Harnessing SignalR in SharePoint

Note: For those interested in the implementation of SignalR in SharePoint 2013, view the latest post Harnessing SignalR in SharePoint 2013 (Office 365)

On the 1st of April Bil Simser wrote an article Introducing SharePointR. I happened to read it on the 3rd and as such it wasn’t until I got to the ‘quote’ by David Fowler that I tweaked to what was going on. It was a clever April Fools post and likely got a lot of people excited. For me, it piqued my interest. I’d heard of SignalR in passing but had yet to delve into it. Once I had, I have to say I got pretty excited myself. It’s super cool. I, along with one of my extremely talented colleagues Elliot Wood, went about getting SignalR up and running in a SharePoint environment.

SignalR is relatively new and as such the information available isn’t extensive, but what is out there is pretty good. There are a few examples you should check out right off the bat: Scott Hanselman’s Asynchronous scalable web applications with real-time persistent long-running connections with SignalR and Justin Schwartzenberger’s Learn how to use SignalR and Knockout in an ASP.NET MVC 3 web application to handle real-time UX updates were the two I found to start with. Both link off to a number of other valuable examples.

So what is SignalR? Essentially, it’s real-time client-server communication on the web. Without having to constantly poll or perform any refreshes, data on the page will ‘magically’ update in front of your eyes. The library is maintained on Github which gives you access to the latest code, issues and documentation at a central source. I’m not going to go too far into what it is, because with the excitement that’s being generated around this, plenty of other people are doing a far better job of it than what I could. I’ll skip straight to the fun stuff.

So if the examples are already out there, why can’t we just plug this straight into SharePoint?

The majority of examples which currently exist tend to host the hub and the client in the same project, and hence are hosted on the same domain. This works great, you can spin up your .NET 4.0 web application and everything will work smoothly. Only problem being SharePoint runs on the .NET 2.0 framework – you won’t be able to add the SignalR DLLs to your SharePoint project.

This however is not a deal-breaker. As long as your hub is hosted on a .NET 4.0 web application you can leverage SignalR in a simple HTML file with JavaScript, so surely that would be easy enough to plug into a SharePoint web part?

Firstly; it’s not exactly simple. It requires something called Cross-Domain Calling which I’ve since found out is a bit of a pain to get working across different browsers. This is where the information fell down a little, or at least was scattered around. I’ve read more StackExchange and Github Issues than I care to dig back up and link to for this article so excuse my lack of referencing here. One page I did come across which got me most of the way there was Thomas Krause’s Making Cross-Domain Calls in SignalR which summed it up pretty nicely, but still didn’t work in all browsers for me. But more on this later.

Secondly; even with all those issues resolved we still want a way to trigger SignalR to broadcast an update from SharePoint, and unless you’re doing that purely with client interaction in the UI, chances are that’s going to mean handling create, update and delete events via event receivers. Which brings us back to our first issue – these will be on the .NET 2.0 framework and won’t be able to reference the SignalR DLLs. So how do we get around this?

Essentially what is required is a bridge between SharePoint’s .NET 2.0 environment and a .NET 4.0 one. I liked the way Elliot termed this better: breaking the .NET barrier. My initial thoughts were hosting a WCF service and passing the information from the event receiver to that service to be broadcast by SignalR, and I still think that would be the ideal solution. Elliot however beat me to the implementation by making the leap via HTTP and posting to a handler sending the information via Query String, and for the purposes of the proof of concept (minimal data being transfered) this did the trick nicely.

With all the pieces of the puzzle in place, it’s time to implement our SignalR in SharePoint proof of concept. The idea is pretty simple – consider it a mini task-tracking system. Tasks will get added to the pile and others will be completed. The service quality manager will have a dashboard on their monitor open all day receiving live information on whether performance targets are being hit on a day-to-day basis. Let this be a glimpse into the power of what SignalR can achieve and let your imagination run wild on possible real-world implementations.

