Rockford Lhotka

 Tuesday, August 4, 2009
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CSLA .NET 3.6 introduced the InvokeMethod component for Silverlight, which was intended to replace at least the basic WPF commanding functionality I tend to use to trigger actions on a CslaDataProvider when buttons are clicked. And it did that.

It turns out however, that with a few tweaks, InvokeMethod is much more broadly useful than just triggering actions on a CslaDataProvider. In a more general sense, InvokeMethod can be used to call a method on nearly any object in response to nearly any event being raised by a UI control.

I’ve been reworking InvokeMethod quite a bit over the past few days, and whatever I end up doing will be in CSLA .NET 3.8. And it will be a breaking change over the 3.6 and 3.7 functionality, which is unfortunate, but I think it is worth it.

This blog post is not the final word, just kind of a “state of the control” post to solicit thoughts and feedback as I work on version 3.8.

In the new model, InvokeMethod can still invoke methods on a CslaDataProvider, so no functionality is lost.

But in the new model, InvokeMethod can invoke methods on other arbitrary objects, as long as they can be described through a binding expression. In other words, any bindable object that has a method becomes a valid target. And the range of trigger events is much broader; in fact any event should now work, though I’ve only tested a handful of common events (click, doubleclick, selectionchanged, etc).

Using some data binding trickery I’ve made the Target property (used to be the Resource property) optional. If you don’t set the Target property, InvokeMethod will target the DataContext of the control to which it is attached. This is not so useful with a data provider model, but is very useful with a ViewModel model.

Simple scenario

So an example of triggering an action on a ViewModel when a button is clicked:

<Button Content="Refresh"
        csla:InvokeMethod.TriggerEvent="Click"
        csla:InvokeMethod.MethodName="Load" />

When the button is clicked a Load() method is invoked on the current DataContext, which is probably a ViewModel class with a Load() method:

public class DataListViewModel : CslaViewModel<DataList>
{
  public void Load()
  { 
  }
}

That’s the simplest example, and could be handled by commanding in WPF.

ListBox doubleclick scenario

A more interesting example is where the UI needs to do something in response to a doubleclick of an item in a ListBox. This is interesting because there’s a temporal issue where the user could select an item in the list, and not doubleclick on it ever, or for a long time. In my mind, the ViewModel would handle the doubleclick through a method that accepts the selected item as a parameter:

public void ProcessItem(Data item)
{
}

That implies that InvokeMethod can pass the selected item as a parameter, and in the current incarnation it can do this:

<ListBox
         ItemsSource="{Binding Path=Model}"
         ItemTemplate="{StaticResource DataList}"
         csla:InvokeMethod.TriggerEvent="MouseDoubleClick"
         csla:InvokeMethod.MethodName="ProcessItem"
         csla:InvokeMethod.MethodParameter="{Binding SelectedItem, RelativeSource={RelativeSource Self}}"/>

The ambient DataContext here is the ViewModel object, and you can see that the ListBox loads its items from the Model property (where the Model is a collection of Data objects). The only really interesting thing here is that the MethodParameter property is using binding to pick up the SelectedItem property from the UI control – so from the ListBox. This directly meets my requirement of being able to pass the selected item to the ViewModel method.

The ViewModel doesn’t care what type of UI control is used, as long as it gets a selected Data item. This also means the ViewModel is quite testable, because it is a simple method that accepts a strongly typed parameter.

MultiSelect ListBox scenario

This even works with a multiselect ListBox control (though my solution seems a bit messy).

Obviously this requires a Button or some other control outside the ListBox, since a multiselect ListBox doesn’t raise events quite the same way. The user gets to select arbitrary items in the ListBox, then click a Button to trigger processing of all selected items.

The ViewModel has a method to handle this:

public void ProcessItems(ObservableCollection<object> items)
{
}

And the XAML invokes this method from the Button (assuming the ListBox has an explicit name):

<Button Content="Process items"
        csla:InvokeMethod.TriggerEvent="Click"
        csla:InvokeMethod.MethodName="ProcessItems"
        csla:InvokeMethod.MethodParameter="{Binding ElementName=DataListBox, Path=SelectedItems}"/>

Again, the ViewModel just accepts a (relatively) strongly typed parameter, not caring about the type of UI control that generated that value. There’s no real type-level coupling between the XAML and the ViewModel.

In all these cases the XAML knows nothing more than that there’s a Model to bind to, and some actions (methods) on the ViewModel that can be invoked.

And the ViewModel knows nothing more than that it is being invoked by something. XAML, a test harness, it doesn’t really matter, it just does its thing.

Whether this is “MVVM” or not, I think it is pretty darn cool :)