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TitleImage

A while back, I used the F# type providers to create a conversion table. That post gave me the idea if it were possible to write an app that gets its data from a website. Perhaps you have also received the request for an app. Nothing expensive and actually all the data that should be displayed is already present on the web, i.e. this website right over here. So the question is: Could such an app be created without having to write a single line of backend code?

In this blog post, I will try to create an app for one of my favourite Xamarin conferences - the Xamarin Expert Day. So let's see if we can create our Fabulous Xamarin Expert Day App.

Getting the data

Type providers are a delightful feature of F#. During compilation type providers generate the data models represented in a data source. I have written a blogpost before on the topic of parsing HTML. This time we will use another toolset that comes with the F# Data NuGet package.

Since we want to get the information about the Xamarin Experts Day conference, we can try parsing the website directly. So we could use the following line to do this:

HtmlDocument.Load "https://expertday.forxamarin.com/"

Unfortunately, we live in the modern ages of JavaScript. I don't want to go on a tangent here, but just state the fact that the Xamarin Experts Day website seems to be loading the information about the talks and the tracks after the initial HTML has been loaded. Luckily when loading the page in a browser, we get an HTML version which contains all of the information we are looking for. So instead of loading the data directly from the website, we can load the data from a file. Budget projects have their limitations... 🙃

HtmlDocument.Parse("ExpertXamarin.html")

When we look at the HTML of the website (in the browser) we can see that the speakers are listed under the following HTML structure:

<li data-speakerid="df2bc5ca-5a6b-48a9-87ac-71c817d7b240" class="sz-speaker sz-speaker--compact ">
<div class="sz-speaker__photo">
  <a href="#" onclick="return ...');">
    <img src="...894db1.jpg">
  </a>
</div>
<h3 class="sz-speaker__name">
  <a href="#" onclick="return ...');">Mark Allibone</a>
</h3>
<h4 class="sz-speaker__tagline">Lead Mobile Developer Rey Automation, Microsoft MVP</h4>
</li>

So we know that we can get the image, name, tagline and id of every speaker. So let's create a record to store that information:

type Speaker = {Id:string; Name:string; Photo:string; Tagline:string}


Creating the record is not strictly necessary. But it does make working with the data a bit easier later on. Another plus is that we could capsule the type provider code in a .Net Standard library and then share it with non F# .Net code. No, you can't access type provider data types directly from C# and while some features in C# get inspired by F#. From what I have heard, I would not hold my breath, hoping to see type providers in C# anytime soon...

With the record in place, all that is left to be done is extracting the data from the HTML. Good thing that F# Data comes along with the HTML CSS selector. The HTML CSS selector allows filtering after ids, classes and tag types. So if we wanted to get the speakers name, we can filter the component and then extract the value as follows:

// .. other parsing methods
let private getName (htmlNode:HtmlNode) =
    htmlNode.CssSelect("h3.sz-speaker__name > a") |> Seq.map (fun h -> h.DirectInnerText()) |> Seq.head

let getSpeakers (html:string) =
    HtmlDocument.Parse(html)
        .CssSelect("li.sz-speaker")
        |> Seq.map (fun s -> {Id = (getId s); Name = (getName s); Photo = (getPhoto s); Tagline = (getTagline s)})

Similarly, the rest of the data can be accessed to fill the other fields in our record. Same goes for the tracks, again we would first create a record where we store the name, time, room and speaker id of every track. We will be able to link a track to a speaker with the id:

type Track = {Room:string; Time:string; Title:string; SpeakerId:string option}

let getTracks (html:string) =
    HtmlDocument.Parse(html)
        .CssSelect("div.sz-session__card")
        |> Seq.map(fun s -> {Room = (getRoom s); Time = (getTime s); Title = (getTitle s); SpeakerId = (getSpeakerId s) })

Now that we have all the data in place, it is time to get cracking on the app.

