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Build your own CAB #15 – MicroControllers

After a bit of a hiatus and a fair amount of pestering, I’m back and ready to continue the “Build you own CAB” series.  The point isn’t really to go build a drop in replacement for the Composite Application Block (CAB), but rather to understand the design patterns you can use to build maintainable WinForms applications.  I’m hopeful that the material in this series will be useful for both users of the CAB and those who are rolling application specific architectures sans CAB.  The previous posts have been mostly written at the perspective of a single screen.  For this post I want to go down to the granular control level before coming back up to finish the series with content on coordinating multiple screens and composite applications.  My longer term goal is use the BYO CAB series as the kernel of a book on design patterns for fat clients and composite applications, so I’d love any kind of feedback no matter how negative.



I introduced what I call the MicroController pattern in my last installment.  The basic idea is to use a small controller class to govern an atomic part of the screen, usually all the way down to the individual control or a small cluster of controls.  The assumption is that it’ll be easy to reuse the very small controller classes across screens and also to test these little critters under an xUnit microscope.  I’ve found that it’s often advantageous to then aggregate those MicroController’s to create powerful behaviors.  I’m going to take this idea a little bit farther and show some usages of the MicroController pattern to create an alternative to Data Binding for screen synchronization.  When I first wrote about this idea in My Crackpot WinForms Idea, I said that I’d do a further writeup if the technique was successful.  I’ve used it long enough now to know that I’m happy with the results overall, and more importantly, I’d like some feedback on this approach before I think about using it again.  As I’ll try to demonstrate in this post, I’m claiming the MicroController approach leads to improvements in productivity and testability.



I’m going to refer to two different projects in this post.

  1. TradeCapture 1:  A project that I did late last year and early this year.  We used WinForms data binding and ran into major stumbling blocks with automated testing

  2. TradeCapture 2:  One of the projects I’ve been working on since April.  I’d used the MicroController strategy on previous projects, but this is the project where all the techniques shown here were developed and tested.  The design of TradeCapture 2 was heavily influenced by my interpretation of our struggles from TradeCapture 1.

I’m using slightly obfuscated examples from TradeCapture 2. An early, but functional version of the MicroController strategy is in the StoryTeller codebase at http://storyteller.tigris.org/svn/storyteller/trunk/src/StoryTeller.DataBinding.  If you down load the entire code tree at http://storyteller.tigris.org/svn/storyteller/trunk you’ll find a couple small screens that use the techniques from this article.  ReSharper “Find Usages” is your friend.


What’s the Problem?

If you stop and think about it, there’s a huge amount of repetitive tasks that you need to do at the individual control level.  Here’s a partial list of the tedious chores that can easily fill up your day on a WinForms project: 

  • Bind controls to a property of the Model

  • Fill dropdown boxes with reference data fetched from some sort of backend

  • Use the ErrorProvider to display validation errors by control

  • Disable or hide controls based on user permissions

  • Capture change events off controls to trigger some other sort of behavior

  • Do “IsDirty” checks

  • Reset all the values back to the original state

  • Inside of an automated test, you need to be able to find a certain control and then manipulate it

  • Format data in screen elements.  In my project we need to make some textbox’s accept numeric values in the form “1k” or “1m” to enter large numbers.  In other applications you may have other formatting and parsing rules repeated over controls.

The designer time support in Visual Studio makes it easy to create these types of behavior from scratch.  That’s great, but it leads to a lot of duplication, code noise, and difficulty in making behavioral changes across multiple screens harder.  In the last bullet point in my list above, I had to go back and accept “1b” as the value 1,000,000,000 in textbox’s representing monetary amounts.  It wasn’t any big deal because I only had one single method in a single MicroController class to modify.  But what if I’d created that behavior through implementing event handlers separately for each textbox?  That’d be a lot of code to duplicate and change.


