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Windows Communication Foundation Services and WCF Data Services in Visual Studio

Visual Studio 2008 provides tools for working with Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and WCF Data Services, Microsoft technologies for creating distributed applications. This topic provides an introduction to services from a Visual Studio perspective.

Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) is a unified framework for creating secure, reliable, transacted, and interoperable distributed applications. In earlier versions of Visual Studio, there were several technologies that could be used for communicating between applications.

If you wanted to share information in a way that enabled it to be accessed from any platform, you would use a Web service (also known as an ASMX Web service). If you wanted to just move data between a client and server that was running on the Windows operating system, you would use .NET Remoting. If you wanted transacted communications, you would use Enterprise Services (DCOM), or if you wanted a queued model you would use Message Queuing (also known as MSMQ).

WCF brings together the functionality of all those technologies under a unified programming model. This simplifies the experience of developing distributed applications.

WCF Data Services are services that interact directly with a database, allowing you to return data using standard HTTP verbs such as GET, POST, PUT or DELETE. In general, WCF Data Services are a good choice for applications that are used to create, update, or delete records in a database. For more information, see ADO.NET Data Services Framework.

The WCF Programming model is based on communication between two entities: a WCF service and a WCF client. The programming model is encapsulated in the System.ServiceModel namespace in the .NET Framework.

A WCF service is based on an interface that defines a contract between the service and the client. It is marked with a ServiceContractAttribute attribute, as shown in the following code:

[ServiceContract]
public interface IService1
[OperationContract]
string GetData(string value);

You define functions or methods that are exposed by a WCF service by marking them with a OperationContractAttribute attribute. In addition, you can expose serialized data by marking a composite type with a DataContractAttribute attribute. This enables data binding in a client.

After an interface and its methods are defined, they are encapsulated in a class that implements the interface. A single WCF service class can implement multiple service contracts.

A WCF service is exposed for consumption through what is known as an endpoint. The endpoint provides the only way to communicate with the service; you cannot access the service through a direct reference as you would with other classes.

An endpoint consists of an address, a binding, and a contract. The address defines where the service is located; this could be a URL, an FTP address, or a network or local path. A binding defines the way that you communicate with the service. WCF bindings provide a versatile model for specifying a protocol such as HTTP or FTP, a security mechanism such as Windows Authentication or user names and passwords, and much more. A contract includes the operations that are exposed by the WCF service class.

Multiple endpoints can be exposed for a single WCF service. This enables different clients to communicate with the same service in different ways. For example, a banking service might provide one endpoint for employees and another for external customers, each using a different address, binding, and/or contract.

A WCF client consists of a proxy that enables an application to communicate with a WCF service, and an endpoint that matches an endpoint defined for the service. The proxy is generated on the client side in the app.config file and includes information about the types and methods that are exposed by the service. For services that expose multiple endpoints, the client can select the one that best fits its needs, for example, to communicate over HTTP and use Windows Authentication.

After a WCF client has been created, you reference the service in your code just as you would any other object. For example, to call the GetData method shown earlier, you would write code that resembles the following:

private void button1_Click(System.Object sender, System.EventArgs e)
{
    ServiceReference1.Service1Client client = new
        ServiceReference1.Service1Client();
    string returnString;

    returnString = client.GetData(textBox1.Text);
    label1.Text = returnString;
}

Visual Studio 2008 provides tools to help you create both WCF services and WCF clients. For a walkthrough that demonstrates the tools, see Walkthrough: Creating and Accessing WCF Services.

You can use the WCF Visual Studio templates as a foundation to quickly create your own service. You can then use WCF Service Auto Host and WCF Test Client to debug and test the service. These tools together provide a fast and convenient debug and testing cycle, and eliminate the requirement to commit to a hosting model at an early stage.

WCF Visual Studio templates provide a basic class structure for service development. Several WCF templates are available in the Add New Project dialog box. These include WCF Service Library projects, WCF Service Web Sites, and WCF Service Item templates.