Fabulous Xamarin Experts App

Before we start writing our UI code, there is still that shortcut we took above with loading the information out of a file. While this works great when using a script in the mobile world, this means we have to pack that HTML doc into the app. There are two approaches: either put it into the Assets folder on Android and in the Resources folder (you can also use XCAssets...) on iOS or make an Embedded Resource in the .Net Standard library. While the first option would be what Apple and Google intended you to use when adding docs, you want to ship with your app. You will have to jump through some hoops to access the document. So let's again save some time and just pack the file as an Embedded Resource in our .Net Standard project. Embedded Resources are packed into your apps binary. This results in an awkward fashion of accessing the data. While described in the official docs here, this is how it is implemented in the Xamarin Experts Day Conference App (we need a shorter name...):

let loadFile filename =
    let assembly = IntrospectionExtensions.GetTypeInfo(typedefof<Model>).Assembly;
    let stream = assembly.GetManifestResourceStream(filename);
    use streamReader = new StreamReader(stream)
    streamReader.ReadToEnd()

With that out of the way. Let's create a list of all the talks with the title, time and room. When selecting a track, we will display the Information of the presentation along with the speaker info.

So the list we can put together like this:

let showTrackCell track =
    View.ViewCell( view =
        View.StackLayout(children = [
            View.Label (text = track.Title, 
                        fontSize = FontSize 22.)
            View.Label (text = track.Time + " in " + track.Room, 
                        fontSize = FontSize 14.,
                        fontAttributes = FontAttributes.Italic)
            ]))

let view (model: Model) dispatch =

    View.ContentPage(
        content = match model.SelectedTrack with 
                    | Some track -> showTrackInfo track model dispatch
                    | None -> View.ListView(
                                    rowHeight = 80,
                                    hasUnevenRows = true,
                                    margin = Thickness(8.,0.,0.,0.),
                                    items = (model.Tracks |> List.map showTrackCell),
                                    selectionMode = ListViewSelectionMode.Single,
                                    itemSelected = (fun args -> dispatch (TrackSelected args))
                                    )
        )

And the "detail view" would be done like this:

let showTrackInfo track (model:Model) dispatch =
    let speaker = match track.SpeakerId with
                  | Some speakerId -> model.Speakers |> Seq.tryPick(fun s -> if s.Id = speakerId then Some s else None)
                  | None -> None

    let addSpeakerInfo (speaker:Speaker) =
        View.StackLayout(margin = Thickness(0.,32.,0.,0.), children = [
                View.Label (text = "Speaker", fontSize = FontSize 22. )
                View.Image (source = (Image.Path speaker.Photo))
                View.Label (text = "Presenter: " + speaker.Name)
                View.Label (text = "Tagline: " + speaker.Tagline)
            ])
        
    let speakerViewElements = match (speaker |> Option.map addSpeakerInfo) with
                              | Some speakerInfo -> speakerInfo
                              | None -> View.Label(text = "Brought to you by the Organizers");

    View.Grid (margin = Thickness(8.,8.,8.,16.),
                rowdefs = [Star; Auto],
                children = [
                    View.StackLayout(children = [
                        View.Label (text = track.Title, fontSize = FontSize 22.)
                        View.Label (text = "In: " + track.Room, fontSize = FontSize 14.)
                        View.Label (text = "At: " + track.Time, fontSize = FontSize 14., margin = Thickness(0.,-4.,0.,0.))
                        speakerViewElements
                        ])
                    (View.Button (text = "Back", command = (fun () -> dispatch (TrackSelected None)))).Row(1)
                ])

You might have noticed that the talk description is missing. The website has a JavaScript function retrieve that additional information. I think it would be possible to replicate the JavaScript call to the backend and then parse through the answer

JSON/HTML answer. But INSERT-LAME-STATEMENT-WHY-I-AM-NOT-LAZY-HERE.

The app still feels a bit ruff I think I might have to follow up in another blog post and make it pretty 😎

Conclusion

In this little experiment, we set out to see if it would be possible to write a mobile app that displays the same information as already present on a website. And while there were some bumps in the road - I am looking at you JavaScript. It was indeed possible to write an app for the Xamarin Experts Day that runs on Android and iOS.