Screen Synchronization with MicroControllers

For a variety of reasons I wanted more predictable screen synchronization than Data Binding provides.  Add in the drag (I’ll talk about this at length in the next BYO CAB post) of Data Binding in automated testing scenarios and I was ready to try something different.  I ended up using a scheme that I’d previously applied to Javascript heavy DHTML clients.  I would create a MicroController class for each type of Control that knew how to bidirectionally synchronize data from the Model classes to the Controls.  The mechanics for each type of control (textbox, radio buttons, checkbox, listbox, etc.) are slightly different, but the goals and intentions are basically the same.  As an example, for every type of control I might want to:

  • Synchronize the value of a property on the Model with a Control on the screen

  • Apply changes from a Control value back to a property on the screen

  • Attach error messages to a Control by the name of the property the Control is bound to

  • Simulate a “Click” event

  • Register for changes in the Control’s value

  • Reset the Control values back to the original property value of the Model class

  • Determine if the Control is “dirty”

  • Enable or disable Controls

The key is to make each type of Control/MicroController look the same for basic operations.  I do this by making each MicroController implement the IScreenElement interface partially shown below:


    public interface IScreenElement
        string LabelText { get; }
        string FieldName { get; }
        Label Label { get; set; }
        ErrorProvider Provider {set;}
        void Bind(object target);
        bool ApplyChanges();
        void SetError(string errorMesssage);
        void Reset();
        string GetError();
        void RegisterChangeHandler(VoidHandler handler);
        void Update();
        void SetErrors(string[] errorMessages);
        void Disable();
        void Enable();
        void Click();
        event VoidHandler OnDirty;
        void StopBinding();

At the moment, I’ll focus on getting information between a Control and a single property of a Model class (say we have a textbox called “nameTextbox” that is bound to the “Name” property of a Person Model class).  The bidirectional binding of the property data to the control is done in the two methods in bold.  Calling Bind(object) will take the value from the Model object property designated by the FieldName property and make that the value of the underlying Control.  Likewise, calling ApplyChanges() will take the value of the underlying Control and push the value back into the Model object.  The workflow of screen binding is similar enough to pull most of the functionality into a ScreenElement superclass.  Here’s the implementation of the Bind(object) method from ScreenElement.


        public virtual void Bind(object target)
                _target = target;
                _originalValue = (U) Property.GetValue(target, null);
            catch (Exception e)
                string message = string.Format(“Unable to bind property “ + Property.Name);
                throw new ApplicationException(message, e);
        public void updateControl(U newValue)
            // Set the latch while we’re setting the initial value of the 
            // bound control
            _latched = true;
            _latched = false;
        protected abstract void resetControl(U originalValue);

Let’s say that we do have a textbox bound to the “Name” property of a Person class.  In the Bind(object) I keep a reference to the Person object that I’m binding to, then I use reflection to get the “Name” value off of the Person object, then I call updateControl() to actually set the Text property of the textbox.  To build a specific ScreenElement for a textbox I just had to override the resetControl() template method in the TextboxElement class.


        // BoundControl is a Textbox
        protected override void resetControl(object originalValue)
            BoundControl.Text = originalValue == null ? string.Empty : _format(originalValue);

There’s really not too much to it.  “_format” is a reference to a delegate that can be swapped out at configuration time to handle differences like the number of decimal points in numeric fields.  Just for completeness sake, here’s the same method in the PicklistElement (the implementation of ScreenElement for comboboxes) 

        private IPicklist _list = new NulloPicklist();
        protected override void resetControl(object originalValue)
            _list.SetValue(BoundControl, originalValue);

Aggregating MicroControllers

By themselves, a single MicroController isn’t all that usefull, but aggregating them together is a different story.  I use a class called ScreenBinder to perform aggregate operations across a collection of IScreenElement MicroControllers.  The public interface for IScreenBinder is down below:


    public interface IScreenBinder : IScreenElementDriver
        void UpdateBinding();
        void FillList(string fieldName, IPicklist list);
        object BoundObject { get;}
        event VoidHandler OnChange;
        void BindScreen(object target);
        bool ApplyChanges();
        void ShowErrorMessages(Notification notification);
        void ClearErrors();
        void StopBinding();

