Scott Hanselman

Using Redis as a Service in Azure to speed up ASP.NET applications

November 6, '15 Comments [22] Posted in ASP.NET MVC | Azure
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Microsoft Azure has a Redis Cache as a Service. There's two tiers. Basic is a single cache node, and Standard is as a complete replicated Cache (two nodes, with automatic failover). Microsoft manages automatic replication between the two nodes, and offers a high-availability SLA. The Premium tier can use up to a half-terabyte of RAM and tens of thousands of client connections and be clustered and scaled out to even bigger units. Sure, I could manage your own Redis in my own VM if I wanted to, but this is SAAS (Software as a Service) that I don't have to think about - I just use it and the rest is handled.

I blogged about Redis on Azure last year but wanted to try it in a new scenario now, using it as a cache for ASP.NET web apps. There's also an interesting open source Redis Desktop Manager I wanted to try out. Another great GUI for Redis is Redsmin.

For small apps and sites I can make a Basic Redis Cache and get 250 megs. I made a Redis instance in Azure. It takes a minute or two to create. It's SSL by default. I can talk to it programmatically with something like StackExchange.Redis or ServiceStack.Redis or any of a LOT of other great client libraries.

However, there's now great support for caching and Redis in ASP.NET. There's a library called Microsoft.Web.RedisSessionStateProvider that I can get from NuGet:

Install-Package Microsoft.Web.RedisSessionStateProvider 

It uses the StackExchange library under the covers, but it enables ASP.NET to use the Session object and store the results in Redis, rather than in memory on the web server. Add this to your web.config:

<sessionState mode="Custom" customProvider="FooFoo">
<providers>
<add name="MySessionStateStore"
type="Microsoft.Web.Redis.RedisSessionStateProvider"
host="hanselcache.redis.cache.windows.net"
accessKey="THEKEY"
ssl="true"
port="1234" />
</providers>
</sessionState>

Here's a string from ASP.NET Session stored in Redis as viewed in the Redis Desktop Manager. It's nice to use the provider as you don't need to change ANY code.

ASP.NET Session stored in a Redis Cache

You can turn off SSL and connect to Azure Redis Cache over the open internet but you really should use SSL. There's instructions for using Redis Desktop Manager with SSL and Azure Redis. Note the part where you need a .pem file which is the Azure Redis Cache SSL public key. You can get that SSL key here as of this writing.

Not only can you use Redis for Session State, but you can also use it for a lightning fast Output Cache. That means caching full HTTP responses. Setting it up in ASP.NET 4.x is very similar to the Session State Provider:

Install-Package Microsoft.Web.RedisOutputCacheProvider 

Now when you use [OutputCache] attributes in MVC Controllers or OutputCache directives in Web Forms like <%@ OutputCache Duration="60" VaryByParam="*" %> the responses will be handled by Redis. With a little thought about how your query strings and URLs work, you can quickly take an app like a Product Catalog, for example, and make it 4x or 10x faster with caching. It's LOW effort and HIGH upside. I am consistently surprised even in 2015 how often I see folks going to the database on EVERY HTTP request when the app's data freshness needs just doesn't require the perf hit.

You can work with Redis directly in code, of course. There's docs for .NET, Node.js, Java and Python on Azure. It's a pretty amazing project and having it be fully managed as a service is nice. From the Azure Redis site:

Perhaps you're interested in Redis but you don't want to run it on Azure, or perhaps even on Linux. You can run Redis via MSOpenTech's Redis on Windows fork. You can install it from NuGet, Chocolatey or download it directly from the project github repository. If you do get Redis for Windows (super easy with Chocolatey), you can use the redis-cli.exe at the command line to talk to the Azure Redis Cache as well (of course!).

It's easy to run a local Redis server with redis-server.exe, test it out in development, then change your app's Redis connection string when you deploy to Azure. Check it out. Within 30 min you may be able to configure your app to use a cache (Redis or otherwise) and see some really significant speed-up.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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NuGet Package of the Week: A different take on ASP.NET MVC Forms with ChameleonForms

February 17, '15 Comments [32] Posted in ASP.NET MVC | NuGet | NuGetPOW | Open Source
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One of the nice things about any modular system (like ASP.NET) is the ability to swap out the parts you don't like. As the authors of ChameleonForms state, HTML forms is a pain. It's repetitive, it's repetitive, and it's boring. While ASP.NET MVC's Form Helpers help a lot, they felt that helper methods like Html.EditorForModel didn't go far enough or give you enough flexibility. ChameleonForms adds its own templating model and attempts to be as DRY as possible. It also takes a number of issues head on like better handling for drop-down lists and lists of radio buttons, and it even supports Twitter Bootstrap 3 to you can bang out HTML forms ASAP.

