Nick's .NET Travels

Continually looking for the yellow brick road so I can catch me a wizard....

Field Engineer Sample for Azure Mobile Services

Over on the Windows dev center there is a code sample, Field Engineer, which covers a good portion of the application scenario I painted in my previous post. I won’t be delving into the sample in too much detail but I did want to do a quick review of the solution structure so that you get an idea of what’s there and what I’ll be adding to my scenario that extends this sample.


The sample solution in made up of four projects and only offers a Windows application frontend (in contrast to my scenario where we want to support both native apps and a web frontend). The mobile services are in the Services project which has an accompanying Test project. The interesting thing about the test project is that it does raw httpclient calls to validate that the services work as expected, instead of using the Azure mobile service client wrapper classes. Lastly there is a Setup project which is simply a command line utility that is designed to assist in the setup of the Azure components required in order to run this sample.

I’d highly recommend downloading this sample, setup and run it (follow all the instructions otherwise it’s not likely to work), before we move onto exploring my scenario in the coming posts.

Mobile First, Cloud First and How it Applies to Line of Business Software

I’m going to start the year by dissecting a typical business scenario which will demonstrate how the use of Windows, Windows Phone and Azure can be plugged together to quickly deliver a line of business solution. Throw in a bit of Xamarin and a web front end and you have a solution that will enable employees to use any device they choose in order to access the software.

The first thing to cover is the scenario, which in this case is going to be a property inspection tool that could be used by a property manager to do periodic property inspections required under most rental agreements. At first glance this appears to be a tool that is specific for the real estate industry but as we’ll see there are a number of components that make it similar to any task, defect or issue tracking system:

- Property managers will have a number of properties assigned to them to manage
- Properties will have a history of inspections which may include images and/or videos
- Property information, and perhaps most recent inspection, needs to be available offline (just in case there is no internet inside a property being inspected)

- Inspections need to be able to be created, edited and submitted from a mobile device

This will probably do for the time being; as we go we may introduce other elements to demonstrate the use of various platform components. What’s interesting to note at this point is that properties can be switched out for projects, and inspections for tasks, if this scenario were a task/issue/defect tracking system.

At a high level let’s discuss the major components:

- Mobile devices – Naturally as .NET developers we gravitate to what’s easiest so we’ll include Windows and Windows Phone applications based on the universal app template which uses a shared code project to prompt reuse. However, we shouldn’t neglect the other platforms so we should include iOS and Android projects, using the Xamarin tooling. Our business logic we’ll abstract into a portable class library (PCL) to attempt to give us maximum reuse.

- Services – Azure Mobile Services will give us the raw scaffolding to stand up a SQL Server backend with services exposed to surface data to our mobile applications. These services support synchronisation which we’ll use to give the mobile applications offline support.

- Blobs – Azure Blob Storage will be used to store the images and videos collected as part of the solution. Whilst the service tier will be used to control access to Blog Storage (by issuing Shard Access Signatures) the upload will be done from the mobile applications directly into blob storage

- Authentication – As this is a line of business solution we’d prefer users to not have to remember another set of credentials. To this end the solution will use Azure Active Directory (AAD) to authenticate users and grant them access to the software. The users can be synchronised from the corporate AD into AAD so as to maintain a single set of credentials for any user.

- Web application – An Azure Website will be used to provide desktop and mobile solution for those unable to use the mobile applications. Whilst this could go directly to the SQL Server backend, it will in fact be routed via the service tier to ensure a common authentication pattern and usage model for the data.

- Scheduling – A scheduler will be setup in Azure for use by the solution in order to schedule particular jobs or operations to be carried out. For example the periodic generation and sending of reports.

- Push Notifications – When new data is available, push notifications can be sent out to the mobile applications to either alert the appropriate user, or perform a background synchronisation of the new data.

I’ll use this post as a reference for the components that I’ll be discussing in the coming posts. The components aren’t in any particular order and the posts won’t focus on individual components, rather how they connect together and what you need to know to get them to work together.

“Ello” who built this rubbish

So after requesting an invite so long ago that I’d forgotten I had a passing interest in the site, I final received in invite via an email from someone called Todd, who I can only assume is related to the site somehow. Anyhow, after signing up on my mobile I wasted a couple of minutes attempting to browse the site and work out how to do simple things like post. In the end I figured I must be missing something, or that perhaps the site wasn’t rendering properly on my Windows Phone. That was a day or so ago; today I remembered that I was supposed to go back and take a look on my laptop. In doing this, again I was woefully disappointed. So much so that I went out looking to see what others had said about the site. The good news is that I’m not alone – for example a post by the Lion of the Blogosphere ( sums it up nicely:

But now let’s get to the part about Ello that sucks. The website is a confusing buggy piece of crap. It took me an hour to figure out how to post a photo and two paragraphs of text under it.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. What a complete waste of my time. The site might look ok but the UX is dreadful – there’s no clear call to action; nowhere to start on the page; no obvious way for someone new to get started.

Anyhow, I think I’ve hated enough on this site – needless to say I won’t be going back in a hurry.

Visual Studio GenerateResource Error Building on Windows 10

A couple of weeks ago when I installed Windows 10 on my primary machine I ran into an issue where Windows Phone/Windows/Universal applications stopped building due to a rather cryptic error relating to trusted network resources…. which was bizarre since the projects were all local on my machine. This is the same error reported on the Windows Dev Center -

The good news is that there’s a relatively simple fix as indicated in the error message ”please enable the loadFromRemoteSources switch". Of course this shouldn’t need to be applied but that’s the danger of running on the edge with a pre-release product. What’s not obvious is where the switch should be applied – if you follow the link to MSDN it seems to indicate that the switch needs to be added to Devenv.exe.config, which does nothing to fix the issue. Turns out you need to add it to the MSBuild configuration file (eg C:\Program Files (x86)\MSBuild\12.0\Bin\ MSBuild.exe.config).

