To Share or Not to Share

One of the really interested puzzles that occurred to me with the release of SL4 and the VS2010 version of WCF RIA Services is what the new ability of .NET 4 to reference SL4 code libraries means to the WCF RIA Services shared file feature. My thinking goes like this:

  1. The shared code feature was created because the Silverlight and Desktop CLRs couldn’t share assemblies.
  2. The Desktop CLR can now reference Silverlight 4 assemblies
  3. Given that the shared code feature is not being removed, there must still be a use case for shared code
  4. The use case for shared code must be uniquely related to RIA Services, otherwise the feature would become part of Visual Studio itself
  5. Given both 3 and 4, it follows that while the shared feature is important, we must be careful to limit our usage.
The Use Case for Shared Code

The use case is very simple, RIA Services uses a DAL or PM object and a RIA Services Entity on the client. Those are two completely different objects yet we have business logic and partial classes that we want to share between the two tiers.

One way to fix this problem might be to apply a shared interface to the client and server side objects. If that interface was defined in a Silverlight class library then both the server and client could share that same interface. Then all of the business logic could be defined within a Silverlight class library and shared between the client and the server. However, creating interfaces and class libraries doesn’t really fit in with the “RAD for Silverlight” image that RIA Services has.

The shared code feature handles this by copying un-compiled code between projects. This allows the same code to be compiled against two completely different objects (the server side DAL/PM object and the client side Entity) without having having to have any real interfaces. Also, to be frank, for most people putting interfaces on data objects is taking things a little too far.

The Case Against Shared Code

I am not going to get too deep into this one. Suffice to say, there is a reason that we use multiple projects that compile into dlls instead of just copying all of the code files for a solution into a single mega project and producing a single mega-dll. The shared code feature is part of RIA Services that Shawn Wildermuth would probably call a “Visual Studio Trick”. It is, much like the metadata file used to attach business rules, a bit of a kludge. I wouldn’t be surprised if the shared code feature doesn’t end up getting ripped out of Silverlight in a few years when some new feature of the CLR gives us a better way of solving the core use cases.More importantly, since the shared code feature is purely a compile time piece of trickery I don’t expect Microsoft to be worrying to much about keeping backwards compatibility of shared files too high on their must do list.

Great, so what is the recommendation?

To put it quite simply, for any code that needs to interact directly with both the Entity and the DLR/PM objects you should be using the Shared file feature. Any shared code should be kept as shallow as possible so keep as much of your code as possible in a Silverlight class library that is shared by both the server and client sides of your project.

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