ChameleonForms also is a nice example of a tidy and well-run small open source project. They've got a public Trello backlog board, excellent documentation, a continuous integration build, a good example project, and of course, they're on NuGet. Check out the other projects that the folks in the "MRCollective" work on as well, as they've got their own GitHub organization.

NuGet Install ChameleonForms

Often ChameleonForms tries to use C# for the whole form, rather than switching back and forth from Div to Html Helper. For example:

@using (var f = Html.BeginChameleonForm()) {
using (var s = f.BeginSection("Signup for an account")) {
@s.FieldFor(m => m.FirstName)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.LastName)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.Mobile).Placeholder("04XX XXX XXX")
@s.FieldFor(m => m.LicenseAgreement).InlineLabel("I agree to the terms and conditions")
}
using (var n = f.BeginNavigation()) {
@n.Submit("Create")
}
}

This is the whole form using usings for scoping, and it's nice and clean.  How about a comparison example? Here's standard ASP.NET MVC:

@using (Html.BeginForm())
{
<fieldset>
<legend>A form</legend>
<dl>
<dt>@Html.LabelFor(m => m.RequiredString, "Some string")</dt>
<dd>@Html.TextBoxFor(m => m.RequiredString) @Html.ValidationMessageFor(m => m.RequiredString)</dd>
<dt>@Html.LabelFor(m => m.SomeEnum)</dt>
<dd>@Html.DropDownListFor(m => m.SomeEnum, Enum.GetNames(typeof(SomeEnum)).Select(x => new SelectListItem {Text = ((SomeEnum)Enum.Parse(typeof(SomeEnum), x)).Humanize(), Value = x})) @Html.ValidationMessageFor(m => m.SomeEnum)</dd>
<dt>@Html.LabelFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox)</dt>
<dd>@Html.CheckBoxFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox) @Html.LabelFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox, "Are you sure?") @Html.ValidationMessageFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox)</dd>
</dl>
</fieldset>
<div class="form_navigation">
<input type="submit" value="Submit" />
</div>
}

And here is the same form with ChameleonForms.

@using (var f = Html.BeginChameleonForm()) {
using (var s = f.BeginSection("A form")) {
@s.FieldFor(m => m.RequiredString).Label("Some string")
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeEnum)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox).InlineLabel("Are you sure?")
}
using (var n = f.BeginNavigation()) {
@n.Submit("Submit")
}
}

But these are basic. How about something more complex? This one has a bunch of variety, a number overloads and customizations, as well as a FileUpload (note that the form is a Multipart form):

@using (var f = Html.BeginChameleonForm(method: FormMethod.Post, enctype: EncType.Multipart))
{
<p>@f.LabelFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox).Label("Are you ready for: ") @f.FieldElementFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox) @f.ValidationMessageFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox)</p>
<p>@f.FieldElementFor(m => m.RequiredStringField).TabIndex(4)</p>
using (var s = f.BeginSection("My Section!", InstructionalText(), new{@class = "aClass"}.ToHtmlAttributes()))
{
using (var ff = s.BeginFieldFor(m => m.RequiredStringField, Field.Configure().Attr("data-some-attr", "value").TabIndex(3)))
{
@ff.FieldFor(m => m.NestedField).Attr("data-attr1", "value").TabIndex(2)
@ff.FieldFor(m => m.SomeEnum).Attr("data-attr1", "value")
@ff.FieldFor(m => m.SomeEnum).Exclude(SomeEnum.SomeOtherValue)
}
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox).AsDropDown()
using (var ss = s.BeginSection("Nested section"))
{
@ss.FieldFor(m => m.FileUpload).Attr("data-attr1", "value")
}
@s.FieldFor(m => m.RequiredStringField).OverrideFieldHtml(new MvcHtmlString("Custom html <b>she-yeah</b>!"))
@s.FieldFor(m => m.TextAreaField).Cols(60).Rows(5).Label("Some Label").AutoFocus().TabIndex(1)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox).InlineLabel("Some label").WithHint("Format: XXX")
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeCheckbox).AsRadioList().WithTrueAs("True").WithFalseAs("False")
@s.FieldFor(m => m.ListId)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.ListId).AsRadioList()
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeEnums)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.SomeEnumsList).AsRadioList()
@s.FieldFor(m => m.Decimal)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.Int).AsInputGroup().Append(".00").Prepend("$")
@s.FieldFor(m => m.DecimalWithFormatStringAttribute)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.NullableInt)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.Child.ChildField)
@s.FieldFor(m => m.Child.SomeEnum).AsRadioList()
@s.FieldFor(m => m.RequiredStringField).Disabled()
@s.FieldFor(m => m.RequiredStringField).Readonly()
}
using (var n = f.BeginNavigation())
{
@n.Submit("Submit")
@n.Reset("Reset")
}
}

