MVVM Navigation with Xamarin.Forms Shell – Part II

Following my previous post on Mvvm Navigation with Xmarin.Forms Shell there were a few things that I felt I hadn’t addressed adequately.

Loading Data on Appearing

The first thing is how to load data when navigating to a page, and perhaps to do something when the user navigates away from the page. Since it’s the responsibility of the viewmodel to provide the data (i.e. via data binding), we have to invoke a method on the corresponding viewmodel when arriving at a page. In Xamarin.Forms the navigation to/from a page invokes the OnAppearing and OnDisappearing methods, which we can use to request that the viewmodel loads data.

The simplest approach is that for each page that needs to load data, the developer can override the OnAppearing method and simply call a method, for example LoadData, on the corresponding viewmodel. Since most pages are likely to have to load some data, this will quickly become a bit of a drag and something we can easily optimise. We’ll introduce an interface, INavigationViewModel, that when implemented by a viewmodel will define methods OnAppearing and OnLeaving. Then in our BasePage (which we introduced in the previous post) we simply need to check to see whether a viewmodel implements the interface before invoking the appropriate method.

public class BasePage : ContentPage
{
    protected override void OnAppearing()
    {
        base.OnAppearing();

        var vm = this.BindingContext as BaseViewModel;
        if (vm!=null && AppShell.Maps.TryGetValue(vm.GetType(), out var maps))
        {
            foreach (var map in maps)
            {
                map.Wire(vm);
            }
        }

        (vm as INavigationViewModel)?.OnAppearing();
    }

    protected override void OnDisappearing()
    {
        base.OnDisappearing();

        var vm = this.BindingContext as BaseViewModel;
        if (vm!=null && AppShell.Maps.TryGetValue(vm.GetType(), out var maps))
        {
            foreach (var map in maps)
            {
                map.Unwire(vm);
            }
        }

        (vm as INavigationViewModel)?.OnLeaving();
    }
}

Note: If you’re going to be adapting some of this code for your project, you might want to consider making OnAppearing/OnLeaving return a Task that can be awaited.

Passing Parameter

The next point that we need to cover is how to pass a parameter from one page to the next. In our example, we have a list of items and when the user taps on an item the app navigates to the ItemDetailPage to view the details of the item. This requires some information about the selected item to be passed to the ItemDetailPage.

I’ve seen all sorts of mechanisms for passing data between pages across various application platforms. Some platforms only allow a simple query string to be passed as part of navigating between pages, whilst others allow you to pass entire objects. In the case of Xamarin.Forms the default navigation pattern doesn’t provide for a mechanism to pass data. However, because you create the instance of the new page before navigating to it, there’s a perfect opportunity to pass data from the existing page to the new page.

The following code is adapted from the code in the previous post to illustrate wiring up navigation to the ItemDetailPage based on the SelectedItemChanged event on the ItemsViewModel. Note that the selected item, passed into the event handler as the variable args, is set on the Item property of the ItemDetailViewModel.

// When the SelectedItemChanged event is raised on the ItemsViewModel
// navigate to the ItemDetailPage, passing in a new ItemDetailViewModel
// with the selected item
Maps.For<ItemsViewModel>()
    .Do(new EventHandler<Item>(async (s, args) =>
    {
        if (args == null)
        {
            return;
        }
        var page = new ItemDetailPage();
        if (page.BindingContext is ItemDetailViewModel vm)
        {
            vm.Item = args;
        }
        await Navigation.PushAsync(page);
    }))
    .When((vm, a) => vm.SelectedItemChanged += a, (vm, a) => vm.SelectedItemChanged -= a);

Note: Setting a property on the viewmodel will occur before the OnAppearing method is invoked (see previous discussion regarding loading data) which means the viewmodel can make use of whatever data you pass in when loading data. In this case we could have simply passed in the Id of the item we want to display and have the viewmodel load the rest of the data related to that item.

Returning a Parameter

One thing I’ve seen in a number of MVVM frameworks is the ability to navigate to a new page with the expectation that the page will return data at some point in the future. Whilst there are cases where this is convenient (eg prompting the user for some data) this pattern introduces a very heavy dependency between the lifecycle of two pages and their corresponding viewmodels.

An alternative is to assume that each page/viewmodel is independent and that when you arrive at a page any data that is displayed on the page should be refreshed. Of course, if you’ve got a long list of items that the user has scrolled mid-way down and you reload the list, it’s going to return to the top of the list, making the user experience quite nasty. Furthermore, if the list of items is coming from a service, you don’t want to be reloading that data every time the user goes back and forth to a details page.

Most of the above issues can be handled with appropriate caching of data in a service or manager class. If the user navigates to an item, makes changes and saves that item, the cached data in the service would be updated (along with any call required to any backend services). When the user returns to the list of items, the service would simply return the latest cached data. This addresses the latency issue of having to fetch data from a backend service but how do we address the scroll position issue?

One way is to only update the items in the list that have changed (ie catering for add, edit, delete of items). However, having to write this code for every page is again tiresome. In the past, I investigated a possible workaround for this issue when I discussed immutable data – check out posts I, II and III on working with immutable data

Summary

Again, the disclaimer here is that this isn’t a library that you can just drop in and use in your application. However, feel free to take/leave what code you find useful.

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