Don’t Judge XAML Based On Lines of Code

For those following the on-going discussion around the future of XAML and specifically the use of XAML in DotNetMaui/Xamarin.Forms, this post is a follow on from two great posts discussing the options that are, or will be, available for Xamarin.Forms developers as we move forward with DotNetMaui: Mobile Blazor Bindings – Getting Started + Why … Continue reading “Don’t Judge XAML Based On Lines of Code”

For those following the on-going discussion around the future of XAML and specifically the use of XAML in DotNetMaui/Xamarin.Forms, this post is a follow on from two great posts discussing the options that are, or will be, available for Xamarin.Forms developers as we move forward with DotNetMaui:

I’ve already discussed why I feel that DotNetMaui will extend Xamarin.Forms to be an inclusive platform for developers wanting to build cross platform applications. Recent additions to Xamarin.Forms, such as C# markup, coupled with the features outlined on the DotNetMaui roadmap, suggest that the path forward will be full of options for developers.

This bring me to the point of this post, which is to discuss XAML both in the context of DotNetMaui/Xamarin.Forms but also in the context of UWP/WinUI/Uno. To do this I’m going to re-visit the scenario discussed by Dylan and Vincent and look at some alternatives that might make XAML a bit more appealing

Xamarin.Forms Visual States

When I initial read through Dylan’s post and reviewed the XAML I was initially shocked at how hard it was to read and in fact it took me a while to realise why it looked so chaotic and hard to follow. It came down to a couple of things:

  • Changing XAML attribute values based on data triggers at various points in the XAML
  • The lack of Visual States
  • Using MultiTrigger to change attribute values based on multiple data values.

Just so that I’m clear, I’m not saying that the code was poorly written; I’m just observing why I found it hard to read. Let me present an alternative XAML for the page and discuss how it makes the code a little more readable.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<ContentPage
    xmlns="http://xamarin.com/schemas/2014/forms"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2009/xaml"
    xmlns:local="clr-namespace:XamlFlags"
    x:Class="XamlFlags.MainPage"
    x:Name="Page">
    <ContentPage.BindingContext>
        <local:MainPageViewModel />
    </ContentPage.BindingContext>
    <StackLayout
        BindableLayout.ItemsSource="{Binding Options}">
        <BindableLayout.ItemTemplate>
            <DataTemplate>
                <Frame
                    CornerRadius="4"
                    Padding="0">
                    <StackLayout
                        Orientation="Horizontal"
                        Padding="5"
                        BackgroundColor="White">
        <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
            <VisualStateGroup>
                <VisualState
                    x:Name="IsEnabledAndSelected">
                    <VisualState.StateTriggers>
                        <StateTrigger
                            IsActive="{Binding Selected}" />
                    </VisualState.StateTriggers>
                    <VisualState.Setters>
                        <Setter
                            Property="BackgroundColor"
                            Value="DarkBlue" />
                        <Setter
                            Property="IsVisible"
                            Value="False"
                            TargetName="OptionsSelectedLabel" />
                        <Setter
                            Property="Label.TextColor"
                            Value="White"
                            TargetName="OptionsValueLabel" />
                    </VisualState.Setters>
                </VisualState>
                <VisualState
                    x:Name="IsNotEnabled">
                    <VisualState.StateTriggers>
                        <StateTrigger
                            IsActive="{Binding IsNotEnabled}" />
                    </VisualState.StateTriggers>
                    <VisualState.Setters>
                        <Setter
                            Property="IsEnabled"
                            Value="false" />
                        <Setter
                            Property="BackgroundColor"
                            Value="DarkGray" />
                        <Setter
                            Property="Label.TextColor"
                            Value="LightGray"
                            TargetName="OptionsValueLabel" />
                    </VisualState.Setters>
                </VisualState>
            </VisualStateGroup>
        </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
                        <Button
                            Text="Select"
                            Command="{Binding BindingContext.SelectTypeCommand, Source={x:Reference Page}}"
                            CommandParameter="{Binding .}" />
                        <Label
                            Text="✓"
                            TextColor="White"
                            x:Name="OptionsSelectedLabel"
                            FontSize="12"
                            HorizontalOptions="EndAndExpand"
                            VerticalOptions="Center"
                            IsVisible="false" />
                        <Label
                            Text="{Binding Value}"
                            TextColor="Black"
                            x:Name="OptionsValueLabel"
                            HorizontalOptions="EndAndExpand"
                            VerticalOptions="Center" />
                    </StackLayout>
                </Frame>
            </DataTemplate>
        </BindableLayout.ItemTemplate>
    </StackLayout>
</ContentPage>

On initial inspection you might be looking at this XAML wondering whether it’s improved the readability. However, if you collapse the VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups node in the editor, the code immediately looks much more readable, as shown in the following image.

We can clearly make out that the interface is made up of a stack of items with each row being made up off a Button and two Label elements. The default state is for the row to have a White background and for the ✓ Label to be hidden (IsVisible set to false).

Now, let’s look at the contents of the VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups. In this case it defines a single VisualStateGroup in which I’ve included two VisualState elements. If we consider each row it can be in one of three states:

  • Enabled and Not Selected – This is the default state where the item hasn’t been selected (IsEnabled = true, IsSelected = false).
  • Enabled and Selected – This is the state where the item has been selected by the user clicking the Select button (IsEnabled = true, IsSelected = true).
  • Is Not Enabled – When an item in the list is selected, other items may be set to disabled (IsEnabled = false, IsSelected = false).

Even though there are only two VisualStates defined in the XAML, there are in fact three visual states because there is the default state. Each of the VisualState uses a StateTrigger to determine whether the visual state is active or not. Rather than attempting to data bind to two different properties on the underlying data model, I’ve explicitly created single properties that reflect whether the state is active or not. The default state is both the initial state of each row, as well as the state that is returned to if neither of the defined VisualStates are active (ie the StateTrigger IsActive is set to true).

One of the benefits of using visual states is that you can set multiple properties, on one or more different elements, essentially grouping all the changes required for a particular visual states. This eliminates the need to have data triggers littered through the XAML used to define the layout for the page. In this scenario each of the VisualState elements has multiple Setters defining the background colour, the foreground (text) colour and in the case of the IsEnabledAndSelected state, the visibility of the ✓ Label.

As I pointed out earlier, for me, this makes the XAML easier to read. I know other developers prefer to have the data triggers local to where the attributes being changed are in the XAML. This approach has some advantages, particularly where you only have a small number of changes in a large XAML document.

Before we move on from discussing Xamarin.Forms I would point out that the VisualStateManager is a relatively new addition and specifically the ability to use TargetName to target different elements from a single VisualState. I would encourage revisiting your XAML to see whether using the VisualStateManager will simplify your code. Alternatively, you may want to consider breaking your code up into different controls that will help encapsulate things like visual states whilst reducing the complexity of the XAML on each page. We’ll talk more about using UserControls in the context of UWP shortly but the same concept can be used for Xamarin.Forms as well.

UWP / WindowsUI / Uno

The XAML used by the Universal Windows Platform (ie UWP) provides a couple of alternatives when it comes to defining the desired layout. In this section we’re going to consider three options: Optimised, UserControl and ContainerStyle (Code is available on GitHub)

Optimised for Lines of Code

In this approach the goal was simply to reduce the number of lines of code. I’m not going to spend much time on this because I fundamentally think measuring the quality of a technology based on the number of lines of code is just ridiculous. The following image shows the resulting 41 lines of XAML – of course this is also contingent on my Visual Studio settings where the first attribute is on the same line as the element; other developers have different options set, so will see different numbers of lines.

I will comment on a couple of things:

  • Unlike the Xamarin.Forms approach that uses a horizontal StackLayout, this XAML uses a Grid which clearly defines three columns. I prefer this approach as it clearly defines the sizing option for each column. Using a StackLayout with different HorizontalOptions isn’t as clear in my opinion.
  • This code uses x:Bind instead of the usual Binding syntax. This allows for code to be generated during compilation that enforces type checking and results in better performance as it reduces the reliance on reflection.
  • Rather than using converters this code uses static methods defined on the page to convert property values (in some cases multiple properties) into the required attribute value. In practice I would not recommend doing this as it embeds logic in your XAML layout

UserControl with Visual States

In the previous section we optimised the XAML by interleaving logic into our XAML layout. This is a practice that I actively try to avoid when defining the XAML for a page or control. I try to ensure the XAML I create is as declarative as possible, which means avoiding calling methods as part of binding expressions. I’d even go so far as to say that you should avoid using converters unless they are simple type converters (the most obvious one being for bool to Visibility conversion). I advocate for all logic to be encapsulated in either the ViewModel (if UI relate logic) or in the Model (if business logic), thus making it testable and ensuring a clean separation from the way that it’s presented (i.e. the View).

Let’s look at how we can keep our XAML clean of logic by following a similar approach to what we did earlier for Xamarin.Forms. What’s interesting about UWP is that if you attempt to follow the same strategy of defining visual states within the DataTemplate you’ll find that it doesn’t work. Instead you either need to define the visual states within a UserControl, or you have to apply the visual states in the ItemContainerStyle.

We’ll start with defining a UserControl which will include the layout for each item in the list, along with the different visual states. Rather than just show you the code, let’s jump into Blend and use the visual designer to build the desired layout. Rather than boring you with creating the project and adding things like the MainViewModel, I’m just going to focus on creating the UserControl.

From Solution Explorer, right-click on the project or a sub-folder and select Add, New Item.

From the Add New Item dialog, select User Control, give it a name (eg OptionItemControl) and click Add. This should give you a new design surface that we can start adding controls to.

Using the Assets tool window, double-click on the Button and then twice on the TextBlock. Alternatively you can drag these controls onto the design surface.

If you look at the XAML you’ll notice that Blend has added some default attributes to each of the controls that you added. Normally my recommendation would be to tidy up whatever XAML Blend creates, as you go, to ensure your XAML remains clean and does exactly what you want. If you’re not that familiar with XAML, reviewing the XAML that Blend generates is a great way to learn about features that you might not be aware of.

If we look at the design surface we can see that the three controls we added are incorrectly located on the design surface – we’re after a single row with three cells that should hold the “select” Button, a check mark TextBlock and the option value TextBlock.

Let’s go ahead and create the cells in the Grid by defining three columns. We can do this using the design by hovering the mouse near the top of the design surface. The cursor should change to include a small + sign and if you click with the mouse a new column break will be added. You can then use the designer to specify how the column widths are defined. In this case we want the first column to be Auto and the other two columns to be * (just *, so you may have remove any numeric value added by Blend eg 101* should be changed to just *)

Next we want to reposition the two TextBlock into the appropriate column. You can do this by simply dragging them using the mouse. As you drag and hover over each cell in the Grid you’ll see alignment and positioning lines appear in red.

After positioning the TextBlock into the correct column you will want to tidy up the XAML – Blend has an annoying habit of adding Margins and other layout attributes that are typically unnecessary. You can clean up these excess attributes by right-clicking the control and selecting Layout, Reset All.

The next thing to do is to replace the default Text value for the TextBlock from “TextBlock” to something more meaningful. Rather than having to locate the Text property in the properties tool window, you can simply double-click the TextBlock and type directly on the designer. You can do the same thing with the Button control to change the Content to “Select”.

According to the design we’re aiming to achieve we need to change the default (i.e. Enabled but not Selected) Background to White. Use the colour picker in the Properties tool window to do this. This of course will override the theming and thus break support for dark and light themes, but that’s a topic for another day.

Unfortunately setting the Background to White means we can no longer see the three controls, since their default text colour is currently also White. This can be fixed easily by selecting all three controls in the Objects and Timelines tool window.

From the Properties tool window, update the Foreground colour to Black.

You’ll also need to adjust the BorderBrush on the Button. After doing this the layout should be similar to the following.

And the XAML for this is quite tidy.

What’s missing are the visual states for when the option is selected and when it’s disabled. We’ll add two VisualStates to the UserControl via the States window. Normally I advocate for creating a third VisualState that represents the default state – this is so that in code you can use the VisualStateManager GoToState method to return to the default layout. However, we’re going to be using state triggers to transition between states, so a third VisualState is not required – when none of the state triggers are set to active, the UserControl will return to the default state.

By clicking on a VisualState in the States tool window we can put Blend into state editing mode. This is highlighted by both the red dot alongside the VisualState, as well as the red border around the design surface. Any changes you make whilst this highlighting is visible will be recorded against the corresponding VisualState.

I’m not going to go through setting all the properties for each VisualState but essentially we need to update the Background colour on the Grid, the Foreground colour on the TextBlock and Button, and the Visibility on the checkmark TextBlock. For the checkmark TextBlock, you’ll need to switch the default Visibility to Collapsed – we had it visible whilst designing the layout but it’s default state is actually to be hidden (i.e. Collapsed).

As part of defining the VisualStates you may have noticed that the controls in the Objects and Timeline tool window were all given default names like grid, button, textBlock and textBlock1. I would encourage you to give these more meaningful names by double-clicking on them in the Objects and Timeline tool window and typing a new name.

Currently we have completed the design of the UserControl, including the three different states it can be in. However, we haven’t wired it up to any data. If we were to use this UserControl as it is, it would simply show a list of “Option 1”. So that we can wire up some data, let’s add an instance of the OptionViewModel as a design time DataContext for the UserControl (note the use of the d: prefix to indicate design time only).

Select the TextBlock that should show the OptionViewModel Value property. Click on the small square to the right of the Text property in the Properties tool window and select Create Data Binding.

Since we’ve set up an instance of the OptionViewModel as a design time DataContext, Blend is able to offer suggestions for the Path attribute. Select the Value property and click Ok.

At this point you’ll be wondering why the TextBlock that you just setup data binding for as disappeared from the designer. Well, the good news is that the TextBlock is still there, it just has zero width because the Value property on the OptionViewModel is returning null. This is easily fixed by specifying the Value property on the OptionViewModel specified in the design time DataContext.

Ok, we’re almost there. We have our layout, our Visual States and our data. We still need to be able to trigger then changing of states. For this we’re going to use a state trigger. Click the “Edit Adaptive Triggers” button next to the VisualState.

From the Dropdown at the bottom of the screen select <Other Type…>

In our project we have a trigger called DualBooleanDataTrigger which will allow us to trigger a VisualState based on the value of two different bool properties.

Unfortunately this is about as far as the data trigger design experience can take us. Luckily the XAML for the DualBooleanDataTrigger isn’t that complex. As you can see from this image, we need to data bind the DataValue and SecondDataValue attributes to the IsEnabled and IsSelected properties on the OptionViewModel and then we need to specify the value for each of these properties that we want the VisualState to be active for. In this case we want both the IsEnabled and IsSelected properties to be True for this state to be active.

The last thing we need to do is to wire up the Button to a method that will set the OptionViewModel to be selected. For this, we’re going to use x:Bind so that we can bind directly to a method on the OptionViewModel. In order to do this, we need to expose the the OptionViewModel as a property on the UserControl.

In the MainPage (i.e. where we’re defining the ItemsControl) we need to include an instance of the OptionItemControl in the DataTemplate. In order for x:Bind to work we need to make sure we set the ViewModel to be the current DataContext of the DataTemplate (i.e. binding path of . which can be omitted in this scenario).

We then need to specify the Click attribute on the Button.

After completing this we’re done! But let’s take a look at what’s been generated. Well, the good news is that we’ve created the entire user experience without having to write much XAML at all. The bad news is that Blend does a terrible job of generating optimized XAML. Take for example the following snippet where you can see that each Setter is spread over 5 lines.

In contrast, when I tidy these up, each Setter takes only 2 lines and that’s only because I have Visual Studio and Blend set to put attributes on new lines.

As you can see from this walk through, you can use a separate UserControl to easily design the layout for the three states required in this design.

ListView ItemsContainerStyle

The third option I wanted to briefly discuss (because there’s plenty of room for an entire discussion on this topic) is to override the ItemsContainerStyle for a ListView in order to define the VisualStates for the items in the list. Let’s back up for a second and explain a few things.

The scenario that we’re addressing is a common enough scenario where items in a list are selected. In this case the individual item tracks whether it’s selected (and in fact whether it’s enabled). This approach is actually at odds with the way a number of controls work. Take for example the ListView or GridView which are used to represent a list, or grid, of selectable items. Theses controls have built in styles that represent how each ListViewItem will look in various states. These states include (not an exhaustive list) Selected, Pressed, Enabled and Disabled. Further more, these control separate the appearance of each item (specified using the ItemTemplate) from the behaviour when the user interacts with the items (specified in the ControlTemplate used to define the ListViewItem Template nested in the ItemsContainerStyle). Both the ItemTemplate and ItemsContainerStyle are editable using the visual designer, allowing you to customise the appearance of the item and how it changes when the item is selected or enabled/disabled.

For example in Blend we can right-click on a ListView and select Edit Additional Templates, Edit Generated Item Container (ItemContainerStyle) and then either Edit Current, Edit Copy or Create Empty. I would suggest starting by selecting Edit Copy, which will give you a default style that you can customise, rather than starting from scratch.

In the following image you can see how I’ve defined different VisualStates for the ListViewItem to control the appearance for the three states the item can be in. You can also see all the other states that are available by default on the ListViewItem.

At this point you might be asking why, since the ListViewItem already has a Selected and a Disabled state, don’t I just use these. Well, the issue we have is that the Background and Foreground properties have three different colours based on the combination of two different properties (IsEnabled and IsSelected). This means we need to define states that are in the same group that respond to changes in both these properties. This is not how the built in VisualStates are defined. The Selected and Disabled states are in different VisualStateGroups – if we were to use these to control the same properties, we’ll end up with random and chaotic changes in the appearance.

VisualStates in different VisualStateGroups should not control the same property.

This is an important rule and one that’s easily forgotten or broken. If you ever see unusual behaviour relating to visual states, make sure you check this rule.

I’m not going to delve further into how to use the ItemsContainerStyle in this post but feel free to check out the source code. You’ll notice that this is very verbose coming in at around 130 lines, and this is using a much simplified ItemsContainerStyle. Unfortunately due to the complexity of the built in styles, the ItemsContainerStyle is a large style, mainly because the Template for the ListViewItem is so large. Don’t let this put you off considering using this approach because it does mean that you can reuse the style across various lists that may have different content.

Summary

Wow, sorry this ended up being quite a long post but hopefully you’ll find it useful and get some insight on the various XAML based options available to you. Don’t forget that all the options presented for UWP are able to be taken cross platform using the Uno Platform.

In summary, yes, XAML is verbose but it does come with options. If you spend time maintaining your XAML you’ll find that it is easy to understand and you can leverage the designer support in Blend and Visual Studio along the way.

I don’t believe that looking at the number of lines of XAML (or C# code) is productive. What is useful is to look at the options that are available and the easy with which you can achieve the desired outcome.

Windows (UWP) Designer in Visual Studio and Blend for Visual Studio

If you’ve been looking at the release notes for the Visual Studio previews, you’ll have noted that there’s some work being done on the XAML designer that now supports both WPF and UWP. I figured I would take this opportunity to go through and document some of the features that I use and some of … Continue reading “Windows (UWP) Designer in Visual Studio and Blend for Visual Studio”

If you’ve been looking at the release notes for the Visual Studio previews, you’ll have noted that there’s some work being done on the XAML designer that now supports both WPF and UWP. I figured I would take this opportunity to go through and document some of the features that I use and some of the new features that have appeared in the previews. Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means – would love feedback on what other features you use and what you think is missing in the designer.

One of the reasons that the designer experience in Visual Studio and Blend is so relevant is that you can take the design you’ve done for your Windows app and port it across to iOS, Android, MacOS and even the web (using Web Assembly). All these platforms are available via the Uno platform – If you’re new to the Uno Platform, head over to https://platform.uno/ and get started with building cross-platform mobile, desktop and Web applications.

New Project

Ok, so let’s start by creating ourselves a new Windows (UWP) project based on the Blank App (Universal Windows) template.

As usual, give the project a name to get started – you’ll be prompted to pick which target and minimum versions of Windows you want but for the purpose of this post I just went with the defaults.

Visual Studio Designer

Once created, depending on your setup of Visual Studio, you’ll probably have the MainPage.xaml already open. If not, find MainPage.xaml in the Solution Explorer tool window and double-click it to open it. Here you can see that I have the Toolbox on the left of the design surface and the Properties window, above the Solution Explorer, on the right side. I find this layout works well for working with the designer but you can easily customise the layout of the tool windows to suit how you work.

Design in Blend

We’re actually going to switch across to Blend for Visual Studio for the rest of this post. I prefer to do any designer work in Blend because I prefer to have the tool windows in a different position when doing design work, than when writing code. Switching between Visual Studio and Blend also gives me a mental switch to go between designer mode (well at least “layout-oriented work” mode, since I’m clearly not a designer) and developer mode.

It’s worth noting that the designer experience in Visual Studio and Blend is very similar – Microsoft made the decision years ago to build a consistent experience with the majority of functionality now available in both tools. Blend still retains a number of designer oriented features, such as creating visual states and animations with storyboards, that haven’t been exposed in the Visual Studio designer.

You can easily switch to Blend by right-clicking on the project or a XAML file in Solution Explorer and selecting Design in Blend.

As you can see the tool windows are labeled slightly differently in Blend and have a different default position. Again, feel free to reposition them to suit how you work.

Zoom

If you look at the main design surface, you’ll note that the initial position of the MainPage is very small. Working at this zoom level will be quite hard as each of the elements will be small and hard to manipulate.

In the bottom left corner of the design surface there’s a series of icon buttons and a dropdown. Expanding the dropdown allows you to select from a number of predefined zoom levels.

Alternatively you can select Fit all, or Fit selection, in order to bring the whole page into view.

The other way that you can control the positioning of the design area is using the mouse:

  • Scroll up/down – Two-finger drag on touch pad, or scroll wheel on mouse
  • Scroll left/right – Hold Shift + Two-finger drag on touch pad, or scroll wheel on mouse
  • Zoom in/out – Hold Ctrl + Two-finger drag on touch pad, or scroll wheel on mouse

Adding Controls with Assets Tool Window

Let’s start to add some controls to the page. We’ll use the Assets tool window to locate the TextBlock control using the search function.