<?xml version ="1.0"?>
        <section name="msbuildToolsets" type="Microsoft.Build.BuildEngine.ToolsetConfigurationSection, Microsoft.Build.Engine, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b03f5f7f11d50a3a" />
    <startup useLegacyV2RuntimeActivationPolicy="true">
        <supportedRuntime version="v4.0" sku=".NETFramework,Version=v4.5.1"/>
    <loadFromRemoteSources enabled="true"/>

Demo rule #1 practice again and again and again, particularly the night before….

Tomorrow is round 2 of TechEd Australia and after my demos all seemed to go well in Melbourne I figured I was all set. However as I usually do I wanted to double check that everything was going to work (particularly since I’m running the Windows 10 preview build). Anyhow, it’s a good thing I did because the wonderful Azure team have changed the syntax of one of the manifest files I have to manually edit mid-way through my first session. The step I walk through is actually taken from a post over on Azure Mobile Services site ( and includes this change:


Well, no more – if you try to do this you’ll find that the appPermissions node doesn’t exist in the manifest file. Luckily I have a working mobile service with this change already applied, so I figured if I download the manifest file I should be able to see what’s changed. It turns out that the syntax has changed and that instead of replacing the appPermissions node, you now have to replace the oauth2Permissions node ie change:

"oauth2Permissions": [],


"oauth2Permissions": [
      "adminConsentDescription": "Allow the application access to the mobile service",
      "adminConsentDisplayName": "Have full access to the mobile service",
      "id": "b69ee3c9-c40d-4f2a-ac80-961cd1534e40",
      "isEnabled": true,
      "origin": "Application",
      "type": "User",
      "userConsentDescription": "Allow the application full access to the mobile service on your behalf",
      "userConsentDisplayName": "Have full access to the mobile service",
      "value": "user_impersonation"

The upshot of this is that had I just assumed that my demos would all just work tomorrow I would have been fighting this fire on stage (argh). Moral of the story is practice, practice and practice some more – you never know when the demo gods will strike, and it’s best to be prepared when they do.

TechEd Australia – Sydney and Melbourne 2014


This year I’m delivering two sessions in both Melbourne (7-8th October) and Sydney (27-28th October):

Using Visual Studio and Blend to build Beautiful Universal Applications (WPD307)
The new Universal Application project promises to reduce the amount of code you need to write, but does it reduce the amount of design work you have to do? In this demo-heavy session, XAML guru Nick Randolph explores the tooling available in Blend and the patterns you’d use to produce stunning Universal Applications with a minimum amount of work.

Building and Migrating Modern Enterprise Line of Business Applications (WPD304)
Mostly, when we build enterprise applications, we’re not starting from scratch. Deciding what to build, what to reuse and what to keep is an important part of the enterprise software development decision process. In this session, Nick will explore the conditions and requirements that might lead you to decide which of these approaches to take. He’ll also demonstrate some techniques for taking an existing Line of Business application and lighting it up with a modern, touch-friendly UI.


If you’re attending in either session, come along and chat about the direction of the Windows platform and how to take advantage of it in your business.

Errors Installing and Running Windows Phone 8.1 Appx

Last week we ran into a couple of issues installing and running a Windows Phone 8.1 Appx application. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Application deploys and runs fine in the emulator
  • Application deploys and runs fine on some phones running Windows Phone 8.1 but refused to install on other phones. The error given by Visual Studio when attempting to install the application was a rather cryptic, and overly useless, error code
  • Application package could be successfully signed using the signing tool as part of the SDK
  • Signed application package refuses to install on some retail phones running Windows Phone 8.1

It turns out that we were referencing the Active Directory Authentication Library which in turn was making a native call that only showed up when we ran the WACK test. As we weren’t planning to deploy via the Windows Store we hadn’t run the WACK test recently and it was only by chance that I ran it to see if it threw up any errors. Fixing the errors and warnings not only addressed the installation issue it also highlighted some issues with the project structure (incorrect images sizes etc).

Recent Posts at Visual Studio Magazine

For those who don’t know, I contribute a monthly segment over at Visual Studio Magazine called the Mobile Corner. Here are a couple of the most recent articles – I’ve cc’d them here because I feel that particularly the Enterprise Distribution article is of great value to companies looking to deploy applications internally.

  • Enterprise Distribution of Windows Phone Applications
  • Windows Phone and Windows 8.x: Designing Once for Both with XAML
  • How To Use the Windows Phone 8.1 GridView and ListView Controls
  • Multiple Flyout Templates for ComboBox and Changing the Header

    Following my previous post Breaking apart the Windows Phone 8.1 ComboBox Style and Colors a reader asked me:
    - How to vary the flyout template so that each combobox could have a different appearance
    - Change the header on the flyout from the default “CHOOSE AN ITEM”

    The ComboBox uses the default style for the ListPickerFlyoutPresenter which means that in order to vary the template for each ComboBox you need to change the default style. Luckily you can do this in code. Take the following XAML which declares two Styles based on the same base style for the ListPickerFlyoutPresenter with the background color varying.
        BasedOn="{StaticResource CustomListPickerFlyoutPresenter}">
            Value="Purple" />
        BasedOn="{StaticResource CustomListPickerFlyoutPresenter}">
            Value="Green" />

