...and everything in between RSS 2.0
# Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Putting together BizTalk integration solutions can be complex and tricky at times. Debugging them is an art in itself. While onsite recently, I found myself (on more than one occasion) having *words* with BizTalk.

One example that tested our relationship (BizTalk and I) was an orchestration decision shape that appeared to be misbehaving. I had three branches in the decision shape, each branch testing the existence of a node in the message being processed using the xpath() function. For Example:

xpath(msgRequest, "string(count(/*[local-name()='root']/*[local-name()='parent']/*[local-name()='child' and code='some value']))") == "0"

Tip: use Dan Sharp's Xml Viewer to retrieve the correct xpath to use in these statements. BizTalk schemas will give you them to, but Dan's tool has some nice features thrown into the bargain smile_wink

One branch rule tested for a zero node count, another for exactly one, and the Else rule branch to handle multiple occurrences of the node. During testing and debugging we found the else branch was always being used despite the messages satisfying one of the other rule conditions (over different tests). Repeated checks, breakpoints, and logging soaked up 20 minutes or more and had me demanding satisfaction by challenging BizTalk to a duel with pistols at dawn. smile_angry

It was then, a bright beam of light breached the false ceiling above me and shone down in all is splendour. No, this was not a helping hand from god, but rather from a colleague working with me. Picking up on my frustrations, he calmly stood, moved over to me, and placing a soothing hand on my shoulder, utters two words that have changed my life...Kane Theory. I eagerly implemented a quick change (as guided by Kane Theory teachings) and my problem was solved! More cases arose during the project and each of them resolved with ease using this mystic and elegant theory.

Ok. That's a bit dramatic, but I am considering a professional self-help book exploring the practical uses of Kane Theory and wanted to get some practice in.

So what is Kane Theory?

Although only a novice in its teachings, I am fortunate to receive guidance from the enlighten one himself. Kane Adams (his real name used here to protect reveal his identity)  explains it in terms of Yin & Yang, Karma, and the Force. Reflecting on this I can best describe it as a derivative of keep it simple stupid (KISS).

In the example above, we declared an orchestration variable (System.String) to store the result of the xpath function in an Expression shape before entering the Decision shape. We then used the variable in the rule expression for the comparison. Eg:

strNodeCount == "0"

By powers understood only to the enlighten one, this worked a treat and we could all break for a quick cup of the worst coffee ever brewed. (Sceptics might argue that it has to do with the way the XLANG engine performs explicit type conversions during the comparison operation...but they would say that wouldn't they!)

As for the enlighten one himself:

Some say he is a direct descent of John Adams, author of the mystical theory of political architecture and founding father of the new Empire (there's the link to the Force we needed).
Some say, he meditates to the haunting chants of mid-level public servants.
We know him as The Stig!

Author of the enlighted

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 11:47:01 AM (AUS Eastern Daylight Time, UTC+11:00)  #    - Trackback
BizTalk General | Humour
# Monday, September 22, 2008

Had a strange error appear last week when using the WCF LOB Adapter for Oracle and spent an hour of my life I will never get back. When attempting to connect to an Oracle DB we kept getting the following error:

ORA-12154: TNS:could not resolve the connect identifier specified

This occurred when we:

  1. Tried to generate metadata in our BizTalk project using the Add Generated Items wizard.
  2. Tried to generate metadata in a Class Library project using the Add Adapter Service Reference wizard.
  3. Connect to an Oracle DB using the Oracle Explorer.

We had all the latest versions/patches of the Oracle client and WCF LOB Adapter (Oh, yeah. Thanks Oracle for packaging patches in easy to consume 1GB downloads...love your work!!)

We could however, connect to Oracle using the Oracle SQL Developer Tool. So we knew something was happening (or not happening inside of VS).

It turns out the issue relates to the install directory of VS2005. In our case it was

C:\Program Files (x86)\...

This triggers an *undocumented feature* in the Oracle Data Provider for .Net (ODP.NET) so that applications with a parenthesis in their (exe) path fail to connect to the server.

The solution was to uninstall VS2005 and reinstall using a different install directory *one that did not have (x86) in it*.

smile_confused ... I know, I did not want to believe it either, but if you want to save yourself time and hair try this solution first.

Monday, September 22, 2008 11:31:09 PM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback
BizTalk General | WCF LOB Adapters
# Thursday, July 17, 2008

When developing applications, at some point in the dev cycle we want to know how the system will perform under load. In BizTalk RFID land it is no different. In fact, in BizTalk RFID implementations we often deal with devices capable of raising hundreds of reads every second. So how do we go about testing these?