As I said before, ScreenBinder keeps an internal ArrayList<IScreenElement> member.  When you add an IScreenElement to ScreenBinder it also adds a reference to the proper ErrorProvider for validation error display and sets up event listening for change events.  Since ScreenBinder aggregates change events for all of its IScreenElement children, you can simply listen for a single event on IScreenBinder for enabling “Submit” and “Cancel” type buttons when any element changes.


        public void AddElement(IScreenElement element)
            // Attach the ErrorProvider to the new IScreenElement
            element.Provider = _provider;
            // Go ahead and Bind the new IScreenElement
            if (isBound())
            // Register for all OnDirty events
            element.OnDirty += fireChanged;

Now that we have a collection of IScreenElement children, we can bind the whole collection to the Model object one child at a time.



        public void BindScreenTo(T target)
                                foreach (IScreenElement element in _elements)
                                _target = target;
        private void withinLatch(VoidHandler handler)
            _isLatched = true;
            _isLatched = false;


Notice the lines of code in bold.  When the ScreenBinder is binding each IScreenElement to the Model object it sets its internal “_latch” field to true.  That’s important because we don’t want “IsDirty” event notifications popping up in the middle of the initial data binding.  The “latch” strategy comes into play in the method fireChanged() that raises the ScreenBinder’s OnChange event.  That was a huge source of heartburn to me and my team on TradeCapture 1.  One of my core goals for the MicroController strategy on TradeCapture 2 was to systematically control the event latching in the screen synchronization.


        public event VoidHandler OnChange;
        private void fireChanged()
            if (_isLatched)
            if (OnChange != null)


The more predictable data binding by itself was a win, but I had other design goals as well.  The remainder of the post is a rundown of those goals and how I used MicroControllers to achieve these goals.


Goal:  Make the View behavioral code easier to maintain and verify by inspection

Like I said earlier, the design time property editor is great for writing small behavioral and formatting functionality from scratch, but can you look at a screen in the designer and “see” what’s wired up to what?  I’ll answer that one with “you can’t.”  To find out what the screen is doing, which events are wired and to what, and what screen elements are bound to which property you’ve got to click on all of the elements and scroll through the Properties tab in Visual Studio.  The information you need to maintain or patch the screen is scattered all over the place.  I got very frustrated on TradeCapture 1 with how hard it was to understand the behavior of complex screens.

To combat that problem in TradeCapture 2 I wanted the wiring of the View to be compressed into a readable form without sacrificing the straightforward speed of using the designer.  Setting up all the MicroController objects was going to lead to ugly, verbose code that made the readability of the code worse.  What I ended up with is a Fluent Interface to configure MicroControllers against all the screen elements in a readable format.  To remove a little more friction, I wrote a crude codegen tool that simply spits out a class with constants for all of the public properties for my Model classes like this one below for my Trade class.

public class TradeFields
    public static readonly string Description = “Description”
    public static readonly string Status = “Status”
    public static readonly string TradeId = “TradeId”

Hey, if you have to work in a statically typed language you might as well take advantage of it right?  Having the property names in Intellisense is definitely better than strings every which way. 

Now that I have the property names as constants I can configure a screens behavior with code like this snippet down below:

        public void Bind(IScreenBinder binder)
            _binder = binder;
            // LegalEntity & Book
                .OnChange(delegate {_presenter.BookChanged();});
                .OnChange(delegate { _tradePresenter.TradeDateChanged(); });

In this one method I’m completely defining both the data binding from control to property and the wiring of the View to its Presenter for OnChange events (look at the two snippets of code above in bold).  I’m arguing that this type of data binding and declarative attachment of behaviors and event tagging is better for maintainability than classic designer driven Data Binding because all of the relevant functionality is boiled down into such a smaller area of the code.  I can scan this code and understand what the screen is doing and spot errors in the screen wiring.  The speed issue of the initial write is at least on par with Data Binding through the designer by simply enabling Intellisense.

I’m not sure I really got all the way to my goal of clean, expressive language to describe the desired screen behavior because of the inherent limitations of C# 2.0.  My thinking is that this approach will shine much more in IronRuby or even in C# 3.0.  I thought a little bit about rewriting this entire data binding scheme as an open source project, but I think I’m shelving that idea indefinitely.  I do think it would be an interesting project for IronRuby and WPF someday.