    In order to switch between templates you just need to change the default template using the type as the key:

    private void PurpleClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e) {
        var purple = Application.Current.Resources["PurpleBackgroundListPickerFlyoutPresenter"];
        Application.Current.Resources[typeof (ListPickerFlyoutPresenter)] = purple;

    private void GreenClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e) {
        var green = Application.Current.Resources["GreenBackgroundListPickerFlyoutPresenter"];
        Application.Current.Resources[typeof(ListPickerFlyoutPresenter)] = green;

    The second part is a little harder to track down because it doesn’t appear that the text “CHOOSE AN ITEM” is set anywhere but it’s being set on the TitlePresenter TextBlock in the ListPickerFlyoutPresenter template. Often by removing named items in the default template you can raise an internal exception. Luckily in this case you can simply remove the TitlePresenter element and replace it with a similar TextBlock containing the header you want. Setting the TitlePresenter to Collapsed doesn’t work as it’s set to Visible by the ComboBox so you actually need to either remove the item or set the Opacity to 0.

    Breaking apart the Windows Phone 8.1 ComboBox Style and Colors

    Yesterday I had an interesting, if not a little frustrating, time pulling apart the default style of the Windows Phone 8.1 ComboBox. Before I start I’ve put together a series of images showing various states of the ComboBox:

    A – The default unfocused state of the ComboBox, showing the placeholder text
    B – The state when an item has been selected (focused and unfocused look the same)
    C – The pressed state, prior to items selection showing
    D – The expanded state when only a few items (5 or less) in the list using one of the default TextBlock styles (we’ll discuss this in a minute)
    E – The expanded state when only a few items (5 or less) in the list using a TextBlock without the Foreground color set (no selection)
    F – The expanded state when only a few items (5 or less) in the list using a TextBlock without the Foreground color set (item selected)
    G – The disabled (ie IsEnabled=false) state
    H – The expanded state when more than 5 items, which is same regardless of whether an item is selected or not (ie no selection shown)



    Don’t Use Any of the Built In TextBlock Styles!!!

    Before we jump into look at the ComboBox styles and colors in more detail, let me briefly discuss D in more detail. For this particular scenario the combobox has 3 items in it which means that the expanded view will show the items in situ (same behaviour as the ListPicker from Windows Phone 8/8.1 Silverlight). The ItemTemplate for the ComboBox looks like the following:

    <DataTemplate x:Key="ItemsItemTemplate">
        <TextBlock Text="{Binding Property1}" Style="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}" />

    On face value this looks great – we have a simple TextBlock which is data bound and we’re using one of the out of the box styles, BodyTextBlockStyle. Unfortunately this inherits from BaseTextBlockStyle which sets the Foreground based on the current theme, as the following XAML snippet illustrates.

    <Style x:Key="BaseTextBlockStyle" TargetType="TextBlock">
        <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="{ThemeResource PhoneForegroundBrush}"/>

    <Style x:Key="BodyTextBlockStyle" BasedOn="{StaticResource BaseTextBlockStyle}" TargetType="TextBlock">
        <Setter Property="LineHeight" Value="24"/>

    The issue with this is that the in situ expanded view relies on Foreground being inherited from the host control, which doesn’t happen if it is explicitly set on an element (such as this case where the Foreground is being explicitly set in the TextBlock Style). The work around is simple – don’t use the built in styles, start by taking a copy of them and working with those instead eg:

    <Style x:Key="NoForegroundBaseTextBlockStyle" TargetType="TextBlock">
        <Setter Property="FontFamily" Value="{ThemeResource PhoneFontFamilyNormal}"/>
        <Setter Property="FontSize" Value="{ThemeResource TextStyleLargeFontSize}"/>
        <Setter Property="TextTrimming" Value="Clip"/>
        <Setter Property="TextWrapping" Value="WrapWholeWords"/>
        <Setter Property="LineHeight" Value="21.5"/>
        <Setter Property="LineStackingStrategy" Value="BaselineToBaseline"/>
        <Setter Property="TextLineBounds" Value="Full"/>
        <Setter Property="OpticalMarginAlignment" Value="TrimSideBearings"/>
    <Style x:Key="NoForegroundTextBlockStyle" BasedOn="{StaticResource NoForegroundBaseTextBlockStyle}" TargetType="TextBlock">
        <Setter Property="LineHeight" Value="24" />

    When I use the NoForegroundTextBlockStyle instead of D, when I expand the ComboBox I see E (no item selected) or F (item selected) instead. Note how they pick up the foreground colour, including the accent colour for the selected item.


    Now for the Colors

    You’d have thought that adjusting the colors throughout the combobox would be relatively straight forward. Unfortunately this is not the case but let’s start with what we can adjust without tweaking the Template of the ComboBox. Selecting the ComboBox and looking at the Properties window (VS or Blend) I can adjust the Background, Foreground and BorderBrush, as shown in the following image where I’ve set each of these to a distinct color so that we can see where they appear in the ComboBox:


    The impact on the ComboBox is as follows (see image below):

    1 – In the unselected state, the Foreground color has no impact on the color of the placeholder text but the background and border colors can clearly be seen
    2 & 3 – In the selected and pressed states, again, the Foreground color has no impact
    4 – In the expanded state there are no color changes
    5 – In the selected state, when there are 5 or fewer items, the Foreground color is evident in the text
    6 – No change to the disabled state
    7 – The Foreground color is used to highlight the selected item


    Clearly the use of these three colors hasn’t been applied consistently through the ComboBox states so we’re going to have to dig deeper in order to tweak things. I’ll start by looking at the Template for the ComboBox by right-clicking on the ComboBox, selecting Edit Template, Edit a Copy.


    There are three components of the Template being the presenter for the header, a button and the border which will house the expanding list for when there are five or fewer items.


