Creating a Setup with Visual Studio 2010 for an application that needs the full .net 4.0 framework

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When using Visual Studio 2010 or any other version to create msi setups you can define prerequisites that need to be installed before the application will install. For most .NET applications this will be at least the .NET Framework itself. But from version 3.5 on there are two editions of this framework: the Client Profile and the Full Framework.

I created a setup and changed the prerequisites from Client Profile to the Full Framework. When testing this on a virgin machine the setup told me that I need to install the .NET 4.0 framework (that’s right) but then it directs me to the download of the Client Profile only.

To fix this, you have to change the InstallUrl of the .NET Framework Launch Condition:

  • right-click on the setup project in solution explorer and choose View –> Launch Conditions
  • here you will find a Launch Condition for the .NET Framework
  • select this Launch Condition and open the Properties Window
  • there you will find the InstallUrl property

For the full .net 4.0 Framework change this URL to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=186913

For the Client Profile of the .net 4.0 Framework the URL can stay as it is: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=131000

Be careful when using GetCallingAssembly() and always use the release build for testing

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This looks like such a innocent method but it lead to big trouble in one of my projects. But lets start with when someone would use this method that is declared as a static method in the Assembly class. In the MSDN you can read:

Returns the Assembly of the method that invoked the currently executing method.

In our project we had an assembly with a lot of helper methods. On of these gets resources from the calling assembly. In various places of our code we called this method to get icons or other resources. This method used exactly this GetCallingAssembly() method to figure out what assembly to look for resources.

That worked pretty good in debug mode but exceptions were thrown in release mode. We could not understand what is going on. It became even worse: when we build a release version and tried to debug that version (using Visual Studio Debugger) in worked again. It looked like a heisenbug.

It took us some time to figure out what is also written in MSDN:

If the method that calls the GetCallingAssembly method is expanded inline by the compiler (that is, if the compiler inserts the function body into the emitted Microsoft intermediate language (MSIL), rather than emitting a function call), then the assembly returned by the GetCallingAssembly method is the assembly containing the inline code. This might be different from the assembly that contains the original method. To ensure that a method that calls the GetCallingAssembly method is not inlined by the compiler, you can apply the MethodImplAttribute attribute with MethodImplOptions.NoInlining.

The JIT compiler moves code around to optimize for performance. Small methods (up to about 56 Byte IL-Code if I remember it right) can be inlined where the method call was before. But the compiler does this only in release, not in debug mode. Also when attaching the debugger to our release build the JIT compiler stopped inlining to enable debugging and our bug was gone.

After understanding this, the fix is easy. Just don’t allow the compiler to inline that particular method that calls Assembly.GetCallingAssembly(). Then the method stays in the assembly where the source code is written and everything will be fine.

[MethodImplAttribute(MethodImplOptions.NoInlining)]
public void SomeFunction(int i)
{
    // ...
    var a = Assembly.GetCallingAssembly();
    // ...
}

This attribute does the trick and I recommend to use it on all methods that call GetCallingAssembly() and can be called form another assembly and need the real calling assembly.

A Change event for Dependency Properties

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WPF comes with Dependency Properties and everybody using WPF will know about these new kind of properties. When you define your own Dependency Properties in your own class you can pretty easy add a property change event handler:

public int MyProperty
{
    get { return (int)GetValue(MyPropertyProperty); }
    set { SetValue(MyPropertyProperty, value); }
}
public static readonly DependencyProperty MyPropertyProperty =
    DependencyProperty.Register("MyProperty",
                        typeof(int),
                        typeof(MainWindow),
                        new UIPropertyMetadata(0,
                            MyPropertyvalueChangeCallback));

private static void MyPropertyvalueChangeCallback
                        (DependencyObject d,
                         DependencyPropertyChangedEventArgs e)
{
}

But how to add such a event handler to an already existing Dependency Property or somewhere else then in the defining class? E.g. to an property of a WPF-Control that was not build by you. Take a standard WPF-TextBox; both the Text and the FontSize properties are Dependency Properties but the TextBox-class only provides a change event for the Text-property. Nevertheless you can get a change event for any Dependency Property:

DependencyPropertyDescriptor dpd =
    DependencyPropertyDescriptor.FromProperty
        (Control.FontSizeProperty, typeof (TextBox));
dpd.AddValueChanged(someTextBox, SomeTextBoxFontSizeChanged);

Every time the FontSizeProperty on the instance someTextBox changes the given method is called. It’s that easy and you can implement this code everywhere not only within the class that defines the property.

