Announcing Entity Framework Code-First (CTP 5 release)
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by Scott Guthrie
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Steps

Below are the steps to use EF Code First to create a model layer for the Northwind sample database:

Step 1: Create Model Classes and a DbContext class

Below is all of the code necessary to implement a simple model layer using EF Code First that goes against the Northwind database:

image

EF Code First enables you to use “POCO” – Plain Old CLR Objects – to represent entities within a database.  This means that you do not need to derive model classes from a base class, nor implement any interfaces or data persistence attributes on them.  This enables the model classes to be kept clean, easily testable, and “persistence ignorant”.  The Product and Category classes above are examples of POCO model classes.

EF Code First enables you to easily connect your POCO model classes to a database by creating a “DbContext” class that exposes public properties that map to the tables within a database.  The Northwind class above illustrates how this can be done.  It is mapping our Product and Category classes to the “Products” and “Categories” tables within the database.  The properties within the Product and Category classes in turn map to the columns within the Products and Categories tables – and each instance of a Product/Category object maps to a row within the tables.

The above code is all of the code required to create our model and data access layer!  Previous CTPs of EF Code First required an additional step to work against existing databases (a call to Database.Initializer<Northwind>(null) to tell EF Code First to not create the database) – this step is no longer required with the CTP5 release. 

Step 2: Configure the Database Connection String

We’ve written all of the code we need to write to define our model layer.  Our last step before we use it will be to setup a connection-string that connects it with our database.  To do this we’ll add a “Northwind” connection-string to our web.config file (or App.Config for client apps) like so:

  <connectionStrings>
     
    <add name="Northwind"
         connectionString="data source=.\SQLEXPRESS;Integrated Security=SSPI;AttachDBFilename=|DataDirectory|\northwind.mdf;User Instance=true"
         providerName="System.Data.SqlClient" />
 
  </connectionStrings>

EF “code first” uses a convention where DbContext classes by default look for a connection-string that has the same name as the context class.  Because our DbContext class is called “Northwind” it by default looks for a “Northwind” connection-string to use.  Above our Northwind connection-string is configured to use a local SQL Express database (stored within the \App_Data directory of our project).  You can alternatively point it at a remote SQL Server.

Step 3: Using our Northwind Model Layer

We can now easily query and update our database using the strongly-typed model layer we just built with EF Code First.

The code example below demonstrates how to use LINQ to query for products within a specific product category.  This query returns back a sequence of strongly-typed Product objects that match the search criteria:

image

The code example below demonstrates how we can retrieve a specific Product object, update two of its properties, and then save the changes back to the database:

image

EF Code First handles all of the change-tracking and data persistence work for us, and allows us to focus on our application and business logic as opposed to having to worry about data access plumbing.

Built-in Model Validation

EF Code First allows you to use any validation approach you want when implementing business rules with your model layer.  This enables a great deal of flexibility and power.

Starting with this week’s CTP5 release, EF Code First also now includes built-in support for both the DataAnnotation and IValidatorObject validation support built-into .NET 4.  This enables you to easily implement validation rules on your models, and have these rules automatically be enforced by EF Code First whenever you save your model layer.  It provides a very convenient “out of the box” way to enable validation within your applications.

Applying DataAnnotations to our Northwind Model

The code example below demonstrates how we could add some declarative validation rules to two of the properties of our “Product” model:

image

We are using the [Required] and [Range] attributes above.  These validation attributes live within the System.ComponentModel.DataAnnotations namespace that is built-into .NET 4, and can be used independently of EF.  The error messages specified on them can either be explicitly defined (like above) – or retrieved from resource files (which makes localizing applications easy).

Validation Enforcement on SaveChanges()

EF Code-First (starting with CTP5) now automatically applies and enforces DataAnnotation rules when a model object is updated or saved.  You do not need to write any code to enforce this – this support is now enabled by default. 

This new support means that the below code – which violates our above rules – will automatically throw an exception when we call the “SaveChanges()” method on our Northwind DbContext:

image

The DbEntityValidationException that is raised when the SaveChanges() method is invoked contains a “EntityValidationErrors” property that you can use to retrieve the list of all validation errors that occurred when the model was trying to save.  This enables you to easily guide the user on how to fix them.  Note that EF Code-First will abort the entire transaction of changes if a validation rule is violated – ensuring that our database is always kept in a valid, consistent state.

EF Code First’s validation enforcement works both for the built-in .NET DataAnnotation attributes (like Required, Range, RegularExpression, StringLength, etc), as well as for any custom validation rule you create by sub-classing the System.ComponentModel.DataAnnotations.ValidationAttribute base class.


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