Though I really should get started on my next post and make the app pretty 😇

You can check out the entire app on GitHub.

This post is part of theF# advent calendar. Be sure to check out the other posts.

HTH

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Showing a wodden peer and the ocean on a sunny day

Fabulousallows writing Xamarin Forms apps with F#in a functional style. Fabulous has been inspired byElm, which proved that by using the Model View Update (MVU for short) pattern functional languages are great for writing UI code. While functional code squashes a plethora of potential bugs around null and race conditions - in this post, we will not focus on that aspect of Fabulous. Instead, let us look at how you can create beautiful UIs that stay maintainable in the future.

This blog post is part of the Xamarin UI July organised bySteven Thewissen. Be sure to check out all the beautiful posts by myfellow co-authors.

Featured #XamarinUIJuly Badge

Inspired by some of Stevens previous posts on - what I like to call - lickable UI. I wanted to show why writing UI in code allows you to write UI that is not only beautiful but easy to maintain and extend. So for this post, I will be implementing a design idea I found onDribbblebyApptaste.

App design as shown on dribbble

Though this blog post will focus on Fabulous, you could apply the same principle when writing your app using C#and XAML. But you will end up with a bunch of files, and it will feel more complicated. F#a terse language to write to begin with and Fabulous allow for writing apps with fewer lines of code than what you usually require with C#and XAML. I am not saying this is what should be your reason to check out Fabulous. But it is a fact that... If you are new to F#and Fabulous next comes a short intro. If this is all old news to you feel free to skip the intro.

A short intro to Fabulous

Let's start with the good oldWelcome to Xamarin Formsblank app:

module App = 
    type Model = 
      { Message : string } // your apps state, we could do without...

    type Msg = 
        | SomeStateChange // just for the demo, we do not need this...

    let initModel = { Message = "Welcome to Xamarin.Forms!" }

    let init () = initModel, Cmd.none

    let update msg model =
        match msg with
        | SomeStateChange -> model, Cmd.none

    let view (model: Model) dispatch =
        View.ContentPage(
          content = View.StackLayout(
            children = [ 
                View.Label(text = model.Message, horizontalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center, verticalOptions = LayoutOptions.CenterAndExpand)
            ]))

    // Note, this declaration is needed if you enable LiveUpdate
    let program = Program.mkProgram init update view

type App () as app = 
    inherit Application ()

    let runner = 
        App.program
#if DEBUG
        |> Program.withConsoleTrace
#endif
        |> XamarinFormsProgram.run app

Yes, this is all the code you would usually have in your blank C#app. We will not go into too much detail on how all the functions work. At the bottom, you can see thetype App, which translates to theApp.xaml.csclass, i.e. the entry point of any Xamarin Forms app. Our analogue to theMainPageis themodule App. The three components of the MVU pattern are present with theModel(an F#record, if your new to F#think of it as a POCO, not quite the same but close enough for now) and theviewandupdatefunctions.

The update function is where all changes of the view are processed. Displaying only text this function has nothing to do really. Since we will be focusing on the UI later, I will give you a short intro to what the update function does in your average app. Imagine all your UI changes and background task events must gosequentiallythrough this point. All state changes are defined. You can reproduce every state of the app - oh and no race conditions

The view function contains theContentPage, which includes aStackLayoutand aLabel. At first, you might not think much about it. But look how terse it is written. For example, theStackLayoutchildren, that is a simple list in F#. So adding another element to the grid would be simply adding a new UI element.

The functions get invoked by Fabulous and do not interact with Xamarin Forms directly. This is important to understand because this means that all of the code you write can be 100% unit tested. All the dependencies to the view are resolved within the Fabulous framework. Theviewfunction returns the instructions on how to create the UI, but it does not create it. If you change a value such as the welcome message, the Fabulous Framework checks what parts have changed and updates the view accordingly. The React.JS framework uses the same technique with a shadow DOM (Document Object Model) that is then taken to update the actual UI.