    The Button is what is displayed when there are 5 or more items. Selecting the Button we can see that both Background and BorderBrush are set but the Foreground is inherited. I’ll update this to be data bound using Template Binding to the Foreground button.


    We’ve sorted out the inconsistency in 1. This actually also sorted out the foreground color in 2 and 3. However, when the button is pressed, we still see the accent color coming through, which in most cases conflicts with the branding of our app. The question is what to replace it with…. this is an issue for another day; for now, let’s just change it to use a different static resource. Right-click on the button, select Edit Template, Edit a Copy, which will take a copy of the button template and put Blend into template editing mode. From the States window, select the Pressed state.


    In the Objects and Timeline we can see that the Background on the Border element has been set to the accent color. I’ll select the Border and from the Properties window select Convert to New Resource from the Background.


    I’ll name the new resource ComboBoxPressedBrush and set the color to Pink so it stands out.

    Solving 4 includes fixing a few things: Background, Border, Foreground and Selected Foreground. First things first, let’s change the white background to the background set on the ComboBox. Looking at the template it would appear that the background is already set using data binding through Template binding to the Background being set on the ComboBox. However, at least two of the States in the template are adjusting the background – in fact the error shown in Blend is the result of some developer not understanding how visual state groups work, or being too lazy to establish a working set of states. Anyhow, what we want to do in this case is actually to adjust both states to remove any changes to the background property.


    In this case we need to remove the Background property from the following states:

    CommonStates - Pressed
    CommonStates - Disabled
    CommonStates – Highlighted
    DropDownStates - Opened

    Expanding the ComboBox now shows the expanded view with the correct Background color. Now onto Foreground for both the unselected and selected items. The Foreground color of the selected item is actually set correctly – it makes sense for this to be the Foreground color set on the ComboBox. However, the unselected Foreground color is currently set to a theme color, ComboBoxHighlightedForegroundThemeBrush. To override this color you can simply define another brush resource with the same name eg:

    <SolidColorBrush x:Key="ComboBoxHighlightedForegroundThemeBrush" Color="#FF00F3FF"/>

    We do also want to address the conflicting visual states by removing the Foreground property from the DropDownStates – Opened. Also, remove the BorderBrush from the CommonStates – Highlighted state, which will fix the border on the expanded area. That solves number 4.

    5 requires no changes

    Addressing 6 requires two steps. The first is to overwrite some of the built in colors that control how the ComboBox appears when it is disabled. To do this we simply create new brush resources with the same name in our application. The following resources use the same Border, Background and Foreground that I set earlier on the ComboBox, except the Opacity is set to 40%

    <SolidColorBrush x:Key="ComboBoxDisabledBorderThemeBrush" Color="#9900FF00" />
    <SolidColorBrush x:Key="ComboBoxDisabledForegroundThemeBrush" Color="#990000FF" />
    <SolidColorBrush x:Key="ComboBoxDisabledBackgroundThemeBrush" Color="#99FF0000" />

    The other part is to adjust the Disabled state of the FlyoutButton. As I did earlier I needed to edit the Template for the Button and set the disabled BorderBrush, Background and Foreground to the corresponding ComboBoxDisabled brush.

    7 requires a bit more exploration of what happens when the ComboBox expands to full screen in order to see the list of items. When this happens a flyout is displayed using the ListPickerFlyoutPresenter. The template for this control can be found in C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Phone Kits\8.1\Include\abi\Xaml\Design\generic.xaml. Copying this template into the application resources means we can make changes, in this case to the Foreground and Background colors:

    <SolidColorBrush x:Key="ComboBoxFullScreenExpandedBackgroundThemeBrush" Color="DarkGray" />
    <SolidColorBrush x:Key="ComboBoxFullScreenExpandedForegroundThemeBrush" Color="Orange" />

    <Style TargetType="controls:ListPickerFlyoutPresenter">
        <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="{StaticResource ComboBoxFullScreenExpandedForegroundThemeBrush}" />
        <Setter Property="Background" Value="{StaticResource ComboBoxFullScreenExpandedBackgroundThemeBrush}" />

    The only thing this doesn’t affect is the header on the flyout page which still appears in white. To get this to use the Foreground value I just set I need to modify the FlyoutPickerTitleTextBlockStyle built in style (which is also in the generic.xaml file) by copy it into the application resources and altering the BasedOn value to use the NoForegroundBaseTextBlockStyle defined earlier.

    <Style x:Key="FlyoutPickerTitleTextBlockStyle" TargetType="TextBlock" BasedOn="{StaticResource NoForegroundBaseTextBlockStyle}">

    With these changes made we’ve got much better control over how the ComboBox displays text and how the border, background and foreground colors are applied.



    Hopefully in this post you’ve seen how you can jump in and alter colors throughout the ComboBox templates. There are a series of built in colors both in generic.xaml and themeresources.xaml (C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Phone Kits\8.1\Include\abi\Xaml\Design) which can be overwritten to do simple changes but sometimes you need to modify the underlying templates.

    When Lists aren’t Vertical or Horizontal – Going Diagonal with Windows ListView Control

    The designer for a project we’re currently working on just pitched an idea where there would be a list of items that were presented along a diagonal. Back in Silverlight this probably would have been accomplished using a PathListBox but of course that doesn’t exist in the Windows 8 world. So this got me thinking …. and actually I had to reach out to UX guru Shane Morris for some inspiration. Whilst I’m not using the viewbox suggestion he had, the solution was much easier than I initially thought and essential revolves around rotating the ListView one direction and the items in the list back the other way (so they’re still horizontal).