If I just click and drag the TextBlock onto the design surface, Blend will add the control where I drop it.

Objects and Timeline Tool Window

If we take a look at the XAML you’ll note that a very arbitrary margin has been set on the TextBlock

Layout – Reset All

Right-click on the TextBlock in the Objects and Timelines tool window and select Reset All from the Layout menu.

Now the TextBlock has been reposition to take up the whole page.

However because text flows from the top-left, the word TextBlock is in the top left corner of the page.

Edit Style – Apply Resource

Next, let’s increase the size of the text. Instead of manually setting FontSize, we’re going to make use of one of the existing TextBlock styles. Right-click on the TextBlock again in the Objects and Timeline window and select Edit Style, Apply Resource and then we’ll select HeaderTextBockStyle. You can read more about predefined styles and the use of typography here.

This gives our TextBlock a nice size, without hard coding font sizes and styles randomly throughout the application.

Design Surface

Up to now I haven’t given you much context for this app – we’re going to build a simple interface that shows a list of contacts. The TextBlock we’ve added so far will act as a header/title for the page, and then beneath it we’ll need a ListView showing the list of our contacts.

Drawing Grid Rows

Before we can add the ListView, let’s create two rows in the Grid that the TextBlock is sitting in. Select the Grid in the Objects and Timelines window and then on the design surface, if you move the mouse cursor near the edge of the page, you’ll see the cursor change to one that’s got a small plus sign on it. Clicking at this position will add a row to the Grid.

Once added, you can then adjust the sizing of the row. In this scenario we’re going to change the row from 33* to being Auto, which will mean the row will be sized based on the height of the TextBlock.

Reset Grid.RowSpan in Properties Tool Window

One thing you may notice is that after adjusting the row size, the row seems to disappear. This is because in creating the row, Blend decided that the TextBlock was going to span both rows. To fix this, we can change the RowSpan on the TextBlock from 2 to 1 using the Properties tool window.

In this case, we’re going to select the Reset option, rather than setting it explicitly to 1. This will mean one fewer attributes in XAML that needs to be parsed.

Assets Button

Next up, we’re going to add the ListView to the second row. This time, instead of going all the way to the Assets tool window, we’re going to use the dropdown from the chevrons on the top left of the designer. This allows us to easily search and add controls, without having to open the tool windows – when doing a lot of design work I will often hide the tool windows (or even detach them and put them on a different monitor), so not having to open the tool windows to find a control is quite handy.

Runtime Toolbar

After dragging the ListView onto the page and making sure it’s sitting in the second row, I’m going to run the application to see what it looks like. Note that despite me not doing anything, the color of the title bar has aligned with my Windows theme (and yes, it’s pink because I’m using the setting where the theme is derived off the background I have set, which in turn is changed daily using the Dynamic Theme app).

Hot Reload

You’ll also note at the top of the window there is a toolbar that’s been added whilst I’m debugging the application. This toolbar has been available for a while but the Hot Reload indicator is a new addition. Hot Reload allows you to make changes to your XAML and for it to immediately take effect on the page when you save the XAML file (Hot Reload can be configured via Options off the Tools menu).

Display Layout Adorners

I’m going to toggle the Display Layout Adorners button (immediately adjacent to the left of the Hot Reload green tick).

Select Element

Next I’m going to click on the Select Element button (second in from the left) and click on the open space immediately below the TextBlock. As you can see, this highlights the whole area in a light blue (the layout adorner) which is the ListView.

Go to Live Visual Tree

Next I can click on the Go to Live Visual Tree button (first from the left) which will switch back to Visual Studio with the focus being set on the appropriate node in the Live Visual Tree.

XAML Editor

You’ll also note that the corresponding code in the XAML editor has been selected. As I start to type in the XAML editor I get intellisense showing me what options I have.

I’ve gone ahead and set a simple data template for the ListView which will determine what’s displayed for each item in the list. In this case it’s just going to print the word “Hi” for each item.

XAML Highlighting

Note that as I move the cursor around the XAML editor, the matching pairs of XML tags are highlighted, making it easy to see start and end of the blocks of XAML.

DataContext for Data Binding

Currently, despite setting a data template, the ListView isn’t going to show any items because I haven’t connected it to any data. To allow me to continue to layout elements on the page I’ve created some mock, or fake, data.

public class FakeData
{
    public Contact[] Contacts { get; } = new[]
    {
        new Contact(){Name="Bob Jones",PhoneNumber="+1 442 002 3234", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p0.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Jessica Phelps",PhoneNumber="+1 394 234 1235", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p1.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Andrew Jenkins",PhoneNumber="+1 232 282 29321", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p2.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Francis Davis",PhoneNumber="+1 92329 2923 923", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p3.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Xavier Smith",PhoneNumber="+1 93483 3923423", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p4.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Kevin Chow",PhoneNumber="+1 343 994 39342", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p5.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Phil Stevenson",PhoneNumber="+1 885 367 44432", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p6.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Heath Sales",PhoneNumber="+1 903 912 9392", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p7.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Sarah Wright",PhoneNumber="+1 347 399 499234", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p8.jpg"},
        new Contact(){Name="Geoff Sans",PhoneNumber="+1 834 1232 01923", Photo="ms-appx:///Assets/Photos/p9.jpg"}
    };
}

I can go ahead and create an instance of the FakeData class as a Resource on the Page. This instance is then set as the DataContext for the root Grid element on the page (and subsequently the DataContext for all elements on the page).

The ItemsSource on the ListView is then data bound to the Contacts property on the FakeData instance. The running application updates immediately to show a list of “Hi” down the screen.

Hide the Runtime Toolbar

As we start to design the page, the toolbar at the top can often get in the way. If you click on the chevron on the right side of the toolbar, the first click will reduce the size of the Hot Reload indicator (removing the words Hot Reload). The second click will minimise the toolbar completely.

Let’s amend the data template for the list, this time data binding to the Name property.

The ListView is immediately looking better, showing the names of the people in the Contacts list.

Edit ListView Item Template

If your working in the designer there are a number of ways you can make changes to the data template for the list. In this example we’re using the dropdown at the top left corner of the design area. Clicking the down button, followed by Edit Additional Template, then Edit Current, then Edit Generated Items (ItemTemplate).

Objects and Timeline – Group Into

You’ll notice that the Objects and Timeline window updates to show the tree from the perspective of the data template. Right-clicking on the TextBlock I can select Group Into, followed by StackPanel, to wrap the TextBlock in a StackPanel.

TextBlock Button

Next, I can add a TextBlock to the newly created StackPanel but simply double-clicking the TextBlock button on the left of the design area.

XAML Suggested Actions

One of the newest additions to the designer is the XAML Suggested Actions. Anyone who’s worked in Word or Excel is familiar with the suggested actions toolbar that often appears to try to make more of the tools are accessible when you need them. in this case we can click on the lightbulb button to display an in-situ property editor.

In this case we’re going to click through to Create Data Binding.

Create Data Binding

From the Create Data Binding window we can traverse down to the PhoneNumber property on the Contact object.

Note that there’s a minor bug at this point because the data binding that’s created isn’t 100% accurate. Instead of data binding to the PhoneNumber property (eg {Binding PhontNumber}) the generated binding is with Contacts.PhoneNumber. Simply removing the “Contacts.” prefix is enough to get it to work.

Edit ColumnDefinitions

I’m going to follow a similar approach to before – select the StackPanel and group into a Grid. From the Properties tool window find the ColumnDefinitions.

Click the … to open the Collection Editor for the ColumnDefinitions. Here we’re going to limit the first column to 50 pixels and then leave the second column as *.

I’ve update the data template with the profile picture as an image. Simply add an Image control and follow the same process as before to setup data binding to the Photo property on the Contact.

WinUI – ProfilePicture Control

To improve the layout of the contacts I’m going to use the ProfilePicture control, which will ensure all the images are the same size.. Instead of using the built in control, I’m going to grab the ProfilePicture control from the WinUI toolkit. Using the nuget package manager, select the Microsoft.UI.Xaml package and install it.

Once you’ve added the nuget package, make sure you don’t ignore the readme file that’s displayed to remind you to include the appropriate runtime values.

We’re almost there, we just need to add the PersonProfile, which we can do by discovering it in the Assets window (even though its from a third party)

And so now we have all our contacts appearing.

Final Design

After applying some minor tweaks to the layout of the data set, we can have a nicer looking sample app.

Before I copied the final code to this post, I just wanted to format the XAML. From the Options window, you can configure how you want your XAML files to appear.

Then, once you have the formatting options the way you want them, you can invoke Format Document from the various places around the design surface.

Final XAML

And here’s the final source code

<Page xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
      xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
      xmlns:local="using:WindowsDesigner"
      xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
      xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
      xmlns:Custom="using:Microsoft.UI.Xaml.Controls"
      x:Class="WindowsDesigner.MainPage"
      mc:Ignorable="d">
    <Page.Resources>
        <local:FakeData x:Key="DesignTimeData" />
    </Page.Resources>

    <Page.Background>
        <ThemeResource ResourceKey="ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush" />
    </Page.Background>

    <Grid DataContext="{StaticResource DesignTimeData}">
        <Grid.RowDefinitions>
            <RowDefinition Height="Auto" />
            <RowDefinition />
        </Grid.RowDefinitions>
        <TextBlock Margin="16"
                   Text="Contacts"
                   TextWrapping="Wrap"
                   Style="{StaticResource HeaderTextBlockStyle}" />
        <ListView Grid.Row="1"
                  ItemsSource="{Binding Contacts}">
            <ListView.ItemTemplate>
                <DataTemplate>
                    <Grid Margin="8">
                        <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                            <ColumnDefinition Width="50" />
                            <ColumnDefinition />
                        </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                        <StackPanel Orientation="Vertical"
                                    Grid.Column="1"
                                    Margin="8"
                                    HorizontalAlignment="Center">
                            <TextBlock Text="{Binding Name}"
                                       Style="{StaticResource BaseTextBlockStyle}" />
                            <TextBlock Text="{Binding PhoneNumber}"
                                       Style="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}" />
                        </StackPanel>
                        <Custom:PersonPicture Width="50"
                                              Height="50"
                                              ProfilePicture="{Binding Photo}" />
                    </Grid>
                </DataTemplate>
            </ListView.ItemTemplate>
        </ListView>
    </Grid>
</Page>

And that’s it – hopefully you’ve learnt a bit more about how to use the XAML editor and the new designer features.

Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 3 – DropShadowPanel

In Part 2 of this series I talked about how to create your own shadow using the DropShadow class. I mentioned that whilst it was easy enough to do, the DropShadow had to be created in code, rather than being applied in XAML. Well the good news is that the team building the Windows Community … Continue reading “Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 3 – DropShadowPanel”

In Part 2 of this series I talked about how to create your own shadow using the DropShadow class. I mentioned that whilst it was easy enough to do, the DropShadow had to be created in code, rather than being applied in XAML. Well the good news is that the team building the Windows Community Toolkit say the same issue and have produced the DropShadowPanel which can be used to apply a shadow via XAML.

Let’s again use our two Rectangle series. I’m going to jump straight to the XAML that shows how to use the DropShadowPanel, complete with rounded corners and theme colour support.

<controls:DropShadowPanel BlurRadius="10"
                            ShadowOpacity="1"
                            Color="{ThemeResource ApplicationForegroundThemeColor}"
                            Margin="50"
                            VerticalAlignment="Bottom"
                            HorizontalAlignment="Left"
                            IsMasked="True">
    <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
                Fill="Turquoise"
                RadiusX="40"
                RadiusY="40"
                Height="200"
                Width="200" />
</controls:DropShadowPanel>

It’s worth noting here that the DropShadowPanel accepts a Color for the shadow, rather than a brush. As such I’ve had to register an additional theme resources.

var foregroundBrush = this.Resources["ApplicationForegroundThemeBrush"] as SolidColorBrush;
Resources["ApplicationForegroundThemeColor"] = foregroundBrush.Color;

And then of course we want to see what this looks like in action.

Note that the DropShadowPanel works in both light (left part of image) and dark (right part of image) themes

One last thing to note before I wrap up this post. You’ll notice in the above XAML that there is an attribute IsMasked that is set to True. This is actually the default value for this property, so could be excluded. However, I wanted to make note of it because it can be toggled to adjust the behaviour of the shadow. For example if I set this attribute to false, we see the following shadow being cast.

Clearly, in this scenario we want to set IsMasked to true so that we get the nice rounded corners in the shadow.

For anyone wanting to quickly apply a shadow in XAML, the DropShadowPanel from the Windows Community Toolkit has you covered.

Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 2 – DropShadow

Following Part 1 – ThemeShadow (and Part 1b – Lists) in this post we’re going to look at a very simple example of creating your own shadow. I’m going to reuse my simple example of two overlapping rectangles. The goal is to: Add a shadow around the bottom-left rectangle The shadow should elevate the rectangle … Continue reading “Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 2 – DropShadow”

Following Part 1 – ThemeShadow (and Part 1b – Lists) in this post we’re going to look at a very simple example of creating your own shadow. I’m going to reuse my simple example of two overlapping rectangles.

The goal is to:

  • Add a shadow around the bottom-left rectangle
  • The shadow should elevate the rectangle off the background
  • The shadow should elevate the rectangle away from the other rectangle
  • The shadow should handle changing the corner radius to allow for rounded corners
  • The shadow should handle changes to the system theme (i.e. dark mode)

Ok, so let’s see how we can achieve this by creating our own DropShadow. As with the ThemeShadow there are two elements that participate in the creation of the shadow effect. There’s the item casting the shadow (in this case Rectangle2) and then there’s the surface where the shadow needs to be rendered. In this case, since we want the shadow to appear around the edge of Rectangle2, we’re going to create an additional Grid (named Host in the following XAML) that matches the size of Rectangle2:

<Grid Height="400"
        Width="400"
        Loaded="Grid_Loaded"
        HorizontalAlignment="Center"
        VerticalAlignment="Center"
        Background="{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
    <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle1"
                Margin="50"
                Height="200"
                Width="200"
                Fill="Turquoise"
                VerticalAlignment="Top"
                HorizontalAlignment="Right" />
    <Grid Margin="50"
            Height="200"
            Width="200"
            VerticalAlignment="Bottom"
            HorizontalAlignment="Left">
        <Grid x:Name="Host" />
        <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
                    Fill="Turquoise" />
    </Grid>
</Grid>

To create and apply the shadow we’re handling the Loaded event on the parent Grid. The following logic creates the DropShadow, uses Rectangle2 as a mask and then attaches the DropShadow to the SpriteVisual for the Host Grid.

private void Grid_Loaded(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    var shadowColor = (Resources["ApplicationForegroundThemeBrush"] as SolidColorBrush).Color;
    var compositor = ElementCompositionPreview.GetElementVisual(Host).Compositor;
            
    // Create the drop shadow
    var dropShadow = compositor.CreateDropShadow();
    dropShadow.Color = shadowColor;
    dropShadow.BlurRadius = 16;
    dropShadow.Opacity = 20.0f;

    // Use the shape of the element (in this case Rectangle2) to 
    // control shape of shadow
    var mask = Rectangle2.GetAlphaMask();
    dropShadow.Mask = mask;
            
    // Set the shadow on the visual
    var spriteVisual = compositor.CreateSpriteVisual();
    spriteVisual.Size = new Vector2((float)Host.ActualWidth, (float)Host.ActualHeight);
    spriteVisual.Shadow = dropShadow;
    ElementCompositionPreview.SetElementChildVisual(Host, spriteVisual);
}

The result of this is shown in the following image

Now let’s try rounding the corners of Rectangle2

<Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
            Fill="Turquoise"
            RadiusX="40"
            RadiusY="40" />

Here’s how it looks

This is looking really nice but what about the dark mode support?

Even in dark mode, we’re still seeing the shadow being cast both against the background but also on Rectangle1. Going back to the XAML and code that creates this effect, it’s important to note that the background is set using the ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush and that the color that’s set for the shadow is based on the ApplicationForegroundThemeBrush. Both these brushes are theme aware, meaning that as the device switches between light and dark mode, the brushes have the appropriate color. This means that there’s little else we need to do in order to support dark mode when creating the shadow.

The upshot of creating a shadow this way is that it’s relatively straight forward but does require custom logic to be written – this is less than ideal if you want to apply shadows easily in xaml for example.

In subsequent posts we’ll look at other options for applying shadows that hopefully will mean less custom code.

Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 1b – ThemeShadow in Lists

Originally, I had planned that the next post was going to talk about making use of the Shadow property and creating a custom shadow. However, following part 1 there was a bit of dialog online talking about the use of shadows in lists. I figured that it shouldn’t be too hard to extend my example … Continue reading “Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 1b – ThemeShadow in Lists”

Originally, I had planned that the next post was going to talk about making use of the Shadow property and creating a custom shadow. However, following part 1 there was a bit of dialog online talking about the use of shadows in lists. I figured that it shouldn’t be too hard to extend my example to use the ThemeShadow for items in a list.

Let’s start with a simple list of 1000 items which we’ll be displaying using a ListView – I’m sure there’s a better way to generate random list items but I was just hacking around, so didn’t feel like engineering anything more fancy.

public IList<string> StaticItems { get; } = BuildStaticItems();

private static List<string> BuildStaticItems()
{
    var list = new List<string>();
    const int max = 1000;
    for (int i = 0; i < max; i++)
    {
        list.Add($"{max} items - {i}");
    }
    return list;
}

Next up we need the XAML layout for the ListView:

<Grid x:Name="RootGrid">
    <Grid x:Name="ParentBackgroundGrid" />

    <ListView ItemContainerStyle="{StaticResource ThousandItemContainerStyle}"
                ItemsSource="{x:Bind StaticItems}">
        <ListView.ItemTemplate>
            <DataTemplate x:DataType="x:String">
                <TextBlock Text="{x:Bind }"
                            Margin="6" />
            </DataTemplate>
        </ListView.ItemTemplate>
    </ListView>
</Grid>

There are a couple of things to note here:

  • The ItemsSource is bound to the StaticItems property from the previous code block
  • The ItemTemplate is just a simple TextBlock with a Margin set to indent the text from the edge of the item template.
  • There is a ParentBackgroundGrid priors to the ListView which will render beneath the ListView and will be the surface where the shadows are rendered onto.
  • Lastly this snippet defines an ItemContainerStyle called ThousanItemContainerStyle which we’ll go into more detail in a sec.

Note that in this XAML we haven’t defined either an instance of the ThemeShadow and we haven’t set a background on the items in the list. These will both be defined as part of the ItemContainerStyle, so that we can take advantage of the visual states to adjust the elevation (i.e. the Z axis translate), and thus the shadow cast.

Ok, so here’s the ItemContainerStyle.

<Style x:Key="ThousandItemContainerStyle"
        TargetType="ListViewItem">
    <Setter Property="Padding"
            Value="6" />
    <Setter Property="HorizontalContentAlignment"
            Value="Stretch" />
    <Setter Property="VerticalContentAlignment"
            Value="Stretch" />
    <Setter Property="Template">
        <Setter.Value>
            <ControlTemplate TargetType="ListViewItem">
                <Grid x:Name="Root">
                    <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
                        <VisualStateGroup x:Name="CommonStates">
                            <VisualState x:Name="Pressed">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="ContentBackground.Elevation"
                                            Value="0" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                            <VisualState x:Name="PressedSelected">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="ContentBackground.Elevation"
                                            Value="0" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                        </VisualStateGroup>
                    </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
                    <local:ItemBackground Elevation="32"
                                            x:Name="ContentBackground"
                                            ContentPadding="{TemplateBinding Padding}" />
                    <ContentPresenter Margin="{TemplateBinding Padding}" />
                </Grid>
            </ControlTemplate>
        </Setter.Value>
    </Setter>
</Style>

Things to note:

  • I’ve removed a significant portion of the default ItemsContainerStyle you would normally get when you clone the built-in style. What I’m left with is a basic ContentPresenter element and a new UserControl of type ItemBackground.
  • ItemBackground has an initial Elevation of 32 but this property is adjusted when the user presses the button to control the elevation (see the Pressed and PressedSelected visual states), and thus the amount of shadow.

Of course, now we need to look at the ItemsBackground class so we can understand how it’s generating the shadow for each item. The XAML for the ItemBackground UserControl is similar to what we had in my previous post – a root Grid which defines the ThemeShadow resource and includes a Rectangle which is the background of the item. It’s the Rectangle that has the Shadow property set and will be generating the shadow that is to be cast.

<UserControl
    x:Class="ShadowTest.ItemBackground"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006">
    <Grid Loaded="RootLoaded">
        <Grid.Resources>
            <ThemeShadow x:Name="SharedShadow" />
        </Grid.Resources>
        <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
                   Fill="Turquoise"
                   Margin="{x:Bind ContentPadding, Mode=OneWay}"
                   Shadow="{StaticResource SharedShadow}" />
    </Grid>
</UserControl>

We’re intercepting the Loaded event on the Grid in order to connect the ThemeShadow with the corresponding Grid to be the receiver for the shadow (in this case the Grid is the ParentBackgroundGrid defined on the page). Note that this logic could definitely be improved. It steps up the visual tree from the current item (i.e. the Grid in the ItemTemplate) all the way up to the Grid defined on the page called RootGrid.

private void RootLoaded(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    var parent = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(this);
    while (parent != null)
    {
        if(parent is Grid grid)
        {
            if(grid.Name == "RootGrid")
            {
                var bg = grid.Children.FirstOrDefault(x => x is Grid g && g.Name == "ParentBackgroundGrid");
                SharedShadow.Receivers.Add(bg);
                return;
            }
        }
        parent = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(parent);

    }
}

Again, remembering that we can’t specify a ancestor as a Receiver for the shadow. Instead we’re going to find the first child element with the name ParentBackgroundGrid. This Grid will then be set as a Receiver for the ThemeShadow.