Atomic Design and coded UIs

Writing your UI with code comes with a few perks. While you could write all of your UI in theviewfunction. It might get a bit hard to view at a glance over time. But being only code, you can split up the code into different functions. This also allows you to reuse parts of the UI in different places. And reusability reusing/combining components is at the heart of Atomic Design.

Atomic Design

While unique design, reusable components sound all great, let's have a look at how we could design such an app with Fabulous. We want to start with the essential elements (Atoms) which we then put together to more significant UI components and in the end the Page.

When we look at the design of the app, we can see that most of the title labels seem to have the same font. Another UI component that quickly gets my eye is the cards holding the description of the destination and the things to do:

DestinationDescription

Now what we can see is that titles have the same font, are bold and apart from the cards in the"Things to do"section have the same font size. So let's create a function that allows us to create a title label with the parameters text and font size:

let titleLabel text fontSize =
    View.Label(text = text,
        fontSize = fontSize,
        textColor = textColor,
        verticalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center,
        fontAttributes = FontAttributes.Bold)

The destination is shown by a picture (gorgeous pictures if I may say so! ) and a short description of the town, country, rating and a favourite It seems that the favourite should be clickable so let's assume that is a button. Probably similar to the search button on the top right. Keeping accessibility in mind, I prefer to use buttons or platform interactive controls in general if an interaction is required by the user. This way, it will be easier to optimize the experience using a screen reader. So we want a button with an icon - or a text. Since Xamarin Forms allows us to use custom fonts, we could use a font such asFont Awesometo provide us with scalable icons. Be sure to check outJames'poston how to use Font Awesome with your Xamarin Forms app. So let's create a function that given the icon, colour, background colour and command function returns us with the button:

let materialFont =
    (match Device.RuntimePlatform with
                             | Device.iOS -> "Material Design Icons"
                             | Device.Android -> "materialdesignicons-webfont.ttf#Material Design Icons"
                             | _ -> null)

let materialButton materialIcon backgroundColor textColor command =
    View.Button(text = materialIcon,
        command = command,
        fontFamily = materialFont,
        fontSize = 20.,
        backgroundColor = backgroundColor,
        widthRequest = 42.,
        textColor = textColor)

So now to the description text i.e. the country. Lets again create a function that will create a label given the text:

let descriptionLabel text =
    View.Label(text = text,
        textColor = secondaryTextColor,
        fontSize = descriptionFontSize
        )

Did you notice the title and description pattern is repeated in the"Things to do"section of the page. Up to now we have created what Atomic Design calls Atoms. Now let's pack some of those atoms into a coherent block such (Molecule):

let titleAndDescription title titleFontSize description =
    View.StackLayout(margin = 0.,
        children=[
            titleLabel title titleFontSize
            descriptionLabel description |> fun(label) -> label.Margin (Thickness(0.,-8.,0.,0.))]

This will allow us to reuse the Title & Description duo further. Also, note that we had to adjust the margin a bit. You can think of the|>as a pipe forward. Since we have a View type, we can pipe it forward to a lambda function where we change the margin. Calling the margin function will again return a View type. If you are using LINQ, you most probably have joined multiple calls to where select et al. - we are doing the exact same thing here.

Now looking back at the short description of the destination, we can also see a rating of the city with stars. So let's create a function that given the icon and text colour returns aLabelbased on font awesome.

let materialIcon materialIcon color =
    View.Label(text = materialIcon,
        textColor = color,
        fontFamily = materialFont,
        fontSize = 18.,
        verticalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center,
        fontAttributes = FontAttributes.Bold)

The rating bar - I assume it is a read-only indicator that shows me an overall rating between zero to five. Given a rating of 4.5, we want four full stars and one covered by half. So let's take this control apart, let's say we want one function that only draws the star for a certain percentage:

let ratingStar percentage =
    let star = materialIcon star starColor
    let boxViewWidth = 16. - (16. * percentage)
    View.Grid(
        padding = 0.,
        margin = Thickness(0.,-4.,0.,0.),
        children = [
            star
            View.BoxView(color = backgroundColor, 
                widthRequest = boxViewWidth,
                isVisible = (if percentage > 0. then true else false),
                horizontalOptions = LayoutOptions.End)
            ])