Goal:  Reuse minor screen behavior

Since coming to New York I’ve worked on two different “Trade Capture” applications.  I’ve observed a lot of sameness of programming tasks across the screens in the two projects and I think I learned a lot of lessons from the first that have made the second more successful.  One of the things we hit in the first project was this scenario:  you have some sort of property that’s set by choosing a tab or a radio button in the screen.  In TradeCapture 1 we wrote manual code that set the property on the underlying Trade object anytime the tab selection was changed.  It’s subtle, but I’d almost call that an intrusion of business logic into the presentation code.  Even if you make the case that that code was definitely presentation related, it added repetitive code and noise to the View.  Much worse is the fact that that behavior wasn’t covered by an automated test because we gave up early on automating tests through the screen.

In TradeCapture 2 I saw that same scenario coming and built a MicroController for that repetitive behavior.  In this case I have several instances of an enumeration property, with a series of radio buttons representing each possible enumeration value.  In the code we need to know how to set the property anytime a radio button is selected, and also to activate the correct radio button when an existing Trade is viewed.

I wrote two classes, a MicroController for each radio button called RadioElement and a class to manage the radio button group called RadioButtonGroup (If you’re curious, the source code is at the links for each).  The actual code for each class isn’t that interesting, but I think this code is: 


                // FXOptionTradeFields is just a codegen’d class with a bunch of constants for 
                // the field names of the Model class

All this code does is setup a RadioButtonGroup and a series of RadioElement objects to govern the data binding of the three radio buttons bolded above.   It’s just a little bit of Fluent Interface to make the attachment of the behavior be as declarative as possible.

Now, back to the idea of testability.  In the next post in this series I’ll show how to use the MicroController strategy to test through the screen, but for now let’s assume that we’re forgoing automated tests on the screen itself.  In that case we’ve still made a gain.  The behavior of the radio button binding is now more or less declarative, increasing the solubility of the code to make this code easier to trouble shoot by mere inspection.

You are reusing this code across different radio button groups, so it would help if the reused code were tested pretty thoroughly.  While testing at the application or screen level is difficult, simply unit testing the MicroController classes in isolation was pretty simple.  It’s easy to forget, but the Control classes in WinForms are just classes.  You can instantiate them on the fly in code at will.  Here’s what the unit tests for RadioElement look like:


    public class RadioElementTester
        private EnumTarget _target;
        private RadioButton _button;
        private RadioElement<FakeEnum> _element;
        public void SetUp()
            _target = new EnumTarget();
            _target.State = FakeEnum.TX;
            PropertyInfo property = typeof(EnumTarget).GetProperty(“State”);
            _button = new RadioButton();
            _element = new RadioElement<FakeEnum>(property, _button, new RadioButtonGroup<FakeEnum>());
        public void CheckTheRadioButtonIfTheEnumerationValueMatches()
            _element.BoundValue = FakeEnum.TX;
        public void DontCheckTheRadioButtonIfTheEnumerationValueDoesNotMatch()
            _target.State = FakeEnum.MO;
        public void ApplyChangesWhenTheButtonIsChecked()
            _target.State = FakeEnum.MO;
            _button.Checked = true;
            // After applying the changes, the RadioButton was selected,
            // so the _target.State property should have been overwritten
            // with the value of the RadioElement.BoundValue
            Assert.AreEqual(_element.BoundValue, _target.State);



Goal:  Eliminate noise code in the Presenters

My first exposure to Model View Presenter architectures was an application built along Passive View lines.  Passive View does a lot to promote testability, but you can end up with massive Presenter classes.  The Presenter in a Passive View screen can become a dumping ground for all of the screen responsibilities if you’re not careful.  One of my goals with my current screen architecture was to move to a Supervising Controller architecture and reduce the “noise” code in my Presenter’s by pushing tedious tasks back into the View.  For example, I’ve written code to grab a list of values from some sort of backend service and stuff it into a setter on the View to fill dropdown boxes more than enough times in my life.  That kind of stuff just ends up bloating the Presenter with trivialities.  I want the “signal” in the Presenter to be screen behavior, not a bunch of boilerplate code filling in dropdown lists and attaching validation messages. 