Step 1: Create the Hub

The Hub needs to be a .NET 4.0 web application. The majority of examples on the net state the first step of implementing any SignalR application is to use nuget to retrieve the SignalR DLLs and scripts. This is fine in theory, but while we were investigating our cross-browser issues (non-performance in Firefox and Chrome) Elliot noticed that the nuget version of SignalR is not the latest, therefore downloading the latest ZIP and re-referencing the DLLs is the way to go. In fact the ‘latest’ version from Github at the time of writing included another required DLL that the nuget version didn’t bring across – SignalR.Hosting.Common.dll. Others that you’ll want the updated version for (or at least the ones we used) include SignalR.dll, SignalR.Hosting.AspNet.dll and Newtonsoft.Json.dll.

The next step is to add an entry into the web.config file to allow the cross-domain calls. This requires adding the following snippet to the system.webServer node

<httpProtocol>
  <customHeaders>
    <add name="Access-Control-Allow-Origin" value="*" />
  </customHeaders>
</httpProtocol>

The final step is to add a class to your project to house the Hub

using SignalR.Hubs;

namespace SignalRHub
{
  public class SharePointHub : Hub
  {
    public void Send(string message)
    {
      // Call the addMessage method on all clients
      Clients.addMessage(message);
    }
  }
}

At this point all the extraneous components of the project can be removed so you’re left with the class, the web.config and packages.config. Just a note – the Send implementation is somewhat redundant as we’ll be calling the client script from the handler below rather than the hub itself – but it’s useful for testing.

Step 2: Create the HTTP Handler

The handler can exist in the same project created above and will essentially be the tool to receive the Query String data from SharePoint and broadcast it via SignalR to the clients. All credit here goes to Elliot for the concept, I’ve adapted it to match my SignalR implementation (I used a Hub, he used a Persistent Connection).

One major thing to point out is that the documentation currently offers this as the method of broadcasting over a Hub from outside of a Hub

using SignalR.Infrastructure;

IConnectionManager connectionManager = AspNetHost.DependencyResolver.Resolve<IConnectionManager>();
dynamic clients = connectionManager.GetClients<MyHub>();

This documentation however is only valid for the 0.4.0 build of SignalR you would get from nuget – the latest version establishes the IConnectionManager from another means

IConnectionManager connectionManager = Global.Connections;

The resulting code for the ProcessRequest is as follows

public void ProcessRequest(HttpContext context)
{
    context.Response.ContentType = "text/plain";

    IConnectionManager connectionManager = Global.Connections;
    dynamic clients = connectionManager.GetClients<SharePointHub>();

    var payload = new
    {
        TasksOpenedToday = context.Request.Params["TasksOpenedToday"],
        TasksCompletedToday = context.Request.Params["TasksCompletedToday"],
        LightStatus = context.Request.Params["LightStatus"]
    };

    JavaScriptSerializer jss = new JavaScriptSerializer();
    var payloadJSON = jss.Serialize(payload);
    clients.addMessage(payloadJSON);
}

Step 3: Create the Event Receiver

There’s nothing particularly fancy going on here aside from posting to our HTTP handler we created in step 2. The rest of the code is just a simple event receiver bound to a task list. If you need help at this step then take a look at Walkthrough: Deploying a Project Task List Definition. We’ll need to override the ItemAdded, ItemUpdated and ItemDeleted events and add the following code