ChameleonForms also has a special NuGet package if you're using TwitterBootstrap that changes how forms with the BeginChameleonForm method render.

ChameleonForms also has some convenient extra abilities, like being able to automatically infer/create a [DisplayName] so you don't have to. If you're doing Forms in English and your preferred Display Name will end up just being your variable name this can be a useful time saver (although you may have opinions about its purity.)

So instead of the tedium of:

[DisplayName("Email address")]
public string EmailAddress { get; set; }

[DisplayName("First name")]
public string FirstName { get; set; }

You can just say this once, picking just one...this is an example where they use HumanizedLabels.

HumanizedLabels.Register(LetterCasing.AllCaps) => "EMAIL ADDRESS"
HumanizedLabels.Register(LetterCasing.LowerCase) => "email address"
HumanizedLabels.Register(LetterCasing.Sentence) => "Email address"
HumanizedLabels.Register(LetterCasing.Title) => "Email Address"

If you've got a lot of Forms to create and they're just no fun anymore, you should definitely give ChameleonForms a try. If you're a Twitter Bootstrap shop, doubly so, as that's where ChameleonForms really shines.

I'll do a few other posts exploring different ways to for Forms in ASP.NET MVC in the coming weeks. Be sure to explore the NuGet Package of the Week Archives as well!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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ASP.NET 5 (vNext) Work in Progress - Exploring TagHelpers

November 20, '14 Comments [142] Posted in ASP.NET | ASP.NET MVC
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TagHelpers are a new feature of ASP.NET 5 (formerly and colloquially ASP.NET vNext) but it's taken me (and others) some time to fully digest them and what they mean.

Note that this, and all of ASP.NET 5 is a work in progress. TagHelpers can and will change. There is NO tooling support in Visual Studio for them, as they are changing day to day, so just be aware. That's why this post (and series is called Work in Progress.)

Historically we've used HtmlHelpers within a Razor View, so when you wanted a Label or a TextBox you'd do this. This is from the ASP.NET 5 Starter Web example.

<li>@Html.ActionLink("Home", "Index", "Home")</li>

There you have some HTML, then we start some C# with @ and then switch out. It's inline C#, calling a function that will return HTML.

Here's the same thing, using a TagHelper.

<li><a controller="Home" action="Index">Home</a></li>

The source for TagHelpers is (as with all ASP.NET source) up on GitHub, here. This is an anchor, A, so it'll be in AnchorTagHelper. The code is very simple, in fact, gets a collection of attributes and decides which to act upon.

In this case, "controller" and "action" are not HTML5 attributes, but rather ones that ASP.NET is looking for.

Question for You - Would you rather have these attributes and ones like them (including your own) be prefixed? Perhaps asp:controller or asp-controller? That's an open issue you can comment on! You could do [HtmlAttributeName("asp:whatever")] on a property or [TagName("foo")] for a tag if you liked.

How do these attributes get mapped to a TagHelper? Well, an attribute name is mapped directly to a C# property and automatically injected. See how AnchorTagHelper has public properties Action and Controller?

It's important to note that this isn't the second coming of WebForms controls, while the possible asp:foo syntax may look familiar (even though a prefix is optional.) This is more like syntactic sugar that gives you a compact way to express your intent. It doesn't give you any "control lifecycle" or anything like that.