    My first pass was literally just that. A rotate transform of 27 degrees on the ListView and then a –27 degree rotate on the first item in the ItemTemplate:

                Rotation="27" />

                    Rotation="-27" />
            <!--     .... -->

    Unfortunately this didn’t work particularly well as it ended up with too many layout issues (see below image). There was incorrect header/footer spacing but more importantly the hover effect (ie the grey background) wasn’t being rotated.


    My next attempt involved still rotating the ListView but instead of rotating a child of the ItemTemplate I instead rotated the ListViewItemPresenter which is found by right-clicking on the ListView and selecting Edit Additional Templates, Edit Generated Item Container (ItemContainerStyle), Edit a Copy (first time only).


    <ListViewItemPresenter .... RenderTransformOrigin="0.5,0.5">
            <CompositeTransform Rotation="-27"/>

    Now we’re getting closer – the hover aligns with the item as they’re both being correctly rotated. I still had issues with the positioning on the screen to ensure items scroll all the way to the edge of the screen and that all of them can still be scrolled completely into view. Firstly, I had to adjust the position of the ListView so that after rotating the trailing corner is flush with the top and bottom of the screen.


    Doing this will prevent the first and last item being able to be scrolled into view. This can be fixed by adding a spacer into the header and footer template of the ListView.

    The last issue to overcome is that the scroll bar goes off the screen at the bottom.


    This can be fixed by tweaking the template of the scrollviewer, setting a bottom margin to lift the vertical scrollbar back onto the screen. To get to this template you have to edit the template of the ListView (not one of the additional templates), then edit the template of the ScrollViewer (which itself is part of the ListView template).

    The result is that we have items that are presented, and scroll, along a diagonal line.


    Windows Phone 8.1 APPX Code Signing Weird Error When Installing

    Over the last couple of days I’ve been trying to diagnose what we were doing wrong when code signing a Windows Phone 8.1 APPX file in preparation for enterprise distribution. The signing process completes successfully. However, when we go to install the application on either device or emulator we were seeing weird errors (see image below that quotes an exception code of 0x80073CF9).


    SOLVED: It turns out that there is an issue with the signing process but nothing related to what we were doing. It’s actually related to the version of the tools we’re using. Here’s a list of the toolsets that apparently work/don’t work:

    Visual Studio 2013 with Update 2 RC – WORKS
    Visual Studio 2013 with Update 2 RTM – DOESN’T WORK
    Visual Studio 2013 with Update 3 RC – WORKS

    So you either need to regress to the RC of Update 2, or go to the RC of Update 3.

    Side Note: If you see errors relating to a missing token, you’re probably attempting to install the package by calling AddPackageAsync from within an application that isn’t signed (ie a developer build pushed out using either the application deployment tool, or via Visual Studio). If you sign the application doing the installation and then install it, you should see the the call to AddPackageAsync will work for correctly signed XAP and APPX. This is a breaking change from Windows Phone 8.0 where this method worked regardless of whether the installer app was signed or not.

    Using Build it Beta to Test and Deploy your Windows Phone Applications

    Over the last year we’ve been working on Build it Beta to assist Windows Phone developers deploy and test their applications. To get started, follow the setup instructions for Build it Beta


    Here’s a bit more information on each step:

    Step 1: The Build it Beta application is available in both the Windows and Windows Phone Stores. In order to test an application on your Windows Phone device, the first step is to download the Build it Beta application from the store.

    Step 2: After downloading and installing Build it Beta you then need to run and sign into Build it Beta. You can choose between one of the supported social network providers (Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google) and use an existing or create a new set of credentials. You need to supply a valid email address so that we can identify your account. When you want to test and application you can simply send your application to upload @ from the email address you entered. We’ll send you a confirmation after the application is available for testing. After signing in, you should be prompted to return to the setup instructions. Alternatively press and hold the back button and switch back to Internet Explorer where you should still have the setup instructions.

    Step 3: Install the Built to Roam enterprise deployment certificate. This certificate is required in order to install applications you want to test. Rather than deploying applications via the Windows Phone store, where they’re signed with a pre-trusted certificate, in Build it Beta all applications are currently signed using the Built to Roam enterprise deployment certificate. Installing this certificate won’t affect your ability to install applications from the Windows Phone store, nor does it affect any other enterprise enrolment you may have (eg via an MDM provider).

    Step 4: Install the Build it Beta Installer. Due to both technical and policy limitations on applications installed from the Windows Phone Store, Build it Beta relies on a secondary application to install the applications you want to test. Clicking the link in the setup instructions should prompt you to install this application. Unfortunately there isn’t a progress indicator or confirmation that it has been installed successfully – give this step a minute or two before moving on.

    Step 5: Launch the Build it Beta Installer. This will run the installer and pair it with the main Build it Beta application. Once you’ve completed this process you’re good to go – start sending your applications to Build it Beta to test them.


    Testing an application

    When you have an application that you want to test you can send it to Build it Beta a number of ways:

    Email – Simply email your xap or appx file to upload @ You’ll get a confirmation message back once the application has been ingested.

    Upload – If you have Build it Beta for Windows installed you can simply double-click your xap file. The application will be uploaded to Build it Beta.

    Attachment – Rename your xap file to .betaxap and email it to someone you want to test your application. Clicking the attachment will upload the application via Build it Beta for Windows Phone and make it available for the tester.

