XPath – the hidden language of BizTalk?#

For those of you who are unaware, XPath is a powerful query language for XML (ignoring XQuery for now).

In my experience I've worked with a lot of BizTalk developers who have come from a C# (and usually VB before that) background, and so haven't always had the background in XML, XSLT, XSD, and XPath needed to fully appreciate BizTalk.

Because let's face it: before you were working on BizTalk, how often did you need to deal directly with Xml? When writing ASP.NET web services, the .NET framework abstracts away the need to understand XML, leaving you with classes which are handily serialised/de-serialised across the wire for you.

Note: I have come across a similar pattern in the J2EE world – ask many Java developers about an Xml document they received as a request in a J2EE Web Service, and they'll only know about Beans, as the framework looks after the de-serialization from Xml into a Bean for them).

However, BizTalk is a different beastie: it works predominantly with data streams containing Xml.
Therefore the ability to know how to query this Xml without having to resort to C# code is very very important.

BizTalk 2004 and 2006/2006R2 support XPath 1.0 - as at this time, there is no support for XPath 2.0 in BizTalk.
You can get a good idea of the functions available in XPath 1.0 here (which is a useful summary of the W3 Recommendation)

(as a comparison, here's what XPath 2.0 gives you - here's hoping we get this in BizTalk sometime soon...!)

Friday, 30 November 2007 16:53:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00) #    Comments [0]  |  Trackback


Auto-generating BizUnit Test Cases#

This post follows on from yesterday's post: Creating BizUnit Test Cases for comparing Xml Files

If you are using the XmlValidationStep/XmlValidationStepEx BizUnit steps and using XPath validation, then it can be a pain to write all these XPathValidation statements by hand.

So I wrote a utility to generate the XPath statements for you.
In fact, it generates the entire BizUnit Test Case for validating an Xml file.
Once it has been generated, all you have to do is[...]

Tuesday, 27 November 2007 17:59:18 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00) #    Comments [1]  |  Trackback


Creating BizUnit Test Cases for comparing Xml Files#

BizUnit is a great tool for performing end-to-end testing of BizTalk applications (and can even be used for testing non-BizTalk applications like Web services too).
Although you're not strictly performing unit-testing of your BizTalk artefacts per-se, with the right setup you can get very close to unit testing.

For example if you want to test an orchestration in isolation you can:

  1. Hook your orchestration up to file send/receive ports
  2. Write a façade orchestration which calls your orchestration, and is itself hooked up to file send/receive ports or
  3. Write your own orchestration hosting engine

I don't know many people who'd be crazy enough to do 3) (although I do know one…) but BizUnit is of great help for 1) and 2)

In its simplest form you can use BizUnit to[...]

Monday, 26 November 2007 17:51:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00) #    Comments [0]  |  Trackback


DanSharp XmlViewer#

The source code and MSIs for this tool (inc v1.01) are now available on CodePlex here: http://dansharpxmlviewer.codeplex.com

I'll release v1.1 this week - only has minor bug fixes (one of them related to problems with opening files from the recently used file menu).
Also I'm planning to release the source code this weekend.

So here's a little utility that I've been using for myself for a while, but thought I'd release in case it's of use to anyone else.

There are three tasks I perform quite regularly when doing XML or BizTalk development:

  1. Building and testing the XPath needed to retrieve a value from a given request/response document
  2. Validating a document against a schema
  3. Generating BizUnit tests cases (from an Xml instance doc, creating XPath statements to validate for all the data in the document)

This tool does all three of these things:

XmlViewer main form

Generating a BizUnit Test Case

Although there are good tools on the market for doing 1. and 2. (e.g. Altova XmlSpy and Stylus Studio) most of them require installation and are not free.
And none of them generate BizUnit Test Cases!
I wanted a single EXE which would do the most common tasks for me.

Also note that Visual Studio will give you the XPath for an element/attribute in an Xsd, but not an Xml document.
And although you can validate a document in Visual Studio, it's a hassle each time you want to change the Xml document used (right click schema, choose properties, change Input Instance Filename, cick OK, right click schema, choose Validate Instance).

Having a scratch pad to play with XPath queries has been very useful, and is the original reason I wrote this.
But generating BizUnit Test Cases has so far been the most useful... if you use the REG file provided, you can even right-click an Xml file to generate a BizUnit TestCase for it.

There is a command line version supplied as well, so if you need to generate a lot of BizUnit Test Cases, you can do so in a batch file/script.

The utility is written as a single EXE, with no additional files needed (other than .NET 2.0) and it doesn't need to be installed.
I have a copy on my USB key and I run it from there.

Caveat: I use this tool every day, so most bugs have (hopefully) been eradicated.
So my apologies if you come across something I haven't tested yet - please let me know if you do.

Files available to download:
Note: I will be making the source code for this utility available, but need to tidy it up a bit first.
Will add it here when it's ready - probably in a week or so.

MSI Installer (contains all of the below files)
    DanSharp.XmlViewer.Setup.msi (1.8MB)

Executable (Windows version)
    XmlViewer.exe (80kb)

Executable (Command line version)
    XmlViewer.com (80kb)

Registry File (.reg) for adding right-click support to Xml files
    GenerateBizUnitTestCase.reg (2kb)

    DanSharp XmlViewer Documentation v1.0.pdf (860kb PDF)
    DanSharp XmlViewer Documentation v1.0.doc (600kb Word 97 Doc)

Source Code
   (Coming soon)

If you come across bugs or have any comments, then leave a comment here, or email me at:

Sunday, 25 November 2007 17:45:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00) #    Comments [1]  |  Trackback


BizUnit: XmlValidationStep using .NET 2.0 Schema Validation#
This is something that bit me recently:
The current version of BizUnit (v.2.2.1003.0)  uses the .NET 1.0 XmlValidatingReader to do schema validation in both the XmlValidationStep and XmlValidationStepEx steps.

.NET 2.0 deprecated the XmlValidatingReader class, proposing that you use the XmlReader class and the new XmlReaderSettings class instead.
Microsoft also introduced a slew of bug fixes to the validation logic[...]
Saturday, 24 November 2007 18:43:10 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00) #    Comments [0]  |  Trackback


Distinguished Fields and Optional Elements#

Thought this might be of interest to a few BizTalk developers out there.

It's quite common practice to use Distinguished Fields in orchestrations, to get/set the value of an element or attribute.

However, if the element you're trying to set/get doesn't exist, then this poses a few problems.

Setting a Distinguished Field
If the element/attribute doesn't exist in the target message, then you'll get an exception, no questions asked – there's no way around this.
Under the covers, the SetDistinguishedField method is called to set the value – and it doesn't check if the element/attribute exists first.
The same thing happens if you use the xpath() function to set a value, and the element/attribute doesn't exist – BizTalk isn't about to modify your message and add the element/attribute for you[...]

Thursday, 15 November 2007 15:09:42 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00) #    Comments [0]  |  Trackback


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