The function aka star factory is called by another function that draws N stars given the rating:

let ratingControl (rating:decimal) =
    let fullNumber = Math.Ceiling(rating)
    let fraction = (rating - Math.Truncate(rating))
    View.StackLayout(orientation = StackOrientation.Horizontal,
        children = [
            for i in 1m .. fullNumber -> if i = fullNumber then ratingStar (float fraction) else ratingStar 1.
        ])

Now we have all of our building blocks together for the description, but we still have the image with rounded corners left. A quick look at theImageViewfrom Xamarin Forms tells us:"No rounded edges."But when putting the image in aFrame, we can create the rounded edges effect. So let's create a function that gives us an image with round corners:

let roundedCornerImage imagePath =
    View.Frame(cornerRadius = cornerRadius,
        padding = 0.,
        isClippedToBounds = true,
        hasShadow = true,
        content = View.Image(
            source = imagePath,
            aspect = Aspect.AspectFill)
    )

The parts are all made now let's assemble them so that we get the Image with rounded corners overlaid by a short description:

let cityDescriptionFrame city dispatch =
    View.StackLayout(
        margin = Thickness(16.,0.,16.,0.),
        children = [
            (roundedCornerImage city.Image |> fun(img) -> img.HeightRequest 320.)
            View.Frame(
                heightRequest = 70.,
                margin = Thickness(24.,-64.,24.,0.),
                padding = Thickness(20.,12.,16.,12.),
                backgroundColor = Color.White,
                cornerRadius = cornerRadius,
                content = View.Grid(
                    rowdefs=["auto"; "auto" ],
                    coldefs=["*";"auto"],
                    children=[
                        (titleAndDescription city.Name titleFontSize city.Country)
                        (favoriteIcon city dispatch).GridColumn(2)
                        (ratingControl city.Rating).GridRow(1).GridColumnSpan(2)
                        ]
                ),
                hasShadow = true)
        ])

Similarly, we can implement the"Things to do"section. The great thing is we can reuse a lot of components that we have already created. Then we can put all the parts together in the view method which presents us with the following UI:

AppScreenshot

You can find the entire sample onGitHub.

Side notes: No, we are not required to have all the code in one file. But since this is a one-pager application, I left it together, so it is easier to navigate the code in a browser. Further note that theCarouselViewdid not work correctly when I was working with the view. I hope I will be soon able to get it working and have a sample which will allow switching between cities as intended by design.

Conclusion

Applying the Atomic Design pattern to your UI can really make your app easier to maintain and create. Given that Fabulous allows writing your UI in code, it is relatively straight forward to create a custom and consistent UI without much boilerplate code. Further Fabulous offers a live update feature which allows you to live code during a debug session. Not only does the UI adapt, but also the logic is executed. You can read more aboutthe live update featureon the official site.

It seems that writing UI with code is coming back into style during the recent days of 2019. With companies like Apple working on Swift UI. If you are a die-hard C#lover, you should check out thePost by Ryan Davison writing UIs with C#for Xamarin.

You can read more about the Atomic Design pattern onBrad Frosts website.

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Showing Wall-E infront of a yellow VW bus with taxi stripes

I have taken quite a liking into Fabulous - a wrapper around Xamarin.Forms allowing you to write functional UIs with F#. When first looking at the project I noticed that is was being built on AppVeyor and Travis. I asked myself: Why use two CI Systems for compiling one project? After some further digging I found out that there are no hosted macOS Agent on AppVeyor. Travis on the other hand did come with agents for Windows and macOS but did not have the Xamarin Toolchain installed on the agents. Installing the Xamarin Toolchain on every run lead to a build time of over 30 minutes. Since Azure DevOps supports building on Windows and macOS I thought I would give it a go and setup a Pipeline to build Fabulous - I mean how hard can it be? Well hard enough to write a blog post to sum up the steps to get over the pitfalls

TLDR: How to run your FAKE scripts on Azure DevOps

Fabulous uses FAKE to execute the build, tests and create the NuGet packages. FAKE is a power full tool for writing build scripts. FAKE is also a .Net Core CLI tool which is designed for being installed and executed from the command line, so it should be a great fit for running on any build server.

