# Monday, 07 June 2010
.NET | Dublin | WCF | WF
Monday, 07 June 2010 22:05:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   | 
# Thursday, 21 May 2009

Every year I speak at the excellent DevWeek conference in London. Eric Nelson, a Microsoft Developer Evangelist in the UK is also a regular attendee. This year Eric, Mike and Mike were recording interviews with people at the conference. Eric interviewed me about Workflow 4.0 (I was delivering a post conference day on WF 4.0, Dublin and Oslo). He’s just got round to published it online


.NET | Dublin | Oslo | WF
Thursday, 21 May 2009 06:49:02 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   | 
# Saturday, 28 March 2009

Thanks all who attended my post conference day on a day of connected systems with .NET 4.0, Dublin and Oslo. You can get the demos here.

Dublin | Oslo | WCF | WF
Saturday, 28 March 2009 08:39:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   | 
# Saturday, 10 January 2009

I'm really excited to announce that I've joined thinktecture as a consultant. I've known Ingo, Christian and Dominick for some time now and its great to take that relationship on to a new level. I have huge respect for the abilities of the thinktecture team and so it was fantastic when they asked me if I was interested in working with them.

I'll be focusing on all things distributed at thinktecture - so that includes WCF, Workflow, BizTalk, Dublin and Azure. And I guess I'll have to learn to speak German now ...

Azure | BizTalk | Dublin | Life | WCF | WF
Saturday, 10 January 2009 18:27:22 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   | 
# Wednesday, 10 December 2008

As I said in my previous post, asynchrony and persistence enable arguable the most powerful feature of workflow, that of stateful, long running execution. However as I also said, the WF runtime has been rewritten for WF 4.0 - so what does asynchrony and persistence look like in the 4.0 release?

First lets look at what was problematic in WF 3.5 in this area:

  • Writing an asynchronous activity was hellishly complex as they get executed differently dependent on their parent (State Machine, Listen Activity, standard activity)
  • There was no model for performing async work that didn't open up the possibility of being persisted during processing. This is fine if you are waiting for a nightly extract file to arrive on a share; its a real problem if you are trying to invoke a service asynchronously as the workflow may have been unloaded by the time the HTTP response comes back

The WF team have tried to solve both of these problems in this release and in addition obviously have to align with the new runtime model I talked about in my last post. Lets talk about async first and then we'll look at the related but separate issue of persistence.

The standard asynchronous model has been streamlined so the communication mechanisms have been wrapped in the concept of a Bookmark. A bookmark represents a resumable point of execution. Lets look at the code for an async activity using bookmarks.

public class StandardAsyncActivity : WorkflowElement
    protected override void Execute(ActivityExecutionContext context)
        BookmarkCallback cb = Callback;
        context.CreateNamedBookmark("rlBookMark", cb, BookmarkOptions.MultipleResume);

    int callTimes = 0;
    private void Callback(ActivityExecutionContext ctx, Bookmark bm, object state)
        if (callTimes == 2)


This code demonstrates a number of features. In 3.5 an activity indicated it was async by returning ActivityExecutionStatus.Executing from the Execute method. However, here the workflow runtime knows that this activity has yet to complete as it has an outstanding bookmark. When the activity is done with bookmark processing (in this case it receives two pieces of data) it simply closes it and since the runtime now knows it has no outstanding bookmarks the activity must be complete. Also notice that no special interfaces require implementation, the activity simply associates a callback to be fired when execution resumes at this bookmark. So how does execution resume? Heres the code:

myInstance.ResumeBookmark("rlBookMark", "hello bookmark");

This code is in the host or an extension (new name for a workflow runtime service) associated with the activity and as you can see is very simple.

With this model, after Execute returns and after each bookmark callback that doesn't close the bookmark, the workflow will go idle (assuming no other activities are runnable) and could be unloaded and/or persisted. So this is ideal for situations where the next execution resumption will be after some time. However, if we're simply performing async IO then the next resumption may be subsecond.