    The Danger of Setting CacheMode to BitmapCache on Windows 8

    This week has been full of interesting challenges as we worked to release another Windows 8 application for a client. Credit must go to the client who has set the expectation bar at an incredibly high level – I truly wish all clients had this level of respect for their brand, identity, apps, website etc. One of the challenges we came up against was with a very persistent image that refused to display correctly. By correctly I mean without any distortion, blurring, pixelation etc that happens when you incorrectly resize images. Now we only really saw this on the Surface 2 which runs at a scale factor of 140 and it was clearly evident that the image that was displayed was blurry. Following all the documentation and guidance we provided images at 100, 140 and 180 scale factors and validated that the correct image was being show by tagging each image to make them slightly unique. We also ensured that the image element was the correct size for the image and that Stretch was set to None (interesting side note – it appears that even if the element size matches the image size, if you leave Stretch to its default value of Uniform you end up with some visual distortion).

    Even after doing all of that we still ended up with an image that was slightly blurry – enough that you’d have thought the image had been blown up slightly. It turns out that we had set CacheMode=BitmapCache on a parent element to ensure that when we animated the elements they would animate together. Removing the CacheMode attribute resulted in the image appearing crystal clear.

    Ok, so here’s the original.



    Here’s an image where the left side is taken from an element with CacheMode=BitmapCache, the right side is from an element without this attribute – spot the difference (hint, look at the edge of the spiral towards the centre)



    Here’s an image where the top is taken from an element with CacheMode=BitmapCache, the bottom side is from an element without this attribute – again you should be able to see the difference.



    Call out to mobile developers out there – do you care this much about your apps? If not, then you need to re-evaluate your quality bar.

    Remove Tap/Mouse Down Animations on GridView and ListView for Windows 8.1

    <disclaimer> The reason that the GridView and ListView have built-in animations for when a user taps or mouse-downs on an item is to provide feedback that they have indeed tapped/mouse downed on an item. I highly discourage the removal of these built-in animations as it will detract from your user experience. That said, there are times where you may need to remove these animations. For example if you nest a ListView within an item of a GridView, then, depending on what you want tappable, you’ll need to remove the animations on either the GridView or ListView.</disclaimer>

    *If you’re building for Windows 8.0 then I suggest taking a look at some of the existing posts out there on how to remove storyboards from the ItemContainerStyle (eg

    A lot of the discussion on the web is on how to remove various transitions from elements in Windows 8/8.1. For example setting the Transitions property to an empty TransitionsCollection. However, after setting virtually every transitions property I could find, I was still seeing the tap animation. It turns out that one solution is much simpler than I’d thought, and can be useful if you want to get rid on all the built in GridView/ListView item effects. Be warned, this will remove all those built-in effects!

    Let’s walk through a simple example:

    - Create a new Windows application based on the Hub App template – this will give us a GridView to work with. You can also use the Grid App if you want.

    - Open the application in Blend (right-click the project and select “Open in Blend”)

    - Locate a GridView to modify – we’re going to use the GridView in Section 3 of the Hub

    - Right-click the GridView and select Edit Additional Templates –> Edit Generated Item Container (ItemContainerStyle) –> Edit a Copy


    - Switch to code mode (I prefer split mode) and delete (or comment out) the GridViewItemPresenter element.

    - Add an empty ContentPresenter element.

    <Style x:Key="GridViewItemStyle1" TargetType="GridViewItem">
        <Setter Property="FontFamily" Value="{ThemeResource ContentControlThemeFontFamily}"/>
        <Setter Property="FontSize" Value="{ThemeResource ControlContentThemeFontSize}"/>
        <Setter Property="Background" Value="Transparent"/>
        <Setter Property="TabNavigation" Value="Local"/>
        <Setter Property="IsHoldingEnabled" Value="True"/>
        <Setter Property="Margin" Value="0,0,2,2"/>
        <Setter Property="Template">
                <ControlTemplate TargetType="GridViewItem">
                    <ContentPresenter />

    - Run the application – you’ll notice that there is no tap animation on the GridView in section 3, yet it still responds to tap or mouse click on the item (just no visible feedback).

    Note: If you have a GridView or ListView that isn’t interactive you can always either disable it or set the IsHitTestVisible property to false.

    Taking Visual States Cross Platform to iOS and Android with Xamarin

    Last Friday at the Windows Phone 8.1 developer training, run by Microsoft, Nokia Microsoft and Built to Roam, we asked the room how many people used Blend and knew about Visual States. I was shattered to see very few people even knew what a Visual State was, let alone use them in their code. Visual States have to be one of the most useful aspects of the XAML system allowing you to define different states for not only your pages but also controls and user controls that you create.

    On Tuesday night before the Sydney Mobile .NET Developer Meetup I was talking with Lewis Benge about how developers on other platforms control aspects of their user interface. The consensus is that it’s very reactive in that as elements of their data model, or in the case of mvvmcross elements of the view model, change elements of the UI are adjusted. For example if you were displaying some form of a loading indicator whilst some data was being retrieved from a service, when the call was complete, the progress indicator would be hidden. In this simple case you might think that it’s just one line of code to show or hide the progress indicator but now repeat this two or three times and all of a sudden you have UI control code littered throughout your application logic. In the XAML world we’d simply define these as visual states and we’d move between those states as required. In fact, as you’ll see we can even represent these states within our view model so that the state, not the visual representation of the states, form part of our application logic (and can be isolated and tested independently as it can sit nicely within a PCL).

    Ok, now for a more concrete example:

    - File –> New Project –> Windows Phone application

    - Add New Project –> Android application

    (you can repeat for iOS if you want)

    - Add New Project – Portable Class Library

    - Manage NuGet –> Add Mvvmcross to all projects, and follow “ToDos” as required for each project

    >> At this point, you want to make sure that both your Windows Phone and Android applications build and can be run. They should both launch FirstView and contain a textbox and label with databinding working so that you can change the text in the textbox and it is updated in the label.

    Blending some Visual States

    We’re going to add a progress bar and a piece of text to say “Loading….” whilst data is being loaded.

