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21 Important FAQ questions for WPF and SilverLight

Posted by Shivprasad Articles | Silverlight with C# May 17, 2009
This article talks about 21 important FAQ from the perspective of WPF and Silver light. Both of these technologies are connected to a certain extent. This article not only explains the theory aspect of these technologies but also shows small samples for each of them.
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Introduction
 
This article talks about 21 important FAQ from the perspective of WPF and Silver light. Both of these technologies are connected to a certain extent. This article not only explains the theory aspect of these technologies but also shows small samples for each of them.

What is the need of WPF when we had GDI, GDI+ and DirectX?

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First let's try to understand how display technology has evolved in Microsoft technology.

User32:- This provides the windows look and feel for buttons and textboxes and other UI elements. User32 lacked drawing capabilities.

GDI (Graphics device interface):- Microsoft introduced GDI to provide drawing capabilities. GDI not only provided drawing capabilities but also provided a high level of abstraction on the hardware display. In other words it encapsulates all complexities of hardware in the GDI API.

GDI+:- GDI+ was introduced which basically extends GDI and provides extra functionalities like JPG and PNG support, gradient shading and anti-aliasing. The biggest issue with GDI API was it did not use hardware acceleration and did not have animation and 3D support.

Note: - Hardware acceleration is a process in which we use hardware to perform some functions rather than performing those functions using the software which is running in the CPU.

DirectX :- One of the biggest issues with GDI and its extension GDI+ was hardware acceleration and animation support. This came as a biggest disadvantage for game developers. To answer and server game developers Microsoft developed DirectX. DirectX exploited hardware acceleration, had support for 3D, full color graphics , media streaming facility and lot more. This API no matured when it comes to gaming industry.

WPF :- Microsoft almost had 3 to 4 API's for display technologies , so why a need for one more display technology. DirectX had this excellent feature of using hardware acceleration. Microsoft wanted to develop UI elements like textboxes,button,grids etc using the DirectX technology by which they can exploit the hardware acceleration feature. As WPF stands on the top of directX you can not only build simple UI elements but also go one step further and develop special UI elements like Grid, FlowDocument, and Ellipse. Oh yes you can go one more step further and build animations.WPF is not meant for game development. DirectX still will lead in that scenario. In case you are looking for light animation ( not game programming ) WPF will be a choice. You can also express WPF using XML which is also called as XAML.In other words WPF is a wrapper which is built over DirectX. So let’s define WPF.
 

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WPF is a collection of classes that simplify building dynamic user interfaces. Those classes include a new set of controls, some of which mimic old UI elements (such as Label, TextBox, Button), and some that are new (such as Grid, FlowDocument and Ellipse).

How does hardware acceleration work with WPF?

Hardware acceleration is a process in which we use hardware to perform some functions rather than performing those functions using the software which is running in the CPU.

WPF exploits hardware acceleration in a two tier manner.

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WPF API first detects the level of hardware acceleration using parameters like RAM of video card , per pixel value etc. Depending on that it either uses Tier 0, Tier 1 or Tier 2 rendering mode.

Tier 0:- If the video card does not support hardware acceleration then WPF uses Tier 0 rendering mode. In other words it uses software acceleration. This corresponds to working of DirectX version less than 7.0.

Tier 1:- If the video card supports partial hardware acceleration then WPF uses Tier 1 rendering mode. This corresponds to working of DirectX version between 7.0 and 9.0.

Tier 2:- If the video card supports hardware acceleration then WPF uses Tier 2 rendering mode. This corresponds to working of DirectX version equal or greater than 9.0.
 

Does that mean WPF has replaced DirectX?

No, WPF does not replace DirectX. DirectX will still be still needed to make cutting edge games. The video performance of directX is still many times higher than WPF API. So when it comes to game development the preference will be always DirectX and not WPF. WPF is not a optimum solution to make games, oh yes you can make a TIC TAC TOE game but not high action animation games.

One point to remember WPF is a replacement for windows form and not directX.

So can we define WPF in a precise way?

Windows Presentation Framework is the new presentation API. WPF is a two and three dimensional graphics engine. It has the following capabilities:-

  • Has all equivalent common user controls like buttons, check boxes sliders etc.
  • Fixed and flow format documents
  • Has all of the capabilities of HTML and Flash
  • 2D and 3D vector graphics
  • Animation
  • Multimedia
  • Data binding

What is XAML?

XAML (pronounced as Zammel) is a declarative XML-based language by which you can define object and properties in XML. XAML document is loaded by a XAML parser. XAML parser instantiates objects and set their properties. XAML describes objects, properties and there relation in between them. Using XAML, you can create any kind of objects that means graphical or non-graphical. WPF parses the XAML document and instantiates the objects and creates the relation as defined by XAML.