Access to modified closure

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Imaging a small C# winform app with just one ListBox and the following code:

private void Form1_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < 5; i++)
    {
        Thread t = new Thread(() => AddToListbox(i));
        t.Start();
    }
}

private void AddToListbox(int i)
{
    if (this.InvokeRequired)
        this.Invoke(new Action<int>(AddToListbox), i);
    else
        this.listBox1.Items.Add(i);
}

A simple loop iterating over the numbers from 0 to 4 and adding these values asynchronous to a ListBox. What do you expect? I expected the numbers from 0 to 4 shown in the ListBox but in any random order since I do not control the threads in any way.

2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 5 4 - 2 -  2 - 4 - 5

I didn’t expect any number to appear multiple times and I’m totally surprised to  see the number 5!

But ReSharper gave me a hint that I often saw but never understood:

"Access to modified closure" by  R#

So what’s going on?

I use the syntax of an Lambda expression instead of a regular function call (e.g. using the ThreadStart class and a delegate). This Lambda expression is not evaluated until the thread uses it. And by this time, the loop can be in its next iteration. If the loop is already finished i will be 5.

That is exactly what R# tries to tell me: “Hey, you are accessing here a variable but change it later on. Maybe that is not a good idea.”. – It isn’t.

The solution

Just make a copy of i before passing it into the expression. This copy must be a private copy that will not be changed later. The easiest way to do so is declaring a variable inside the body of the loop. In every iteration of the loop a new integer will be created on the stack and the Lambda expression will access this one.

for (int i = 0; i < 5; i++)
{
    int copy = i;
    Thread t = new Thread(() => AddToListbox(copy));
    t.Start();
}

Mind ‘win32manifest’ when interop-ing

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For those who look for a quick solution:

Try switching off the win32manifest-switch in Visual Studio.

Here is the long story.

Hi! As you may already know we are working on the best .NET – ARIS interface there is so far. It’s an interface that makes heavy use of an old C-Api, using interop and p/invoke.

In Mid-December Benjamin found a very strange behavior that almost spoiled my Christmas. We had just release Version 1.1 when he called me: “Arisan crashes with Vista64.” I was shocked. “And with Vista32 as well”. I felt annihilated. We had done so much testing with various versions of XP, Vista and it worked fine with any of those OSes.

After some testing I saw that ARIS didn’t deliver any pointers at all. That’s rather bad for an interface to C that uses pointer in every call.  After one more day we had more evidence: We had switched to .NET3.5 and VS2008 some month ago and our old versions, that were compiled using the .NET2.0-compiler, still worked.

I was so terrified. The 3.5-framework should be similar to the 2.0-framework, just some (not so) little enhancements. A bug in the 3.5-compiler?

To provide a quick solution we re-wrote parts of the fancy 3.5-syntax, to make our newest enhancement compile with the 2.0-compiler again. That worked (at least we thought so) and we released version 1.1.1.

Then a very frustrating time began. We read articles over and over and quickly found this very interesting post. The problems described there where exactly what we saw.  So we followed the track of the nxcompat-flag and DEP, but it didn’t lead us anywhere.

The C-Api we interface is well documented, but it calls hundreds of other components and one of them crashed deep inside an undiscovered country.

We read pages of differences between 2.0- and 3.5-compiler, new compiler-flags (should have paid more attention here), any documentation we could find, but nothing seemed to help.

