Composite WPF Patterns

Microsoft’sComposite Application Guidance for WPF (Composite WPF) gives WPF a lightweight yet effective application block with which to build exciting applications. However, the biggest struggle is deciding on a pattern for applying the library. The Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM), mentioned across the web as the perfect pattern for implementing MVC with WPF, was for some reason not specifically mentioned in the Composite WPF documentation. Nevertheless, the MVVM pattern is many times used and alluded to under the name PresentationModel and is arguably the best approach in most cases.

Dan Crevier posted a series of excellent articles defining the pattern and giving examples of the implementation of MVVM in WPF. These were written several years ago, before development of the Composite WPF block, but they are simple to understand and can give added understanding to the objects included in Composite WPF. For example, his post on encapsulating commands is very similar to the DelegateCommand object provided with CompositeWPF, though the latter uses lambdas to define Execute and CanExecute methods, whereas the former uses a base class and inheritance to define the methods. Using Dan’s example, the equivalent DelegateCommand, contained within the DelegateCommand’s definition, would look something like this:

public DelegateCommand<object> MyCommand { get; private set; }

public Window1()
    MyCommand = new DelegateCommand<object>(
        p => {
                 string text = p as string;
                 // Do something with text
        p => !string.IsNullOrEmpty(p as string));

Dan’s definitions of the Model, which he calls DataModel, View and ViewModel match very closely with Composite WPF’s PresentationModel pattern. In this case, the DataModel is a representative object that is fit for display within the View. Using the entities generated for Linq to SQL, you might add properties to the partial classes create the necessary properties to which to bind. These classes should also implement INotifyPropertyChanged so that other DataModels can respond to changes from another, related View and update their data accordingly.

The View should use bindings for everything. The beauty of WPF is truly in its DataBinding functionality. The observer pattern is built right into the Binding, so that whenever one view changes, other views are notified by their bindings to their DataModels. Even the actions to be performed on a user interaction with the UI can be removed to the ViewModel, DataModel, or in the case of Composite WPF, a controller, Shell, or App level, as appropriate. This leaves the View looking very passive, indeed, which greatly helps when unit testing.

The ViewModel is the actual PresentationModel. It hosts the DataModel, as well as the View’s commands. ViewModel should be the object used to bind to the View’s DataContext and should implement INotifyPropertyChanged if any of the properties could change. The QuickStarts and RIStockTrader examples provide excellent samples of the PresentationModel, though be warned that the examples often use different patterns, if for no other reason than to show other pattern implementations.

That covers the MVVM pattern. However, there’s one more aspect that needs to be covered: composite regions. Composite WPF provides regions for managing the display of different modules in the Shell, but what if you need to display multiple modules or views within a “summary” view that is already on the Shell? In this case, you can use a Controller to manage the child use cases. The UIComposition QuickStart shows a terrific example of creating a controller in a ViewModel for the purposes of managing child use cases. This removes the dependencies and depth of a View that includes a tab control containing a large number of child use cases. (The UIComposition QuickStart uses a Supervising Controller pattern instead of the PresentationModel/MVVM pattern, so you’ll have to adjust it accordingly, but it works beautifully.)

The MVVM pattern is a great solution for WPF applications by allowing WPF’s DataBinding and Commanding to remove much of the logic formerly found in the View layer out to a unit testable ViewModel. The architecture stays clean and also fairly shallow in that an additional Presenter class is unnecessary (as opposed to the Supervising Controller pattern.)

Additional Resources:
John Grossman – Tales from the Smart Client
Pete Weissbrod – Model-View-ViewModel Pattern for WPF: Yet Another Approach