So XAML is a XML document which defines objects and properties and WPF loads this document in actual memory.


So is XAML meant only for WPF ?

No,XAML is not meant only for WPF.XAML is a XML-based language and it had various variants.

WPF XAML is used to describe WPF content, such as WPF objects, controls and documents. In WPF XAML we also have XPS XAML which defines an XML representation of electronic documents.

Silverlight XAML is a subset of WPF XAML meant for Silverlight applications. Silverlight is a cross-platform browser plug-in which helps us to create rich web content with 2-dimensional graphics, animation, and audio and video.

WWF XAML helps us to describe Windows Workflow Foundation content. WWF engine then uses this XAML and invokes workflow accordingly.

Can you explain the overall architecture of WPF?

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Above figure shows the overall architecture of WPF. It has three major sections presentation core, presentation framework and milcore. In the same diagram we have shown how other section like direct and operating system interact with the system. So let's go section by section to understand how every section works.
User32:- It decides which goes where on the screen.

DirectX: - As said previously WPF uses directX internally. DirectX talks with drivers and renders the content.

Milcore: - Mil stands for media integration library. This section is a unmanaged code because it acts like a bridge between WPF managed and DirectX / User32 unmanaged API.

Presentation core ;- This is a low level API exposed by WPF providing features for 2D , 3D , geometry etc.

Presentation framework:- This section has high level features like application controls , layouts . Content etc which helps you to build up your application.

Which are the different namespaces and classes in WPF ?
 

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There are ten important namespaces / classes in WPF.

System.Threading.DispatcherObject
All WPF objects derive from the DispatcherObject. WPF works on STA model i.e. Single Threading Apartment Model. The main duty of this object is to handle concurrency and threading. When any message like mouse clicks, button clicks etc are initiated they are sent to the DispatcherObject who verifies whether code is running on the correct thread. In the coming section we will look in to detail how WPF threading works.

System.Windows.DependencyObject

When WPF was designed property based architecture was considered. In other words rather than using methods, functions and events object behavior will interact using properties. For now we will only restrict ourselves to this definition. In the coming section we have dedicated question for the same.

System.Windows.Media.Visual

Visual class is a drawing object which abstracts drawing instructions, how drawing should be drawn like clipping, opacity and other functionalities. Visual class also acts like a bridge between unmanaged MilCore.dll and WPF managed classes. When any class derived from visual it can be displayed on windows. If you want to create your own customized user interface then you can program using visual objects.

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System.Windows.UIElement
UIElement handled three important aspects layout, input and events.
System.Windows.FrameworkElement
FrameWorkElement uses the foundation set by UIElement. It adds key properties like HorizontalAlignment , VerticalAlignment , margins etc.

System.Windows.Shapes.Shape
This class helps us to create basic shapes such as Rectangle, Polygon, Ellipse, Line, and Path.

System.Windows.Controls.Control
This class has controls like TextBox,Button,ListBox etc. It adds some extra properties like font,foreground and background colors.

System.Windows.Controls.ContentControl
It holds a single piece of content. This can start from a simple label and go down to a unit level of string in a layout panel using shapes.
System.Windows.Controls.ItemsControl
This is the base class for all controls that show a collection of items, such as the ListBox and TreeView.

System.Windows.Controls.Panel
This class is used for all layout containers elements that can contain one or more children and arrange them as per specific layout rules. These containers are the foundation of the WPF layout system, and using them is the key to arranging your content in the most attractive, flexible way possible.

Can explain the different elements involved in WPF application practically?

In order to understand the different elements of WPF, we will do a small "hello world" sample and in that process we will understand the different elements of WPF.

Note :- For this sample we have VS 2008 express edition.

So start VS 2008 express and from the templates select the WPF application as show in the below figure below.

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Once we have created the WPF application project you will see two file types one the XAML file and the other is the behind code i.e. XAML.cs. XAML files are nothing but XML files which has all the elements needed to display the windows UI. Every of the XAML elements maps to come class. For instance the "Window" element maps to "WpfApplication1.Window1" class , "Buttonâ" elements in XAML file maps to "System.Windows.Control.Button" class and "Grid" XAML element is mapped to "System.Windows.Control.Grid".

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The "App.XAML" and "App.XAML.CS" are the entry point files. If we see the code for "App.XAML.CS" you will see the reference to XAML file which needs to be loaded. So the first code which runs in the application is "void main()" method from "App.XAML.CS" which in turn loads the "Window1.XAML" file for rendering.