We had a feeling it could have something to do with Vista UAC, but we didn’t find any matching explanations to our problem. Being really desperate we started this thread at the MS forums. As you can read there, no one could provide a solution that worked.

I was really sad, because the last thing I wanted to do was to switch the entire development of arisan back to VS2005. I got prepared for a very sad life from now on.

But five days ago my life turned to happiness again. One more time I started of by googling words like “.NET compiler 2.0 3.5 differences” and one more time I read the new features of the 3.5-compiler. This time I obviously paid more attention to the compiler-flags and read about the /win32manifest and /nowin32manifest – switches. I didn’t have much hope left, but tried to set the /nowin32manifest switch.

It worked! Everything worked! The C-Api delivered pointers again. I tried switching the win32manifest on and off and a day later Benjamin confirmed my results. We had found it. But after a long time of suffering (for me it felt like half a year) we still were skeptical and thought we needed a deeper understanding of the problem.

The win32manifest and UAC

Finally we had something to look for and quickly found valuable information on the great I’m just sayin’ blog. The documentation of the switches helped as well, so here is a summary:

The win32manifest is not the .NET-manifest.

The win32manifest is part of the UAC (user access control). UAC was introduced with Vista as an answer to more and more security threads. One of its ideas is to keep malicious software from secretly starting to work. If you work with Vista you may have noticed a lot of dialogs that ask you for permission to run certain programs. THAT is UAC.

Now the win32manifest inside an application tells the OS what level of permission it needs to run. There are levels like “asInvoker” (default), “highestAvailable” or “requireAdministrator”. In case the OS (and the current user) can provide the requested permission, the program runs as a trusted process (according to the granted access level). Of course, 90+% (just my estimation) of the programs on you Vista-machine don’t have a win32mianifest,  because it’s a new feature and older applications just don’t have it. (And I think a majority of newer applications won’t have it either). In order to be compatible with no-win32manifest applications on one hand and providing security on the other hand, Vista can do a miracle called “virtualization”. It’s a bit like running a process in a sandbox: Vista provides anything the process may need to run: disk space, memory, a registry etc. So the process feels cosy.

But anything provided this way is separated from the main system. The process uses a copy of the registry, writes to a special parts of the HDD drives and accesses the memory in a controlled way (not sure about the memory thing…). For me this is a great achievement of Vista, almost magic. I can’t tell in detail how it works (mainly because I don’t have a clue), but it works good and doesn’t cost notable performance.

So on your Vista machine you have processes that run virtualized and others that run non-virtualized. “Non-virtualized” is also called “UCA-compatible” or just “compatible”, so I’ll adopt this wording here.

You could say that Vista trusts compatible processes a little bit more than virtualized processes. That doesn’t mean virtualized processes are evil, but.. well… maybe… under certain circumstances… not 100% trustworthy. (Here is another nice article)

Note three facts here:

  1. The state (virtualized/compatible) always counts for a process and is set when the process starts. When you start an .exe-file, Vista decides how to run it.
  2. Because of 1) there is no sense in attaching a win32manifest to components that do not start a process, like .dlls. Thus .dlls don’t have a win32manifest.
  3. The state (virtualized/compatible) of a process doesn’t change during its lifetime.

So if a .dll is used by a virtualized process, its code also runs virtualized. And if the same .dll is used by a compatible process, its code runs compatible.

Interaction

With some of that in my mind, I could explain the problems we had with our interface software arisan: arisan is a .dll you reference in your .NET-application and use it. As mentioned above arisan calls a native (so non-.NET) .dll using p/invoke-interop-techniques. Now this native .dll starts a bunch of new processes: a database-server, a database-driver, some middle-layers, etc. I am pretty sure non of this newly started processes is based on applications with a win32manifest – so they all run virtualized.