I'm a big fan of using physical devices during development rather than device emulation, but when it comes to load testing we need to present hundreds of tags to the reader and no matter what I try I just can't get the work experience kid to act fast enough! But instead of using a emulated device, what if we could raise tag read events programmatically and have our RFID Process consume them? Surely then we could get enough events to constitute a decent load test.

So how do we go about pushing tag read events through our RFID process in code?

We do this using the BizTalk RFID management API's, namely the ProcessManagerProxy. In just a few lines of code we can connect to the RFID process we want to test and "submit" a tag read event to the event pipeline. To get up and running with this you will need to add the following references to your project: (all can be found in %RFIDINSTALLDIR%\bin)

  • Microsoft.Rfid.Design.dll
  • Microsoft.Rfid.ManagementWebServiceProxies.dll
  • Microsoft.Rfid.SpiSdk.dll
  • Microsoft.Rfid.Util.dll

Then, in three lines of code you can create your tag read event, connect to your process, and submit your event for processing;

// Create the tag read event to submit
TagReadEvent tag = new TagReadEvent(  HexUtilities.HexDecode(strTagID), 
                                      TagType.EpcClass1Gen2, 
                                      HexUtilities.HexDecode(strTagData), 
                                      strTagSource,
                                      DateTime.Now, null, null );
                                                                     
// Connect to the local RFID server
ProcessManagerProxy proxy = new ProcessManagerProxy("localhost");

// Submit event to the event pipeline
proxy.AddEventToProcessPipeline( strRfidProcessName, tag, strLogicalDeviceName);

And that's it.

For my needs, I created a quick Win forms app that retrieved a list of registered tag id's from a SQL DB and submitted them to my RFID process at configured intervals:

rfid process tester

I added a few variables to adjust the interval between tag read events, the number of events to submit each interval, and the number of duplicates to send for each tag id. These variables (used when looping through the set of tag id's) combine to give me a good approximation to a real, high volume environment.

Firing up good old perfmon and adding the RFID:Process counters, I ran through a number of test configurations to make sure my RFID process performs well under high load. (Note: the RFID process you are monitoring must be running before you can add the counters). Of most interest is the Tags In Queue counter. This tells me when my process is not performing well and tags are being queued up waiting to be processed (not good in real-time processing systems). We want this to be flat-lined most of the time.

perfmon

Another good idea is to use the SQL Sink EH component while testing. After running your tests you can simply and easily calculate event processing latency by executing the following T-SQL query against the tagevents table in the RfidSink DB.

SELECT AVG(DATEDIFF(ms, sinktime, tagtime)) FROM tagevents;

A while back, Mick posted about a great article on MSDN around performance and capacity planning for BizTalk RFID. Some goodness in that article so check it out as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008 11:23:12 PM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback
BizTalk RFID
# Monday, June 30, 2008

Ever seen some of those videos of mobile phones frying popcorn? Mick posted some a few days ago and my wife and I thought we could use a snack while we watched a movie last night.

We tried to "cook" a small number of popcorn kernels using two Sony Eriksson K610i's, a connected Bluetooth headset, and an old Motorola E386 (similar setup to that in the videos from Mick). The K610's have a SAR rating of 1.01 (as reported on the SAR Shield web site)

The result...we went hungry. And we did leave the calls open for a minute or two, stopped and started calls, even sent picture messages from one handset to the next. I don't think they emit nearly enough RF to pop the kernels. It takes the microwave (895W) a few minutes to do the job, we would have to have the phones (~0.7W) in talk/data mode for over a day to get close to that amount.

20 minutes wasted. Luckily we have one of those mobile plans were we get free calls between our phones.

That got me thinking....we need more power.

DSC00525

So I hooked up three UHF long range RFID antennas and placed some rather nervous looking kernels in the middle. At 2W each, it still would of taken around 5 hours to get some popcorn. These puppies can read tags at 10m (even through walls as I discovered) but excite a popcorn kernel, they can not...we need more power.

What I need is one of those "lasers"

 drevil

Who wants steak!

Monday, June 30, 2008 3:11:19 PM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback
Humour
# Saturday, June 28, 2008

While working on a BizTalk RFID project we (Mick, Rahul, and I) wanted to explore whether we could use Silverlight (SL) to display tag read events as they are captured. As usual in these scenarios, I started writing wonderfully creative cheque's my graphic design skills could not cash. Eventually I put together an acceptable looking SL page with a couple of animated user controls to represent the received tag read events and counters.

silverlight display in action

The trick was how do we notify the SL application of the tag read event. At first we went down the client polling route and that worked out fine, but we really wanted something akin to duplex communications in WCF. That is, we want the service to push data out to the client when the service receives the event.