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We can now connect the behind code method and function to events in XAML file elements.

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You can see from the above code snippet how the button element has the click event linked to the "MyButton_Click" function. "MyButton_Click" is the method which is in the XAML.CS behind code.

So now if you run the code you can see the button and if you click on it you can see the message box for the same.

 
What are dependency properties?

These dependency properties belong to one class but can be used in another.
Consider the below code snippet:-

<Rectangle Height="72" Width="131" Canvas.Left="74" Canvas.Top="77" />

Height and Width are regular properties of the Rectangle. But Canvas. Top and Canvas. Left is dependency property as it belongs the canvas class. It is used by the Rectangle to specify its position within Canvas.

Are XAML file compiled or built on runtime?


XAML files are usually compiled rather than parsing on runtime. But it also supports parsing during runtime. When we build a XAML based project, you will see it creates g.cs extension in obi\Debug folder. Therefore, for every XAMl file you will find a g.cs file. For instance, a Shiv.XAML will have Shiv.g.cs file in obi\Debug folder. In short, in runtime you actually do not see the XAML file. But if you want to do runtime, parsing of XAML file it also allows that to be done.

Can you explain how we can separate code and XAML?


This is one of the most important features of WPF, separating the XAML from the code to be handled. So designers can independently work on the presentation of the application and developers can actually write the code logic independent of how the presentation is.

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Figure 16.1:- XAML and behind code in action

Above is the code snippet, which shows a XAML file and the code completely detached from the XAML presentation. In order to associate a class with XAML file you need to specify the x: Class attribute. Any event specified on the XAML object can be connected by defining a method with sender and event values. You can see from the above code snippet we have linked the MyClickEvent to an event in the behind code.

Note: - You can get a simple sample in WindowsSimpleXAML folder. Feel free to experiment with the code! experimenting will teach you much more than reading something theoretical.

How can we access XAML objects in behind code?


To access XAML objects in behind code you just need to define them with the same name as given in the XAML document. For instance in the below code snippet we named the object as objtext and the object is defined with the same name in the behind code.

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Figure 16.2 Accessing XAML object

Note: - You can get the source code in WindowsAccessXAML folder.

What is SilverLight ?

Silver light is a web browser plug-in by which we can enable animations, graphics and audio video. You can compare silver light with flash. We can view animations with flash and it's installed as a plug-in in the browser.

Can SilverLight run in other platforms other than window?

Yes, animations made in SilverLight can run in other platforms other than window. In whatever platform you want run you just need the SilverLight plug-in.

Come on, even WPF runs under browser why SilverLight ?


Yes there is something called as WPF browser application which can run WPF in browser. For WPF browser application you need .Net framework to be installed in the client location while for silver light you need only the plug-in. So in other words WPF browser applications are OS dependent while SilverLight is not. SilverLight plug-in can run in other OS other than windows while we all know .NET framework only runs in windows.

What is the relationship between Silver Light, WPF and XAML?

As explained previously XAML is a XML file which defines the UI elements. This XML file can be read by WPF framework or Silver light framework for rendering. Microsoft first developed WPF and they used XAML files to describe the UI elements to the WPF framework. Microsoft then extended WPF and made WPF/e which helped to render the UI in the browser. WPF/e was the code name for Silver Light. Later Microsoft launched Silver Light officially.
So the XAML just defines the XML structure to represent the UI elements. Both the frameworks i.e. WPF and Silverlight then reads the UI elements and renders the UI elements in the respective platform.
 

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Can you explain Sliver Light architecture?

Before we talk about silver light architecture let's discuss what is silver light is really made of technically. Silver light has borrowed lot of things from existing Microsoft technologies. We can think silver light plug-in as a combination of some technologies from core .NET framework, vector animations, media and JavaScript.

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So we can visualize the silver light architecture as combination of some functionalities from core .NET framework , Ajax and some functionalities like animation , media etc provided by core silver light framework.

We can think silver light architecture as a combination of four important blocks:-

  • Some .NET framework components: - Silver light uses some components from .NET framework. One of the main components is WPF. Many of the UI components ( check box , buttons , text boxes etc) , XAML parsing etc are taken from the core WPF system. It also has taken components like WCF to simplify data access. It also have CLR for memory management, safety checking and garbage collection. The base class libraries of Net are used for string manipulations, algorithms, expressions, collections and globalization.
  • Presentation core: - The core presentation framework has functionalities to display vector 2d animations, images, media, DRM and handle inputs like mouse and keyboard.
  • Other technologies: - Silver light interacts with other technologies like Ajax and javascript. So it also borrows some functionalities from there technologies.
  • Hosting: - Silver light animations finally run under the browser environment. So it has a the hosting functionality which helps to host the application the browser , expose a DOM by which JavaScript can manipulate the silver light components and it also has a installer functionality which helps to install silver light application and plug-in in the browser environment.