    - Right-click the Windows Phone project and select Open in Blend

    - Add a progress bar and texblock to the contentpanel element to give you the following xaml – note that both elements are currently collapsed

    <Grid x:Name="ContentPanel"
        <ProgressBar x:Name="progressBar"
                        Visibility="Collapsed" />
        <TextBlock x:Name="textBlock"
                    Visibility="Collapsed" />

    - In the States tool windows, click the “Add state group” button in the icon bar. Call the state group “LoadingStates” (this name is somewhat irrelevant as it’s never used other than in Blend to allow you to differentiate if you have multiple state groups)

    - Click the “Add state” button twice to generate states “Loading” and “Loaded”

    - With the Loading state selected (there should be a red border around the main design surface indicating that you’re in state editing mode) set both textblock and progressbar to visible, and set the isindeterminate property to true. If you look at the xaml you should see the following states defined:

        <VisualStateGroup x:Name="LoadingStates">
            <VisualState x:Name="Loading">
                    <ObjectAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.Visibility)"
                        <DiscreteObjectKeyFrame KeyTime="0">
                    <ObjectAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetProperty="(ProgressBar.IsIndeterminate)"
                        <DiscreteObjectKeyFrame KeyTime="0">
                    <ObjectAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.Visibility)"
                        <DiscreteObjectKeyFrame KeyTime="0">
            <VisualState x:Name="Loaded" />

    - If you switch between the Loading and Loaded states in Blend you should see the elements show and hide as expected. Now we need to wire up some logic to switch between these states at runtime.

    - Return to Visual Studio and go to the code-behind file for the FirstView (Windows Phone project).

    - Add the following code to the OnNavigatedTo method:

    protected async override void OnNavigatedTo(NavigationEventArgs e)
        VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, "Loading", true);
        await Task.Delay(2000);
        VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, "Loaded", true);

    - Run the Windows Phone application and observe the application switching between the two states

    - Now we need to move this logic one step further away from the UI layer and have it contained within our ViewModel. We’ll also try to eliminate those pesky string literals. To do this we’ll define an enumeration in code so that we can refer to our VisualStates – the name of the enumeration doesn’t matter but the name of the enumeration values needs to match the names of the states defined in Blend

    public enum FirstStates

    - To move our state logic into the ViewModel we’ll need a way to trigger the actual state change in the UI layer (ie the view). For this we’ll expose an event on the ViewModel which will include the name of the state that we want the view to transition to. We’ll start by defining a StateEventsArgs class which we’ll use to wrap the name of the state. This class includes a couple of helper methods to make it easy to generate an instance from an enumeration value, and to return an enumeration value. You might ask why we’re converting to and from strings – we’ll come back to this!

    public class StateEventArgs : EventArgs
        public string StateName { get; private set; }

        public static StateEventArgs Create<TState>(TState state) where TState : struct
            return new StateEventArgs {StateName = state.ToString()};

        public TState AsState<TState>() where TState : struct
            TState state = default(TState);
            Enum.TryParse(StateName, true, out state);
            return state;

    - Update the FirstViewModel to raise a StateChanged event as follows:

    public void OnStateChanged(FirstStates state)
        if (StateChanged != null)
            StateChanged(this, StateEventArgs.Create(state));
    public override async void Start()
        await Task.Yield(); // Attach state changed event handler

        await Task.Delay(5000);
    public event EventHandler<StateEventArgs> StateChanged;

    - Now, in the code behind for our FirstView we can amend the OnNavigatedTo method to wire up a StateChanged event handler:

    protected async override void OnNavigatedTo(NavigationEventArgs e)
        (ViewModel as FirstViewModel).StateChanged += FirstView_StateChanged;

    void FirstView_StateChanged(object sender, StateEventArgs e)
        VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, e.StateName, true);

    - When you run this, there is a 5 second delay during the Start method in the FirstViewModel during which the Loading state should be visible. There after it should revert to the Loaded state.

    - Let’s flip across to our Android project and amend the FirstView to include the following xml.

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <LinearLayout xmlns:android=""
            local:MvxBind="Text Hello" />
            local:MvxBind="Text Hello" />
            android:text="@string/Hello" />
            android:id="@+id/progressBar1" />

    - Note that unlike in XAML for Windows Phone we can’t define the visual states in xml. Instead we define them as a set of Actions which will be invoked when transitioning to a particular state. In this case we’re setting the progress bar to indeterminate and changing the button color for Loading state. You’ll notice that unlike in XAML where we could rely on the state manager to revert state changes (ie Loaded state simply reverses any changes applied by the Loading state), here we have to be explicit about all changes we want to occur.

    private IDictionary<FirstStates, Action> states;
    protected override void OnCreate(Bundle bundle)

        var button = FindViewById<Button>(Resource.Id.MyButton);
        button.Click += (s,e) => ViewModel.Start();

        var progress = FindViewById<ProgressBar>(Resource.Id.progressBar1);

        states = new Dictionary<FirstStates, Action>()
            {FirstStates.Loading, () =>
                progress.Indeterminate = true;
                button.SetTextColor(new Color(0,255,0));
            {FirstStates.Loaded, () =>
                progress.Indeterminate = false;
                button.SetTextColor(new Color(255,0,0));

    - The final piece is to wire up an event handler to the StateChanged event, the same as we did for Windows Phone:

    protected override void OnViewModelSet()

        (ViewModel as FirstViewModel).StateChanged += FirstView_StateChanged;

    void FirstView_StateChanged(object sender, StateEventArgs e)
        var state = e.AsState<FirstStates>();
        var change = states[state];

    - When the StateChanged event is trigger, we find the appropriate Action by looking in the state Dictionary. The Action is then invoked to apply the appropriate visual changes.