As we want to be able to adjust the Z axis translate when the user presses on the item in the list, we need to expose a mechanism whereby the ItemContainerStyle can simply set a property in the visual state definition. We need to define two dependency properties: ContentPadding, which determines the inset of content, and Elevation, which will determine the z translate value.

public Thickness ContentPadding
{
    get { return (Thickness)GetValue(ContentPaddingProperty); }
    set { SetValue(ContentPaddingProperty, value); }
}

public static readonly DependencyProperty ContentPaddingProperty =
    DependencyProperty.Register("ContentPadding", typeof(Thickness), typeof(ItemBackground), new PropertyMetadata(new Thickness(0)));

public int Elevation
{
    get { return (int)GetValue(ElevationProperty); }
    set { SetValue(ElevationProperty, value); }
}

public static readonly DependencyProperty ElevationProperty =
    DependencyProperty.Register("Elevation", typeof(int), typeof(ItemBackground), new PropertyMetadata(0, ElevationChanged));

private static void ElevationChanged(DependencyObject d, DependencyPropertyChangedEventArgs e)
{
    (d as ItemBackground).ChangeElevation((int)e.NewValue);
}

private void ChangeElevation(int newValue)
{
    Rectangle2.Translation = new Vector3(0, 0, newValue);
}

Let’s give this a run – the following image shows the list of items with the shadow appearing for each item. The only difference between the left and right sides is that in the list on the left side, the item “1000 items – 3” has been pressed.

What’s interesting about applying the shadow to the list of items is that the items almost appear to have rounded corners, in addition to the apparent elevation from the background.

The code in this blog post is very raw and I’ve no doubt there is a way to abstract the various steps to make it easier to define and connect the ThemeShadow with the shadow receiver.

Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 1 – ThemeShadow

I’ve been watching James Montemagno bring his AnimalCrossing app to life. The progress continues: #AnimalCrossing Turnip Tracking App powered by #Xamarin and amazing library creators. 99.9% shared code 🙂 pic.twitter.com/7CSlmk6nCJ — James Montemagno – ? Live on Twitch (@JamesMontemagno) April 11, 2020 What’s super impressive is that this doesn’t look anything like a regular out … Continue reading “Shadows in Windows (UWP) XAML Applications – Part 1 – ThemeShadow”

I’ve been watching James Montemagno bring his AnimalCrossing app to life.

What’s super impressive is that this doesn’t look anything like a regular out of the box Xamarin.Forms application. The use of custom fonts, curves, rounded corners and shadows gives this app its own unique look. Unfortunately, it would appear that some of the libraries used aren’t supported on Windows (UWP).

This got me thinking about the use of shadows in UWP, which lead to me sinking time into investigating what is and isn’t support. In this series of posts I’ll walk through some of the options.

Built-in Shadows

Before we get into adding our own shadows to elements in our application, it’s worth noting that UWP already comes with a lot of built-in shadow support. The guidance with regards to using shadows in UWP is that “shadows should be used in a purposeful rather than aesthetic manner”. As such, the built-in shadows appear on elements such as popups and tooltips but don’t appear gratuitously on every list item. For example, the following tooltip has a shadow that makes it appear elevated in relation to the rest of the content.

Dark Mode

I also wanted to see what support there was for dark theme. After switching my Windows theme to dark mode it was evident that there isn’t really any support for shadows. For example, here’s the same tooltip in dark mode.

Whilst there is still some illusion of elevation, this predominately comes from the border that’s been added to the tooltip, rather than an actual shadow. There is definitely no visible shadow around the sides and top of the tooltip, like there is in the light theme.

Now you might be saying “well duh, there is a shadow, you just can’t see it on the black background”. To which, my response is that a shadow, when it comes to applications, is much less about a shadow cast by a light hitting and object, and much more about the illusion of elevation and vertical separation of elements (as described by the Microsoft documentation on Z-depth). As such, even in dark mode you’d expect to see some shadow that illustrates a vertical separation of elements.

WinUI 3

Before we move on, I thought I’d take a quick look at whether there are any difference with regards to shadows in WinUI 3 (grab the WinUI 3 templates to get started). The following image shows the exact same button and tooltip combination, this time using the controls from WinUI 3.

Note that other than a change to the shape and border on the tooltip, there’s really no difference to the shadow cast by the tooltip. The behaviour in dark mode it basically the same too. Although I must admit, do like the new look tooltip with the slightly rounded corners and more gradient border, more than the standard UWP look.

Shadows using ThemeShadow

Whilst support for shadows has been around for quite a while for UWP applications, it was only recent that the ThemeShadow class was added (Windows 10, version 1903 – v10.0.18362.0), making it easier for developers to add shadow support to their applications. To demonstrate this in action, we’ll use a rather contrived example of two overlapping Rectangles, as defined in the following XAML.

<Grid>
    <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle1"
                Height="200"
                Width="200"
                Fill="Turquoise"
                VerticalAlignment="Top"
                HorizontalAlignment="Right" />
    <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
                Height="200"
                Width="200"
                Fill="Turquoise"
                VerticalAlignment="Bottom"
                HorizontalAlignment="Left" />
</Grid>

Running this example we can see that both Rectangle shapes appear as one connected shape, flat against the white background. We’ll use a ThemeShadow to elevate the Rectangle2 (bottom left) off the background, and provide some separation from Rectangle1 (top right).

We’ll start by creating a ThemeShadow instance as a Resource with the name SharedShadow. This will be set as the Shadow property on Rectangle2.

<Grid>
    <Grid.Resources>
        <ThemeShadow x:Name="SharedShadow" />
    </Grid.Resources>
    <Grid x:Name="BackgroundGrid" />
    <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle1"
                Height="200"
                Width="200"
                Fill="Turquoise"
                VerticalAlignment="Top"
                HorizontalAlignment="Right" />
    <Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
                Height="200"
                Width="200"
                Fill="Turquoise"
                VerticalAlignment="Bottom"
                HorizontalAlignment="Left" 
                Shadow="{StaticResource SharedShadow}" />
</Grid>

Note that creating this resource and setting the Shadow property, creates the shadow but it won’t display until you tell the application what elements should show the shadow. This is done by adding elements to the Receivers collection on the ThemeShadow resource.

protected override void OnNavigatedTo(NavigationEventArgs e)
{
    base.OnNavigatedTo(e);

    SharedShadow.Receivers.Add(BackgroundGrid);
}

It’s important to note here that you can’t add an ancestor of the element casting the shadow to the Receivers collection. This seems rather counter-intuitive since you’d quite often want the shadow to appear on the background behind the element casting the shadow (which would typically be the parent grid or panel). However, it’s also easy to solve – in the above XAML a Grid called BackgroundGrid was added on which the shadow can be cast.

Even after doing all this, if you run this example you still won’t see a shadow. This is because all the elements are all technically at the same elevation (i.e. they have the same Z axis value of 0) so there is no shadow to be cast. To fix this, we simply need to translate Rectangle2 in the Z dimension.

protected override void OnNavigatedTo(NavigationEventArgs e)
{
    base.OnNavigatedTo(e);

    SharedShadow.Receivers.Add(BackgroundGrid);	
    Rectangle2.Translation += new Vector3(0, 0, 32);
}

Now we’re getting somewhere. The following image shows a shadow around Rectangle2. However, it still shows the two rectangles as being a single shape.

The reason there is no shadow being shown on Rectangle1 is that we haven’t told the application that it should show the shadow there. As before, the fix for this is to add Rectangle1 to the Receivers list of the ThemeShadow resource.

protected override void OnNavigatedTo(NavigationEventArgs e)
{
    base.OnNavigatedTo(e);

    SharedShadow.Receivers.Add(BackgroundGrid);	
    SharedShadow.Receivers.Add(Rectangle1);
    Rectangle2.Translation += new Vector3(0, 0, 32);
}

And there we have it – a shadow appearing on all sides of Rectangle2.

Of course, we couldn’t just leave it there as I’m sure you’re all wondering what happens in dark mode. Well, there’s good and bad news, as you can see in the following image.

The good news is that the shadow is still being created (see between the rectangles). The bad news is that the shadow hasn’t been inverted with the theme, meaning that you can’t see the shadow against the black background. This is seriously frustrating as it makes the ThemeShadow kind of pointless – it’s main premise was that it was suppose to handle everything for the developer.

Rounded Corners

Updated: I’d forgotten to add this last section on rounded corners in the initial post.

Going back to the designs that James had in the app he’s working on, the items all have rounded corners, giving it a softer, more casual look and feel. To do this in my simple example is relatively easy as I can just set the RadiusX and RadiusY properties.

<Rectangle x:Name="Rectangle2"
            Margin="50"
            Height="200"
            Width="200"
            Fill="Turquoise"
            VerticalAlignment="Bottom"
            HorizontalAlignment="Left"
            RadiusX="40"
            RadiusY="40"
            Shadow="{StaticResource SharedShadow}" />

But what happens to my shadow? Well, the answer is nothing good, as you can see from the following image

In addition to not being able to handle dark mode, it also appears that the ThemeShadow can’t handle non-square corners. According to the documentation, there’s also no support color. Overall the ThemeShadow is severely limited in the scenarios that it would be useful for.

Next up we’ll take a more in depth look at the Shadow property in UWP and how you can implement a shadow yourself.

Xamarin.Forms – Which tools do you use?

If you’re developing cross-platform applications using Xamarin.Forms then you’re likely to be using either Visual Studio or Visual Studio for Mac (as an aside, if you’re new to Xamarin.Forms you can get the tools you need for free, so don’t feel you need to go out and purchase the professional version of Visual Studio!). The … Continue reading “Xamarin.Forms – Which tools do you use?”

If you’re developing cross-platform applications using Xamarin.Forms then you’re likely to be using either Visual Studio or Visual Studio for Mac (as an aside, if you’re new to Xamarin.Forms you can get the tools you need for free, so don’t feel you need to go out and purchase the professional version of Visual Studio!). The question is, what other tools should you be using that can assist you and hopefully improve the quality of your code and the architecture of you application. In this post I wanted to just point out a couple of tools that are worth taking a look at.

Resharper

I think if you’re a .NET/C# developer you’d be remiss if you hadn’t used Resharper at one time or another. For me this is one of the first extensions I add when I’m setting up a new machine. However, it’s also one of the first I disable if Visual Studio is playing up – from time to time different versions of Visual Studio and Resharper just don’t play nicely together.

Also worthy of a note, and also from Jetbrains who make Resharper, is a full IDE called Rider that some developers have taken a liking to.

MFractor

Announced literally days ago – MFractor for Windows is now available. For Visual Studio for Mac users, MFractor has been an essential for Xamarin.Forms developers.

It’s early days for MFractor but the team have been hard at work and I think this will be a tool that every developer should take the time to download and give it a shot.

XamRight

Another tool that can help with coding and refactoring XAML in your Xamarin.Forms is XamRight.

XamlStyler

For keeping your XAML coding in check, XAMLStyler is a simple solution for enforcing consistent layout for your XAML.

It’s great to see all these tools appearing to support Xamarin.Forms developers. Feel free to leave a comment for tools that you use to improve your productivity.

Do Uno Mvvm?

Last week was a huge week for the Uno platform with their inaugural Uno conference, #UnoConf. As the technology continues to mature, I’ve no doubt that Uno will become a viable solution for building applications to target all sorts of markets. This includes support being progressively added by the various Mvvm frameworks. Following my previous … Continue reading “Do Uno Mvvm?”

Last week was a huge week for the Uno platform with their inaugural Uno conference, #UnoConf. As the technology continues to mature, I’ve no doubt that Uno will become a viable solution for building applications to target all sorts of markets. This includes support being progressively added by the various Mvvm frameworks.

Following my previous posts (MVVM Navigation with Xamarin.Forms Shell and MVVM Navigation with Xamarin.Forms Shell – Part II) where I discussed a simple approach to Mvvm with Xamarin.Forms, I figured I’d so something similar with Uno.

Mvvm with Uno

Let’s get on with it and start with a new Uno project – Download and install the Uno Platform Solution Templates extension from the Visual Studio marketplace, if you haven’t already. In Visual Studio, create a new project based on the Cross-Platform App (Uno Platform) project template. I’m going to call the app DoUnoMvvm.

Creating a Class Library

We’re going to separate out our viewmodels and services into a separate library, so add a new project, DoUnoMvvm.Core, based on the Class Library (.NET Standard) project template. Delete the class1.cs and then add a reference to the class library to each of the head projects (i.e. Droid, iOS, UWAP and Wams).

Adjusting NuGet Package References

Right-click on the solution node in the Solution Explorer window and select Manage NuGet Packages for Solution. Go to the Updates tab, check the Include prerelease option and then check the box alongside the packages Uno.Wasm.Bootstrap, Uno.UI, Microsoft.NETCore.UniversalWindowsPlatform and Uno.Core (don’t check either the Logging packages). Click Update to get the latest version of the packages that are checked.

From the Browse tab on the NuGet-Solution window used in the previous step, enter BuildIt.General.Uno into the search box. Select BuildIt.General.Uno and install the packages into all five of the projects.

Mvvm Basics with ViewModelLocator

Now we should be ready to start writing some code. We’re going to keep it simple with the following steps:

  • Create ViewModelLocator class – used for serving up viewmodels and creating services as required
  • Create an instance of ViewModelLocator in App Resources, making it accessible as a static resource in XAML
  • Create MainViewModel class – the viewmodel for the existing MainPage
  • Update ViewModelLocator with a property Main that returns an instance of the MainViewModel class
  • Set the DataContext of the MainPage to use the Main property on the ViewModelLocator
  • Run the application and show data is being served by the MainViewModel.

Here we go…. firstly a new ViewModelLocator class, which is added to the DoUnoMvvm.Core project

public class ViewModelLocator
{
}

Update App.xaml to create an instance of the ViewModelLocator class

<Application
    x:Class="DoUnoMvvm.App"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:local="using:DoUnoMvvm"
    xmlns:core="using:DoUnoMvvm.Core"
    RequestedTheme="Light">
  <Application.Resources>
    <core:ViewModelLocator x:Key="ViewModelLocator" />
  </Application.Resources>
</Application>

Now to create the MainViewModel, also in the DoUnoMvvm.Core project. We’ll create a property, WelcomeText, that will return some data to be displayed on MainPage.

public class MainViewModel
{
    public string WelcomeText => "How well do Uno Mvvm?";
}

We need to update the ViewModelLocator class to include the Main property

public class ViewModelLocator
{
    public MainViewModel Main => new MainViewModel();
}

And use this property when setting the DataContext for MainPage. I’ve also updated the TextBlock to be data bound to the WelcomeText property.

<Page
    x:Class="DoUnoMvvm.MainPage"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:local="using:DoUnoMvvm"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    DataContext="{Binding Main, Source={StaticResource ViewModelLocator}}"
    mc:Ignorable="d">

  <Grid Background="{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding WelcomeText}" Margin="20" FontSize="30" />
  </Grid>
</Page>

Run the application and there we have it, our first data bound page

Quick Navigation using Event Mapping

That’s pretty much the basics of Mvvm. However, following my previous posts discussing navigation, I just want to demonstrate how to abstract navigation away from both the page and the viewmodel – this allows for more independent testing of viewmodels as there’s no interdependency between viewmodels. Here’s the basic process:

  • Add a new page, SecondPage, that we’re going to navigate to
  • Add a corresponding viewmodel, SecondViewModel, and property, Second, on the ViewModelLocator
  • Update SecondPage to set the DataContext to be bound to the Second property on the ViewModelLocator
  • Add a Button to MainPage that invokes a method, Next, on the MainViewModel
  • Add an event, Complete, to MainViewModel, and raise it from the Next method.
  • Add a mapping to the App.xaml.cs that navigates to SecondPage when the Complete method is raised.

And here’s the code. I’m not going to show you the initial SecondPage as it’s just generated from the template and you’ll see it later anyhow. Instead, we’ll jump to the SecondViewModel (if you’re following along you still need to add the SecondPage to the DoUnoMvvm.Shared project in the Pages folder).

public class SecondViewModel
{
    public string ProgressText => "Now you know how to navigate....";
}

Add the Second property to the ViewModelLocator

public class ViewModelLocator
{
    public MainViewModel Main => new MainViewModel();
    public SecondViewModel Second => new SecondViewModel();
}

Now back to the SecondPage and I have set the DataContext and bound the TextBlock.

<Page
    x:Class="DoUnoMvvm.Shared.Pages.SecondPage"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:local="using:DoUnoMvvm.Shared.Pages"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    mc:Ignorable="d"
    DataContext="{Binding Second, Source={StaticResource ViewModelLocator}}"
    Background="{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
  <Grid>
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding ProgressText}" />
  </Grid>
</Page>

Now a Button to invoke the transition from MainPage to SecondPage

<Page
    x:Class="DoUnoMvvm.MainPage" ...
    DataContext="{Binding Main, Source={StaticResource ViewModelLocator}}" >
  <StackPanel>
    <TextBlock Text="{Binding WelcomeText}" Margin="20" FontSize="30" />
    <Button Content="Go to Second Page" Click="GoNextClick" />
  </StackPanel>
</Page>

Here we’re simply using a code behind but you could easily use a command. Unfortunately x:Bind doesn’t appear to be working with Uno yet, so you can’t simply bind the Click method to a method on the viewmodel.

public void GoNextClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    (DataContext as MainViewModel)?.Next();
}

The Next method simply raises the Complete event

public class MainViewModel
{
    public event EventHandler Complete;

    public string WelcomeText => "How well do Uno Mvvm?";

    public void Next()
    {
        Complete?.Invoke(this, EventArgs.Empty);
    }
}

The final step is to add the mapping to App.xaml.cs to define what happens when the Complete event is triggered on the MainViewModel. Add the following property and method to App.xaml.cs, and update the App class to implement the IApplicationWithMapping interface (which comes from the BuildIt.General.Uno library that you should have added earlier)

public IDictionary<Type, IEventMap[]> Maps { get; } = new Dictionary<Type, IEventMap[]>();
private void MapPageTransitions()
{
    Maps.For<MainViewModel>()
        .Do(new EventHandler((s, args) => (Windows.UI.Xaml.Window.Current.Content as Frame)?.Navigate(typeof(SecondPage))))
        .When((vm, a) => vm.Complete += a, (vm, a) => vm.Complete -= a);
}

Invoke the MapPageTransitions method immediately after the Window.Current.Content property has been set equal to a new Frame. In order for the events to get correctly wired up you also need to update both MainPage and SecondPage to inherit from the MappingBasePage class.

Now when you run the application, MainPage will appear with a Button that you can click to navigate to the SecondPage.

Uno How to Mvvm!

You might be thinking…. you’ve just shown me how to do a bunch of UWP code… and that is EXACTLY the point. If you switch to the Droid or iOS or Wasm target, you can run the same application on each of those platforms with NO further code changes required. The Uno platform is about leveraging the skills you already have as a UWP (or as a Xamarin.Forms) developer, allowing you to build rich, high-quality applications for iOS, Android and Web.

Link to the source code

Tutorial: How to Create a XAML Templated Control

In this post we’re going to cover creating a custom control that uses a control template to define how it looks, aka a Templated Control. The principles of templated, or lookless, controls have been adopted by most of the XAML based technologies but for the purpose of this post we’re going to start by building … Continue reading “Tutorial: How to Create a XAML Templated Control”

In this post we’re going to cover creating a custom control that uses a control template to define how it looks, aka a Templated Control. The principles of templated, or lookless, controls have been adopted by most of the XAML based technologies but for the purpose of this post we’re going to start by building for Windows (ie UWP) and then we’re going to leverage Uno to deliver the same control across iOS, Android and even the web using Web Assembly (WASM).

Full source code available on GitHub

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to walk through the process of creating a Templated Control. To do this we’re going to create a multi-switch control (i.e. a switch that has multiple positions). However, I haven’t attempted to win any design awards with this control. In fact the entire point of a Templated Control is that it’s possible to restyle the control and add animation etc without changing the basic functionality of the control.

Getting Started – Uno Project Templates

To get started a bit of house keeping – let’s make sure we have our project setup so that we can build a Templated Control in its own library (so we can reuse it) and that we have a set of head projects where we can test out our control. Since we’re going to use Uno to take our control cross platform, we’ll use the Uno project templates to get us started.

We’ll start by creating a new project based on the Cross-Platform App (Uno Platform). If you don’t have the Uno project templates installed you can grab the Uno Platform Solution Templates Visual Studio extension from the marketplace.

Set some basic project information – in this case our head projects are just for the purpose of testing our Templated Control so we’ve named it XAMLControlSample.

Once you’ve completed creating the new project you should have a solution with four head projects (iOS, Android, UWP and WASM) as well as a shared project. The XAML for the MainPage is in the shared project, which is where we’ll be adding an instance of our Templated Control to test it out after we’ve created it.

Speaking of which, we need to create a library for our Templated Control to reside in. We’ll add another project, this time based on the Cross-Platform Library (Uno Platform) project template. If you’re not interested in taking your Templated Control cross platform (i.e. you’re just building for UWP) you can simply create a class library based on the Class Library (Universal Windows) project template. The big difference with the Uno template is that it creates a project that is setup with multi-targeting, meaning that it will create a library that will have an iOS, Android, Windows and WASM binaries.

We’ll give our class library a name, in this case MyCustomControls.

The next step is to create our Templated Control. Unfortunately due to the limited support for multi-targeting within Visual Studio, if you attempt to add a new item directly to the class library, you won’t see any of the Windows Universal item templates. Instead what we need to do is to create the Template Control in the UWP head project and move the relevant files across to the class library. Right-click on the UWP head project and select Add, New Item. In the Add New Item dialog, select the Templated Control item template and give the control a name, in this case MultiSwitchControl.

After adding the Templated Control you should see two files added to the UWP head project: Generic.xaml (in the Themes folder) and MultiSwitchControl.cs (you Templated Control). Note that there’s no XAML file for the Templated Control (i.e. there’s no MultiSwitchControl.xaml), which you would get if you were creating a UserControl. This is because the XAML that defines how the Templated Control looks is all contained in the Style and the associated ControlTemplate.

The final piece of setup is just to move these two files, including the Themes folder, into the class library. After moving the files, you should make sure that you update the namespace of your Templated Control to reflect the correct project. In my case I had to change the namespace from XAMLControlSample to MyCustomControls.