At the time we were working with SL 2 Beta 1 and quickly realised two constraining factors

  1. Silverlight only supports http based WCF bindings.
  2. Security restrictions prevent the SL application from creating callback listeners.

Luckily for us Tech.Ed 2008 in the US was running and the team at Microsoft announced Beta 2 with support for a polling duplex communications model. After decoding the beta documentation smile_confused, and some help from learned blogger's, we cracked that puppy and got a Silverlight 2 Beta 2 version working.

Here is a outline of the WCF bits of the Silverlight solution.

  • Create a new "Silverlight" flavoured WCF service containing both a service contract and a client callback contract (a duplex service).

    silverlight service contract
  • Implement the SubscribeToEvents operation ensuring you set a reference to the client callback channel. This is how we send events back to the SL application.
    // Obtain a reference to the client callback channel
    _callback = OperationContext.Current.GetCallbackChannel<IDuplexServiceCallback>();


  • Implement the client callback. In our case, when the WCF service receives a tag read event from BizTalk RFID, we create a new message instance containing the event data and invoke the client callback method NotifyEvent()
    // Construct NotifyEvent message
    Message message = Message.CreateMessage(MessageVersion.Soap11, "Silverlight/IDuplexService/NotifyEvent", xmlEventData);
    
    // Push event to client
    _callback.NotifyEvent(message);

  • Create your own service host and custom binding that uses the PollingDuplexBindingElement located in the new System.ServiceModel.PollingDuplex assembly in the SL 2 Beta 2 SDK (the one in the ..\Libraries\Server\Evaluation folder).
  • In the SL application we create a duplex polling receiver class (see the Silverlight documentation for details) and use the PollingDuplexHttpBinding class to create factory and channel objects to send a message to the service. We then start a message receive loop to listen for messages sent by the service.
  • Received events are then routed to the SL Page class. In our SL Page class we create instances of user controls for each event received and update some running counters.

I did feel some pain around the WCF message formats (see point 3 above). At first I got the message action wrong, but no exceptions were thrown at all warning me of this...the SL application just sat there waiting for the callback. You have to make sure the message action here matches the callback operation exactly. That is, <ServiceContractNamespace>/<ServiceInterface>/<Operation>.

As this is just a POC, I'm sure it will completely change (more than once) as it matures into production ready code, but I thought I might share what we are doing around Silverlight, WCF, and BizTalk.

Also, Dan Wahlin has a great post detailing how to push data to a Silverlight application using WCF duplex services. Much of his work was used to understand how to put all these Silverlight and WCF pieces together. Thanks heaps Dan. beer

Saturday, June 28, 2008 10:15:38 AM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback
Silverlight
# Saturday, June 21, 2008

I have been an advocate of VMware Server (v1.0) having used it for the past three or so years now as my virtual development platform. The performance, networking, and user experience have all been good enough. I have accumulated a decent library of platforms, server products, developer tools, and client environments that I can call upon whenever needed. I especially liked the USB support which came in handy when working with RFID devices.

Recently I got around to installing the latest version (v2.0 beta) ...oh dear smile_sad.

Ok, it was only beta but it lost all the attributes that I mentioned as good points above. Performance was noticeably poorer (perhaps beta related), the revamped networking might be ok after a training course, and most importantly the user experience was totally shite. VMware moved away from the remote console being a Rich UI application (that had its faults but got the job done well enough) to a browser-based console. Why? I thought the industry has have moved on from this already smile_confused.

So, I have finally conceded to (and coped a few ha-ha's from colleagues) to move my virtualisation platform over to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V. No small job as I will have to convert (rebuild) all my VM's. In the meantime, I am running Virtual Server 2005 R2 on the laptop to "ease" myself into the new platform.

 

rip vmware done

 

Good bye old friend.
Saturday, June 21, 2008 9:49:57 AM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback

# Friday, June 06, 2008

Recently I implemented a BizTalk web services interface that required the need to support SoapFault messages. I quickly fell into a common trap and received a compiler error:

error X2162: must receive before sending a fault message on an implemented port

(see Scott Colestock's post that nicely outlines his experience with the same issue)

As Scott describes, the solution involved using the succeeded() function to first test if a transaction scope had succeeded or not in order to send out my soap-fault correctly. I vaguely recalled this function but never used it in anger before. After having spent a hour or so I will never get back, I made a note-to-self to seek out and reacquaint myself with the other operators and functions available to use in expression shapes within an orchestration.