Broadcast(getPayload(properties));

private string getPayload(SPItemEventProperties properties)
{
    SPList list = properties.List;
    SPQuery query = new SPQuery();
    query.Query = "<Where><Eq><FieldRef Name='Created' /><Value Type='DateTime'><Today /></Value></Eq></Where>";
    SPListItemCollection items = list.GetItems(query);
    double tasksOpenedToday = items.Count;

    double tasksCompletedToday = 0;
    foreach (SPListItem item in items)
    {
        if (item["Status"].ToString() == "Completed") tasksCompletedToday++;
    }

    string colour = "RED";
    int percentage = (int)Math.Floor(tasksCompletedToday / tasksOpenedToday * 100);
    if (percentage >= 70) colour = "GREEN";
    else if (percentage >= 50) colour = "ORANGE";

    return string.Format("?TasksOpenedToday={0}&TasksCompletedToday={1}&LightStatus={2}",
        tasksOpenedToday.ToString(),
        tasksCompletedToday.ToString(),
        colour);
}

private void Broadcast(string Payload)
{
    WebRequest request = HttpWebRequest.Create(string.Concat("http://server:port/SharePointRProxyHandler.ashx",Payload));
    WebResponse response = request.GetResponse();
}

Step 4: Create the Web Part

We’re on the home stretch. We’ve got an event receiver posting data to an HTTP handler, which is in turn broadcasting that via SignalR. The only thing left to do is create the client to listen out for that broadcast. This can essentially be HTML and JavaScript and as such doesn’t really need to be a web part at all, but I’ll be creating a visual one in the interests of effective deployment.

It’s here that we need to think back to when we retrieved the latest files from Github for SignalR. You’ll now need to grab the latest JavaScript files from that package and store them in SharePoint so we can reference them in our web part. You’ll also need to grab and store Knockout.

There’s a few differences you’ll need to consider compared to the generic example provided for implementing the SignalR client for hub communication. Firstly, instead of referencing /signalr/hubs in your script src, you’ll need to reference it in the location in which it exists

<script src="http://server:port/signalr/hubs" type="text/javascript"></script>

Secondly, you’ll need to force jQuery to support cross-site scripting

jQuery.support.cors = true; //force cross-site scripting

Third, your hub URL will also need to point to the relevant location

$.connection.hub.url = 'http://server:port/signalr';

Your Hub name will need to be in camel-case (which isn’t clear in the example seeing it’s all lower case)

var sharePointHub = $.connection.sharePointHub;

Your client handler will need to parse the JSON sent in seeing it’s not a simple string

sharePointHub.addMessage = function(json) {
var data = JSON.parse(json);
};

And finally you’ll need to pass a couple of options into the call to start the connection to your Hub

$.connection.hub.start({ transport: 'longPolling', xdomain: true });

That pretty much covers it. Add in some initial population of the viewModel server side and the necessary Knockout bindings and the web part is ready to be deployed. You can see the final web part (minus the basic server side population of variables) below

<style type="text/css">
    .dashboard-item { margin-bottom: 10px; }
    .dashboard-label { font-weight: bold; }
    #LightStatus { width: 50px; height: 50px; }
    .RED { background-color: Red; }
    .ORANGE { background-color: Orange; }
    .GREEN { background-color: Green; }
</style>

<script src="/SiteAssets/jquery-1.7.min.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/SiteAssets/json2.min.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/SiteAssets/jquery.signalR.min.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/SiteAssets/knockout-2.0.0.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="http://server:port/signalr/hubs" type="text/javascript"></script>

<div class="dashboard-item"><span class="dashboard-label">Tasks Opened Today: </span><span data-bind="text:tasksOpenedToday"></span></div>
<div class="dashboard-item"><span class="dashboard-label">Tasks Completed Today: </span><span data-bind="text: tasksCompletedToday"></span></div>
<div id="LightStatus" data-bind="attr: { class: lightStatus }"></div>

<script type="text/javascript">
    var viewModel = {
        tasksOpenedToday: ko.observable(),
        tasksCompletedToday: ko.observable(),
        lightStatus: ko.observable()
    };

    $(document).ready(function () {
        jQuery.support.cors = true; //force cross-site scripting

        $.connection.hub.url = 'http://server:port/signalr';

        // Proxy created on the fly
        var sharePointHub = $.connection.sharePointHub;