After moving the Templated Control to its correct location, let’s make sure that it can be consumed by each of our head projects:

  • Update NuGet packages, importantly the Uno packages
  • For each head project add a reference to the MyCustomControls project.
  • Build and run each head project to make sure no compile errors (Note for WASM use the “Start without Debugging” option to launch the browser)

Once we’ve confirmed that each platform works without our Templated Control, it’s time to add an instance to the MainPage. Update the MainPage code to the following:

<Page x:Class="XAMLControlSample.MainPage"
      xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
      xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
      xmlns:ctrls="using:MyCustomControls">
  <Grid Background="{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
    <StackPanel>
      <TextBlock Margin="20"
                 HorizontalAlignment="Center"
                 Text="XAML Templated Control"
                 FontSize="30" />
      <ctrls:MultiSwitchControl 
                                Width="400"
                                Height="400"
                                Background="Blue" />
    </StackPanel>
  </Grid>
</Page>

Run each of the head projects and verify that the MultiSwitchControl appears as a blue square.

Breaking Down the Templated Control

In the previous section we walked through creating a very simple Templated Control and demonstrated that through the power of Uno the same control can be used across iOS, Android, Windows and Web. Let’s take a look at how the Templated Control works, before we move on to building out our multi-switch control.

DefaultStyleKey for Implicit Style Lookup

The MultiSwitchControl.cs code file contains very little code. In fact, the only code it contains by default is a parameterless constructor that sets the DefaultStyleKey property.

public MultiSwitchControl()
{
    this.DefaultStyleKey = typeof(MultiSwitchControl);
}

What’s not apparent here is that setting the DefaultStyleKey is critical to the loading of the control. When an instance of the MultiSwitchControl is created, unless the Style attribute has been set, the framework looks for a corresponding implicit style. An implicit style is one that doesn’t have an explicit Key defined. Instead, the Key for an implicit style is essentially the TargetType of the Style. For example in the Generic.xaml you’ll see that there is a Style defined with TargetType set to MultiSwitchControl.

<Style TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl" >
    <Setter Property="Template">
        <Setter.Value>
            <ControlTemplate TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl">
                <Border
                    Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
                    BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
                    BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
                </Border>
            </ControlTemplate>
        </Setter.Value>
    </Setter>
</Style>

What’s important to note is that when the framework looks for the implicit Style, it doesn’t just assume that it should look for a Style with the TargetType matching that of the control. Instead it looks at the Type returned by the DefaultStyleKey property. Whilst this property is often just set to the Type of the control, there are cases where this isn’t the case.

Making your Implicit Style Explicit

One thing that annoys me about the item template that is used to generate the Templated Control is that it only defines an implicit Style for the control. The weakness of this is that it means that any developer wanting to override the Style has to copy the entire Style into their application. A better alternative is to make your Style explicit by giving it a Key, thus making it possible for other developers to inherit from your Style using the BasedOn attribute.

Of course, if you make your Style explicit, your Templated Control will no longer be able to find the Style without you explicitly referencing it. This is simple to overcome by defining an implicit style that inherits from your explicit Style.

If this all sounds a little complex, check out the amended Styles for the MultiSwitchControl below (there’s no code changes required to the MultiSwitchControl itself since it still relies on the implicit Style).

<Style x:Key="MultiSwitchControlDefaultStyle"
     TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl">
<Setter Property="Template">
  <Setter.Value>
    <ControlTemplate TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl">
      <Border Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
              BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
              BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}" />
    </ControlTemplate>
  </Setter.Value>
</Setter>
</Style>
<Style TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl"
     BasedOn="{StaticResource MultiSwitchControlDefaultStyle}" />

Designing the Template Control

At this point we have a lot of the infrastructure in place so we can get on with actually building our Templated Control. In this case we’re building a four-way switch control. It actually has five states: Off (Center), Up, Right, Down, Left, and as mentioned earlier we’re going to put minimal effort into the default design/layout of the control. We’ll show at the end of the process how easy it is for a developer consuming the control to override the Style and provide their own design without having to re-code the operation of the control (i.e. a true lookless control).

Simple Box Layout for the Template Control

To keep things simple the layout for the multi-switch that we’ll add to the MultiSwitchControlDefaultStyle will be a cross based on a 5×5 grid. There will be a box defined in the middle of the top row (Up), the center of the fifth column (Right), the middle of the bottom row (Down), the center of the first column (Left) and at the intersection of the third row and third column (Off). We’ve used a 5×5 layout to give a bit of spacing between the boxes, as you can see from the following image.

The updates Style defines each box using a Grid. At this stage a Border element would have sufficed. However, as you’ll see in the next step we’ll be nesting a couple of elements in the box to provide the visual context for when the user moves the mouse over the box, presses or clicks on the box, and when the box is selected.

<Style x:Key="MultiSwitchControlDefaultStyle"
     TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl">
<Setter Property="BorderBrush" Value="SteelBlue" />
<Setter Property="BorderThickness" Value="1" />
<Setter Property="Template">
  <Setter.Value>
    <ControlTemplate TargetType="local:MultiSwitchControl">
      <Grid>
        <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
          <ColumnDefinition />
          <ColumnDefinition />
          <ColumnDefinition />
          <ColumnDefinition />
          <ColumnDefinition />
        </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
        <Grid.RowDefinitions>
          <RowDefinition />
          <RowDefinition />
          <RowDefinition />
          <RowDefinition />
          <RowDefinition />
        </Grid.RowDefinitions>
        <Grid x:Name="PART_Off"
              Grid.Row="2"
              Grid.Column="2"
              Background="Transparent"
              BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
              BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}" />
        <Grid x:Name="PART_Up"
              Grid.Row="0"
              Grid.Column="2"
              Background="Transparent"
              BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
              BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}" />
        <Grid x:Name="PART_Right"
              Grid.Row="2"
              Grid.Column="4"
              Background="Transparent"
              BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
              BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}" />
        <Grid x:Name="PART_Down"
              Grid.Row="4"
              Grid.Column="2"
              Background="Transparent"
              BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
              BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}" />
        <Grid x:Name="PART_Left"
              Grid.Row="2"
              Grid.Column="0"
              Background="Transparent"
              BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
              BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}" />
      </Grid>
    </ControlTemplate>
  </Setter.Value>
</Setter>
</Style>

Note that in most cases where there is repeated XAML (for example setting the properties of Background, BorderBrush and BorderThickness) it pays to extract these into a Style that can simply be applied to all elements. However, in practice this both adds to the overhead of loading the control and you immediately run into limitations on the TemplateBinding markup extension. Attempting to extract these elements to a Style will result in a runtime exception that doesn’t seem to have a clear work around.

The next thing to note about the Style is that we’ve added a Setter for both BorderBrush and BorderThickness. The Setters define the default values for these properties, meaning that if the developer doesn’t explicitly set them on their instance of the MultiSwitchControl they’ll still have a value. If we didn’t do this, the default appearance of the MultiSwitchControl wouldn’t show the boxes since there would be no brush, and thickness would be 0.

The last thing to note about the Style is that each of the Grid elements have a Name attribute. In each case the value has the prefix “PART_” followed by the corresponding switch state eg PART_Off. This prefix was a convention adopted by WPF but subsequently dropped for Silverlight (see this post for some commentary on this topic), Windows Phone, UWP etc. Whilst you don’t have to adopt this prefix (you’ll see why in a minute) I still find it quite a clean way to identify parts of the Style that have to be there in order for the control to function correctly.

Visual States for the Templated Control

As mentioned earlier we want our Templated Control to be able to provide contextual feedback to the user. There are three things that we want to be able to do:

  • Indicate when the user moves the mouse (UWP & WASM) over a box
  • Indicate when the user clicks, presses, touches into a box
  • Indicate when the user has selected a box

The first two of these we’ll pair together as they can represent the current state of the input device (aka pointer). This will be our CommonStates VisualStateGroup, to be consistent with other Windows controls, and will contain the following Visual States:

  • Normal – pointer isn’t over any element or pressed down on any element
  • PointerOverXXX – pointer has entered the area of element XXX
  • PressedXXX – pointer has been pressed down on element XXX

Element XXX will be one of the Grid elements named in our Style, so our states will be PointerOverOff and PressedOff for the PART_Off Grid.

To track which box is currently selected we’ll create a second VisualStateGroup called SelectionStates, which will include Visual States with the naming convention SelectionXXX. So for the PART_Off Grid there will be a corresponding VisualState called SelectionOff. Additionally there will be one extra VisualState, SelectionNone, which represents the default state where no box has focus.

You might be asking at this point – why the need for two VisualStateGroups? or why not three? The answer to this is that VisualStateGroups should define mutually exclusive VisualStates; and that VisualStates from one group should not set the same properties as VisualStates from a different group. If we look at the scenarios above it’s very clear that we’d want to be able to specify which box is currently selected whilst being able to highlight a different box that the user may have moused over. What’s not immediately clear is why we’ve combined the PointerOver and the Pressed states into the one group. The reality is that we could have separated these into a third group. However, in this case we’re going to keep the implementation simple by assuming that the state of the pointer will either be PointerOver or Pressed and not both at the same time.

I mentioned earlier that each of the Grids we created for the different switch states were going to contain multiple elements. In fact we’re going to add three Border elements to each, with the resulting Grids all being similar to the following Part_Off Grid, where the element names have the switch state as their prefix eg OffPointerOver, OffPressed, OffSelection.

<Grid x:Name="PART_Off"
      Grid.Row="2"
      Grid.Column="2"
      Background="Transparent"
      BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
      BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
  <Border x:Name="OffPointerOver"
          Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
          Visibility="Collapsed" />
  <Border x:Name="OffPressed"
          Opacity="{TemplateBinding PressedOpacity}"
          Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
          Visibility="Collapsed" />
  <Border x:Name="OffSelection"
          Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
          Visibility="Collapsed" />
</Grid>

Each Border has its Visibility property set to Collapsed. The OffPointerOver Border will be set to Visible when a Pointer enters the region of PART_Off. The OffPressed will be set to Visible when a Pointer is pressed inside the PART_Off. Lastly, the OffSelection will be set to Visible when the PART_Off is selected (i.e. the state of the switch is set to Off). All this of course has to be done with the corresponding visual states, as follows:

<VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
  <VisualStateGroup x:Name="CommonStates">
    <VisualState x:Name="Normal" />
    <VisualState x:Name="PointerOverOff">
      <VisualState.Setters>
        <Setter Target="OffPointerOver.Visibility" Value="Visible" />
      </VisualState.Setters>
    </VisualState>
    ...
    <VisualState x:Name="PressedOff">
      <VisualState.Setters>
        <Setter Target="OffPressed.Visibility" Value="Visible" />
      </VisualState.Setters>
    </VisualState>
    ...
  </VisualStateGroup>
  <VisualStateGroup x:Name="SelectionStates">
    <VisualState x:Name="SelectionNone" />
    <VisualState x:Name="SelectionOff">
      <VisualState.Setters>
        <Setter Target="OffSelection.Visibility" Value="Visible" />
      </VisualState.Setters>
    </VisualState>
    ...
  </VisualStateGroup>
</VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>

The visual states for the other parts are all similar, just with different names in the Target of the Setter.

Building the Functionality of the Templated Control

So far we’ve focused on getting the basic layout of the Templated Control sorted. This has included specifying the different visual states that map to both user interaction (i.e. pointer over and pressed) as well as the switch states (i.e. selection). What’s missing is that actual functionality of the MultiSwitchControl which will trigger the changes in the visual states and track what the current switch state is.

Current Switch State

To track the current state of the switch I’m going to define an enum called SwitchState, which will include the values Off, Up, Right, Down and Left. For completion I’ve added a None state to represent an invalid or non-set state. I’ll then add a Value dependency property which will track the current state of the switch. when the Value does change, the ValuePropertyChanged method will be invoked, which subsequently calls the UpdateSwitchState that is responsible for calling GoToState on the VisualStateManager. The name of the new VisualState is specified by concatenating the prefix “Selection” with the current switch Value. For example if the current Value is SwitchState.Off, the visual state name would be SelectionOff.

public enum SwitchState
{
    None,
    Off,
    Up,
    Right,
    Down,
    Left
}

private const string SelectionStatePrefix = "Selection";

public static readonly DependencyProperty ValueProperty =
    DependencyProperty.Register(nameof(Value), typeof(SwitchState), 
                                typeof(MultiSwitchControl), 
                                new PropertyMetadata(SwitchState.None, ValuePropertyChanged));

public SwitchState Value
{
    get => (SwitchState)GetValue(ValueProperty);
    set => SetValue(ValueProperty, value);
}

private static void ValuePropertyChanged(DependencyObject dependencyObject, DependencyPropertyChangedEventArgs args)
{
    var switchControl = dependencyObject as MultiSwitchControl;
    switchControl?.UpdateSwitchState();
}

private void UpdateSwitchState()
{
    VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, SelectionStatePrefix + this.Value, true);
}

Pointer Events in the Templated Control

A lot of the visual state changes are conditional on intercepting pointer activity entering, exiting, pressing and release on the Templated Control. To attach the correct event handlers we need to override the OnApplyTemplate method – this method is called to apply the template to the control, afterwhich the various parts of the template are available to interact with.

private IDictionary<UIElement, (SwitchState state, bool isInside, bool isPressed)> Parts { get; } = new Dictionary<UIElement, (SwitchState state, bool isInside, bool isPressed)>();

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

    var switchStates = new[] { SwitchState.Off, SwitchState.Up, SwitchState.Right, SwitchState.Down, SwitchState.Left };
    foreach (var s in switchStates)
    {
        SetupPart(s);
    }

    Value = SwitchState.Off;
}

private void SetupPart(SwitchState state)
{
    var partName = PartPrefix + state;
    var partOff = GetTemplateChild(partName) as UIElement;
    if (partOff == null) throw new NullReferenceException($"{partName} expected in control template");
    Parts[partOff] = (state: state, isInside: false, isPressed: false);
    partOff.PointerPressed += PartPointerPressed;
    partOff.PointerReleased += PartPointerReleased;
    partOff.PointerEntered += PartPointerEntered;
    partOff.PointerExited += PartPointerExited;
}

As the code above illustrates, the OnApplyTemplate method iterates through a list of switch states, invoking the SetupPart method, afterwhich it sets the default value of the switch to Off. The SetupPart method calls GetTemplateChild to retrieve the element generated by the corresponding template part. For example for the SwitchState.Off, the partName is “PART_Off”. Calling GetTemplateChild doesn’t retrieve the Grid from the ControlTemplate, it retrieves the Grid that was created as part of applying the ControlTemplate to the instance of the MultiSwitchControl.

The Parts dictionary is used to track the current state of each part of the MultiSwitchControl. More specifically it tracks whether a pointer is inside the part and whether the pointer has been pressed. As you’ll see in the next code snippet, these values are used to determine when different visual state changes are applied.

At this point we also wire up the event handlers for each of the pointer events. The expected flow is that a pointer will enter the part, it may then be pressed (which will capture the pointer), the pointer may then exit and/or release at some point in the future. If the pointer is released whilst still within the part, this will select the part and change the state of the MultiSwitchControl.

private void PartPointerEntered(object sender, PointerRoutedEventArgs e)
{
    var partElement = sender as UIElement;
    if (partElement == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    var part = Parts[partElement];
    Parts[partElement] = (part.state, true, part.isPressed);
    if (!part.isPressed)
    {
        VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, PointerOverStatePrefix + part.state, true);
    }
}

private void PartPointerExited(object sender, PointerRoutedEventArgs e)
{
    var partElement = sender as UIElement;
    if (partElement == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    var part = Parts[partElement];
    Parts[partElement] = (part.state, false, part.isPressed);
    if (!part.isPressed)
    {
        VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, NormalState, true);
    }
}

private void PartPointerPressed(object sender, PointerRoutedEventArgs e)
{
    var partElement = sender as UIElement;
    if (partElement == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    var part = Parts[partElement];
    if (!part.isInside && !part.isPressed)
    {
        // Hack to deal with Android not firing events correctly
        //VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, "Selection" + part.state, true);
        Value = part.state;
        VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, NormalState, true);
        return;
    }
    Parts[partElement] = (part.state, part.isInside, true);
    VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, PressedStatePrefix + part.state, true);
    partElement.CapturePointer(e.Pointer);
}

private void PartPointerReleased(object sender, PointerRoutedEventArgs e)
{
    var partElement = sender as UIElement;
    if (partElement == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    partElement.ReleasePointerCaptures();
    var part = Parts[partElement];
    Parts[partElement] = (part.state, part.isInside, false);
    if (part.isInside)
    {
        Value = part.state;
    }
    VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, NormalState, true);
}

What’s a TemplatePart?

Earlier in this post I mentioned that WPF had a pseudo standard for the naming of parts of the template that needed to exist. The more precise name for these elements are template parts and the reason that the naming convention is no longer widely adopted is that there is a more prescriptive way to communicate to developers the required parts of a control.

The TemplatePartAttribute should be used to define the name and, if necessary, the type of the content template that need to exist in order for the control to operate correctly. In the case of the MultiSwitchControl there are five template parts, so we add five instances of the TemplatePartAttribute to the MultiSwitchControl class.

[TemplatePart(Name = "PART_Off")]
[TemplatePart(Name = "PART_Up")]
[TemplatePart(Name = "PART_Right")]
[TemplatePart(Name = "PART_Down")]
[TemplatePart(Name = "PART_Left")]
public partial class MultiSwitchControl : Control

I’d love to stay that these attributes showed up in the visual designer in Visual Studio or Blend but the reality is that both designers are in a pretty messed up state right now, so I would count on getting any useful prompts. The best advice I’d give is that if you’re going to start messing with the template of a control, inspect the class for yourself and see what template parts are required.

Are We There Yet?

Yes, the good news is that we’ve got to a point where we have a functioning control. We’ve used all the power of UWP to separate the visuals (i.e. the ControlTemplate coupled with Visual States) from the underlying control functionality. The only real connection is via the named parts of the template.

The following GIFs illustrate the control running on Windows, Android and WASM:

Overriding the Style of a Templated Control

The last thing I wanted to illustrate is how it’s possible to adjust the layout and visual appearance of the switch control without impacting the way it works. In the App.xaml file in the shared project (i.e. not in the class library) I’ve copied across the Style for the MultiSwitchControl. I’ve subsequently modified the ControlTemplate as follows:

  • Instead of multiple rows, all the boxes are now placed in 1 row
  • Each box now has a rounded corner, effectively causing them to be circular in shape (this was admittedly a lazy way and I should really have made them ellipses).
<ControlTemplate TargetType="myCustomControls:MultiSwitchControl">
<Grid Background="Transparent"
      DataContext="{Binding RelativeSource={RelativeSource TemplatedParent}}">
  <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
    <ColumnDefinition />
  </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
  <Grid x:Name="PART_Left"
        Grid.Column="0"
        Background="Transparent"
        CornerRadius="30"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
    <Border x:Name="PART_Left_PointerOver"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Left_Pressed"
            Opacity="{TemplateBinding PressedOpacity}"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Left_Selection"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
  </Grid>
  <Grid x:Name="PART_Down"
        Grid.Column="2"
        Background="Transparent"
        CornerRadius="30"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
    <Border x:Name="PART_Down_PointerOver"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Down_Pressed"
            Opacity="{TemplateBinding PressedOpacity}"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Down_Selection"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
  </Grid>
  <Grid x:Name="PART_Off"
        Grid.Column="4"
        Background="Transparent"
        CornerRadius="30"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
    <Border x:Name="PART_Off_PointerOver"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Off_Pressed"
            Opacity="{TemplateBinding PressedOpacity}"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Off_Selection"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
  </Grid>
  <Grid x:Name="PART_Up"
        Grid.Column="6"
        Background="Transparent"
        CornerRadius="30"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
    <Border x:Name="PART_Up_PointerOver"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Up_Pressed"
            Opacity="{TemplateBinding PressedOpacity}"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Up_Selection"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
  </Grid>
  <Grid x:Name="PART_Right"
        Grid.Column="8"
        Background="Transparent"
        CornerRadius="30"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}">
    <Border x:Name="PART_Right_PointerOver"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Right_Pressed"
            Opacity="{TemplateBinding PressedOpacity}"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
    <Border x:Name="PART_Right_Selection"
            Background="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"
            Visibility="Collapsed" />
  </Grid>
  <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
    ...
  </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
</Grid>
</ControlTemplate>

The only other change I needed to make was in MainPage I needed to change the instance of the MultiSwitchControl to reference the Style that I’d added. Now when I run my sample application I can see that the MultiSwitchControl looks dramatically different, and yet still functions the same way.

Wrapping up the Templated Control

As you’ve hopefully seen in this post there’s huge potential with a Templated Control to build a component that can be heavily reused and more importantly restyled. The point of Templated Controls, or lookless controls, is that the restyling shouldn’t change the core functionality.

What excites me about the Uno platform is that this stuff just works. The entire Templated Control I’ve walked through works on Android, iOS, Windows and WASM – what other technology allows you to do that, with the same ability to retemplate a control.

Don’t forget the full source code is available on GitHub

ListView and GridView Templates for Windows (UWP)

In my previous post I discussed Control Template in Windows development (UWP and Platform.Uno). I feel the topic of templates warrants at least one follow up post. So, in this post I’m going to walk through ListView Templates and GridView Templates. As both ListView and GridView inherit from ListViewBase, I’m actually going to focus my … Continue reading “ListView and GridView Templates for Windows (UWP)”

In my previous post I discussed Control Template in Windows development (UWP and Platform.Uno). I feel the topic of templates warrants at least one follow up post. So, in this post I’m going to walk through ListView Templates and GridView Templates. As both ListView and GridView inherit from ListViewBase, I’m actually going to focus my attention on the ListView. However, the GridView shares the same templates, just with a default horizontal layout.

You might be thinking that surely the ListView only has 1, maybe 2, templates. In this post you’ll see that there are all sorts of templates, that allow you to tailor the ListView. The flexibility offered by the XAML framework, whether you code in XAML or in C#, is truly amazing, as you’ll come to see.