This model will not work for such processing and so there is a lightweight version of async processing in 4.0. Lets look at an example

public class LightweightAsyncActivity : WorkflowElement
    protected override void Execute(ActivityExecutionContext context)
        AsyncOperationContext block = context.SetupAsyncOperationBlock();

        Action a = AsyncWork;

        AsyncCallback cb = delegate(IAsyncResult iar)
            // called on non workflow thread
                                         ar => block.EndCompleteOperation(ar),

        a.BeginInvoke(cb, null);

    private void AsyncProcessingComplete(ActivityExecutionContext ctx, Bookmark bm, object val)
        // called on workflow thread
        Console.WriteLine("Bookmark callback");

    private void AsyncWork()
        // called on non workflow thread
        Console.WriteLine("Done Sleeping");

This time, instead of explicitly creating a bookmark we create an AsyncOperationContext. This then allows us to run on a separate thread (BeginInvoke hands the AsyncWork method to the threadpool) and then when it completes tell the workflow infrastructure that our async work is done. It also allows us to provide another method that will execute on a workflow thread in case there are other workflow related tasks we need to perform (AsyncProcessingComplete in the above example). Although when Execute returns the workflow will go idle, this infrastructure puts in place a new construct called a No Persist Block that prevents persistence while the async operation is in progress.

So these are the two new async models but how does the new persistence model interact. Well the above description mentions some interaction but lets look at 4.0 persistence in more detail and then draw the two parts of the post together.

The WorkflowPersistenceService has now been remodelled in terms of Persistence Providers. You get one out-of-the-box as before for SQL Server. There are two scripts to run against a database to put the new persistence constructs in place SqlPersistenceProviderSchema40.sql and SqlPersistenceProviderLogic40.sql.To enable the sql persistence provider you create an instance of the provider for each workflow instance using a factory and add it as an extension to that workflow instance:

string conn = "server=.;database=WFPersist;integrated security=SSPI";
SqlPersistenceProviderFactory fact = new SqlPersistenceProviderFactory(conn, true);

WorkflowInstance myInstance = WorkflowInstance.Create(new MyWorkflow());

PersistenceProvider pp = fact.CreateProvider(myInstance.Id);


The factory and the provider must be have Open called on them as they both derive from the WCF CommunicationObject class (presumably due to the way this layers in for durable services and Dublin). Note that there is no flag for the provider equivelent to 3.5's PersistOnIdle. It is now up to the host to specifically call Persist or Unload on the WorkflowInstance if wants it persisted or unloaded. So now in the Idle event you may put code like this:

myInstance.Idle += delegate

I'll come back to why use TryPersist rather than Persist in a moment. However, there is another job to be done. You need to explicitly tell the persistence provider that you are done with a workflow instance to ensure that it gets deleted from the persistence store when the workflow completes. And so you will typically call Unload in the Completed event:

myInstance.Completed += delegate(object sender, WorkflowCompletedEventArgs e)

However, things are a little gnarly here. Remember above that both the Bookmark and AsyncOperationBlock models for async will trigger the Idle event but the AsyncOperationBlock prevents persistence. Thats why we have to use TryPersist and TryUnload as Persist and Unload will throw exceptions if persistence is not possible. The team have said they are working on getting this revised for beta 1 and having seen a preview of the kind of things they are looking at it should be a lot neater then.

So thats the new async and persistence model for WF 4.0. The simplicity and extra functionality now in the async model will take away a good deal of the complexity in building custom activtities that play well in the long running workflow infrastructure



.NET | Dublin | WCF | WF
Wednesday, 10 December 2008 14:32:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   | 
# Monday, 01 December 2008

DevelopMentor UK ran a one day post PDC event on Friday at the Microsoft Offices in London. Myself and Dominick covered WF 4.0, Dublin, Geneva, Azure and Oslo

You can find the materials and demos here

.NET | Azure | Oslo | WCF | WF | Dublin
Monday, 01 December 2008 11:30:39 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   |