Here is the full list taken from the online documentation:

Operator

Description

Example

checked()

raise error on arithmetic overflow

checked(x = y * 1000)

unchecked()

ignore arithmetic overflow

unchecked(x = y * 1000)

new

create an instance of a class

myObject = new MyClass;

typeof

Type retrieval

myMapType = typeof(myMap)

succeeded()

test for successful completion of transactional scope or orchestration

succeeded(<transaction ID for child transaction of current scope or service>)

exists

test for the existence of a message context property

BTS.RetryCount exists Message_In

+

unary plus

+(int x)

-

unary minus

-(int x)

!

logical negation

!myBool

~

bitwise complement

x = ~y

()

cast

(bool) myInt

*

times

Weight = MyMsg.numOrders * 20

/

divided by

x / y

+

plus

x + y

-

minus

x - y

<<

shift left

x << 2

>>

shift right

x >> 2

<

less than

If (MyMsg.numOrders < 10)...

>

greater than

If (MyMsg.numOrders > 10)...

<=

less than or equal to

If (MyMsg.numOrders <= 10)...

>=

greater than or equal to

If (MyMsg.numOrders >= 10)...

==

equal to

If (MyMsg.numOrders == 10)...

!=

not equal to

If (MyMsg.numOrders != 10)...

&

and

If (myByte & 255)...

^

exclusive or

If (myByte ^ 1)...

|

or

If (myByte | 1)...

&&

conditional and

If (MyMsg.numOrders > 10) && (MyMsg.numOrders < 100)

||

conditional or

If (MyMsg.numOrders < 10) || (MyMsg.numOrders > 100)

//

commenting

//This is the comment

Since then, this little exercise has helped in a few occasions, particularly the need for the exists function when working with optional property schema fields.

I knew I should of read the manufacturers instructions smile_wink

Friday, June 06, 2008 12:42:47 AM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback
BizTalk General
# Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Today I was working on a BizTalk solution to intercept, transform, and relay emails sent from a LOB system. BizTalk polled a POP3 mailbox and my orchestration replaced the original plain/text email body with some fancy, template driven HTML content and sent it out a dynamic SMTP send port. Only the email body was to be modified, the rest of the email message was to replicate the original email message, including any attachments (that may or may not be present).

To aid in testing I wrote a simple .Net email client. (I got tired of composing a new email in Outlook every time I wanted to test the solution)

Breeze Simple Email Client

The solution worked well (and perhaps I may post about the details sometime later) accept for the fact the outbound message had lost the attachment filenames.

inbound showing attachment

outbound showing attachment

Note: The attachment on the outbound message has a filename of ATT00241.DAT smile_confused

A helper class in my orchestration inspected the inbound message for attachments and added them to the new outbound message. Each message part (attachment) was assigned the MIME message part context properties of the same inbound message part. What I found was the MIME.FileName property was not being populated by the MIME decoder.

The MIME decoder in the POP3 adapter (when configured to apply MIME decoding) populates the following message part context properties when a MIME encoded message is received:

MIME/SMIME Property Schema and Properties

I checked the message source of the email I was sending (via my DIY email client) to check the MIME headers were present.

incorrect message source

Appears OK right?...

content-type: application/octet-stream; name=SampleAttachment.zip
content-transfer-encoding: base64

Wrong smile_embaressed

It turns out the MIME decoder is looking for the content-disposition header values

content-type: application/octet-stream; name=SampleAttachment.zip
content-transfer-encoding: base64
content-disposition: attachment; filename=SampleAttachment.zip

So some quick changes to the Breeze Simple Email Client ...

attach.ContentDisposition.DispositionType = System.Net.Mime.DispositionTypeNames.Attachment
attach.ContentDisposition.FileName = Path.GetFileName(attachmentFileName)

...and we were back to cooking with gas.

correct message source

and now attachments on our outbound message retain their original filename...noysh!

outbound showing correct attachment

And BTW, not all commercial email clients populate these MIME headers correctly either (or so a friend of a friend who's aunt once knew someone that was talking to a girlfriend at the supermarket said). Check out the message source of items in your inbox. You might be surprised. smile_regular

Happy spamming er...umm...BizTalking

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 12:10:09 AM (AUS Eastern Standard Time, UTC+10:00)  #    - Trackback
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