What does it really take to fill a dropdown list with values?  My end goal was to simply say in the code that I want ComboBox A to be filled with List B without having to worry about the mechanics every time.  I’m going to do this a hundred times or better over the life of the project, so it might as well be easy.  I came up with a syntax that looks like this:


The screen that contains this code has a ComboBox named “strategyField.”  The code in bold above is directing the MicroController for “strategyField” to fetch the list of “Strategy” values to fill the ComboBox.  To pull this off I need two things.  The first thing is a way to describe a dropdown list to allow for variances in type or display/value members.  I use a class called Picklist for this that has the public interface shown below:


    public interface IPicklist
        void Fill(ComboBox ComboBox);
        void Fill(ListBox listBox);

The second thing I need is a single reference point to access IPicklist objects by key.  To that end I use an interface called IListRepository:


    public interface IListRepository
        IPicklist GetPickList(ListType type);

The actual concrete implementation is gathering up list data from a couple different sources, but it’s all accessible in a common way by calling the GetPickList(ListType) method.  All the MicroController has to do now is grab an instance of IListRepository, find the right IPicklist, then fill its ComboBox control.  Here’s the method in PicklistElement that does just that:


        public void FillWithList(ListType listType)
            // Grab IListRepository from StructureMap.  It’s actually a singleton,
            // but we don’t have to care about that here
            IListRepository repository = ObjectFactory.GetInstance<IListRepository>();
            IPicklist list = repository.GetPickList(listType);

The example code here is very specific to my application, but I’ve used the basic idea of a “ListRepository” and “Picklist” on a couple different UI-intensive projects to great effect.  You could happily roll your own equivalent.



Goal:  Enable Model-centric validation via the Notification Pattern

In an earlier installment on model centric validation, I made the case for putting validation logic into the Model class where that logic is easier to test and share across screens.  I also introduced the Notification pattern as a way to transmit the validation messages tagged by field, but I purposely put off the mechanics of displaying those validation messages on the screen.  So, here’s the situation, I’m in the View now and I’ve got a Notification object with lots of validation errors, how do I get those associated to the correct control?  Elementary my dear Mr. Watson.  All we need to do is have ScreenBinder loop through its IScreenElement children.  Inside of ScreenBinder is this method called ShowErrorMessages(Notification) that: 

  1. Loop through each IScreenElement

  2. Query the Notification object for all of the error messages for the IScreenElement.FieldName

  3. Tell the IScreenElement to display these error messages.  If the error messages are blank, the IScreenElement will clear out all error display.

        public void ShowErrorMessages(Notification notification)


            // Hack to replace “FieldName” with “Label Text” inside of validation messages

            foreach (IScreenElement element in _elements)


                notification.AliasFieldInMessages(element.FieldName, element.LabelText);



            // Call each ScreenElement to display the error messages for it’s field

            // It’s important to loop through each element so that the element knows

            // to show no messages if it’s field is valid

            foreach (IScreenElement element in _elements)


                string[] messages = notification.GetMessages(element.FieldName);




            // I need to refactor the propagation of the children into a Composite pattern

            // here so that child IScreenBinder’s just look like IScreenElement.  Someday soon.

            foreach (KeyValuePair<string, IScreenBinder> pair in _children)


                Notification childNotification = notification.GetChild(pair.Key);




At least for now, each individual IScreenElement is given a reference to the screen’s ErrorProvider object.  Since the IScreenElement has a reference to both the ErrorProvider and the Control, setting the error messages becomes pretty simple:


        public void SetErrors(string[] errorMessages)
            SetError(string.Join(MESSAGE_SEPARATOR.ToString(), errorMessages));
        public void SetError(string errorMesssage)
            // _provider is the ErrorProvider for the screen
            if (_provider == null)
            _provider.SetError(_control, errorMesssage);

I should point out here that it is perfectly possible to use the BindingDataSource from WinForms 2.0 to effect a similar effect to make a connection from field to control.  All the same though, I like my way better.