Personally, I'd love to see them look different in the editor. For example, rather than

Tag Helpers

I'd like to see italics, or maybe a desaturation to show what's server-side and what's not, which will be super important if I'm NOT using a prefix to distinguish my attributes.

Tag Helpers, desaturated

The code below in this Before and After results in the same HTML and the same behavior. A nice aspect of TagHelpers it that you avoid the context switch from markup to C#.

Here is another example, a login partial form, before...

@using System.Security.Principal

@if (User.Identity.IsAuthenticated)
{
using (Html.BeginForm("LogOff", "Account", FormMethod.Post, new { id = "logoutForm", @class = "navbar-right" }))
{
@Html.AntiForgeryToken()
<ul class="nav navbar-nav navbar-right">
<li>
@Html.ActionLink("Hello " + User.Identity.GetUserName() + "!", "Manage", "Account", routeValues: null, htmlAttributes: new { title = "Manage" })
</li>
<li><a href="javascript:document.getElementById('logoutForm').submit()">Log off</a></li>
</ul>
}
}
else
{
<ul class="nav navbar-nav navbar-right">
<li>@Html.ActionLink("Register", "Register", "Account", routeValues: null, htmlAttributes: new { id = "registerLink" })</li>
<li>@Html.ActionLink("Log in", "Login", "Account", routeValues: null, htmlAttributes: new { id = "loginLink" })</li>
</ul>
}

and after...with the Microsoft.AspNet.Mvc.TagHelpers package added in project.json and then @addtaghelper "MyAssemblyName" in either your ViewStart.cshtml to get this in all views, or separately within a single view page.

@using System.Security.Principal

@if (User.Identity.IsAuthenticated)
{
<form method="post" controller="Account" action="LogOff" id="logoutForm" class="navbar-right">
<ul class="nav navbar-nav navbar-right">
<li>
<a controller="Account" action="Manage" title="Manage">Hello @User.Identity.GetUserName()!</a>
</li>
<li><a href="javascript:document.getElementById('logoutForm').submit()">Log off</a></li>
</ul>
</form>
}
else
{
<ul class="nav navbar-nav navbar-right">
<li><a id="registerLink" controller="Account" action="Register">Register</a></li>
<li><a id="loginLink" controller="Account" action="Login">Log in</a></li>
</ul>
}

This makes for much cleaner markup-focused Views. Note that this Sample is a spike that Damian Edwards has on his GitHub, but you have TagHelpers in the Beta 1 build included with Visual Studio 2015 preview or OmniSharp. Get involved!

Remember also to check out http://www.asp.net/vnext and subscribe to my YouTube Channel and this playlist of the ASP.NET Weekly Community Standup. In this episode we talked about TagHelpers in depth!

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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Announcing .NET 2015 - .NET as Open Source, .NET on Mac and Linux, and Visual Studio Community

November 12, '14 Comments [198] Posted in ASP.NET | ASP.NET MVC | Open Source | VS2015
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It's happening. It's the reason that a lot of us came to work for Microsoft, and I think it's both the end of an era but also the beginning of amazing things to come.

The .NET 2015 wave of releases is upon us. Here's what's happening and we announced it today in New York. There's a lot here, so drink it all in slowly.

Be sure to check out all the blog posts I'm linking to at the end, but here's my personal rollup and take on the situation.

