I've found that the best way to get to understand a particular technology is play around with it. As such, when I started working on a WCF project for one of my customers I created a simple test harness that let me play about with WCF Service Contracts and WCF Data Contracts quickly and easily.  Anyway, I've made my WCF test harness available here:

The test harness uses RhinoMocks to mock out my WCF Services and NUnit to enable a simple set of automated unit tests.

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(or Using NHibernate and WCF)


If you have a Domain Model, and a rich-client (e.g, WinForms/WPF), you might want to expose your application's functionality across a Service Layer/ Remote Facade. Your Service Layer will need to return objects containing domain information, and I prefer to re-use my Domain Model classes directly, rather than invent unnecessary DTO objects (DRY).

Typically your Domain Model might be entities mapped to a relational database using NHibernate (or some other ORM), and a Service Layer exposed using WCF (or some other remoting technology).

This should be simple, however there are a few issues you might run into.

Lazy Load

Most good ORM solutions will use Lazy Load to allow the domain objects to access each other using their associations while silently taking care of the data-access concern.

When you come to serialise an object that came from a connected Domain Model you now have a problem. With Lazy Load it's like pulling a loose thread that could potentially load up the entire object model into memory. You need a way to indicate the 'section' of the object graph that you want.

Lazy Load is also often implemented using interception, which in turn usually means that the object might actually be a generated proxy. Some remoting technologies do not play well with auto-generated classes; you might need to transform them back to their 'real' class to send them across the wire.

(WCF can generate a System.ServiceModel.CommunicationException: ... Add any types not known statically to the list of known types - for example, by using the KnownTypeAttribute attribute or by adding them to the list of known types passed to DataContractSerializer)

In addition, the serialisation of the objects often occurs after the service call is complete. If the database connection is already closed then you may be unable to Lazy Load more of the domain.

(NHibernate can generate a NHibernate.LazyInitializationException: failed to lazily initialize a collection, no session or session was closed)

Domain Object Graph Depth

Some ORM solutions allow you to 'disconnect' a portion of the object graph to prevent Lazy Load issues, but then you have to handle two further issues:

1. Loaded Graph is Too Deep ...

During a single service call the domain objects might load a deep graph to solve a given problem, and then return a single object as its result. In this case the loaded object graph might be much larger than you want to send across the wire. (Either for performance reasons, or security reasons perhaps.)

2. Loaded Graph is Too Shallow ...

Other times the graph will only be partially loaded, and you want to return a result from a service call that loads deeper information. For example, a call GetPersonDetail() might need the Person object, and it's parents, children, addresses, ... or specifically exclude some personal details. In addition, you need to be careful not to fall into the select N+1 problem while fetching all the objects you want.

In both of these cases you again need to indicate the portion of the object graph that needs to be sent across the wire.

Cyclic Object Graphs

Most connected Domain Models are full of cyclic references, with bi-direction associations between objects being common. A typical object-graph for these classes:

public class Person
    // 1:m association between Person and Child
    public IList<Child> Children;

public class Child
    // m:1 association (back pointer)
    public Person Parent;

... might look like this in memory:

However, if you're going to try exposing your services using SOAP you're going to find out that cyclic graphs like this are not allowed. (I can only assume the guys that defined SOAP (WS-I) were asleep the day they decided that no-one would need to send cyclic graphs across the wire.)

To send this across the wire you might need to transform the above graph into something like this:

Solving Using a Graph Utility Class

My preferred option for sorting these problems is to use a utility class that allows you to quickly specify a graph of objects to 'copy'.

With a sprinkling of Lambda Expressions and extension methods you can have code that looks like something like this:

// Copies a person, its children (with its parent),
// and the grandchildren.
Person personCopyToReturnAcrossWcf =
        .Add(p => p.Children, new Graph<Child>()
            .Add(c => c.Parent))
            .Add(c => c.Granchildren))

The source for the utility class can be found here: link


Some people dislike the idea of sending the 'real' domain objects across the wire. Instead they create DTO objects for everything that has to be passed back from a service.

My personal preference is to only create DTO classes when they are needed, hopefully saving time on creating both the DTO objects and the code to map my domain properties to them. Reporting is an example where this usually breaks down and I find myself creating DTO classes to send information to a client.

Utimately, whether you use graphing, or use DTOs, you still have to be aware of all of the above issues when using a Domain Model and a Service Layer/Remote Facade.

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