Goal:  Control extraneous “I just changed” events

Here’s a common screen scenario:  the submit and undo buttons should only be enabled when something on the screen changes.  Easy enough, you just listen for “onchange” type events on all of the elements that you care about.  There’s one little potential problem though.  Those onchange events can and will fire during the initial loading of the control data.  Or when the list items of a ComboBox changes.  Or some sort of formatting is applied to a textbox.  At these times you want to disregard the onchange events.  You can simply unregister the change events while the original binding operation is taking place or use a “latch” to stop the propagation of events when it’s not appropriate.  I tend toward using the “latch” approach. 

As you’ve probably guessed, we can bake the “latch” idea into a MicroController to put the onchange event latch closer to each Control.  I register event handlers against a MicroController instead of directly against the bound controls. 


                    .OnChange(delegate { presenter.CurrencyPairSelected(); })

Intercepting the onchange events in the MicroController first enables the ability to “latch” the propagation of “onchange” events during the act of binding the Model to the control.  Most of my MicroControllers inherit from a class called ScreenElement.  In the fragment of code from ScreenElement below the updateControl() method is responsible for setting the value of the inner Control.  Before ScreenElement calls through to the resetControl() method to actually set the value of the control it sets a field called _latch to true and sets _latch back to false as soon as resetControl() returns.  Note the code in bold below.


        public virtual void Bind(object target)
                _target = target;
                _originalValue = (U) Property.GetValue(target, null);
            catch (Exception e)
                string message = string.Format(“Unable to bind property “ + Property.Name);
                throw new ApplicationException(message, e);
        public void updateControl(U newValue)
            // Set the latch while we’re setting the initial value of the 
            // bound control
            _latched = true;
            _latched = false;

The call to resetControl() will fire off an event because the value of the  Control is changing, but that event will not be propagated on if the latch is set.  Look at the code in bold below:

        protected void elementValueChanged()
            // Guard clause.  Don’t do anything if we’re latched
            if (_latched)
            // Re-calculate validation errors for only this field
            SetErrors(Validator.ValidateField(_target, _property.Name));
            // Call the other registered handler’s for the onchange
            // event for this control
            foreach (VoidHandler handler in _handlers)
            if (isDirty())

Each subclass of ScreenElement needs to capture the appropriate “onchange” event and call the elementValueChanged() method inherited from the base.  Here’s the implementation from CheckboxElement:


    public class CheckboxElement : ScreenElement<CheckBox, bool>, IToggleable
        public CheckboxElement(PropertyInfo property, CheckBox checkBox) : base(property, checkBox)
            checkBox.CheckedChanged += checkBox_CheckedChanged;
        protected override void tearDown()
            BoundControl.CheckedChanged -= checkBox_CheckedChanged;
        void checkBox_CheckedChanged(object sender, System.EventArgs e)


Catch Jeremy’s next “Build Your own CAB” adventure in Yes, Virginia.  You CAN test the user interface.  Coming to an RSS aggregator near you in about four of Jeremy’s train ride commutes.

About Jeremy Miller

Jeremy is the Chief Software Architect at Dovetail Software, the coolest ISV in Austin. Jeremy began his IT career writing "Shadow IT" applications to automate his engineering documentation, then wandered into software development because it looked like more fun. Jeremy is the author of the open source StructureMap tool for Dependency Injection with .Net, StoryTeller for supercharged acceptance testing in .Net, and one of the principal developers behind FubuMVC. Jeremy's thoughts on all things software can be found at The Shade Tree Developer at http://codebetter.com/jeremymiller.
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  • Mark

    We did something similar mapping field elements to Domain Object properties by name. It saved a lot of manual wiring and allowed us to do the data binding as user’s expect it to work. It seems to work pretty well, I just can’t believe we *still* need to write this stuff ourselves.

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/jeremy.miller Jeremy D. Miller


    Thanks for the comment Kent. Keep in mind it’s mostly just my pet way of doing screen synchronization and little screen behaviors.