Populating a ListView with Data

Let’s jump in and build out a basic page with some data. For the purpose of this post I’m going to define a static array of data that we’ll be working. I’ve exposed a property, Presenters, that lists a selection of presenters for the upcoming Xamarin Developer Summit. Each presenter has a Name, Title, Company and AvatarUrl.

public sealed partial class MainPage 
{
    public MainPage()
    {
        this.InitializeComponent();
    }
 
    public Presenter[] Presenters { get; } = 
        new Presenter[]
    {
        ("Dan Siegel", "Microsoft MVP & Owner","AvantiPoint", 
        "https://xamarindevelopersummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/[email protected]" ),
        ("David Ortinau", "Senior Program Manager","Microsoft", 
        "https://xamarindevelopersummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/david_spk.png" ),
        ("James Montemagno", "Principal Program Manager","Microsoft", 
        "https://xamarindevelopersummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/james_spk.png" ),
        ("Donovan Brown", "Principal DevOps Manager","Microsoft", 
        "https://xamarindevelopersummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/donovan_spk.png" ),
        ("Jonathan Peppers", "Senior Software Engineer","Microsoft", 
        "https://xamarindevelopersummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/[email protected]" ),
        ("Martijn van Dijk", "Microsoft and Xamarin MVP","Baseflow", 
        "https://xamarindevelopersummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/[email protected]" )
    };
}

public class Presenter
{
    public string AvatarUrl { get; set; }
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public string Title { get; set; }
    public string Company { get; set; }

    public static implicit operator Presenter((string Name, string Title, string Company, string AvatarUrl) info)
    {
        return new Presenter { Name = info.Name, Title=info.Title, Company = info.Company, AvatarUrl = info.AvatarUrl };
    }
}

In the XAML for the MainPage I’m going to add a ListView and set the ItemsSource property to the Presenters property. I’m using the x:Bind syntax to eliminate the need for reflection and improve performance of the app. However, if your data isn’t available when the page loads, you should consider setting the Mode to OneWay if using the x:Bind syntax.

<Grid>
    <ListView ItemsSource="{x:Bind Presenters}" />
</Grid>

At this point if I run the app, what I see is a blank window. However, on closer inspection you can see that there are indeed multiple rows. As the mouse moves over a row it gets a grey background. When I click on a row, that row gets a black border around it, to indicate it’s the selected row.

Clearly we need to adjust the layout of the ListView so that we can see information about the presenters.

Default Layout using ToString

We’ll start with the simplest way to get information to display in the ListView, which is to override the ToString method. Here I’m returning a string made up of the Name, Title and Company of the presenter.

public override string ToString()
{
    return $"{Name} - {Title} - {Company}";
}

Running the app again, without modifying the XAML, I can see that each row corresponds to a presenter in the Presenters array.

Display Single Property using DisplayMemberPath

The DisplayMemberPath property on the ListView can be used to specify a property on the data bound item. In this case we’re setting the path to be the Name property.

<ListView DisplayMemberPath="Name"
        ItemsSource="{x:Bind Presenters}" />

Whilst the DisplayMemberPath might be useful for simple data sets, it does rely on reflection. The string literal set as the DisplayMemberPath needs to be converted into a get operation on the corresponding property.

Item Layout using ItemTemplate and ItemTemplateSelector

What do you do if you want to specify a more complex layout for the items in the array. One of the most common templates to be specified on a ListView is the ItemTemplate. By defining a DataTemplate that can be used by the ListView, you can control exactly how each item in the ListView is presented.

Using a DataTemplate for an ItemTemplate

If you haven’t worked with ListView templates before, it’s worth opening your solution in Visual Studio Blend. In the Objects and Timeline window, right-click on the ListView and select Edit Additional Templates, Edit Generated Items (ItemTemplate) and Create Empty.

Give the new template a name, PresenterItemTemplate, and add it as a resource on the page.

The XAML only contains the ItemTemplate and ItemsSource properties. The DisplayMemberPath shown earlier is no longer required

<ListView ItemTemplate="{StaticResource PresenterItemTemplate}"
            ItemsSource="{x:Bind Presenters}" />

Each presenter is displayed using two columns that you can see defined in the following XAML. In the first column is an Image using the AvatarUrl property. The second column has a StackPanel, allowing the Name and Company to be stacked.

<DataTemplate x:Key="PresenterItemTemplate"
                x:DataType="local:Presenter">
    <Grid>
        <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
            <ColumnDefinition Width="100" />
            <ColumnDefinition />
        </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
        <Image Margin="8"
                Source="{x:Bind AvatarUrl}" />
        <StackPanel Grid.Column="1"
                    VerticalAlignment="Center">
            <TextBlock Margin="0,0,0,4"
                        Text="{x:Bind Name}"
                        Style="{StaticResource TitleTextBlockStyle}" />
            <TextBlock Text="{x:Bind Company}"
                        Style="{StaticResource SubtitleTextBlockStyle}" />
        </StackPanel>
    </Grid>
</DataTemplate>

Our items are already looking much better. Note that the hexagonal frame around the presenter’s avatar is part of the image, not the ItemTemplate.

Multiple Templates using a DataTemplateSelector as the ItemTemplateSelector

In some cases it may be necessary that you need to modify the ItemTemplate based on some attribute of the data. By setting the ItemTemplateSelector property on the ListView, you can dynamically switch the ItemTemplate that’s used.

For this example we’re going to use whether the presenter works for Microsoft or not, based on their Company property. I’ve created a derived class, PresenterTemplateSelector, off of the DataTemplateSelector base class. In the SelectTemplateCore method I’m inspecting the Company property and returning one of two DataTemplate based on whether its equal to “Microsoft”.

public class PresenterTemplateSelector:DataTemplateSelector
{
    public DataTemplate RegularPresenter { get; set; }
    public DataTemplate MicrosoftPresenter { get; set; }

    protected override DataTemplate SelectTemplateCore(object item)
    {
        if(item is Presenter presenter)
        {
            return presenter.Company == "Microsoft" ? MicrosoftPresenter : RegularPresenter;
        }

        return base.SelectTemplateCore(item);
    }
}

In the following XAML I’ve defined two DataTemplates. The difference is that the MicrosoftPresenterItemTemplate uses a Microsoft Logo in place of the presenter’s avatar image.

<Page.Resources>
    <DataTemplate x:Key="PresenterItemTemplate"
                    x:DataType="local:Presenter">
        <Grid>
            <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                <ColumnDefinition Width="100" />
                <ColumnDefinition />
            </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
            <Image Margin="8"
                    Source="{x:Bind AvatarUrl}" />
            <StackPanel Grid.Column="1"
                        VerticalAlignment="Center">
                <TextBlock Margin="0,0,0,4"
                            Text="{x:Bind Name}"
                            Style="{StaticResource TitleTextBlockStyle}" />
                <TextBlock Text="{x:Bind Company}"
                            Style="{StaticResource SubtitleTextBlockStyle}" />
            </StackPanel>
        </Grid>
    </DataTemplate>
    <DataTemplate x:Key="MicrosoftPresenterItemTemplate"
                    x:DataType="local:Presenter">
        <Grid>
            <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                <ColumnDefinition Width="100" />
                <ColumnDefinition />
            </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
            <Image Margin="8,32"
                    Source="http://img-prod-cms-rt-microsoft-com.akamaized.net/cms/api/am/imageFileData/RE2qVsJ?ver=3f74" />
            <StackPanel Grid.Column="1"
                        VerticalAlignment="Center">
                <TextBlock Margin="0,0,0,4"
                            Text="{x:Bind Name}"
                            Style="{StaticResource TitleTextBlockStyle}" />
                <TextBlock Text="{x:Bind Company}"
                            Style="{StaticResource SubtitleTextBlockStyle}" />
            </StackPanel>
        </Grid>
    </DataTemplate>
    <local:PresenterTemplateSelector x:Key="PresenterTemplateSelector"
                                        RegularPresenter="{StaticResource PresenterItemTemplate}"
                                        MicrosoftPresenter="{StaticResource MicrosoftPresenterItemTemplate}" />
</Page.Resources>


<Grid>
    <ListView ItemTemplateSelector="{StaticResource PresenterTemplateSelector}"
                ItemsSource="{x:Bind Presenters}" />
</Grid>

The two DataTemplates are specified as the RegularPresenter and MicrosoftPresenter properties on the PresenterTemplateSelector instance. Subsequently the PresenterTemplateSelector is set as the ItemTemplateSelector on the ListView. Running the application replaces the presenter’s avatar with a Microsoft logo for when the presenter has Microsoft as their Company.

Modifying Selection, Focus and PointerOver (Hover) Style using an ItemContainerStyle

We’ve seen a number of ways to adjust the layout for each element in the ListView. However, despite the variations in layout, when you move the mouse over an item, or click on an item to select it, the change in appearance is always the same. This is because the border that you see when an item is selected, or the gray background when you move the mouse over an item, are controlled by the ItemContainerStyle for the ListView.

You can think of the ItemContainerStyle as being a wrapper around each element in the ListView. It can be used to add borders, background or margin to every item in the ListView. The ItemContainerStyle also has a number of visual states which can be used to adjust the appearance of the item based on how the user is interacting with it.

Default Styles in Generic.xaml

The ItemContainerStyle is moderately complex, so unless you’ve spent a bit of time working with the ListView, I would recommend using one of the defaults as a starting point. The defaults are all listed in the generic.xaml file which can be located at C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\10\DesignTime\CommonConfiguration\Neutral\UAP\10.0.18362.0\Generic (or similar) folder on your computer.

As its name suggests, the ItemContainerStyle is indeed a Style. It is used to style each ListViewItem that is displayed within a ListView. In order to find the default ItemContainerStyle we need to look through the generic.xaml for a Style that has a TargetType of ListViewItem but has no Key set (hence making it the implicit style for all ListViewItme). In the following XAML, taken from generic.xaml, we can see that the Style is based on another explicit Style, ListViewItemRevealStyle.

<Style TargetType="ListViewItem" BasedOn="{StaticResource ListViewItemRevealStyle}" />

In Blend we can use the Apply Resource option to explicitly set the ItemContainerStyle to be the ListViewItemRevealStyle.

Custom ItemContainerStyle

Once we’ve set the ItemContainerStyle of our ListView to be the ListViewItemRevealStyle we can then use the Edit a Copy option to take a copy of the ListViewItemRevealStyle that we can make changes to.

The new Style needs a name and can be added to the current page.

Once the new Style has been added to the page, it immediately gets focus in the Objects and Timeline view. With the ItemContainerStyle in focus, you can then make changes in the Properties window. Any changes will be created as a Setter on the Style.

The following XAML is the copy of the ListViewItemRevealStyle that was copied in. There are three main parts to this Style:

  • Setters – for default values to be applied to the ListViewItem. Since each ListViewItem is generated on demand by the ListView, this is actually your opportunity to set properties directly on the ListViewItem.
  • ListViewItemPresenter – this element makes up the entire ControlTemplate for the ListViewItem. It encapsulates all the styling that you see by default around the ListViewItem and includes a large number of properties that can be adjusted to control the appearance of the ListViewItem. A lot of these properties are already set to a theme resource, making them easy to customise.
  • VisualStateGroups – these are visual states that define changes or transitions for the ListViewItem in different states. This Style only defines the CommonStates and EnabledStates VisualStateGroups as these include common states such as Selected and Pressed states which are the most likely states you’ll want to customise. If you do modify the Selected state, you’ll probably want to customise PointerOverSelected and PressedSelected for a consistent appearance when the user is interacting with the selected item.
<Style x:Key="CustomContainerStyle" TargetType="ListViewItem">
    <Setter Property="FontFamily" Value="{ThemeResource ContentControlThemeFontFamily}" />
    <Setter Property="FontSize" Value="{ThemeResource ControlContentThemeFontSize}" />
    <Setter Property="Background" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackground}" />
    <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemForeground}" />
    <Setter Property="TabNavigation" Value="Local" />
    <Setter Property="IsHoldingEnabled" Value="True" />
    <Setter Property="Padding" Value="12,0,12,0" />
    <Setter Property="HorizontalContentAlignment" Value="Left" />
    <Setter Property="VerticalContentAlignment" Value="Center" />
    <Setter Property="MinWidth" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemMinWidth}" />
    <Setter Property="MinHeight" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemMinHeight}" />
    <Setter Property="AllowDrop" Value="False" />
    <Setter Property="UseSystemFocusVisuals" Value="{StaticResource UseSystemFocusVisuals}" />
    <Setter Property="FocusVisualMargin" Value="0" />
    <Setter Property="Template">
        <Setter.Value>
            <ControlTemplate TargetType="ListViewItem">
                <ListViewItemPresenter
                x:Name="Root"
                HorizontalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding HorizontalContentAlignment}"
                VerticalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding VerticalContentAlignment}"
                CheckBoxBrush="{ThemeResource ListViewItemCheckBoxBrush}"
                CheckBrush="{ThemeResource ListViewItemCheckBrush}"
                CheckMode="{ThemeResource ListViewItemCheckMode}"
                ContentMargin="{TemplateBinding Padding}"
                ContentTransitions="{TemplateBinding ContentTransitions}"
                Control.IsTemplateFocusTarget="True"
                DisabledOpacity="{ThemeResource ListViewItemDisabledThemeOpacity}"
                DragBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemDragBackground}"
                DragForeground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemDragForeground}"
                DragOpacity="{ThemeResource ListViewItemDragThemeOpacity}"
                FocusBorderBrush="{ThemeResource ListViewItemFocusBorderBrush}"
                FocusSecondaryBorderBrush="{ThemeResource ListViewItemFocusSecondaryBorderBrush}"
                FocusVisualMargin="{TemplateBinding FocusVisualMargin}"
                PlaceholderBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemPlaceholderBackground}"
                PointerOverBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver}"
                PointerOverForeground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemForegroundPointerOver}"
                PressedBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackgroundPressed}"
                ReorderHintOffset="{ThemeResource ListViewItemReorderHintThemeOffset}"
                RevealBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBackground}"
                RevealBorderBrush="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderBrush}"
                RevealBorderThickness="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderThemeThickness}"
                SelectedBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackgroundSelected}"
                SelectedForeground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemForegroundSelected}"
                SelectedPointerOverBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackgroundSelectedPointerOver}"
                SelectedPressedBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackgroundSelectedPressed}"
                SelectionCheckMarkVisualEnabled="{ThemeResource ListViewItemSelectionCheckMarkVisualEnabled}">
                    <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
                        <VisualStateGroup x:Name="CommonStates">
                            <VisualState x:Name="Normal" />
                            <VisualState x:Name="Selected" />
                            <VisualState x:Name="PointerOver">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="Root.(RevealBrush.State)" Value="PointerOver" />
                                    <Setter Target="Root.RevealBorderBrush" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderBrushPointerOver}" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                            <VisualState x:Name="PointerOverSelected">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="Root.(RevealBrush.State)" Value="PointerOver" />
                                    <Setter Target="Root.RevealBorderBrush" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderBrushPointerOver}" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                            <VisualState x:Name="PointerOverPressed">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="Root.(RevealBrush.State)" Value="Pressed" />
                                    <Setter Target="Root.RevealBorderBrush" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderBrushPressed}" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                            <VisualState x:Name="Pressed">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="Root.(RevealBrush.State)" Value="Pressed" />
                                    <Setter Target="Root.RevealBorderBrush" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderBrushPressed}" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                            <VisualState x:Name="PressedSelected">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="Root.(RevealBrush.State)" Value="Pressed" />
                                    <Setter Target="Root.RevealBorderBrush" Value="{ThemeResource ListViewItemRevealBorderBrushPressed}" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                        </VisualStateGroup>
                        <VisualStateGroup x:Name="DisabledStates">
                            <VisualState x:Name="Enabled" />
                            <VisualState x:Name="Disabled">
                                <VisualState.Setters>
                                    <Setter Target="Root.RevealBorderThickness" Value="0" />
                                </VisualState.Setters>
                            </VisualState>
                        </VisualStateGroup>
                    </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
                </ListViewItemPresenter>
            </ControlTemplate>
        </Setter.Value>
    </Setter>
</Style>

The ListViewItemPresenter is the single element that makes up the ControlTemplate. It is responsible for hosting the ItemTemplate and does infact inherit from ContentPresenter. However, unlike the ContentPresenter which is a basic content host, the ListViewItemPresenter implements standard ListView behaviour such as selection borders and changing the background when you hover over the item etc.

Overriding a ThemeResource to Customise the ListViewItemPresenter

A lot of the behaviour of the ListViewItemPresenter is configurable on the ListViewItemPresenterOr by simply adjusting its properties in the ControlTemplate. Furthermore, a good percentage of these properties are already specified in the ControlTemplate using either a ThemeResource or via a TemplateBinding.

For example take the PointerOverBackground property, which determines the background colour of the ListViewItem when the mouse hovers over it. By default the PointerOverBackground property uses the ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver theme resource.

<ListViewItemPresenter
    x:Name="Root" ...
    PointerOverBackground="{ThemeResource ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver}" />

One way to change the PointerOverBackground property is to set it directly on the ListViewItemPresenter.

<ListViewItemPresenter
    x:Name="Root" ...
    PointerOverBackground="Red" />

Alternatively, I can leave the PointerOverBackground set to the ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver theme resource. I can then override the default value of the ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver resource. If adjusting properties on the ListViewItemPresenter is the only reason to override the default Style, you can do this by simply defining the matching static resource.

<SolidColorBrush x:Key="ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver">Red</SolidColorBrush>

ListViewItemPresenter Properties that have a TemplateBinding

There’s a bit of inconsistency with how the properties on the ListViewItemPresenter are specified. As we’ve seen with the PointerOverBackground property, some properties are set using a theme resource. However, there are other properties that are set using a template binding. For example, the HorizontalContentAlignment property is set using a TemplateBinding.

<ListViewItemPresenter
    x:Name="Root" ...
    HorizontalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding HorizontalContentAlignment}" />

This means that instead of overriding a theme resource, instead we have to look above the ContentTemplate to the Setters defined in the Style for the ListViewItem. In this case the HorizontalContentAlignment property is set to Left.

<Style x:Key="CustomContainerStyle" TargetType="ListViewItem">
    ...
    <Setter Property="HorizontalContentAlignment" Value="Left" />

If you’re not familiar with the HorizontalContentAlignment property it’s used to define how the contents of a ContentPresenter is aligned and sized. With the default value of Left, the content of the ListViewItem will be positioned adjacent to the left edge. Even if you specify the HorizontalAlignment to be Center or Stretch on the first element of the ItemTemplate, the contents will still be aligned to the left. This is a common issue that developers run into when using the ListView and is easily fixed by setting the HorizontalContentAlignment to Stretch.

Visual States on the ListViewItemPresenter

The ListViewItemPresenter encapsulates a lot of behaviour associated with how the ListViewItem is styled. However, in the ControlTemplate for the ListViewItem you can see that there are some visual states defined within the ListViewItemPresenter. These visual states can be used to further customise the appearance of the ListViewItem based on the state of the item in the list.

In the default Style for the ListViewItem, which we copied into our project earlier, there are two VisualStateGroups defined: CommonStates and DisabledStates. From an initial inspection this would appear to cover most states that you can imagine a ListViewItem would be in, such as Normal, Pressed, PointerOver, Enabled etc. However, there is a set of visual states that haven’t been defined here which is common to a lot of XAML element. The FocusStates group is typically made up of Focused and Unfocused states. As you can imagine, these define the changes to the appearance when an element gets or loses focus.

I’m going to adjust the ListViewItemPresenter to shrink the ListViewItem when it gets focus. I’ll do this by applying a render transform to reduce the ScaleX and ScaleY properties to 0.8. Before I can add the visual states, I first need to make sure that there is a render transform object that I can manipulate. In this case I’m going to use a CompositeTransform as this gives me the most flexibility to apply any render transform, not just a scale transform.

<ListViewItemPresenter
    x:Name="Root" ...
    RenderTransformOrigin="0.5,0.5">
        <ListViewItemPresenter.RenderTransform>
            <CompositeTransform x:Name="CustomTransform"/>
        </ListViewItemPresenter.RenderTransform>

Next I’m going to add a new VisualStateGroup to the ListViewItemPresenter. In this group I’ve defined two visual states. The Unfocused state doesn’t have any properties set, whereas the Focused state sets the ScaleX and ScaleY properties.

<ListViewItemPresenter
    x:Name="Root" ... >
        <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
            ...
            <VisualStateGroup x:Name="FocusStates">
                <VisualState x:Name="Focused">
                    <VisualState.Setters>
                        <Setter Target="CustomTransform.ScaleX" Value="0.8" />
                        <Setter Target="CustomTransform.ScaleY" Value="0.8" />
                    </VisualState.Setters>
                </VisualState>
                <VisualState x:Name="Unfocused" />
            </VisualStateGroup>
        </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
    </ListViewItemPresenter>

In order to see the impact of this I’ve set the SelectionMode on the ListView to Extended. This defines how many items can be selected, and how the ListView allows items to be selected. The Extended value means that on Windows you can hold down the Ctrl key whilst using the up and down arrow keys to move the focus between items without selecting them.

The changes we’ve applied to the ListViewItemPresenter (that you can see in the following image) are:

  • We’ve overridden the default value of the ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver to set it to Red
  • We’ve applied a scale transform when an item is in the Focused state.

In the following image you can see three complete items that are in different states:

  • Selected – the first item in the list has been selected, which is highlighted by the green background
  • PointerOver – when the screenshot was taken the mouse pointer was hovering over the second item, hence the Red background thanks to the ListViewItemBackgroundPointerOver resource.
  • Focused – the keyboard has been used to move focus to the third item by holding the Ctrl key and using the arrow keys. The Focused visual state causes the item to be scaled down to 80%.

Expanded Style for ListViewItem

In the previous sections we’ve been working with a copy of the default Style for the ListViewItem. However, if you take a look in the generic.xaml file, you’ll see that there is another Style for the ListViewItem called ListViewItemExpanded. When building for Windows 8/8.1 this expanded Style used to be the default, before the introduction of the ListViewItemPresenter. The ListViewItemExpanded Style goes on for almost 500 lines in order to explicitly define similar behaviour to the ListViewItemPresenter. Unless you really can’t get the ListViewItemPresenter to do what you need, I would avoid attempting to extend the ListViewItemExpanded Style.

So now that I’ve warned you about the complexity of the ListViewItemExpanded Style, it does bode the question as to why I mentioned it. For a couple of reasons: Firstly, it’s important to know that this Style exists and where to find it, in case you really want to dig in and customise the ListViewItem. The second reason is so that I can point out that in place of the ListViewItemPresenter, the ListViewItemExpanded Style uses a vanilla ContentPresenter to host each item in the ListView.