Installing FAKE

Azure DevOps build agents do not come with FAKE preinstalled. Since FAKE is a .Net Core CLI tool this is no problem. The following command should solve this issue:

dotnet tool install fake-cli -g

Unfortunately executing FAKE after installation fails. This is because the installation directory on the Azure DevOps build agents differs from the standard installation location of .Net Core - Why? you ask, well the answer given is security. On Windows we can circumvent this fact by installing FAKE into the Workspace directory:

dotnet tool install fake-cli --tool-path .

Under macOS (and Linux) this approach still fails. The suggested solution is to set DOTNET_ROOT. I ended up with the following lines to be executed on the macOS agent:

export DOTNET_ROOT=$HOME/.dotnet/
export PATH=$PATH:$HOME/.dotnet/tools:/Library/Frameworks/Mono.framework/Versions/Current/Commands
dotnet tool install fake-cli -g

On Linux the approach had to adopted again - go figure. I ended up with these lines:

export PATH=$PATH:$HOME/.dotnet/tools:/Library/Frameworks/Mono.framework/Versions/Current/Commands
dotnet tool install fake-cli -g

Now you should be able to run your FAKE script on Azure DevOps

Using NuGetFallbackDirectory

This part is not directly related to FAKE but is something I stumbled over while running on Azure DevOps. One test script was referencing the NuGet packages via the global NuGetFallbackDirectory and was looking for them under the default location. Under macOS the location is in the users home directory, so adopting the path as follows did the trick:

let tfsEnvironment = Environment.GetEnvironmentVariable("TF_BUILD")
if (String.IsNullOrEmpty(tfsEnvironment)) then
    "/usr/local/share/dotnet/sdk/NuGetFallbackFolder"
else
    let homepath = Environment.GetEnvironmentVariable("HOME")
    Path.Combine(homepath, ".dotnet/sdk/NuGetFallbackFolder")

Note that the variable TF_BUILD is expected to only be set on TFS/VSTS/Azure DevOps. This will allow the script to fall back to the default location should it be executed on a developers machine.

But why even bother?

What is the motivation of migrating from a working CI to another? Are you doing because you are a Microsoft MVP?

These were questions I got when talking with colleagues about my endeavors to build Fabulous on Azure DevOps. I think AppVeyor and Travis are great tools and they have shown that they are up to the task building and testing Fabulous. Other than because I was curious how hard it could be, there were two aspects why I wanted to try to migrate the build to Azure DevOps:

  1. Merging the builds, having two places doing one thing always comes with overhead.
  2. The other one was seeing how much the build time would be reduced by not having to install Xamarin.

So here is a comparison between the build times before and after:

CI PlatformAgent OSBuildTestTime (minutes)
TravismacOS~30-32
Azure DevOpsmacOS~13-14
AppVeyorWindows~4
Azure DevOpsWindows~6

Now to keep in mind, the build on macOS and Windows are ran in parallel. So in case of AppVeyor and Travis the resulting build time would be 30-32 minutes. With Azure DevOps this can be brought down to 13-14 minutes.

I would argue that merging two build scripts into one and cutting build time roughly in half are good arguments for why Azure DevOps seems to be a better fit for Fabulous. Then again there was some pain on getting the .Net CLI tools running, which I hope the Azure DevOps team will solve in the future - being products from the same company and all cough

Another aspect was having a build on Linux in the future, since Fabulous supports GTK since 0.30 it would be nice to also compile it on Linux. At the time of writing there were still a few kinks in the build process of Fabulous, but nothing that can't be solved in the future.

Thanks

Thank you Timothé Larivière and Stuart Lang for all the tips and hints along the way