    “Radio buttons, for example, just don’t support binding. Do you agree?”

    Yeah, I agree with you there. I made data binding with radio buttons work, but it was one of the harder tasks we hit with the ScreenBinder. I think that was the only place I had to fire up Reflector on the WinForms code (and came away wishing that I hadn’t looked there). I think we definitely made screen synchronization easier with radio buttons once the MicroController for it was in place. I’d do the same thing for tabbing controls embedded in screens that effectively act as radio buttons.

    Data binding / screen synchronization is only one part of what the MicroControllers gave us. When I move to WPF I might just have the fluent interface (FI) set up the WPF data binding, but there’s a lot of other “goodness” we are getting out of MicroControllers that goes beyond what data binding does. If nothing else, the “latch” functionality, the testing support, and the repetitive behavior aspects pay for it,

    “Moving it to the code behind would make things more disparate and harder to grok, in my opinion”

    Actually, I’m going to disagree. Not MicroControllers themselves, but the Fluent Interface mini language over the top can compress the behavioral code of a screen down to a much smaller surface area, making a complex screen easier to understand because all the behavior is in one place. Add in C# 3.0 language constructs, and I think the DSL for screen behavior gets tighter and easier to read. Xaml may be 10x better than the WinForms designer, but it’s still Xml, and angle brackets are noisy code.

    On grids, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never met a 3rd party Grid API yet that didn’t suck. I’m talking quite a bit with Ward Bell this week. Both of us write some sort of app-specific “GridHelper” classes. I’ve been arguing that when we’re all doing Silverlight and WPF work where dynamic layouts are sooooo much easier, that it’s going to be viable to roll your own simplistic Grid controls just to have an API that doesn’t suck.

    In the end it’s kind of a moot point. It’ll be at least the fall before I consider moving some of this to WPF.

  • http://kentb.blogspot.com Kent Boogaart

    Hi Jeremy,

    I know I’m late to this party, but I have a few comments/questions:

    1. I agree that using the Winforms designer to set up bindings leads to pain in the long term. To that end, I typically write an InitializeBindings() method in my views that does this in code, much the same as your view’s Bind(IScreenBinder) method. I use the Winforms Binding class directly, though. Apart from not using a fluent interface (which could be added), the only disadvantage I can see compared to your approach is that you’re limited to what Winforms actually supports. Radio buttons, for example, just don’t support binding. Do you agree?

    2. You mention that such a micro controller approach might be beneficial to WPF, but I tend to disagree. Unless you’re using the WPF designer (does anyone? I’m not sure), then the binding information is right where you expect it. Moving it to the code behind would make things more disparate and harder to grok, in my opinion. Then again, you could solve problems such as not being able to correctly bind radio buttons (yep, still a problem in WPF).

    3. +1 on more info around doing this sort of thing with grids and other more complex controls. The typical LOB app has a whole bunch of grids in it, so it would be nice to see more guidance on achieving similar results with those kind of interfaces.


  • Blake

    I had considered a similar approach for the DataGridView, but eventually shied away from it. It sounds like you’re having success with it, and that’s good to know in case I venture back to it in the future. Another, perhaps less elegant, solution I had considered involved creating components that could be dropped onto the design surface. Such a component would expose a DataGridView property that would tell the component which DataGridView to monitor (i.e. catch events) and update (i.e. hide columns). The component could be written to delegate the display logic to another entity or it could have the display logic built-in. Either way, the logic should be easily testable since it has been removed from the form. I haven’t attempted this approach yet, so who knows what kind of pitfalls it might entail!

  • Steve


    I believe this kind of technique would be pretty difficult to implement on standard WinForms DataGridView without first writing a ton of plumbing code. It is, however, fairly easy to implement using 3rd party grids that already have lots of baked in functionality like DevExpress, Infragistics, SyncFusion, etc.

    I have implemented a similar solution with DevExpress grid. I defined an IGridController interface which is similar to Jeremy’s IScreenElement, basically allows the grid to be bound and basic functionality of the grid itself to be controlled, T is the type of GridView to be controlled. Then there is IGridRowController where T is the type of entity bound to that row, and the row controller then controls IGridCellElement where T is the type of cell editor and U is the data type. Then I define classes which inherit from DevExpress GridControl, GridView, GridRow and GridCell classes and implement the above interfaces.