        // Declare a function on the chat hub so the server can invoke it
        sharePointHub.addMessage = function (json) {
            // Update viewModel values here
            var data = JSON.parse(json);
            viewModel.tasksOpenedToday(data.TasksOpenedToday);
            viewModel.tasksCompletedToday(data.TasksCompletedToday);
            viewModel.lightStatus(data.LightStatus);
        };

        //Populate viewModel via ASP.NET and bind to Knockout
        viewModel.tasksOpenedToday("<%= InitialTasksOpenedToday %>");
        viewModel.tasksCompletedToday("<%= InitialTasksCompletedToday %>");
        viewModel.lightStatus("<%= InitialColour %>");
        ko.applyBindings(viewModel);

        // Start the connection
        $.connection.hub.start({ transport: 'longPolling', xdomain: true });
    });
</script>

So how does it look in the end? You be the judge..

So there you have it. I’d be surprised if there’s anyone out there that didn’t think this was pretty awesome. With any luck this will inspire you to go forth and make your own SharePoint implementations with SignalR – I’m looking forward to seeing what will be achieved with this excellent technology. Already Elliot has taken up the challenge to bring Bil’s ‘April Fools’ concept to life, it’s the kind of inspiring functionality that makes you want to go out and experiment. Just one last note – for anyone fearful of how this somewhat new technology would go in an enterprise environment, take a look at the video C#5, ASP.NET MVC 4, and asynchronous Web applications.

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10 Responses to Harnessing SignalR in SharePoint

  1. elliotwood says:

    Fantastic write up!

  2. mattjcowan says:

    Love it! I also remember the SharePointR april fool’s joke. A cruel joke IMO :-) You have redeemed it!

  3. omairalam says:

    Hi,
    How I convert this sample into Asp.net Website .I Dont use share point

    • Matt says:

      Hi Omair

      The only things specific to SharePoint in this example is the fact the code is called in an event receiver and the html is rendered in a web part. Realistically instead of a web part you can just have a plain HTML page, and instead of an event receiver you can run that code in anything – an ASP.NET page or console application etc. This example is also only necessary because of the .NET 2.0 to .NET 4.0 divide and the fact we’re making cross-domain calls – if you don’t have those restrictions then there are much simpler options to get it working – the links I link off to on this page have examples.

      Cheers

  4. Winson Kwok says:

    I tried to deploy SignalR into SharePoint 2013 Web Site since it is a .NET 4 Web Application. Referred to SignalR documentation, the IConnectionManager should be set up like this:

    IConnectionManager connectionManager = GlobalHost.ConnectionManager;
    var srContext = connectionManager.GetHubContext();

    When I tried to run the code, the program said that the sharepointhub could not be resolved. So how can I resolve this issue? sharepointhub is the class that inherits from Hub Class.(I can’t find the namespace to reference the variable Global)

    Referred to the web part code, what’s the value of InitialTaskOpenToday, InitialTaskClosedToday and InitialColor? Can I just skip this initialization code?

    Regards
    Winson

    • Matt says:

      Hi Winston. It’s been a while since i’ve played around with SignalR and being a project that updates rapidly it doesn’t take long until the knowledge I do have about it becomes relatively redundant. I haven’t attempted to get it working in SP2013 (although it should have made life a bit easier being .NET4.0) so I haven’t encountered the issues you’ve run into or know how you’d resolve them. I’d suggest posting your question on SharePoint Exchange, this blog post gets a number of referrals from a SignalR question that was posted there, so it is obviously well frequented. Good luck

  5. Having signalr in a clr4.0 subweb application in the same site as sharepoint 2010 will avoid the CORS issues, and won’t require more ports and/or domains added to facilitate it. I seem to be the only person who knows how to do this on the entire interwebs. Watch this space…

  6. Pingback: How to Integrate SignalR 2.0 in SharePoint 2010 | Second Life of a Hungarian SharePoint Geek

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