When you select a template, files are added for a service contract, a service implementation, and a service configuration. All necessary attributes are already added, creating a simple "Hello World" type of service, and you did not have to write any code. You will, of course, want to add code to provide functions and methods for your real world service, but the templates provide the basic foundation.

To learn more about WCF templates, see WCF Visual Studio Templates.

When you start the Visual Studio debugger (by pressing F5) for a WCF service project, the WCF Service Host tool is automatically started to host the service locally. WCF Service Host enumerates the services in a WCF service project, loads the project’s configuration, and instantiates a host for each service that it finds.

By using WCF Service Host, you can test a WCF service without writing extra code or committing to a specific host during development.

To learn more about WCF Service Host, see WCF Service Host (WcfSvcHost.exe).

The WCF Test Client tool enables you to input test parameters, submit that input to a WCF service, and view the response that the service sends back. It provides a convenient service testing experience when you combine it with WCF Service Host.

When you press F5 to debug a WCF service project, WCF Test Client opens and displays a list of service endpoints that are defined in the configuration file. You can test the parameters and start the service, and repeat this process to continuously test and validate your service.

To learn more about WCF Test Client, see WCF Test Client (WcfTestClient.exe).

Visual Studio simplifies the task of creating WCF clients, automatically generating a proxy and an endpoint for services that you add by using the Add Service Reference dialog box. All necessary configuration information is added to the app.config file. Most of the time, all that you have to do is instantiate the service in order to use it.

The Add Service Reference dialog box enables you to enter the address for a service or to search for a service that is defined in your solution. The dialog box returns a list of services and the operations provided by those services. It also enables you to define the namespace by which you will reference the services in code.

The Configure Service References dialog box enables you to customize the configuration for a service. You can change the address for a service, specify access level, asynchronous behavior, and message contract types, and configure type reuse.

Some Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) services expose multiple endpoints through which a client may communicate with the service. For example, a service might expose one endpoint that uses an HTTP binding and user name / password security and a second endpoint that uses FTP and Windows Authentication. The first endpoint might be used by applications that access the service from outside a firewall, whereas the second might be used on an intranet.

In such a case, you can specify the endpointConfigurationName as a parameter to the constructor for a service reference.

NoteNote

Your computer might show different names or locations for some of the Visual Studio user interface elements in the following instructions. The Visual Studio edition that you have and the settings that you use determine these elements. For more information, see Customizing Development Settings.

To select a service endpoint

  1. Add a reference to a WCF service. For more information, see How to: Add, Update, or Remove a Service Reference.

  2. In the Code Editor, add a constructor for the service reference:

    Dim proxy As New ServiceReference.Service1Client(
    

    ServiceReference.Service1Client proxy = new ServiceReference.Service1Client(
    
    NoteNote

    Replace ServiceReference with the namespace for the service reference and replace Service1Client with the name of the service.

  3. An IntelliSense list will be displayed with the overloads for the constructor. Select the endpointConfigurationName As String overload.

  4. Following the overload, type = ConfigurationName, where ConfigurationName is the name of the endpoint that you want to use.

    NoteNote

    If you do not know the names of the available endpoints, you can find them in the app.config file.

To find the available endpoints for a WCF service

  1. In Solution Explorer, right-click the app.config file for the project that contains the service reference and then click Open. The file will appear in the Code Editor.

  2. Search for the <Client> tag in the file.

  3. Search underneath the <Client> tag for a tag that starts with <Endpoint>.

    If the service reference provides multiple endpoints, there will be two or more <Endpoint tags.

  4. Inside the <EndPoint> tag you will find a name="SomeService" parameter (where SomeService represents an endpoint name). This is the name for the endpoint that can be passed to the endpointConfigurationName As String overload of a constructor for a service reference.

Most methods in Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) services may be called either synchronously or asynchronously. Calling a method asynchronously enables your application to continue to work while the method is being called when it operates over a slow connection.

By default, when a service reference is added to a project it is configured to call methods synchronously. You can change the behavior to call methods asynchronously by changing a setting in the Configure Service Reference dialog box.

Note Note

This option is set on a per-service basis. If one method for a service is called asynchronously, all methods must be called asynchronously.