    One thing you have to be careful about is ensuring the controllers aren’t keeping the grid rows and cells from being garbage collected, that will send your memory usage through the roof pretty quickly =)

  • Blake

    Right. I frequently encounter display logic tasks such as “If the user navigates to a row with a value of ‘X’ in field ‘ItemType’, lock column ‘Cost’. Otherwise, unlock column ‘Cost’.” In such a case, the presenter would need to be able to track the current row in the grid and be able to manipulate the grid. Currently, I’m doing this in the view in response to DataGridView events, which means it isn’t very testable. There are other tricky tasks, too, such as monitoring/controlling the selected rows in the grid. Do you deal with grids much? Any insight into working with them?

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/jeremy.miller Jeremy D. Miller


    I hadn’t thought about it. I’m not sure that sounds like that great of an idea offhand.

  • Blake

    Great post as usual. Do you plan to post an example of using this approach with a DataGridView?

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/jeremy.miller Jeremy D. Miller


    Give me a day or two on that one and I’ll post something at lunch.

  • Paul Hatcher


    Any chance of an example that shows use of the AddChild method for composing IScreenBinder and also how this plays with composite controls, e.g. I produce an Address control with Street, City, State & ZipCode which should bind to my Customer’s Address object?

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/jeremy.miller Jeremy D. Miller


    I have a crude little codegen tool that simply creates a structure of constants for each Property in the Model. It’s just a command line executable. On a post build event on the assembly that has my domain model I run this tool to regenerate the constants file for use in the UserInterface assembly. I also codegen Fit Fixture classes to set and check properties on my Domain Model classes as a testing shortcut.

  • Shane Courtrille

    Awesome post.. I just got caught up with the series but I did have one question.

    When you mention the model in relation to code gen and something like TradeFields are you talking about your domain model? If not how do they relate to each other?

  • Richard

    Great post. It summarises what we have already tried to put together and abstracts the concepts nicely.

  • Paul

    Just found your page as one of our new contractors at work, who i’m watching over is implement this exact thing. Nice high level of programming and very interesting. Watching out for the next post :)

  • http://garoyeri.blogspot.com Garo Yeriazarian

    Once I get some more pieces of my project posted, I’d really appreciate your comments on it. We’re eventually going to go to CAB to standardize and I’m slowly working our existing architecture to something that would fit more easily into CAB.

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/jeremy.miller Jeremy D. Miller

    Coincidentally Garo, I’ve been reading your posts on the same subject over the last couple days and the altnetconf discussion

  • http://garoyeri.blogspot.com Garo Yeriazarian

    Wow, I’m implementing MVP in WinForms and I’m slowly running into some of the issues you are discussing (and I’m sure I’ll run into the rest as I get further in). I really like the idea of MicroControllers, I currently have my binder class that knows how to tie certain types of controls to properties, but your approach is a lot more flexible. I’m definitely going to have to read this through more thoroughly when I get a chance.

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/jeremy.miller Jeremy D. Miller

    How about, Jeremy/David go finish your DevTeach talks?

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/david_laribee/ Dave Laribee

    this is a print-and-read, but YAY! :)

    now what to pester you about next…

  • http://blog.omega-prime.co.uk Max

    Another great post Jeremy, thanks a lot :-). I’ll certainly be buying your book when it’s released!

    A possible extension here might be to use PropertyDescriptors instead of reflection for the GetValue business, as this would let you do things like use the ComponentModel Description stuff to fill out label text via your fluent API..

  • http://www.demetriusnunes.com Demetrius Nunes

    Hey Jeremy,

    By the end of the CAB series, wouldn’t it be nice if you could release a sample application demonstrating all the CAB patterns you’ve shown us here?

    Sometimes, reading your posts, I kinda of miss a good way to see the “big picture”, and maybe a sample app would do it. What da ya think?

    Anyway, keep it coming, it’s been great!