Minimal Style for ListViewItem

Occasionally you may want to do away with all the visual enhancements that you get out of the box with the ListView. This may be to squeeze that last little bit of performance out of the ListView (often required on Xbox where memory management is abysmal), or it may be that you don’t want all the hover effects, or the animations when items are selected or add/removed from the ListView. As mentioned in the previous section where we discussed the ListViewItemExpanded Style, the key to hosting items in the ListView is the ContentPresenter. Thus, it’s easy for us to create a bare minimum Style that doesn’t do anything other than host the items in the ListView.

<Style x:Key="MinimalContainerStyle" TargetType="ListViewItem">
    <Setter Property="Template">
        <Setter.Value>
            <ControlTemplate TargetType="ListViewItem">
                <ContentPresenter x:Name="ContentPresenter"
                    Grid.Column="1"
                    HorizontalAlignment="{TemplateBinding HorizontalContentAlignment}"
                    VerticalAlignment="{TemplateBinding VerticalContentAlignment}"
                    ContentTemplate="{TemplateBinding ContentTemplate}"
                    Content="{TemplateBinding Content}" />
            </ControlTemplate>
        </Setter.Value>
    </Setter>
</Style>

As you can see from the following image there’s no additional padding or margin, and there’s no selection, focus or mouse over states.

Note: If you get to the point where you strip out all the layout, animation and other behaviour from the ListViewItem (such as in the MinimalContainerSylte above), you should consider using an ItemsControl instead of the ListView. You can think of the ItemsControl as a raw repeater that allows you to data bind a collection of elements in order to have them presented in a list on the screen. However, it doesn’t support selection and other interactivity features that the ListView has.

ItemsPanel

So far we’ve looked at templates that govern how each item in the ListView appear. The ItemsPanel property on the ListView accepts an ItemsPanelTemplat which defines how items are placed relative to each other. For example the default ItemsPanelTemplate that is specified on the ListView template uses an ItemsStackPanel to efficiently layout items in a vertical stack

<ItemsPanelTemplate>
    <ItemsStackPanel Orientation="Vertical" />
</ItemsPanelTemplate>

What’s interesting is that you can easily switch between laying items out in a vertical list, to having them presented horizontally, by changing the Orientation to Horizontal on the ItemsStackPanel. You will also have to adjust the default Setters on the ListView template to enable horizontal scrolling and disable vertical scrolling.

Most XAML developers will be familiar with a regular StackPanel that’s used to present items in either a vertical or horizontal list. The ItemsStackPanel is similar in that it presents items by stacking them. However, it has been specifically designed for use with a ListView, GridView or even an ItemsControl. It is capable of virtualising the items in the ListView making it particularly efficient for large lists.

It is worth pointing out that virtualisation isn’t always a good thing. If you have a small number of items in the list, you may get a better experience by disabling virtualisation. Using a regular StackPanel instead of an ItemsStackPanel will prevent any virtualisation meaning that scrolling won’t have any ghost cells (cells where the contents haven’t completely rendered). However, be aware that as the number of items increases, so will both the load time and the memory usage.

GridView v ListView

Whilst on the topic of the ItemsPanel property, it’s worth looking at the default value for the GridView. Instead of using an ItemsStackPanel, the GridView uses an ItemsWrapGrid, allowing items to wrap in either a horizontal or vertical direction.

Both the GridView and ListView inherit from the ListViewBase class. If you inspect the default Style for both GridView and ListView you’ll see that the main variations are in the direction of scrolling and the ItemsPanel. As an experiment to see how well you understand the various templates, try converting a GridView into a ListView and vice versa – you can do this just by adjusting the attributes of the various templates.

Header and Footer Templates

We’re getting towards the end of the templates for the ListView but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the Header and Footer templates. One basic usage for these is to add space to the beginning or the end of the list of items. However, if you just want to do this, you may want to consider just adding a margin to the ItemsStackPanel in the ItemsPanel.

The header and footers of a ListView are pairs of properties. There are a Header and HeaderTemplate properties, and there are Footer and FooterTemplate properties. These work very similar to Content and ContentTemplate properties on a ContentControl. The Header and Footer represent the data that you want to display. Then of course the HeaderTemplate and FooterTemplate define the template for that data.

<ListView ...
    Header="This is the header">
    <ListView.HeaderTemplate>
        <DataTemplate>
            <TextBlock Text="{Binding}" Style="{StaticResource TitleTextBlockStyle}"/>
        </DataTemplate>
    </ListView.HeaderTemplate>
</ListView>

The following image illustrates the Header being applied via the HeaderTemplate as the beginning of the ListView. In this case I’ve added a Margin of 50 to the top of the ItemsStackPanel, which as you can see appears after the Header but before the list of items.

ListView Template

So the last template I’m going to cover in this post is of course the template for the ListView itself. If you look in the generic.xaml file you’ll find implicit styles for both the ListView and the GridView. The default styles define things like the transitions to be applied to items (i.e. the ItemContainerTransitions), the ItemsPanel (i.e. ItemsStackPanel for ListView, ItemsWrapGrid for GridView) and of course the ControlTemplate for the ListView and GridView themselves.

The ControlTemplate for both ListView and GridView are relatively simple and are made up of a Border, a nested ScrollViewer and a nested ItemsPresenter.

Scroll Events

A scenario that comes up from time to time is that you want to trigger some behaviour based upon the ListView being scrolled. This might be the first time its scrolled, or perhaps it’s when the scrolling gets to a certain point. Either way, you can easily attach an event to the ScrollViewer that’s part of the ControlTemplate for the ListView.

Templates for ListView and GridView

In this post we’ve walked through a variety of different ways you can customise the appearance of the ListView and GridView controls. There are templates for controlling how items appear and their behaviour, and there are templates for styling the ListView and GridView themselves.

One set of templates we didn’t touch on in this post are those that are used when grouping data. Whilst grouped data typically uses the ItemTemplate to render each item in the list, there are separate templates for the group header and footers. We’ll leave the topic of working with grouped data for another post.

XAML Control Templates for Windows (UWP) and Platform.Uno

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about using code to declare the user interface of an app. Such as a recent post I did following the announcement of SwiftUI by Apple. In the Xamarin.Forms world the hashtag CSharpForMarkup has become the latest distraction. CSharpForMarkup encourages developers to move away from XAML to defining … Continue reading “XAML Control Templates for Windows (UWP) and Platform.Uno”

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about using code to declare the user interface of an app. Such as a recent post I did following the announcement of SwiftUI by Apple. In the Xamarin.Forms world the hashtag CSharpForMarkup has become the latest distraction. CSharpForMarkup encourages developers to move away from XAML to defining their layouts using C#. Whilst I’m not against this, I do feel that we’re all discussing the wrong problem. Whether you use code or XAML to define your layouts, Xamarin.Forms suffers from being tied to the underlying platform controls. Renderers, Effects and Visual are all mechanisms to compensate for not having XAML control templates for every control (more on templates).

Enter Platform.Uno and their mission to take the XAML framework from Windows (UWP) and adapt it to other platforms. As an alternative for building apps for iOS and Android, Platform Uno was moderately interesting. With their push to support WebAssembly, Platform.Uno opens up a world of opportunities for building rich applications for the web. Their recent example of publishing the Windows calculator to the web (https://calculator.platform.uno) is just the the start for this technology.

In this post we’ll walk through how the XAML templating system works and how to go about defining a Control Template to customise the behaviour of controls.

Note: In this post I’ll be using XAML so that I can use Blend to assist with writing XAML. You can choose to use C# if you prefer defining your layouts in code. The point of this post is to highlight the templating capabilities of UWP and Platform.Uno.

Lookless or Templated Controls

One of the foundations of XAML was the notion of a templated, or lookless, control. In his post “What does it mean to be ‘lookless’?” Dave observes that a lookless control is one where the UI is declared in XAML and the behaviour or functionality of the control is defined in code. My view is that a lookless control is one where the functionality of the control isn’t tied to a specific design. By this I mean that each aspect of the control should be defined using a template, thus making it a templated control. A developer using the control should be able to adjust any of the templates without affecting the functionality of the control.

What is a Button?

Let’s look at what this means in practice by examining a Button. If I asked you what you thought a Button in UWP is, you’d probably answer by writing the following element:

<Button Content="Press Me!" />

All you’ve done is declared a Button with content that says “Press Me!” that uses the default Button styles. You haven’t actually answered the question. So let’s start with a simple definition of a button.

A Button is an element that responds to the user tapping or clicking by performing some action.

However, in the context of UWP where a Button is an actual control, this definition is a little too vague. For example, the following Border/TextBlock combination matches the definition

<Border Background="Gray" Tapped="PressMeTapped">
    <TextBlock Text="Press Me!"/>
</Border>

Tapping on the Border does invoke the PressMeTapped event handler but is that all we mean when we say a Button. I would argue that one of the significant aspects to a Button is that it gives some visual cues to the user. By this I mean that when the user hovers their mouse over a button they can the mouse pointer changes, or the Button adjusts how it looks. Similarly, when the user taps or clicks on the Button they should get some visual feedback confirming their action. This feedback is what separates a Button from just simply a tap or click event handler that can be attached to any element.

What we’ve just observed is that the Button has a number of different visual states. In the context of a UWP button these are the Normal, PointerOver and Pressed states. Using the default Button style in the Light theme, these states are shown in the following image.

States in the Control Template for the UWP Button
UWP Button States

As part of extending our definition of a Button I was careful not to define what feedback, or change to layout, should be used for each state of the Button. UWP ships with Dark and Light themes and a set of default control styles that combine to give you the states shown above. However, the important thing to remember is that the visual appearance isn’t what defines a Button. Perhaps an updated definition might be something like:

A Button is an element that responds to the user tapping or clicking by performing some action. It has Normal, PointerOver, Pressed and Disabled visual states that can provide feedback and guide the user on how to interact with the control.

Content v Text Properties

Xamarin.Forms deviates from most other XAML platforms when it comes to defining elements and attributes. For example, instead of using a StackPanel, Xamarin.Forms has a StackLayout. Not only are they named differently, they also exhibit different behaviour. Similarly, the Button control has a Text property instead of a Content property. Whilst this might seem like a decision to simplify the Button control it highlights the limitation of Xamarin.Forms due to the lack of templating.

Let’s back up for a second and take a look at the Content property. In a lot of cases you might simply set the Content attribute to a string, such as the earlier example where I set the Content to “Press Me!”. However, to override the styling of the text, or add other content to the Button, I can set the Content property explicitly.

<Button>
    <StackPanel>
        <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource HeaderTextBlockStyle}"
                   Text="Press Me!" />
        <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}"
                   Text="or.... perhaps not" />
    </StackPanel>
</Button>

Note: As the Content property on the Button is annotated with the ContentPropertyAttribute, we don’t need to wrap the StackPanel in Button.Content tags.

Even though I’ve changed the content of the Button, I haven’t in anyway changed the way the Button functions. In fact, in this case I haven’t even changed how the Button changes appearance for the different states.

Using a Content Template

Before we get into customising the different Button states I just wanted to touch on the use of content templates. In the previous example I showed how the Content of the Button could be set to any arbitrary XAML. What happens if I want to reuse the content layout but just with different text? This is where the ContentTemplate property is useful.

The ContentTemplate property expects a DataTemplate which will be used to define the layout for the Content. At runtime the DataContext of the ContentTemplate will be set to the value of the Content property. Let’s see this in practice by moving the XAML from the Content property into the ContentTemplate.

<Button>
  <Button.Content>
    <local:ButtonData Heading="Press Me!" SubText="or.... perhaps not" />
  </Button.Content>
  <Button.ContentTemplate>
    <DataTemplate>
      <StackPanel>
        <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource HeaderTextBlockStyle}"
                   Text="{Binding Heading}" />
        <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}"
                   Text="{Binding SubText}" />
      </StackPanel>
    </DataTemplate>
  </Button.ContentTemplate>
</Button>

In this code block you can see that the Content property has been set to a new instance of the ButtonData class. The two TextBlock elements are subsequently data bound to the Heading and SubText properties.

public class ButtonData
{
    public string Heading { get; set; }

    public string SubText { get; set; }
}

What this shows is that we’ve separated the data (i.e. the instance of the ButtonData class) from the presentation (i.e. the DataTemplate that is specified for the ContentTemplate property). Now if we wanted to reuse the DataTemplate across multiple elements we can extract it as a StaticResource. The following code illustrates extracting the DataTemplate to a StaticResource, as well as updating the data binding syntax. The x:Bind syntax gives us strongly typed data binding. Meaning we get intellisense and better runtime performance as there are no reflection calls. Button1 and Button2 are properties on the page that return instances of the ButtonData class.

<Page.Resources>
    <DataTemplate x:Key="MyButtonTemplate"
                  x:DataType="local:ButtonData">
        <StackPanel>
            <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource HeaderTextBlockStyle}"
                       Text="{x:Bind Heading}" />
            <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}"
                       Text="{x:Bind SubText}" />
        </StackPanel>
    </DataTemplate>
</Page.Resources>
<Button Content="{x:Bind Button1}"
        ContentTemplate="{StaticResource MyButtonTemplate}" />
<Button Content="{x:Bind Button2}"
        ContentTemplate="{StaticResource MyButtonTemplate}" />

Custom Control Templates

So far we’ve seen how the Button control supports arbitrary Content and the use of ContentTemplates to reuse layouts across multiple controls. Neither of these can be used to adjust the visual appearance of the different Button states. In this section we’re going to start by looking at what properties you can adjust to tweak the existing states. We’ll then bust out Blend and start messing with the way a Button looks. All of this will be done without changing the functionality of the Button.

ThemeResources in the Control Template

In the previous section I added some arbitrary XAML to the Content of the Button. However, when I run the application I still see the default background gray. The background of the Button control is part of the default Template for the control. We’ll delve into this in a little more detail in the next sections. For the time being we’re going to adjust the colour of the background and round the corners on the border.

Adjusting the background of the Button when it’s in the Normal state can be done two ways. You can either specify the Background on the Button element itself, or you can override the ButtonBackground resource with the colour of your choosing.

<Page.Resources>
    <Color x:Key="ButtonBackground">DarkGreen</Color>
</Page.Resources>

<Button Content="{x:Bind Button1}"
        Background="Blue"
        ContentTemplate="{StaticResource MyButtonTemplate}" />
<Button Width="200"
        Height="200"
        HorizontalAlignment="Center"
        Content="{x:Bind Button2}"
        ContentTemplate="{StaticResource MyButtonTemplate}" />

At this point if you run the application up on UWP you’ll see that the initial colours for the two Button elements are blue and dark green respectivey. However, if you move the mouse over each of them you’ll see that they switch back to a grey background. This is because we’ve only adjusted the colour used to set the initial background colour. To adjust the colour for the PointerOver and Pressed states we need to adjust the appropriate resources, which are aptly called ButtonBackgroundPressed and ButtonBackgroundPressed. A full list of the overridable colours is available in the documentation for the Button control. Alternatively you can find the entire list of built in color resources in the ThemeResources.xaml file (more information here).

Button Colors in ThemeResources.xaml

In addition to changing the background colour, we also wanted to round the corners of the border that appears around the control when the user moves the mouse in closer. This can be done by simply setting the CornerRadius property to 10 on the Button element.

When we get to talking about visual states we’ll go through how properties on the Button control are modified with each visual state.

Changing the Control Template Layout

Sometimes it’s necessary to make changes that can’t be achieved by either setting the ContentTemplate or overriding the default colour resources. For example, say you wanted to add the Built to Roam logo as a watermark behind the content of the Button. To do this we need to override the Template for the Button. For this I’m going to use Blend as it’s particularly good at edit templates.

To begin editing the control template, locate the Button in the Objects and Timelines window. Right-click on the [Button] and select Edit Template, followed by Edit a Copy.

Editing a Copy of the Default Button Template

Next, you’ll be prompted to give the new template a name and specify where you want the template to be defined. When the new template is created it will include the default Button Template, thus allowing you to customise it. In this case the WatermarkButtonTemplate will be defined in the current document, limiting its availability to just the Button elements on the page.

Naming the New Control Template

Note: In this example we’re copying the default Button template. However, what gets copied into the XAML is actually the entire default Button style. This includes all the default property setters. The value of the Template property is set to a new instance of a ControlTemplate.

I’m not going to go through the changes to the template in detail but the summary is:

  • Wrap the ContentPresenter in a Grid called ContentFrame
  • Move Background, BackgroundSizing, BorderBrush, BorderThickness and CornerRadius from the ContentPresenter to ContentFrame
  • Adjust Visual States so that they reference ContentFrame for border and background properties. Leave any references to Foreground targetting the ContentPresenter element.
  • Add an Image inside the Grid with Source set to an image added to the Assets folder.
  • Set Opacity to 20% (0.2) and Stretch to Uniform on the Image.

Before:

<ControlTemplate TargetType="Button">
    <ContentPresenter
        x:Name="ContentPresenter"
        Padding="{TemplateBinding Padding}"
        HorizontalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding HorizontalContentAlignment}"
        VerticalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding VerticalContentAlignment}"
        AutomationProperties.AccessibilityView="Raw"
        Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
        BackgroundSizing="{TemplateBinding BackgroundSizing}"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}"
        Content="{TemplateBinding Content}"
        ContentTemplate="{TemplateBinding ContentTemplate}"
        ContentTransitions="{TemplateBinding ContentTransitions}"
        CornerRadius="{TemplateBinding CornerRadius}">
        <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>                
        ...
        </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
    </ContentPresenter>
</ControlTemplate>

After:

<ControlTemplate TargetType="Button">
    <Grid
        x:Name="ContentFrame"
        Padding="{TemplateBinding Padding}"
        Background="{TemplateBinding Background}"
        BackgroundSizing="{TemplateBinding BackgroundSizing}"
        BorderBrush="{TemplateBinding BorderBrush}"
        BorderThickness="{TemplateBinding BorderThickness}"
        CornerRadius="{TemplateBinding CornerRadius}">
        <Image
            Opacity="0.2"
            Source="Assets/BuiltToRoamLogo.png"
            Stretch="Uniform" />
        <ContentPresenter
            x:Name="ContentPresenter"
            HorizontalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding HorizontalContentAlignment}"
            VerticalContentAlignment="{TemplateBinding VerticalContentAlignment}"
            AutomationProperties.AccessibilityView="Raw"
            Content="{TemplateBinding Content}"
            ContentTemplate="{TemplateBinding ContentTemplate}"
            ContentTransitions="{TemplateBinding ContentTransitions}"
            FontFamily="Segoe UI" />
        <VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
        ...
        </VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
    </Grid>
</ControlTemplate>

The net result is that the image is displayed on top of the background colour (which is set on the parent Grid) but beneath the content.

The important thing about defining this ControlTemplate is that it can be reused on any Button, irrespective of the Content that is being displayed. Again, these changes have affected the design of the Button but we still haven’t modified what happens when the user interacts with the Button.

Tweaking Control Template Visual States

The last set of changes we’re going to look at is how we modify the behaviour of the Button when the user does interact with it. In this case we’re going to look at the Pressed state. We’re going to change the default behaviour to slightly enlarge the Button when it’s in the Pressed state. To do this we need to modify the Pressed VisualState that is defined inside the ControlTemplate.

Using Blend we’ll step through adjusting the Pressed Visual State to expand the Button to 150% of it’s original size (i.e. a scale of 1.5 in both X and Y directions). To get started in the Objects and Timeline window, right click the Button element and select Edit Template, then Edit Current. This is similar to what we did previously but this time we already have a ControlTemplate in the XAML for the page.

Edit an Existing Control Template

Next, from the States window, select the Pressed state. If you click where the word Pressed is written you should see both the focus border around the Pressed state and a red dot appear alongside, indicating that Blend is in recording mode. You should also see a red border appear around the main design surface. If you look at the Button on the design surface it should appear like it’s been Pressed to illustrate what the Pressed state looks like.

Switching to the Pressed state

In the Properties window, locate the Transform section. Select the third icon in, which is for adjusting the Scale of the element. Set both X and Y values to 1.5. You should see a white square alongside each of the values indicating that you’ve explicitly set the value.

Adjusting the Scale Transform for X and Y

If you go back to the Objects and Timeline window you should see that under the ContentFrame there are entries for RenderTransform/ScaleX and RenderTransform/ScaleY to indicate that these properties have been modified for the currently selected visual state.

Visual State Properties

If you run the application now and click on the Button you should see that whilst the mouse button is depressed the Button moves to the Pressed state which shows the Button enlarged.

Enlarged Pressed State for Button

If you examine the change to the XAML, what you’ll see is that two Setters were added to the Pressed Visual State.

<VisualState x:Name="Pressed">
    <VisualState.Setters>
        <Setter Target="ContentFrame.(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.TranslateX)" Value="1.5" />
        <Setter Target="ContentFrame.(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.TranslateY)" Value="1.5" />
    </VisualState.Setters>
    <Storyboard>
        ... other existing animations ...
    </Storyboard>
</VisualState>

Animating Content Template State Transitions

The change we just made to the Control Template was to change the Scale X and Scale Y properties for the Pressed state. However, this is rather a jarring experience as there’s no transition or animation defined. The final step in this process is to add a transition both too and from the Pressed state.

In the States window, click the arrow with a plus sign and select the first item (i.e. *=>Pressed) to add a transition that will be invoked whenever the Button goes to the Pressed state, regardless of the initial state.

Adding Transition into Pressed State

If you look in the Objects and Timeline window you can now see a timeline that will define what animations are run during the transition.

Start of the Transition Timeline

Over in the Properties window, locate the Transform section and click on the empty square alongside the X property. Select Convert to Local Value, which will set the value to 1. The square will now appear as a sold white square. Repeat for Scale Y

Setting the Start of the Transition

Back in the Objects and Timeline window you should now see a keyframe marker appear at time 0. Drag the vertical orange line to 0.5 seconds.

End of Transition in Timeline

Now in the Properties window set the Scale X and Scale Y to 1.5, which is the end values for the transition. Thisshould match the values previously set for the Pressed state.