    One of the things which you can notice from the architecture diagram is that the presentation core reads from the XAML file for rendering. The XAML is a component which is a part of the .NET framework and the rendering part is done by the presentation core.

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The application is a typical HTML which runs under the browser. There are markups which instantiates the silver light plug-in. Now when user interacts with the silver light application it sends event to JavaScript system or the .NET system. This depends on which programming language you are using. The program code which is either in JavaScript of .NET can make calls to the silver light run-time and achieve the necessary functionalities. XAML will be read and parsed by the silver light runtime and then rendered accordingly to the browser.

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What are the various basic steps to make a simple Silver Light application?

This sample we are making using VS 2008 web express edition and .NET 3.5. It's a 6 step procedure to run our first silver light application. So let's go through it step by step.

Step1:-
The first thing we need to do is install silverlight SDK kit from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=FB7900DB-4380-4B0F-BB95-0BAEC714EE17&displaylang=en 

Step 2:- Once you install the silver light SDK you should be able to use the silver light template. So when you go to create a new project you will see a "SilverLight application" template as shown in the below figure.

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Step 3 :-
Once you click ok you will see a dialog box as shown below which has three options.

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Add a ASP.NET web project to the solution to host silver light: -
This option is the default option, and it will create a new Web application project that is configured to host and run your Silverlight application. If you are creating a new silver light application then this is the option to go.

Automatically generate Test Page To Host Silverlight at build time: - This option will create a new page at run time every time you try to debug and test your application. If you want to only concentrate on your silver light application then this option is worth looking at.

Link This Silverlight Control Into An Existing Web Site :- If you have a existing silver light application then this option helps to link the silver light application with the existing web application project. You will not see this option enabled to new projects , you need to have an existing web application.

For this example we have selected the first option. Once you click ok you should see the full IDE environment for silver light.

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So let's run through some basic points regarding the IDE view what we see. You will see there are two projects one is your web application and the other is the silver light application. In the silver light application we two XAML files one is App.XAML and the other is Page.XAML.
App.XAML has the global level information.

Step 4:- Now for simplicity sake we just use the TextBlock tag to display a text. You can see as we type in the Page.XAML its displayed in the viewer.

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Step 5 :-
Now we need to consume the silver light application in a ASPX page. So in the HTML / ASPX page we need to first refer the silver light name space using the "Register" attribute.

<%@Register Assembly="System.Web.Silverlight" Namespace="System.Web.UI.SilverlightControls" TagPrefix="asp" %>

We also need to refer the script manager from the silver light name space. The script manager control is functionality from AJAX. The main purpose of this control is to manage the download and referencing of JavaScript libraries.

<asp:ScriptManager ID="ScriptManager1" runat="server"></asp:ScriptManager>

Finally we need to refer the silver light application. You can see that in the source we have referred to the XAP file. XAP file is nothing but a compiled silver light application which is compressed and ZIP. It basically has all the files that’s needed for the application in a compressed format. If you rename the file to ZIP extension you can open the same using WINZIP.

<asp:Silverlight ID="Xaml1" runat="server" Source="~/ClientBin/MyFirstSilverLightApplication.xap" MinimumVersion="2.0.31005.0" Width="100%" Height="100%" />

So your final ASPX / HTML code consuming the silver light application looks something as shown below.

<%@ Page Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" %>
    <%@ Register Assembly="System.Web.Silverlight" Namespace="System.Web.UI.SilverlightControls" TagPrefix="asp" %>
        <! DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
        <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" style="height:100%;">
            <head runat="server">
                <title>MyFirstSilverLightApplication</title>
            </head>
            <body style="height:100%;margin:0;">
                <form id="form1" runat="server" style="height:100%;">
                    <asp:ScriptManager ID="ScriptManager1" runat="server"></asp:ScriptManager>
                    <div style="height:100%;">
                        <asp:Silverlight ID="Xaml1" runat="server" Source="~/ClientBin/MyFirstSilverLightApplication.xap" MinimumVersion="2.0.31005.0" Width="100%" Height="100%" />
                    </div>
                </form>
            </body>
        </html>

 Step 6 :- So finally set the web application as start up and also set this page as start up and run it. You should be pleased to see your first silver light application running.

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Source code

You can download the source code from the top of this article.

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