Brokered WinRT Components Step Two

Now that we have built the brokered component , we have to build a proxy/stub for it. Proxies and stubs are how WinRT method calls are marshalled across process boundaries. If you want to know more – or you have insomnia – feel free to read all the gory details up on MSDN.

Proxies and stubs look like they might be scary, but they’re actually trivial (at least in the brokered component scenario) because 100% of the code is generated for you. It couldn’t be much easier.

Right click the solution node and select Add -> New Project. Alternatively, you can select File -> New -> Project in the Visual Studio main menu, but if you do that make sure you change the default solution from “Create new Solution” to “Add to Solution”. Regardless of how you launch the new project wizard, search for “broker” again, but this time select the “Brokered Windows Runtime ProxyStub” template. Give the project a name – I chose “HelloWorldBRT.PS”.

ProxyStubAddReference

Once you’ve created the proxy/stub project, you need to set a reference to the brokered component you created in step 1. Since proxies and stubs are native, this is a VC++ project. Adding a reference in a VC++ is not as straightforward as it is in C# projects. Right click the proxy/stub project, select “Properties” and then select Common Properties -> References from the tree on the left. Press the “Add New Reference…” button to bring up the same Add Reference dialog you’ve seen in managed code projects. Select the brokered component project and press OK.

Remember when I said that 100% of the code for the proxy/stub is generated? I wasn’t kidding – creating the template and setting referencing the brokered component project is literally all you need to do. Want proof? Go ahead and build now. If you watch the output windows, you’ll see a bunch of output go by referencing IDL files and MIDLRT among other stuff. This proxy/stub template has some custom MSBuild tasks that generates the proxy/stub code using winmdidl and midlrt. The process is similar to what is described here. BTW, if you get a chance, check out the proxy/stub project file – it is a work of art. Major props to Kieran Mockford for his msbuild wizardry.

ProxyStubRegisterOutput

Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to build the proxy/stub – you also have to register it. The brokered component proxy/stub needs to be registered globally on the machine, which means you have to be running as an admin to do it. VS can register the proxy/stub for you automatically, but that means you have to run VS as an administrator. That always makes me nervous, but if you’re OK with running as admin you can enable proxy/stub registration by right clicking the proxy/stub project file, selecting Properties, navigating to Configuration properties -> Linker -> General in the tree of the project properties page, and then changing Register Output to “Yes”.

If you don’t like running VS as admin, you can manually register the proxy/stub by running regsvr32 <proxystub dll> from an elevated command prompt. Note, you do have to re-register every time the public surface area of your brokered component changes so letting VS handle registration admin is definitely the easier route to go.

In the third and final step, we’ll build a client app that accesses our brokered component.

Brokered WinRT Components Step One

In this step, we’ll build the brokered component itself. Frankly, the only thing that makes a brokered component different than a normal WinRT component is some small tweaks to the project file to enable access to the full .NET Runtime and Base Class Library. The brokered component whitepaper describes the these tweaks in detail, but the new brokered component template takes care of these small tweaks for you.

BRT_NewProject

Start by selecting File -> New -> Project in Visual Studio. With the sheer number of templates to choose from these days, I find it’s easier to just search for the one I want. Type “broker” in the search box in the upper left, you’ll end up with two choices – the brokered WinRT component and the brokered WinRT proxy/stub. For now, choose the brokered component. We’ll be adding a brokered proxy/stub in step two. Name the project whatever you want. I named mine “HelloWorldBRT”.

This is probably the easiest step of the three as there’s nothing really special you have to do – just write managed code like you always do. In my keynote demo, this is where I wrote the code that wrapped the existing ADO.NET based data access library. For the purposes of this walkthrough, let’s do something simpler. We’ll use P/Invoke to retrieve the current process and thread IDs. These Win32 APIs are supported for developing WinRT apps and will make it obvious that the component is running in a separate process than the app. Here’s the simple code to retrieve those IDs (hat tip to pinvoke.net for the interop signatures):

public sealed class Class
{
    [DllImport("kernel32.dll")]
    static extern uint GetCurrentThreadId();

    [DllImport("kernel32.dll")]
    static extern uint GetCurrentProcessId();

    public uint CurrentThreadId
    {
        get { return GetCurrentThreadId(); }
    }

    public uint CurrentProcessId
    {
        get { return GetCurrentProcessId(); }
    }
}

That’s it! I didn’t even bother to change the class name for this simple sample.

Now, to be clear, there’s no reason why this code needs to run in a broker process. As I pointed out, the Win32 functions I’m wrapping here are supported for use in Windows Store apps. For this walkthrough, I’m trying to keep the code simple in order to focus on the specifics of building brokered components. If you want to see an example that actually leverages the fact that it’s running outside of the App Container, check out the NorthwindRT sample.

In the next step, we’ll add the proxy/stub that enables this component to communicate across a process boundary.

Brokered WinRT Components Step-by-Step

Based on the feedback I’ve gotten since my keynote appearance @ Build – both in person and via email & twitter – there are a lot of folks who are excited about the Brokered WinRT Component feature. However, I’ve been advising folks to hold off a bit until the new VS templates were ready. Frankly, the developer experience for this feature is a bit rough and the VS template makes the experience much better. Well, hold off no longer! My old team has published the Brokered WinRT Component Project Templates up on the Visual Studio Gallery!

Now that the template is available, I’ve written a step-by-step guide demonstrating how to build a “Hello World” style brokered component. Hopefully, this will help folks in the community take advantage of this cool new feature in Windows 8.1 Update.

To keep it readable, I’ve broken it into three separate posts:

Note, this walkthrough assumes you’re running Windows 8.1 Update, Visual Studio 2013 with Update 2 RC (or later) and the Brokered WinRT Component Project Templates installed.

I hope this series helps you take advantage of brokered WinRT components. If you have any further questions, feel free to drop me an email or hit me up on Twitter.

An Architecture Aware VsVars.ps1

Like many in the Microsoft dev community, I’m a heavy user of Visual Studio and Powershell. And so, of course, I’ve been a heavy user Chris Tavares’ vsvars32.ps1 script. However, recently I needed the ability to specify my desired processor architecture when setting up a VS command line session. Unfortunately, Chris’s script wraps vsvars32.bat which only supports generating 32-bit apps. Luckily, VC++ includes a vcvarsall.bat script that let’s you specify processor architecture. So I updated my local copy of vsvars.ps1  to use vcvarsall.bat under the hood and added an -x64 switch to enable setting up a 64-bit command line environment. Vcvarsall.bat supports a variety of additional options, but 64-bit support is all I needed so that’s all I added. I didn’t change the name of the script because there’s WAY too much muscle memory associated with typing “vsvars” to bother changing that now.

If you want it, you can get my architecture aware version of vsvars.ps1 from my OneDrive here: http://1drv.ms/1kf8g9I.

Brokered Component Wake On Callback Demo Video

As you might imagine, I had a pretty amazing time @ Build. The only thing that went wrong all week was when one of my demos in my session failed. It’s was pretty cool demo – the brokered WinRT component fires an event which wakes up a suspended WinRT app for a few seconds to process the event. However, I had shut off toast notifications on my machine, which messed up the demo. So here, for your enjoyment, is a short 3 minute video of the working demo.