End Transition Values

Repeat this process for a transition for leaving the Pressed state. The transition should be the reverse with the Scale X and Y starting at 1.5 and ending at 1.

Transitions In and Out of Pressed State

And there you have it, an animated Pressed state.

Animated Pressed State in Control Template

The final XAML for the Transitions includes two Storyboards that defines the transition to and from the Pressed state.

<VisualStateGroup.Transitions>
    <VisualTransition GeneratedDuration="00:00:00"
                      To="Pressed">
        <Storyboard>
            <DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetName="ContentFrame"
                                           Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.ScaleX)">
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00"
                                      Value="1" />
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00.5000000"
                                      Value="1.5" />
            </DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames>
            <DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetName="ContentFrame"
                                           Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.ScaleY)">
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00"
                                      Value="1" />
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00.5000000"
                                      Value="1.5" />
            </DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames>
        </Storyboard>
    </VisualTransition>
    <VisualTransition GeneratedDuration="00:00:00"
                      From="Pressed">
        <Storyboard>
            <DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetName="ContentFrame"
                                           Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.ScaleX)">
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00"
                                      Value="1.5" />
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00.5000000"
                                      Value="1" />
            </DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames>
            <DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames Storyboard.TargetName="ContentFrame"
                                           Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.ScaleY)">
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00"
                                      Value="1.5" />
                <EasingDoubleKeyFrame KeyTime="00:00:00.5000000"
                                      Value="1" />
            </DoubleAnimationUsingKeyFrames>
        </Storyboard>
    </VisualTransition>
</VisualStateGroup.Transitions>

As you can see from this walkthrough, the XAML templating system is relatively sophisticated. It allows for multiple levels of configuration or tweaking in order to get it looking just right.

In coming posts I’ll be talking more about what differentiates XAML and why it’s still being used across Windows, Xamarin.Forms and of course Platform Uno. If you’re looking for cross platform solutions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or anyone on the team at Built to Roam.

ViewModel to ViewModel Navigation in a Xamarin.Forms Application with Prism and MvvmCross

ViewModel to ViewModel Navigation in a Xamarin.Forms Application with Prism and MvvmCross

I’m a big fan of the separation that the Mvvm pattern gives developers in that the user interface is encapsulated in the view (Page, UserControl etc) and that the business logic resides in the ViewModel/Model. When structuring the solution for an application I will go so far as to separate out my ViewModels into a separate project from the views, even with Xamarin.Forms where the views can be defined in a .NET Standard library.

One of the abstractions that this lends itself to is what is referred to as ViewModel to ViewModel navigation – rather than the ViewModel explicitly navigation to a page, or bubbling an event up to the corresponding view to get the view to navigate to the next page, ViewModel to ViewModel navigation allows the ViewModel to call a method such as Navigation(newViewModel) where the newViewModel parameter is either the type of the ViewModel to navigate to, or in some frameworks it may be an actual instance of the new ViewModel.

MvvmCross

Let’s see this in action with MvvmCross first – I’m going to start here because ViewModel to ViewModel navigation is the default navigation pattern in MvvmCross. I’ll start with a new project, created using the MvxScaffolding I covered in my previous post, using MvvmCross in a Xamarin.Forms application. The single view template already comes with a page, HomePage, with corresponding ViewModel, HomeViewModel. To demonstrate navigation I’m going to add a second page and a second ViewModel. Firstly, I’ll add a new class, SecondViewModel, which will inherit from BaseViewModel (a class generated by MvxScaffolding which inherits from MvxViewModel that’s part of MvvmCross).

public class SecondViewModel : BaseViewModel
{
}

Next, I’ll add a new ContentPage called SecondPage (note the convention here that there is a pairing between the page and the ViewModel ie [PageName]Page maps to [PageName]ViewModel)

image

MvvmCross supports automatic registration of pages and ViewModels but it does require that the page inherits from the Mvx base class, MvxContentPage. I just need to adjust the root XAML element from

<ContentPage …

to

<views:MvxContentPage x_TypeArguments=”viewModels:SecondViewModel” …

The inclusion of the TypeArguments means that the generic overload of MvxContentPage is used, providing a helpful ViewModel property by which to access the strongly typed ViewModel that is databound to the page.

Now that we have the second page, we just need to be able to navigate from the HomePage. I’ll add a Button to the HomePage so that the user can drive the navigation:

<Button Text=”Next” Clicked=”NextClicked” />

With method NextClicked as the event handler (here I’m just using a regular event handler but in most cases this would be data bound to a command within the HomeViewModel):

private async void NextClicked(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
     await ViewModel.NextStep();
}

And of course we need to add the NextStep method to the HomeViewModel that will do the navigation. The HomeViewModel also needs access to the IMvxNavigationService in order to invoke the Navigate method – this is done by adding the dependency to the HomeViewModel constructor.

public class HomeViewModel : BaseViewModel
{
     private readonly IMvxNavigationService navigationService;


    public HomeViewModel(IMvxNavigationService navService)
     {
         navigationService = navService;
     }
     public async Task NextStep()
     {
         await navigationService.Navigate<SecondViewModel>();
    }
}

As you can see from this example the HomeViewModel only needs to know about the SecondViewModel, rather than the explicit SecondPage view. This makes it much easier to test the ViewModel as you can provide a mock IMvxNavigationService and verify that the Navigate method is invoked.

Prism

Now let’s switch over to Prism and I’ve used the Prism Template Pack to create a new project. To add a second page I’ll add a SecondPageViewModel, which in the case of Prism inherits from ViewModelBase and requires the appropriate constructor that provides access to the INavigationService. Note that the naming convention with Prism is slightly different from MvvmCross where the ViewModel name is [PageName]PageViewModel (ie both the page and the viewmodel have the Page suffix after the PageName eg SecondPage and SecondPageViewModel)

public class SecondPageViewModel : ViewModelBase
{
     public SecondPageViewModel(INavigationService navigationService) : base(navigationService)
     {
     }
}

I’ll add a new ContentPage called SecondPage but unlike MvvmCross I don’t need to alter the inheritance of this page. Instead what I do need to do is register the page so that it can be navigated to. This is done in the App.xaml.cs where there is already a RegisterTypes method – note the additional line to register SecondPage.

protected override void RegisterTypes(IContainerRegistry containerRegistry)
{
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<NavigationPage>();
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<MainPage, MainPageViewModel>();
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<SecondPage, SecondPageViewModel>();
}

Similar to the MvvmCross example, I’ll add a button to the MainPage (the first page of the Prism application created by the template) with code behind to call the NextStep method on the MainViewModel

private async void NextClicked(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
     await (BindingContext as MainPageViewModel).NextStep();
}

Note that because the MainPage just inherits from the Xamarin.Forms ContentPage there’s no property to expose the data bound viewmodel. Hence the casting of the BindingContext, which you’d of course do null checking and error handling around in a real world application.

public async Task NextStep()
{
     await NavigationService.NavigateAsync(“SecondPage”);
}

The NextStep method invokes the NavigateAsync method using a string literal for the SecondPage – I’m really not a big fan of this since it a) uses a string literal and b) requires the the ViewModel knows about the view that’s being navigated to. So let’s adjust this slightly by changing the way that pages and ViewModels are registered. The RegisterForNavigation method accepts a parameter that allows you to override the navigation path, meaning we can set it to be the name of the ViewModel instead of the name of the page.

protected override void RegisterTypes(IContainerRegistry containerRegistry)
{
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<NavigationPage>();
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<MainPage, MainPageViewModel>(nameof(MainPageViewModel));
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<SecondPage, SecondPageViewModel>(nameof(SecondPageViewModel));
}

The navigation methods would then look like:

public async Task NextStep()
{
     await NavigationService.NavigateAsync(nameof(SecondPageViewModel));
}

But I think we an improve this further still by defining a couple of extension methods

public static class PrismHelpers
{
     public static void RegisterForViewModelNavigation<TView, TViewModel>(this IContainerRegistry containerRegistry)
         where TView : Page
         where TViewModel : class
     {
         containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<TView, TViewModel>(typeof(TViewModel).Name);
     }


    public static async Task<INavigationResult> NavigateAsync<TViewModel>(this INavigationService navigationService)
         where TViewModel : class
     {
         return await navigationService.NavigateAsync(typeof(TViewModel).Name);
     }
}

Using these extension methods we can update the registration code:

protected override void RegisterTypes(IContainerRegistry containerRegistry)
{
     containerRegistry.RegisterForNavigation<NavigationPage>();
     containerRegistry.RegisterForViewModelNavigation<MainPage, MainPageViewModel>();
     containerRegistry.RegisterForViewModelNavigation<SecondPage, SecondPageViewModel>();
}

And then the navigation code:

public async Task NextStep()
{
     await NavigationService.NavigateAsync<SecondPageViewModel>();
}

The upshot of these changes is that there’s almost no difference between the MvvmCross method of navigation and what can be done with a little tweaking with Prism.

Design Time Data for Xamarin.Forms

Design Time Data for Xamarin.Forms

In my previous post I showed how to switch between Visual States using the tooling that comes with the BuildIt.Forms library. One of the other features of the tooling is the ability to load mock data that can assist with visualising how a page might look like with certain data. Rather than try to guess at what data your page might require, the tooling simply allows you to define a series of design actions. Each design action will appear within the BuildIt.Forms flyout, allowing you to invoke the action.

Let’s demonstrate this with an example. I’m going to change the layout of my page slightly so that in the DataLoaded state a ListView is displayed that takes up the entire screen. The XAML for the ListView is as follows:

<ListView x_Name=”DataList” IsVisible=”false”>
     <ListView.ItemTemplate>
         <DataTemplate>
             <ViewCell>
                 <Label Text=”{Binding Name}” />
             </ViewCell>
         </DataTemplate>
     </ListView.ItemTemplate>
</ListView>

As I don’t have any actual data at the moment, when I run up the application and click the Load Data button I see the following for the DataLoaded state:

image

This isn’t great as I’ve got no idea what my ListView is going to look like. So let’s fix this by adding a design action. I do this by calling the AddDesignAction method (it’s an extension method which is why I can access it on the MainPage) and providing a name, “Mock Data”, and the action to perform when the design action is run.

public MainPage()
{
     InitializeComponent();


    var groups = VisualStateManager.GetVisualStateGroups(this);

#if DEBUG
     this.AddDesignAction(“Mock Data”,
         () =>
         {
             var data = from i in new[] { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 }
                        select new { Name = $”Item {i}” };
             DataList.ItemsSource = data;
         });
#endif
}

In this case I’m creating an IEnumerable of an anonymous type that has a property Name, which aligns with the data binding in the ListView XAML shown earlier. I’m assigning this directly to the ItemsSource of the ListView – at this stage I’m just creating the layout of the pages of my application so I might not even have View Models, which is why I’m assigning directly to the ItemSource property in place of data binding it.

Now when I run the application I see:

imageimage

imageimage

The final image shows the list of items being displayed in the ListView – clearly this layout could do with some work!

Visual State Manager Tooling in Xamarin.Forms With BuildIt.States

Visual State Manager Tooling in Xamarin.Forms With BuildIt.States

Back in the days of Silverlight/Windows Phone Microsoft launched a tool called Expression Blend that allowed developers and designer to work in harmony with developers doing their thing (ie write code) in Visual Studio and designers creating the user experience in XAML using Expression Blend. Fast forward a few years and Expression Blend has been rebadged to Blend for Visual Studio and most of the features of Blend have now been migrated to Visual Studio. With the demise of Windows Phone and the lack of developer interest in building for just Windows, Blend is now a tool that most developers have all but forgotten. So, why am I bringing this up now? Well, one of the features I missed from Blend is the ability to have design time data that allows you to build out the entire user interface, with the design time data being replace by real data when the application is run. Whilst there have been some attempts at providing a design time experience for Xamain/Xamarin.Forms, the reality is that it comes no where close to what Blend was able to do in its heyday.

If we look at other platforms, such as React Native, there has been a shift away from design time experience, across to an interactive runtime experience. By this I mean the ability to adjust layout and logic of the application whilst it’s running, which relies on the platform being able to hot-reload both layout and logic of the application. There are some third party tools for Xamarin.Forms that partially enable this functionality.

One of the challenges I found when working with Visual States is that you often need to get the application to a certain point, or follow a particular sequence of steps in order to get a specific Visual State to appear. Take the example I provided in my previous post on page states where I provided DataLoaded and DataFailedToLoad states – in the example the appearance of these states was completely random, so you might have to click the button a couple of times in order to get the state to appear. Luckily, the BuildIt.Forms library has a slightly-hidden feature that allows you to manually switch between states. I say it’s slightly-hidden because if you connect your Visual States to a StateManager in your ViewModels (shown in either this post or this post) you’ll see this feature automatically. In the example I covered in my previous post I needed to add the following line to the end of the MainPage constructor:

public MainPage()
{
     InitializeComponent();
    var groups = VisualStateManager.GetVisualStateGroups(this);
}

Now, when I run the application I see a small dot appear in the bottom left of the screen.

image

Clicking on the dot reveals a flyout that allows you to switch states:

App14UWP20190317125937

Note that this is only shown when the Visual Studio debugger is attached so will not impact the way your application works in release mode.

Page State with the Visual States Manager for Xamarin.Forms

Page State with the Visual States Manager for Xamarin.Forms

One of the current limitations of the Xamarin.Forms implementation of the Visual State Manager (VSM) is that it only works for setting properties on an individual control. Whilst this is great for control state management (think button states like disabled, pressed etc), its incredibly limiting and makes it unsuitable for some typical visual state scenarios. The one that often comes up in a mobile application is for pages that load data. In this scenario you typically have a least three states: Loading, DataLoaded, DataFailedToLoad. In some cases you might even extend this to have states such as Refreshing or LoadingMoreData. For these states you probably want to show/hide different elements on the screen, which is why the current Xamarin.Forms implementation of the VSM isn’t a great option.

Luckily there’s an alternative, which is the Visual State Manager that’s part of the BuildIt.Forms library. Here’s a quick example of it in action:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″ ?>
<ContentPage
             
             
              x_Class=”App14.MainPage”>
     <vsm:VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>
         <vsm:VisualStateGroups>
             <vsm:VisualStateGroup Name=”LoadingStates”>
                 <vsm:VisualState Name=”Loading”>
                     <vsm:VisualState.Setters>
                         <vsm:Setter Value=”True” Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” Property=”IsVisible” />
                     </vsm:VisualState.Setters>
                 </vsm:VisualState>
                 <vsm:VisualState Name=”DataLoaded”>
                     <vsm:VisualState.Setters>
                         <vsm:Setter Value=”True” Element=”{x:Reference LoadedLabel}” Property=”IsVisible” />
                     </vsm:VisualState.Setters>
                 </vsm:VisualState>
                 <vsm:VisualState Name=”DataFailedToLoad”>
                     <vsm:VisualState.Setters>
                         <vsm:Setter Value=”True” Element=”{x:Reference FailedLabel}” Property=”IsVisible” />
                     </vsm:VisualState.Setters>
                 </vsm:VisualState>
             </vsm:VisualStateGroup>
         </vsm:VisualStateGroups>
     </vsm:VisualStateManager.VisualStateGroups>

     <StackLayout VerticalOptions=”Center”>
         <Label Text=”Loading…” x_Name=”LoadingLabel” HorizontalOptions=”Center”  IsVisible=”False” />
         <Label Text=”Success: Data Loaded!!” x_Name=”LoadedLabel” HorizontalOptions=”Center” IsVisible=”False” />
         <Label Text=”Failure :-(” x_Name=”FailedLabel” HorizontalOptions=”Center” IsVisible=”False” />
         <Button Text=”Load Data” Clicked=”LoadClicked” />
     </StackLayout>
</ContentPage>

In this case we’ve defined three Visual States that correspond to showing the LoadingLabel, LoadedLabel and FailedLabel respectively. The code behind for the LoadClicked method illustrates how easily you can switch between the states:

private readonly Random rnd = new Random();


private async void LoadClicked(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
     var success = rnd.Next(0, 1000) % 2 == 0;
     await VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, “Loading”);
     await Task.Delay(2000);
     await VisualStateManager.GoToState(this, success ? “DataLoaded” : “DataFailedToLoad”);
}

Ok, so one last thing we can add in is a bit of animation to make the transition between states a little smoother. Let’s fade our labels in and out:

<vsm:VisualState Name=”Loading”>
     <vsm:VisualState.ArrivingAnimations>
         <animations:AnimationGroup>
             <animations:AnimationGroup.PostAnimations>
                 <animations:FadeAnimation Opacity=”1″
                                           Duration=”500″
                                           Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” />
             </animations:AnimationGroup.PostAnimations>
         </animations:AnimationGroup>
     </vsm:VisualState.ArrivingAnimations>
     <vsm:VisualState.LeavingAnimations>
         <animations:AnimationGroup>
             <animations:AnimationGroup.PreAnimations>
                 <animations:FadeAnimation Opacity=”0″
                                           Duration=”500″
                                           Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” />
             </animations:AnimationGroup.PreAnimations>
         </animations:AnimationGroup>
     </vsm:VisualState.LeavingAnimations>

     <vsm:VisualState.Setters>
         <vsm:Setter Value=”True” Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” Property=”IsVisible” />
     </vsm:VisualState.Setters>
</vsm:VisualState>

The XAML adds a fade in after the state transition has occurred (Post animation) when transitioning to (Arriving at) the the Loading state, and a fade out before the state transition has occurred (Pre animation) when transitioning from (Leaving) the Loading state. As you can see the XAML gets fairly verbose but it’s structured this way to allow for complex combinations and sequences of animations:

<animations:AnimationGroup.PostAnimations>
     <animations:SequenceAnimation>
         <animations:ParallelAnimation>
             <animations:FadeAnimation Opacity=”1″ Duration=”500″ Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” />
             <animations:ScaleAnimation Scale=”5″ Duration=”500″ Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” />
             <animations:SequenceAnimation>
                 <animations:RotateAnimation Rotation=”10″ Duration=”250″ Target=”LoadingLabel” />
                 <animations:RotateAnimation Rotation=”0″ Duration=”250″ Target=”LoadingLabel” />
                 <animations:RotateAnimation Rotation=”-10″ Duration=”250″ Target=”LoadingLabel” />
                 <animations:RotateAnimation Rotation=”0″ Duration=”250″ Target=”LoadingLabel” />
             </animations:SequenceAnimation>
         </animations:ParallelAnimation>
         <animations:ScaleAnimation Scale=”1″ Duration=”500″ Element=”{x:Reference LoadingLabel}” />
     </animations:SequenceAnimation>
</animations:AnimationGroup.PostAnimations>

And let’s see this in action:

App14UWP20190317022241

Hopefully you can see from this short post how you can leverage the BuildIt.Forms Visual State Manager to do complex page state management as well as animations. We’ve just released a new beta package compatible with the latest Xamarin.Forms v3.6 and would love feedback (https://www.nuget.org/packages/BuildIt.Forms/2.0.0.27-beta).

Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Platform Specific Resources using OnPlatform

Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Platform Specific Resources using OnPlatform

Previous posts in this sequence on Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms:
Multi-Targeting in Visual Studio, SDK Versions, MvvmCross, Authenticating with ADAL
Refactoring MvvmCross and Services, Effects, Navigation with MvvmCross
Presentation Attributes in MvvmCross, Resources and Styles, Resource Dictionaries

In previous posts we’ve looked at using resources and then styles and resource dictionaries in order to manage the style of elements throughout our application. Whilst Xamarin.Forms provides an out-of-the-box cross platform experience, the reality is that if you don’t tweak the layout a bit for each platform, your application is going to look very generic, and not in a good way. In this post we’ll look at some of the different ways that you can adjust layout based on which target platform the application is running on.

The starting point is to look at an individual element, such as a Label, and how an individual property can be adjusted for different platforms using an OnPlatform element.

<Label Text=”Hello World!”>
     <Label.FontAttributes>
         <OnPlatform x_TypeArguments=”FontAttributes”>
             <On Platform=”Android” Value=”Italics”/>
             <On Platform=”iOS” Value=”None”/>
             <On Platform=”UWP” Value=”Bold”/>
         </OnPlatform>

     </Label.FontAttributes>
</Label>

In this example instead of supplying a value for the FontAttributes attribute we’ve expanded into long form using a Label.FontAttributes element. Nested within this element we create an OnPlatform element, supplying the TypeArguments attribute to indicate what Type of value the OnPlatform is going to produce. Within the OnPlatform element we then have an On element for each platform we want to specify a value for.

Since we’re not a big fan of having literals specified for an individual element, and even more so when doing per-platform styling, we can also define resources using the OnPlatform syntax:

<OnPlatform x:Key =”FeatureColor” x_TypeArguments=”Color”>
     <On Platform=”Android” Value=”Red”/>
     <On Platform=”iOS” Value=”Green”/>
     <On Platform=”UWP”  Value=”Blue”/>
</OnPlatform>

This defines a resource, FeatureColor, within a ResourceDictionary, with different colors defined for each of the three platforms.

As you can see, defining values for each platform can start to add a lot of bloat to your XAML. A work around for this is to use a similar technique that we’ve discussed previously where we include files on a per platform basis. For resources this requires a bit of fiddling, so there are a few steps involved. We need to start with the csproj for the UI project and adjust the first ItemsGroup to remove all XAML files that are within the Platforms folder. Next we need to selectively add back the XAML files based on what the target platform is. The bold lines in the following XAML from the csproj file indicate these changes.

