you need to modify/create the following registry keys:

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\InetStp\Configuration\MaxWebConfigFileSizeInKB  (REG_DWORD)

On 64-bit machines you may also have to update the following as well

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\InetStp\Configuration\MaxWebConfigFileSizeInKB (REG_DWORD)

You will probably find that these keys need to be created, rather than just being updated. After changing them you will also need to reset IIS.

Alternatively

Alternatively you can leave the default values at 250 kb and split the web.config files into separate files.

More information on doing this can be found here:

http://www.davidturvey.com/blog/index.php/2009/10/how-to-split-the-web-config-into-mutliple-files/

My personal preference for Sitecore projects is to update the the max file size as this allows keeping the web.config file as close to the default install as possible. The benefit of doing this is it makes upgrades easier, rather than needing to know why your web.config doesn’t match the installation instructions.

Setting IP restrictions in IIS

It’s a frequent scenario that a website your in the process of building needs to be accessible over the internet before it should actually be publicly available over the internet. This can come in the form of clients needing to review staging sites before there live, test sites needing to be accessible to testers who may not be in a location that can access private servers, or working jointly with other suppliers.

This scenario presents a lot of dangers such as, the URL of a site could get leaked early ruining a marketing strategy, or the site could end up in Google destroying the SEO value on the clients current site and even worse, actually get real customers visiting it.

There are only 2 real methods of protecting test/staging sites. One is adding authentication to the site restricting access to people with a valid username and password. The other is IP white-listing so only people from a valid IP can access the site.

In the past I’ve seen people suggest using a robots.txt to tell search engines to ignore the site. This is guaranteed to fail, Google will index a site with a robots file saying not to. Your robot’s file may say don’t crawl, but that auto generated Sitemap will be obeyed an the files indexed. There will also come a time the robots file gets copied live de-indexing the live site, or someone forgets the file on staging and the staging site is indexed.

Using IIS to set up IP restrictions

Using IIS to set up IP restrictions is quick and easy, and what’s best about it is you can set it at the server level and not worry about people forgetting to add it to new sites. Better still you can also easily add configuration at a website level to allow certain people to see certain sites rather than the whole box.

Installing the Feature

First you need to make sure you have the feature installed on IIS. To do this on Windows Server 2012:

IP and Domain Restrictions

  1. Go to Server Manager and click “Add roles and features”
  2. Click next to take you from the Before you begin page to Installation Type
  3. Leave Role-based selected and click next
  4. On the Server Selection screen the server your on should be auto selected. Click next
  5. On the Server Roles screen scroll down to “Web Server (IIS)”. IP and Domain Restrictions is located under Web Server (IIS) > Web Server > Security
  6. Click the check box on IP and Domain Restrictions if its not already selected and complete the wizard to install the features.

Configuring IIS

The set up an IP restriction in IIS do the following:

  1. Open IIS and select your server in the left hand treeview. Alternatively if you wanted to add the restrictions to an individual site, select that site.
  2. Within the IIS section you should have an item titled IP Address and Domain RestrictionsIP and Domain Restrictions IIS
  3. The configured IP address will be listed out. To add a new one click the “Add Allow Entry” action on the right.
    IP and Domain Restrictions IIS Setting IPs
  4. This screen allows you to set up allow and deny lists, but the restrictions don’t actually have an effect until you edit the feature settings.
    IP and Domain Restrictions IIS Feature Settings
  5. On this screen you need to set the access for unspecified clients to deny. You can also specify a deny action type which alters the status code between unauthorized, forbidden, not found and abort.

What this doesn’t do

What this won’t do is block all traffic not in the allow list to your server. It will only cover IIS, so if you have other services running on your box like SQL Server, Mongo, Apache etc this will all still be publicly available.

Bundling and Minification error with IIS7

.NETs standard tools for bundling and minification are a great asset to the platform solving a lot of problems with only a few lines of code.

However if using IIS 7.0 you may run into a strange issue where the path to your bundles gets created but a 404 is returned whenever there accessed. The functionality is obviously installed and working otherwise the URL wouldn’t be created, but a 404 clearly isn’t what you want.

The solution lies in your web.config file by setting runAllManagedModulesForAllRequests to true

<system.webServer>
    <modules runAllManagedModulesForAllRequests="true">
    </modules>
</system.webServer>

Two Google Maps Tips

Google Map

Centre a map on a collection of pins

The basic way to centre a Google Map is to give it co-ordinates of where you want the map to centre. But what if you have a collection of pin/markers and you want to show all of them but don’t know beforehand where they will be.

The solution is to create a LatLngBounds object and for each of your pins call the extend method of your bounds object. Once this is done call fitBounds on your map.

var bounds = new google.maps.LatLngBounds();

$.each(mapMarkers(), function(index, value) {
    bounds.extend(value.marker.position);
});

map.fitBounds(bounds);

 

Loading a map in a hidden div

The reason for doing this could be that you have a set of tabs and a non-visible one contains the Google Map. If you instantiate a Google Map when it isn’t visible you end up with the smallest map size possible.

One popular solution for this is to only create the map when the tab is being displayed, which is a good option as it means the map is only loaded when it’s viewed. However if your using something like Knockout to bind you’ve views to a model it may not be possible to attach an event to the tab change.

Google Maps actually have an event handler for just this scenario called resize. You simply need to trigger it at the point in which you can size the map.

google.maps.event.trigger(map, 'resize')