  • We are serious about open source and cross platform.
    • .NET Core 5 is the modern, componentized framework that ships via NuGet. That means you can ship a private version of the .NET Core Framework with your app. Other apps' versions can't change your app's behavior.
    • We are building a .NET Core CLR for Windows, Mac and Linux and it will be both open source and it will be supported by Microsoft. It'll all happen at https://github.com/dotnet.
    • We are open sourcing the RyuJit and the .NET GC and making them both cross-platform.
  • ASP.NET 5 will work everywhere.
    • ASP.NET 5 will be available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Mac and Linux support will come soon and it's all going to happen in the open on GitHub at https://github.com/aspnet.
    • ASP.NET 5 will include a web server for Mac and Linux called kestrel built on libuv. It's similar to the one that comes with node, and you could front it with Nginx for production, for example.
  • Developers should have a great experience.
    • There is a new FREE SKU for Visual Studio for open source developers and students called Visual Studio Community. It supports extensions and lots more all in one download. This is not Express. This is basically Pro.
    • Visual Studio 2015 and ASP.NET 5 will support gulp, grunt, bower and npm for front end developers.
    • A community team (including myself and Sayed from the ASP.NET and web tools team) have created the OmniSharp organization along with the Kulture build system as a way to bring real Intellisense to Sublime, Atom, Brackets, Vim, and Emacs on Windows, Linux, and Mac. Check out http://www.omnisharp.net as well as blog posts by team members Jonathan Channon
  • Even more open source.
    • Much of the .NET Core Framework 4.6 and its Reference Source source is going on GitHub. It's being relicensed under the MIT license, so Mono (and you!) can use that source code in their .NET implementations.
    • There's a new hub for Microsoft open source that is hosted GitHub at http://microsoft.github.io.

Open sourcing .NET makes good sense. It makes good business sense, good community sense, and today everyone at Microsoft see this like we do.

Open .NET

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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NuGet Package of the Week - Courtesy Flush to flush buffers earlier and optimize time to first byte

November 6, '14 Comments [24] Posted in ASP.NET | ASP.NET MVC | NuGet | NuGetPOW
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Yes, really. It's got to be the best name for an open source library out there. It's a great double entendre and a great name for this useful little library. Perhaps English isn't your first language, so I'll just say that a courtesy flush gives the next person a fresh bowl. ;)

However, in the computer world "flushing a buffer" means forcing a buffer to be moved along, usually to a file or the network. Rather than holding data, you flush it, and move it along.

Nik from Glimpse has a small NuGet package called Courtesy Flush. He's got a good write-up on his blog.

image

It's a library to enable easier flushing of your buffer in ASP.NET MVC. From their site:

Why Flush Early?

Flushing early can provide performance improvements in web applications and has been a recomended best practice in the web performance community since 2007.

To find out more, check out Nik's blog where he covered the benefits of flushing early in two posts:

It builds on top of ASP.NET ActionFilters, which you can apply as attributes to your methods, or call within controllers.

Let's say that you have some server-side work that's very slow. That slow operation could hold up the rendering of your page until it completes. With a pre-flush like this you can get bytes onto the network and into the user's browser faster.

Here we render some information and get it out fast before we do something that's unavoidably slow.

public ActionResult About()
{
ViewBag.Title = DateTime.Now.Second;
this.FlushHead();

Thread.Sleep(2000);
ViewBag.Message = "Your application description page.";

return View();
}

Let's think about really specifically. It's important to know WHY you would want to do this and what exactly happens in the browser.

If you have a long running, but important process (we are pretending that Thread.Sleep(2000) is important) that takes 2 seconds, no HTML is sent to the browser. It's just waiting. The timeline looks like this:

Here we didn't flush

See that blue line? We waited almost 5 seconds for the /about page, and while we were waiting, no Javascript and no CSS were being loaded. Why not? How could the browser know if it isn't seen the <head> of your HTML?

For an optimization, we could FLUSH the buffers that we have up to this point, putting the HTML that we have so far onto the network.

The Layout.cshtml we have a call to @Html.FlushHead() to get the the _Head.cshtml out and into the hands of the browser. It might look like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
<meta charset="utf-8" />
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
@if (ViewBag.Description != null)
{
<meta name="description" content="@ViewBag.Description">
}
<title>@ViewBag.Title - My ASP.NET Application</title>
@Styles.Render("~/Content/css")
@Scripts.Render("~/bundles/modernizr")
</head>

Here's what the SAME page looks like with the <head> flushed out first.

Here we flushed

Look closely at the timeline. Here, I'll do it for you...below shows when we flushed early versus just waiting.

See how when we flushed the head it gave the browser enough information to stat loading some css and javascript we had in the <head?> The whole page took 5 seconds, but when we flush at least we get things going early, while when we don't flush we can't do a thing until the long running task finishes.

See the difference?

See the difference? Now, to be clear, don't blindly go and add optimizations without reading the code and understanding what's going on, but this is a nice tool for our ASP.NET toolbox.

We may see a similar but even more powerful technique in ASP.NET vNext that includes async flushes at multiple points, while updating the model as data is available.


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About Scott

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.