But the .NET-applications we use to test the arisan.dll started running compatible as we switched to VS2008 and the 3.5-compiler. So our test application (compatible) called arisan.dll (compatible), arisan.dll (compatible) called C-Api.dll (compatible). C-Api.dll started new processes (virtualized !!) and called functions there. And in the end a compatible (fully trusted) process asked a virtualized (less trusted) process to fill some pointers… and that’s the point where Vista interferes and says: “Dudes, are you drunk? No way!”

It was a bit of bad luck that the clash of a virtualized and a compatible process happened so deep inside a software we couldn’t debug and only threw some strange, meaningless error-messages, but on the other hand Vista could have told us more. Maybe there is some place in Vista where the clash is logged. If someone knows – please let me know, too. Let me get this straight: Vista is absolutely right here, but I’d wish more information when it happens. I don’t exactly know how, but you could do harmful things if you could easily exchange all sorts of pointers between virtualized and compatible processes…

Solution

So finally the solution was easy. Both processes have either to run virtualized or non-virtualized. Since we can’t make a third-party software run compatible, we have to make our .NET-application run virtualized: We just need to prevent .NET from inserting a win32manifest to executables.

Using the compiler from the command-line the compiler-flag /nowin32manifest does it.

In VS2008 same switch can be found on the “Application”-tab of the project properties.

image

The manifest-area is enabled for ‘console applications’ and ‘Windows applications’. It is disabled for class libraries.

Another way to handle this problem is to switch off UAC completely. But we strictly advice you against this solution. UAC is one of Vista’s main features and it is designed to provide shelter for your precious data in times of evil viruses and brutal intrusion attempts :-)

Epilog- bad fix

After we understood the problem, we saw that the ‘fix’ we provided as V1.1.1 couldn’t do much. Ok – it made the demos run, because the executable compiled with the 2.0- come without a win32manifest and thus run virtualized. But users trying it with VS2008 still had the same issues.

Actually we cannot provide a technical solution with the arisan.dll, because if the running mode depends on the executables that use arisan. So we’ll write detailed information and everyone lived happily ever after.

The List<T>.ForEach() method

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We all know and love the foreach keyword in C# and use it for loops every day:

List<int> list = new List<int>();
/* fill the list */
foreach (int i in list)
    Console.WriteLine(i);

But the generic List<T> class contains a useful method for small loops, too. The method is called ForEach() and has only one parameter: an Action<T>.

delegates: Action<>, Func<> and Predicate<>

The Framework 3.5 defines a few generic delegate types for actions and functions. In this case a function is something that returns a value (think back to your math class) and actions are something that do not return a value but do something (maybe think back to physics class). All these delegates are defined with zero, one, two, three and four parameters:

public delegate voidAction();
public delegate voidAction<T>(T obj);
public delegate voidAction<T1, T2>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2);
public delegate voidAction<T1, T2, T3>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3);
public delegate voidAction<T1, T2, T3, T4>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3, T4 arg4);

public delegateTResult Func<TResult>();
public delegateTResult Func<T, TResult>(T arg);
public delegateTResult Func<T1, T2, TResult>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2);
public delegateTResult Func<T1, T2, T3, TResult>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3);
public delegateTResult Func<T1, T2, T3, T4, TResult>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3, T4 arg4);

And there is one more delegate. The Predicate<T> (philosophy class, you know). A predicate comes to a logical decision (true or false; bool return value) based on a single object:
public delegate bool Predicate<T>(T obj);

All these delegates are generic so you can use them in a type save way with the type parameters you need.

Back to the ForEach() method

As I explained above, the ForEach() method takes an Action<T> parameter. In my example this is an Action<int> delegate:

list.ForEach( delegate(int i) {Console.WriteLine(i);} );

This anonymous delegate declaration is not that nice, but we can use Lamda types here:

list.ForEach(i => Console.WriteLine(i));

But let’s take a look at the method we’re calling: void Console.WriteLine(int). That is exactly the definition of the needed Action here. So we can write the code line even shorter:

list.ForEach( Console.WriteLine );

I like this code. It is very short, elegant and readable. It says: “For each [entry of] the list: write it out”. Great.

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