    In this post I’ve walked you through the basics of how you can use visual states across both Android and Windows Phone, controlled from within your view models. This same model can be applied to iOS and of course the code for wiring up the state changed event can be abstracted into base view models and base views so you don’t need to add it to every page.

    Using Universal Share Projects for Windows Phone Silverlight 8.0 and 8.1 Upgrade Path

    Of course with the announcement of Windows Phone 8.1 XAML applications (ie applications for WP8.1 written in Windows XAML) and support for Universal applications, not everyone is going to immediately rebuild their Windows Phone application. Instead, existing developers need a mechanism to upgrade to the new runtime to leverage the new features without having to redeveloper all their pages. This is where Silverlight 8.1 applications come in.

    There is only minimal support within Visual Studio to support developers upgrading to Silverlight 8.1, allowing them to “Retarget to Windows Phone 8.1”.


    Retargeting works well and typically your application will continue to run. However, in most cases you’ll want to maintain both a Silverlight 8.0 and 8.1 versions of your application. An alternative is to create a copy of your Silverlight 8.0 application and upgrade that – now you have two versions of your application that you have to support. Luckily this is an area where the new Shared project support, added to enable universal applications across Windows Phone and Windows, can be used to maintain code that is used by both a Silverlight 8.0 and 8.1 application (sort of Linked files on steroids).


    - Install the Shared Project Reference Manager ( – this makes creating Shared Projects much easier

    - Create a new Shared Project eg MyApplication.Shared

    - Unload you Windows Phone project

    - Edit your Windows Phone project file

    - Add a Shared Project Reference via the right-click shortcut menu on your Windows Phone project (Note: for some reason adding a shared project reference isn’t supported for Windows Phone projects, so we need to do it the manual way)

    - Add Import to end of project file which references the shared project file eg

    <Import Project="..\MyApplication.Shared\MyApplication.Shared.projitems" Label="Shared" />

    - Reload your Windows Phone project – you should see a reference to your Shared project under References node


    - Move as many files as possible from your Windows Phone project into the Shared project

    - Note that you may experience some of these issues:

    > AppResources.resx doesn’t move easily. You’ll need to make sure that both the resx and the designer.cs file are moved and that the Build Action is correct (resx file should have a Build Action of Embedded Resource and a Custom Tool of PublicResXFileCodeGenerator). You also need to remove the “.Resources” from the name of the resource being loaded and the namespace.

    > You need to keep any images referenced in the WMAppManifest.xml file in the Windows Phone project. This is ApplicationIcon.png and FlipCyleTileMedium.png by default

    > You still need an App.xaml file in your Windows Phone project

    - Check that your Windows Phone application builds and runs (fix any build errors!)

    - In Windows Explorer take a copy of your Windows Phone application and rename the folder and project files eg MyApplication.SL81

    - Add the copied project into the same solution

    - Right click on the project you just added and select “Retarget to Windows Phone 8.1”. Your solution structure should now look similar to the following


    - Build and run your new Windows Phone 8.1 application

    The upshot after all this is that you have a Shared project where you can store shared files across your Windows Phone Silverlight 8.0 and 8.1 applications.

    Sqlite for Universal Windows and Windows Phone applications

    I hadn’t tested using Sqlite with the new universal projects introduced with Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 (which includes the Windows Phone 8.1 SDK). Luckily there is already quite a bit of info out there on the bits you need to get this to work.

    1. Firstly, you need a copy of the Sqlite Extensions library updated for WP8.1. At this point this hasn’t been officially release but Tim Heuer has posted a link to his “works on my computer” version of the library. His post is Using SQL/library references in Universal Windows Apps and includes a link to the extensions library
    2. The next thing to do is to create yourself a Universal project
    3. Add a reference to the sqlite extensions library to each of the head projects (ie the Windows and Windows Phone projects, not the shared project).
    4. Next, add a nuget reference to sqlite-net (use the package with that id)
    5. In the previous step you’d see sqlite.cs and sqliteasync.cs being added to both head projects. You can copy these files into the shared project and delete them from both head projects
    6. Lastly, add some sqlite code to your shared project which can then be used by both your Windows and Windows Phone projects…. simply done!

    Here’s a sample project where I followed these steps

    XAML and Databinding Debugging for Windows and Windows Phone

    A question that came up today during the //learn/ event was how to debug data binding in Windows and Windows Phone projects.Normally I start by checking out the Output window – in most cases any issue with data binding is usually a naming issue, which will result in a bindingexpression path error in the Output window as follows:

    Error: BindingExpression path error: 'test' property not found on 'App4.MainViewModel, App4, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=null'. BindingExpression: Path='test' DataItem='App4.MainViewModel, App4, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=null'; target element is 'Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.TextBlock' (Name='null'); target property is 'Text' (type 'String')

    I was reminded that Xmlspy is a great tool for diagnosing XAML issues, as well as data binding expressions. I downloaded the latest version and was surprised to see that there is full support for all types of Windows Phone 8.1 applications. The only issue I saw was getting it to attach to Windows Phone applications but this was due to my firewall getting in the way. Here’s how you can check and fix this issue:

    • Open the XAML Spy Explorer window (View menu–> Other Windows –> XAML Spy Explorer)
    • Click on the “cog” icon in the window toolbar
    • Find the “Enable remote debugging” option and set it to Yes. You’ll be prompted to permit elevated privileges (I assume to configure firewall).


    Now you should be good to debug your application on the emulator/device. The XAML Spy Explorer window will automatically populate with information about your application


    Note that you can debug much more than just XAML, including sensors, storage and package deployment information.