NoteNote

Your computer might show different names or locations for some of the Visual Studio user interface elements in the following instructions. The Visual Studio edition that you have and the settings that you use determine these elements. For more information, see Customizing Development Settings.

To call a service method asynchronously

  1. In Solution Explorer, select the service reference.

  2. On the Project menu, click Configure Service Reference.

  3. In the Configure Service Reference dialog box, select the Generate asynchronous operations check box.

You can bind data returned by a Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) service to a control just as you can bind any other data source to a control. When you add a reference to a WCF service, if the service contains composite types that return data, they are automatically added to the Data Sources window.

To bind a control to single data field returned by a WCF service

  1. On the Data menu, click Show Data Sources. The Data Sources window will appear.

  2. In the Data Sources window, expand the node for your service reference. Any composite types returned by the service will be displayed.

  3. Expand a node for a type. The data fields for that type will be displayed.

  4. Select a field and click the drop-down arrow to display a list of controls that are available for the data type.

  5. Click the type of control that you want to bind to.

  6. Drag the field onto a form. The control will be added to the form together with a BindingSource component and a BindingNavigator component.

  7. Repeat steps 4 though 6 for any other fields that you want to bind.

To bind a control to composite type returned by a WCF service

  1. On the Data menu, select Show Data Sources. The Data Sources window will appear.

  2. In the Data Sources window, expand the node for your service reference. Any composite types returned by the service will be displayed.

  3. Select a node for a type and click the drop-down arrow to display a list of available options.

  4. Click either DataGridView to display the data in a grid or Details to display the data in individual controls.

  5. Drag the node onto the form. The controls will be added to the form together with a BindingSource component and a BindingNavigator component.

When a service reference is added to a project, any types defined in the service are generated in the local project. In many cases, this creates duplicate types when a service uses common .NET Framework types or when types are defined in a shared library.

To avoid this problem, types in referenced assemblies are shared by default. If you want to disable type sharing for one or more assemblies, you can do so in the Configure Service References dialog box.

To disable type sharing in a single assembly

  1. In Solution Explorer, select the service reference.

  2. On the Project menu, click Configure Service Reference.

  3. In the Configure Service References dialog box, select Reuse types in specified referenced assemblies.

  4. Select the check box for each assembly in which you want to enable type sharing. To disable type sharing for an assembly, leave the check box cleared.

To disable type sharing in all assemblies

  1. In Solution Explorer, select the service reference.

  2. On the Project menu, click Configure Service Reference.

  3. In the Configure Service References dialog box, clear the Reuse types in referenced assemblies check box.

Title

Description

Walkthrough: Creating and Accessing WCF Services

Provides a step-by-step demonstration of creating and using WCF services in Visual Studio.

Walkthrough: Creating and Accessing a WCF Data Service in Visual Studio

Provides a step-by-step demonstration of how to create and use WCF Data Services in Visual Studio.

Using the WCF Development Tools

Discusses how to create and test WCF services in Visual Studio.

How to: Add, Update, or Remove a Service Reference

Describes how to add, update, or remove WCF services from a project.

How to: Add, Update, or Remove a WCF Data Service Reference

Discusses how to reference and use WCF Data Services in Visual Studio.

How to: Add a Reference to a Web Service

Describes how to add a reference to an XML (ASMX) Web service to a project.

Troubleshooting Service References

Presents some common errors that can occur with service references and how to prevent them.

Debugging WCF Services

Describes common debugging problems and techniques you might encounter when debugging WCF services.

Windows Communication Foundation Authentication Service Overview

Describes how to use WCF to provide a role service for a Web site.

Messaging in the .NET Compact Framework

Describes support for the WCF messaging layer in the .NET Compact Framework.

Walkthrough: Creating an N-Tier Data Application

Provides step-by-step instructions for creating a typed dataset and separating the TableAdapter and dataset code into multiple projects.

Add Service Reference Dialog Box

Describes the user interface elements of the Add Service Reference dialog box.

Configure Service Reference Dialog Box

Describes the user interface elements of the Configure Service Reference dialog box.

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