<ItemGroup>
   <Compile Remove=”Platforms***.cs” />
   <None Include=”Platforms***.cs” />
   <EmbeddedResource Remove=”Platforms***.xaml” />
   <None Include=”Platforms***.xaml” />
</ItemGroup>


<ItemGroup Condition=” $(TargetFramework.StartsWith(‘netstandard’)) “>
   <Compile Include=”PlatformsNetstandard***.cs” />
   <EmbeddedResource Include=”PlatformsNetstandard***.xaml” />
</ItemGroup>


<ItemGroup Condition=” $(TargetFramework.StartsWith(‘uap’)) “>
   <Compile Include=”PlatformsUap***.cs” />
   <EmbeddedResource Include=”PlatformsUap***.xaml” />
</ItemGroup>


<ItemGroup Condition=” $(TargetFramework.StartsWith(‘Xamarin.iOS’)) “>
   <Compile Include=”PlatformsIos***.cs” />
   <EmbeddedResource Include=”PlatformsIos***.xaml” />
</ItemGroup>


<ItemGroup Condition=” $(TargetFramework.StartsWith(‘MonoAndroid’)) “>
   <Compile Include=”PlatformsAndroid***.cs” />
   <EmbeddedResource Include=”PlatformsAndroid***.xaml” />
</ItemGroup>

Next we need to create platform specific XAML files. I simply copied the LiteralResources.xaml and LiteralResources.xaml.cs into each of the Platform folders and renamed both the files and the class name to PlatformLiteralResources. In my case the project structure looks like the following:

image

You’ll notice that the PlatformLiteralResources.xaml is only showing under the Netstandard – this appears to be a bit of a bug in Visual Studio as the file exists and should appear in the project structure for all the platforms. The only thing left to do is define some platform resources and to link the PlatformLiteralResources class into the resource dictionary hierarchy:

PlatformLiteralResources

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″ ?>
<ResourceDictionary

                    
                    
                      x_Class=”StrataPark.UI.Resources.PlatformLiteralResources”>
     <ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries>
         <res:LiteralResources />
     </ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries>
    <x:Double x_Key=”DefaultLabelFontSize”>24</x:Double>
</ResourceDictionary>

StyleAndTemplateResources

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″ ?>
<ResourceDictionary

                    
                    
                     x_Class=”StrataPark.UI.Resources.StyleAndTemplateResources”>
     <ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries>
         <res:PlatformLiteralResources />
     </ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries>


    <!– Other resources –>
</ResourceDictionary>

Note that the hierarchy is now App.xaml >> StylesAndTemplateResources >> PlatformLiteralResources >> LiteralResources.

And there you have it, you can now define platform specific literals in the PlatformLiteralResources xaml file without worrying about using the OnPlatform element.

Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Effects

Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Effects

Previous posts in this sequence:
Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Multi-Targeting in Visual Studio
Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and SDK Versions
Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms with MvvmCross
Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Authenticating with ADAL
Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms, Refactoring MvvmCross and Services

At some point in building a cross platform application using Xamarin.Forms you’ll need to build out some platform specific features. There are a couple of ways to do this, depending on what you want to achieve. One of those ways is to use an Effect. In this example we’re going to create an Effect that can be used to add a tooltip to any element. For the purposes of this exercise we’re going to assume that this only makes sense to add on UWP where the application can be used on a desktop where the user has a mouse and keyboard attached.

An Effect has two parts:

– A platform agnostic class which will contain any properties that the Effect needs to expose in XAML. This is the name of the element that will appear in XAML. In this case the class will be called TooltipEffect and inherits from RoutingEffect

– A platform specific class which provides the platform specific implementation. In this case this class will be called TooltipPlatformEffect and inherits from PlatformEffect. Note that as this is platform specific, it needs to reside in the platform specific folder

As an Effect is a UI component, it should be added to the UI project, which should now look something like:

image

A couple of things to note here:

– There are folders for Converters, Effects and Renderers – I’ve added these as they are common elements that you’ll be adding to your UI project

– I’ve moved MainPage into a folder called Pages

– In a lot of cases I’ll have another folder called Controls, which will contain any custom or user controls I build.

– The TooltipEffect class sits in the Effects folder (platform agnostic)

– The TooltipEffect.Platform file, which contains the TooltipPlatformEffect class, sits in the Uap platform specific folder

Now, let’s look at the implementation of the effect. First, we’ll start with the TooltipEffect:

public class TooltipEffect : RoutingEffect
{
     public TooltipEffect() : base(“StrataPark.TooltipEffect“)
     {
     }


    public string Tooltip { get; set; }
}

This class exposes a Tooltip string property which will be used to specify the tooltip text in XAML. In the call to the base constructor it passes in a unique identifier for the Effect. This is important to note because it needs to align with the identifier used by the platform specific implementation. Speaking of which, here’s the TooltipPlatformEffect:

[assembly: ResolutionGroupName(“StrataPark”)]
[assembly: ExportEffect(typeof(TooltipPlatformEffect), nameof(TooltipEffect))]


namespace StrataPark.UI.Effects
{
     [Preserve]
     public class TooltipPlatformEffect : PlatformEffect
     {
         protected override void OnAttached()
         {
             var view = Control ?? Container;


            var effect = Element.Effects.OfType<TooltipEffect>().FirstOrDefault();
             if (!string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(effect?.Tooltip) && view != null)
             {
                 var toolTip = new ToolTip
                 {
                     Content = effect?.Tooltip
                 };
                 ToolTipService.SetToolTip(view, toolTip);
             }
         }


        protected override void OnDetached()
         {
         }
     }
}

The most important part of this code are the assembly level attributes that register both the namespace (i.e. the StrataPark prefix) and the element identifier (nameof(TooltipEffect) gives the second part of the identifier, “ToolTipEffect”). If the combination of these attributes don’t yield the same identifier set in the platform agnostic Effect, the platform specific implementation won’t be loaded at runtime.

You can now use this Effect in XAML as follows

<Button Text=”Authenticate” Command=”{Binding AuthenticateCommand}”>
     <Button.Effects>
         <effects:TooltipEffect Tooltip=”Welcome tooltip”/>
    </Button.Effects>
</Button>

One last note – when adding folders to your project, you should keep an eye on the changes that take place in your csproj. When you add/remove files and folders, occasionally Visual Studio will add unnecessary items to the csproj. Remember that by default files and folders will be include in the new csproj format. So for example, the following xml is not required, and should be removed, prior to checking your code in:

<ItemGroup>
   <Folder Include=”Converters” />
   <Folder Include=”Renderers” />
</ItemGroup>

As you’ve seen, Effects are one way to add platform specific UI logic to your application. An alternative, is to use Renderers but that’s a topic for another post.

Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Multi-Targeting in Visual Studio

Getting Started with Xamarin.Forms and Multi-Targeting in Visual Studio

I’ve walked through this a couple of times in the past (last year and in the Mvx+1 series I started) but I wanted to do an updated post to firstly point out that the getting started process in Visual Studio has stabilized quite a lot and the process of getting a new Xamarin.Forms project up and running is quite smooth. The second thing I wanted to add is how, and why, you can setup your .NET Standard libraries to be multi-targeted – this also has come a long way.

Note: I’m running Visual Studio 15.8 preview 5, so your experience may vary a little if you’re running a different version of Visual Studio. Before I get started I try to make sure all my components are up to date, including my MacMini which is what I use for building/debugging iOS applications.

Let’s get started by creating a new solution within Visual Studio, using the Mobile App (Xamarin.Forms) project template

image

This will prompt you to select what template to use, in this case we’re going to create a project based on a Blank template. In actual fact this template isn’t blank; it has 1 page which is required in order for the application to build and run. Also, make sure you select the .NET Standard Code Sharing Strategy. DO NOT select Shard Project – this options in my opinion should now be deprecated as multi-targeting is a much better option for achieving this same outcome.

image

After clicking OK to create the project, you’ll want to make sure you can successfully build all projects.

Next open the NuGet package manager for the solution and update all packages to the latest stable. In my case I just had to update Microsoft.NETCore.UniversalWindowsPlatform and Xamarin.Forms.

Now, make sure that each platform (i.e. iOS, Android and UWP) compiles and runs. Technically you don’t need to do this but if you run into difficulty later, at least doing a run check here gives you a “last known good” state to revert to. On that note, after checking that each platform runs, I would be making the initial commit to source control for your solution.

Next we’re going to add a new project based on the Class Library (.NET Standard) project template. This will be our Core project that will contain all our view models, services and business logic for the application.

image

The new project will come with Class1. Rename both the file and class name to MainViewModel.

Next we’re going to do a bit of a tidy up. By default the project that contains the XAML for the application (i.e. App.xaml) and for the main page of the application (MainPage.xaml) was given the same name as the solution itself. I’m not a big fan of that so I rename this to have the UI suffix. To do this you need to remove the existing project, rename the folder and project name, and add the existing project back into the solution. Don’t forget that you’ll need to update the namespace for both App and MainPage classes (in both XAML and code behind files) to include UI (e.g. the full type name of the MainPage class should be StrataPark.UI.MainPage)

After renaming the UI project, we need to double check that all the projects have the correct references. The only project reference the UI project should have is to the Core project

image

All three of the head projects (i.e. for iOS, Android and UWP) should reference both the Core and UI projects

image

Now’s another time to check that everything builds and runs (all three platforms) and then commit your changes!

Both the Core and UI projects are currently just .NET Standard 2.0 projects. This means that all code is the same for all platforms. By making these projects multi-targeted, we can enable platform specific code to be included where necessary. This is similar to the way shared libraries used to work. However, the difference is that the code stays in a separate assembly, away from the head projects.

To make use of multi-targeting, first create a file called global.json in solution folder, with the following contents:

{
     "msbuild-sdks": {
         "MSBuild.Sdk.Extras": "1.6.47"
     }
}

The MSBuild.Sdk.Extras package extends the raw multi-targeting support provided by Visual Studio/MSBuild. For both Core and UI projects, edit the csproj and replace the default TargetFramework element at the beginning of the file with the following (make sure you include the Project element as this sets the Sdk to use)

<Project Sdk="MSBuild.Sdk.Extras">
   <PropertyGroup>    <TargetFrameworks>netstandard2.0;Xamarin.iOS10;MonoAndroid81;uap10.0.16299</TargetFrameworks>
   </PropertyGroup>

   <ItemGroup>
     <Compile Remove="Platforms\**\*.cs" />
     <None Include="Platforms\**\*.cs" />
   </ItemGroup>
   
   <ItemGroup Condition=" $(TargetFramework.StartsWith('netstandard')) ">
     <Compile Include="Platforms\Netstandard\**\*.cs" />
   </ItemGroup>
   
   <ItemGroup Condition=" $(TargetFramework.StartsWith('uap')) ">
     <Compile Include="Platforms\Uap\**\*.cs" />
   </ItemGroup>

   <ItemGroup Condition=" $(TargetFramework.StartsWith('Xamarin.iOS')) ">
     <Compile Include="Platforms\Ios\**\*.cs" />
   </ItemGroup>

   <ItemGroup Condition=" $(TargetFramework.StartsWith('MonoAndroid')) ">
     <Compile Include="Platforms\Android\**\*.cs" />
   </ItemGroup>

If you take a look at the code that was added to the csproj, you can see that there are some conditional inclusions based on the target platform. We’ll make use of this to return a platform specific welcome text for our application.

Add a Platforms folder to the Core project

Add Netstandard, Ios, Android and Uap sub-folders to the Platforms folder

Add a file called MainViewModel.Platform.cs to each sub-folder of the Platforms folder with the following text. Replace Netstandard with the name of the platform (i.e. the sub-folder name)

public partial class MainViewModel
{
     private string PlatformWelcomeText => "Welcome from Netstandard";
}

Next, we’ll modify the MainViewModel.cs file. Note how the WelcomeText property returns the platform specific text

public partial class MainViewModel
{
    public string WelcomeText => PlatformWelcomeText;
}

In the MainPage.xaml, add a new Label element that is bound to the WelcomeText property

<Label Text="{Binding WelcomeText}" />

In the codebehind for the MainPage.xaml, add the following code to the end of the MainPage constructor

BindingContext = new MainViewModel();

Now when we build and run the application on each platform, we’ll see a platform specific welcome.

image

This technique can be used to include all sorts of platform specific code within your application, making it easier to deal with the Mvvm abstraction when you need to tie into platform specific APIs. In the past you’d have typically had to create a service in the head project, or some other clumsy workaround.

Redux and the State of My XAML Application (part 3)

Redux and the State of My XAML Application (part 3)

This is the final part in this series looking at using Redux in a XAML application. Previous parts:

– Part 1 – https://nicksnettravels.builttoroam.com/post/2018/05/15/Redux-and-the-State-of-My-XAML-Application-(part-1).aspx

– Part 2 – https://nicksnettravels.builttoroam.com/post/2018/05/16/Redux-and-the-State-of-My-XAML-Application-(part-2).aspx

At the end of Part 2 I left you wondering what magic I’m using to prevent the entire list being refreshed as items were being added/removed from the Family. In this post we’ll look at what’s going on behind the scenes.

Let’s start with the bolded text from the XAML in Part 2 – I’ve included it here so you don’t need to go back and look.

<Page.Resources>
   <converters:ImmutableDataConverter x_Key=”ImmutableDataConverter”/>
</Page.Resources>
<Grid DataContext=”{Binding Converter={StaticResource ImmutableDataConverter}}”>

So the secret ingredient is the ImmutableDataConverter which takes the current DataContext (which will be an instance of the MainViewModel) and returns an object that will become the DataContext for the rest of the page. The question is, what is this object and what does it do?

If you recall the issue we saw when we didn’t use the ImmutableDataConverter is that when the Data property on the MainViewModel changes (ie raised the PropertyChanged event) every data bound element on the page is refreshed. What we want is that only the elements on the page where data has changed should be updated. To do this, we need to step through the Data object and only raise PropertyChanged for the parts that have actually changed. Based on this description, the ImmutableDataConverter has to have the smarts to a) prevent PropertyChanged causing the entire UI to refresh and b) be able to iterate over every object in the Data object graph and where appropriate raise the PropertyChanged event.

Behind the scenes the ImmutableDataConverter is super simple – all it does is create an instance of the ImmutableDataWrapper<T> class. It uses a small piece of reflection to determine what the generic parameter should be based on the implementation of the IHasImmutableData interface on the MainViewModel.

The ImmutableDataWrapper<T> exposes a single property Data, of type T (and it’s no coincidence that this is the same as the IHasImmutableData<T> interface which also exposes a property Data, of type T – thereby making it simple to add the ImmutableDataConverter without changing any other lines of XAML). It also listens to the PropertyChanged event on the source entity, which in this case is the MainViewModel. Now instead of the PropertyChanged event on the MainViewModel being picked up by the MainPage, it is instead picked up by the ImmutableDataWrapper and used to invoke the ChangeData method where all the work happens.

The ChangeData method is used to compare the old Data object with the new Data object (ie the value that is set on the MainViewModel when the PropertyChanged event is triggered). It does this by using reflection to step through each property on the Data object:

– Properties that are of value type, or string, are updated on the old Data object if the value on the new Data object is different – the PropertyChanged event is raised for just that property.

– For properties that return a non-value type (or string) reflection is used to interrogate the nested entity and work out which properties need to be updated.

– For ObservableCollections some basic list change detection is used to trigger add/remove events on the collection on the old Data object – we can probably improve the logic here to be more efficient but for the moment it does the job.

As you can imagine there’s quite a bit of reflection that has to go on each time the Data object changes. Assuming that the Data object could change quite a bit, we don’t want to be doing reflection every time, which is where the TypeHelper class comes it. The TypeHelper class has some smarts of assisting with both checking to see if an entity has change, and for updating entities. Based on the type of entity, it caches methods that are used for comparison and updating entities. You can check out the TypeHelper class if you want to see more of the details

So lastly, let’s look at the requirements for the ViewModel and your Data entity:

– ViewModel needs to implement IHasImmutableData

– Data entity (and any nested entities) needs to implement INotifyPropertyChanged but also IRaisePropertyChanged – this is required so that the ChangeData method can raise the PropertyChanged on behalf of a data entity

– Properties on the Data entity (and any nested entities) should not raise PropertyChanged – otherwise there will be multiple PropertyChanged events raised

– Any collections within the Data entity hierarchy should use ObservableCollection<T>

A couple of final pointers:

– Currently this is only available for UWP – I need to implement the appropriate converter for Xamarin.Forms (and I guess WPF if anyone cares?)

– Currently this is not thread safe – make sure you update the Data property on the ViewModel on the UI thread.

Redux and the State of My XAML Application (part 2)

Redux and the State of My XAML Application (part 2)

In part 1 I talked a bit about the challenge that XAML based applications face when trying to use a pattern such as Redux. In this post I’m going to jump in and use Redux.NET to demonstrate the issue, and the show how we can make a small adaption to the XAML to fix this issue.

We’ll start with the basic – our application state is a Person entity, with a Name property and a Family property. The Family property is an ObservableCollection of Person:

public class Person : NotifyBase
{
     public string Name { get; set; }


    public ObservableCollection<Person> Family { get; set; } = new ObservableCollection<Person>();
}

In this case NotifyBase comes from the BuildIt.General library and implements INotifyPropertyChanged. It also implements IRaisePropertyChanged which exposes a RaisePropertyChanged method which can be called in order to raise a PropertyChanged event on the object – we’ll come to why this is important later.

Implementing the Redux pattern starts with the Store, and in this case I’m just going to expose this as a static property off the App class. In reality you’d probably register this with your IoC container and have it injected into your ViewModel but to keep things simple I’m just creating it as a static property.

sealed partial class App : Application
{
     public static IStore<Person> PersonStore { get; private set; } = new Store<Person>(reducer: PersonReducer.Execute, initialState: new Person { Name = “Fred” });

The Store of course requires a Reducer, which in this case will be the PersonReducer class

public static class PersonReducer
{
     private static Random rnd = new Random();
     public static Person Execute(Person state, IAction action)
     {
         if (action is AddAction addAction)
         {
             var newPerson = new Person { Name = addAction.NameOfNewFamilyMember };


            return new Person
             {
                 Name = state.Name,
                 Family = state.Family.DeepClone().AddItem(newPerson)
             };
         }


        if (action is RemoveAction)
         {
             var idxToRemove = rnd.Next(0, 1000) % state.Family.Count;
             return new Person
             {
                 Name = state.Name,
                 Family = state.Family.DeepClone().RemoveItemAt(idxToRemove)
             };
         }


        return state;
     }
}

As you can see from the code the PersonReducer implements two actions: AddAction and RemoveAction. We’ll create these as classes

public class AddAction : IAction
{
     public string NameOfNewFamilyMember { get; set; }
}


public class RemoveAction : IAction { }

The other thing to note about the PersonReducer is that both actions return entirely new Person entities. It also makes use of a couple of helper methods:

public static class ReduxHelpers
{

    public static ObservableCollection<T> DeepClone<T>(this ObservableCollection<T> source) where T : new()
     {
         var collection = new ObservableCollection<T>();
         var helper = TypeHelper.RetrieveHelperForType(typeof(T));
         foreach (var item in source)
         {
             var newItem = new T();
             helper.DeepUpdater(newItem, item);
             collection.Add(newItem);
         }
         return collection;
     }

    public static ObservableCollection<T> AddItem<T>(this ObservableCollection<T> source, T itemToAdd)
     {
         source.Add(itemToAdd);
         return source;
     }

    public static ObservableCollection<T> RemoveItemAt<T>(this ObservableCollection<T> source, int index)
     {
         if (index < 0 || index >= source.Count) return source;
         source.RemoveAt(index);
         return source;
     }
}

Note: These extension methods will be added to BuildIt.General in the coming days and they rely on other types/methods (such as the TypeHelper class) that are already part of the BuildIt.General library.

With the Store and Reducer defined, we can define our MainViewModel

public class MainViewModel : NotifyBase, IHasImmutableData<Person>
{
     private Person data;
     public Person Data
     {
         get => data;
         set => SetProperty(ref data, value);
     }


    public MainViewModel()
     {
         App.PersonStore.Subscribe(newData => Data = newData);
     }
}

As this code shows, when the state in the Store changes, we’re just updating the Data property on the MainViewModel, this will in turn raise the PropertyChanged event causing the UI to be re-bound. Let’s take a look at the XAML for the MainPage.xaml:

<Page
     x_Class=”reduxsample.MainPage”
     http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"”>http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation”
     http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"”>http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml”
     http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"”>http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008″
     http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"”>http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006″
    
     mc_Ignorable=”d”
     Background=”{ThemeResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}”>
     <Page.Resources>
         <converters:ImmutableDataConverter x_Key=”ImmutableDataConverter”/>
     </Page.Resources>

     <Grid DataContext=”{Binding Converter={StaticResource ImmutableDataConverter}}”>
         <Grid DataContext=”{Binding Data}”>
             <Grid.RowDefinitions>
                 <RowDefinition Height=”Auto”/>
                 <RowDefinition />
             </Grid.RowDefinitions>
             <StackPanel Grid.Row=”0″>
                 <TextBlock Text=”Name”/>
                 <TextBlock Text=”{Binding Name}”/>
                 <TextBlock Text=”Family member to add”/>
                 <TextBox x_Name=”NewFamilyMemberName”/>
                 <Button Content=”Add” Click=”AddFamilyClick”/>
                 <Button Content=”Remove” Click=”RemoveFamilyClick”/>
             </StackPanel>
             <ListView Grid.Row=”1″ ItemsSource=”{Binding Family}”>
                 <ListView.ItemTemplate>
                     <DataTemplate>
                         <Border
                             BorderBrush=”Azure”
                             BorderThickness=”0,0,0,1″>
                             <TextBlock Text=”{Binding Name}”/>
                         </Border>
                     </DataTemplate>
                 </ListView.ItemTemplate>
             </ListView>
         </Grid>
     </Grid>
</Page>

This is all stock XAML with the exception of the Bold text (which we’ll come to in a minute). First, let’s add the methods for adding and removing family members

public sealed partial class MainPage : Page
{
     public MainPage()
     {
         this.InitializeComponent();


        DataContext = new MainViewModel();
     }
     private void AddFamilyClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
     {
         App.PersonStore.Dispatch(new AddAction { NameOfNewFamilyMember = NewFamilyMemberName.Text });
     }
     private void RemoveFamilyClick(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
     {
         App.PersonStore.Dispatch(new RemoveAction());
     }
}

Ok, now for a minute, let’s go back to the XAML and for a minute imagine that the bold text isn’t there. Now when we run the app and click the Add or Remove button, the Data property on the MainViewModel will get repopulated – the implication on the UI is that the ListView which binds to the Family property will refresh entirely. This will cause a flicker, and will drop any selected state and/or scroll position on the list – generally a really bad user experience.

With the bold text left in the XAML, when we run the app and click the Add or Remove button, only the properties that have changed are refreshed – there is no flicker on the ListView and any selection/scroll position is maintained….. so what’s going on…. can you work out why IRaisePropertyChanged is important…. more to come in my next post.