EntityUpdater Generic helper for Entity Framework

So I am using Entity Framework (EF) more and more and I really like it. However, I’ve come across a problem when using WCF services and EF that doesn’t look to be perfectly solved.

Let me share my use case.

I have many entities but in this case, let’s use Customer and CustomerSite. I am using that Entity as a POCO object for a WCF service as well. I have two Systems. SAP and a custom C# licensing system, which is where I am using WCF and EF.

Customer
– CustomerId
– CustomerName

Customer Site
– CustomerSiteId
– CustomerId
– SiteName
– Address1
– Address2
– State
– Country
– Zip
– Website
– SapCustomerId

Let’s say that someone changes the Address for a customer in SAP. A post is made with the new Address. I tried a couple of built-in Entity Framework methods, but I’ve been unable to figure out how the front end client can update a single property without first querying over WCF for the existing values and having the client side update the changed values. To me, this seems to be a broken process. The client has to query the current object, which results in a call that has to traverse over the wire to the WCF service, then to the database through EF, then back to WCF and back over the wire to the client. Then logic has to exist on the client to update the appropriate fields. The client now needs a lot of logic it otherwise shouldn’t need.

If the client wants to update only one field, Address1, the client should be able to send an update request that contains only CustomerSiteId and Address1 with everything else should be left blank.

However, the logic to do this work on the server side seems difficult if not impossible without some data from the client. WCF gets in the way. The object is created by the WCF service and every field exists in the object and none of the fields are marked as “updated” or not. If only one field is changed, the other fields are default values in the instantiated object. How can the server know which fields are updated?

Well, if the client is sending a change and the change is not a default value, then we can ignore updates for properties that use default values. However, what if we want to change to a default value? What if, for example, the default value of Address2 is null. What if you want to change the database value back to null?

What if I want to update all the address fields but leave the CustomerId the same?

  1. Write a separate WCF method every time there is a field that might be updated by itself.

    Yeah, this is a nightmare. It isn’t really a solution.

  2. Write a method that any WCF service can call that takes in an Entity Type, an Id and a list of property names and their corresponding values.

    While this would work, it breaks the idea of using the Poco object. The ability to use a simple entity object is nice. Breaking away from the Entity object to a generic object like this seems the wrong thing to do. It would work, though. It would need client code to convert entities to this new object type that has an Id and a property value dictionary. Also, now the code is not clear. Instead of calling UpdateCustomer(customer), I would call UpdateEntity(myObject), which just isn’t as clear or as readable.

  3. Have a single generic method on the server that any WCF service method could call. The method would loop through the entity object and if a property’s value is default or null, that value isn’t updated.

    I like this because the logic is on the server. I can have UpdateCustomer and UpdateCustomerSite and each can call this method easily. The one problem, what if I want to set the value to null? This wouldn’t work.

  4. Have my WCF methods on the WCF server that takes in an IEnumerable of changed property names, then have generic code to loop through the Entity and mark the appropriate properties as “Changed”.

    I like this too, but if I only change one property to an actual value, I would really like to avoid creating the IEnumerable.

  5. Have both methods 3 and 4 above.

    This is what I am going with.

I created this class to help me with this.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.ComponentModel.DataAnnotations.Schema;
using System.Data.Entity.Infrastructure;
using System.Linq;
using System.Reflection;

namespace Rhyous.Db.Common
{
    public class EntityUpdater<T> where T : class
    {
        /// <summary>
        /// Updates the value of all properties with a value other than null or the default value for the class type. 
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="entity">The entity to update</param>
        /// <param name="entry">A DbEntityEntry<T> entry object to mark which propeties are modified.</param>
        public void Update(T entity, DbEntityEntry<T> entry)
        {
            var props = from propertyInfo in entity.GetType().GetProperties(BindingFlags.Public | BindingFlags.Instance).Where(pi => !Attribute.IsDefined(pi, typeof(NotMappedAttribute)))
                        let val = propertyInfo.GetValue(entity, null)
                        where !IsNullOrDefault(val) && !IsCollection(val)
                        select propertyInfo;
            foreach (var pi in props)
            {
                entry.Property(pi.Name).IsModified = true;
            }
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Updates the value of any property in the updatedPropertyNames list. 
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="entity">The entity to update</param>
        /// <param name="updatedPropertyNames">The list of properties to update.</param>
        /// <param name="entry">A DbEntityEntry<T> entry object to mark which propeties are modified.</param>
        public void Update(T entity, IEnumerable<string> updatedPropertyNames, DbEntityEntry<T> entry)
        {
            var propInfoCollection = entity.GetType().GetProperties(BindingFlags.Public | BindingFlags.Instance);
            foreach (var pi in from pi in propInfoCollection
                               from updatedPropertyName in updatedPropertyNames
                               where pi.Name.Equals(updatedPropertyName, StringComparison.CurrentCultureIgnoreCase)
                               select pi)
            {
                entry.Property(pi.Name).IsModified = true;
            }
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Checks if any object is null or the default value for the class type. 
        /// </summary>
        /// <typeparam name="TT">The object class</typeparam>
        /// <param name="argument">The object to test for null or default.</param>
        /// <returns></returns>
        public static bool IsNullOrDefault<TT>(TT argument)
        {
            // deal with normal scenarios
            if (argument == null) return true;
            if (Equals(argument, default(TT))) return true;

            // deal with non-null nullables
            Type methodType = typeof(TT);
            if (Nullable.GetUnderlyingType(methodType) != null) return false;

            // deal with boxed value types
            Type argumentType = argument.GetType();
            if (argumentType.IsValueType && argumentType != methodType)
            {
                object obj = Activator.CreateInstance(argument.GetType());
                return obj.Equals(argument);
            }

            return false;
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Check if an object is a collection. This is to use to ignore complex types.
        /// </summary>
        /// <typeparam name="TT">The object class</typeparam>
        /// <param name="obj">The object to test.</param>
        /// <returns></returns>
        public static bool IsCollection<TT>(TT obj)
        {
            return obj.GetType().GetInterfaces().Any(x => x.IsGenericType && x.GetGenericTypeDefinition() == typeof(ICollection<>));
        }
    }
}

Now, I can use this class in my separate WCF services as follows.

        /// <summary>
        /// Updates the value of all properties with a value other than null or the default value for the type.
        /// Any property that is not set to a value other than null or default is ignored.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="customerSite">The customerSite entity to update</param>
        public int UpdateSiteSimple(CustomerSite customerSite)
        {
            UpdateSite(customerSite, null);
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Updates the value of any property in the customerSite contained in the updatedPropertyNames list. 
        /// The values of any properties not in the updatedPropertyNames list are ignored.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="customerSite">The customerSite entity to update</param>
        /// <param name="updatedPropertyNames">The list of properties to update.</param>
        public int UpdateSite(CustomerSite customerSite, IEnumerable<string> updatedPropertyNames)
        {
            if (customerSite == null) { throw new Exception("The customerSite cannot be null"); }

            using (var db = new MyDbContext())
            {
                db.CustomerSites.Attach(customerSite);
                var entry = db.Entry(customerSite);
                var updater = new EntityUpdater<CustomerSite>();
                if (updatedPropertyNames == null || !updatedPropertyNames.Any())
                    updater.Update(customerSite, entry);
                else
                    updater.Update(customerSite, updatedPropertyNames, entry);
                db.SaveChanges();
            }
            return customerSite.CustomerSiteId;
        }

If you like this code and find it useful please comment.

Currently, it ignores complex types and won’t update them. I could see attempting to update complex properties in the future.

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