Microsoft ASP.NET 4 : Using the SqlProfileProvider (part 2) - Using Profile Properties,Profile Serialization

6/25/2012 5:58:41 PM

6. Using Profile Properties

With these details in place, you're ready to access the profile information using the Profile property of the current page. When you run your application, ASP.NET creates a new class to represent the profile by deriving from System.Web.Profile.ProfileBase, which wraps a collection of profile settings. ASP.NET adds a strongly typed property to this class for each profile property you've defined in the web.config file. These strongly typed properties simply call the GetPropertyValue() and SetPropertyValue() methods of the ProfileBase base class to retrieve and set the corresponding profile values.

For example, if you've defined a string property named FirstName, you can set it in your page like this:

Profile.FirstName = "Henry"

Figure 2 presents a complete test page that allows the user to display the profile information for the current user or set new profile information.

Figure 2. Testing the profile feature

The first time this page runs, no profile information is retrieved, and no database connection is used. However, if you click the Show Profile Data button, the profile information is retrieved and displayed on the page:

Protected Sub cmdShow_Click(ByVal sender As Object, _
  ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles cmdShow.Click

    lbl.Text = "First Name: " & Profile.FirstName & "<br />" & _
      "Last Name: " & Profile.LastName & "<br />" & _
      "Date of Birth: " & Profile.DateOfBirth.ToString("D")
End Sub

At this point, an error will occur if the profile database is missing or the connection can't be opened. Otherwise, your page will run without a hitch, and you'll see the newly retrieved profile information. Technically, the complete profile is retrieved when your code accesses the Profile.FirstName property in the first line and is used for the subsequent code statements.


Profile properties behave like any other class member variable. This means if you read a profile value that hasn't been set, you'll get a default initialized value (such as an empty string or 0).

If you click the Set Profile Data button, the profile information is set based on the current control values:

Protected Sub cmdSet_Click(ByVal sender As Object, _
  ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles cmdSet.Click

    Profile.FirstName = txtFirst.Text
    Profile.LastName = txtLast.Text
    Profile.DateOfBirth = Calendar1.SelectedDate
End Sub

Now the profile information is committed to the database when the page request finishes. If you want to commit some or all of the information earlier (and possibly incur multiple database trips), just call the Profile.Save() method. As you can see, the profiles feature is unmatched for simplicity.

The Profile object doesn't just include the properties you've defined. It also provides the properties LastActivityDate (the last time this profile was used) and LastUpdatedDate (the last time this profile was changed), using information drawn from the database.

7. Profile Serialization

Earlier, you learned how properties are serialized into a single string. For example, if you save a FirstName of Harriet and a LastName of Smythe, both values are crowded together in the PropertyValuesString field of the aspnet_Profile table in the database, like so:


The PropertyNames field (also in the aspnet_Profile table) gives the information you need to parse each value from the PropertyValuesString field. Here's what you'll see in the PropertyNames field in this example:


The colons (:) are used as delimiters. The basic format is as follows:


Something interesting happens if you create a profile with a DateTime data type, like this:

<add name="DateOfBirth" type="System.DateTime" serializeAs="String"/>
<add name="FirstName" type="System.String" serializeAs="Xml"/>
<add name="LastName" type="System.String" serializeAs="Xml"/>

Now, when you look at the PropertyValuesString field, you'll see something like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-16"?><dateTime>2007-07-12T00:00:00-04:00

Initially, it looks like the profile data is serialized as XML, but the PropertyValuesString clearly doesn't contain a valid XML document (because of the text at the end). What has actually happened is that the first piece of information, the DateTime, is serialized (by default) as XML. The following two profile properties are serialized as ordinary strings.

The PropertyNames field makes it slightly clearer:


Interestingly, you have the ability to change the serialization format of any profile property by adding the serializeAs attribute to its declaration in the web.config file. Table 3 lists your choices.

Table 3. Serialization Options
StringConverts the type to a string representation. Requires a type converter that can handle the job.
XmlConverts the type to an XML representation, which is stored in a string, using the System.Xml.XmlSerialization.XmlSerializer (the same class that's used with web services).
BinaryConverts the type to a proprietary binary representation that only .NET understands using the System.Runtime.Serialization.Formatters.Binary. BinaryFormatter. This is the most compact option but the least flexible. Binary data is stored in the PropertyValuesBinary field instead of the PropertyValues.
ProviderSpecificPerforms customized serialization that's implemented in a custom provider.

For example, here's how you can change the serialization for the profile settings:

<add name="DateOfBirth" type="System.DateTime" serializeAs="String"/>
<add name="FirstName" type="System.String" serializeAs="Xml"/>
<add name="LastName" type="System.String" serializeAs="Xml"/>

Now the next time you set the profile, the serialized representation in the PropertyValuesString field will store information for FirstName and LastName. It takes this form:

2007-06-27<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-16"?><string>Harriet</string>
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-16"?><string>Smythe</string>

If you use the binary serialization mode, the property value will be placed in the PropertyValuesBinary field instead of the PropertyValuesString field. Here's an example where the FirstName property is serialized in the PropertyValuesBinary field:

<add name="DateOfBirth" type="System.DateTime" serializeAs="String"/>
<add name="FirstName" type="System.String" serializeAs="Binary"/>
<add name="LastName" type="System.String" serializeAs="String"/>

The only indication of this shift is the use of the letter B instead of S in the PropertyNames field (and the fact that fewer bytes of are required):


All of these serialization details raise an important question—what happens when you change profile properties or the way they are serialized? Profile properties don't have any support for versioning. However, you can add or remove properties with relatively minor consequences. For example, ASP.NET will ignore properties that are present in the aspnet_Profile table but not defined in the web.config file. The next time you modify part of the profile, these properties will be replaced with the new profile information. Similarly, if you define a profile in the web.config file that doesn't exist in the serialized profile information, ASP.NET will just use the default value. However, more dramatic changes—such as renaming a property, changing its data type, and so on, are likely to cause an exception when you attempt to read the profile information. Even worse, because the serialized format of the profile information is proprietary, you have no easy way to migrate existing profile data to a new profile structure.

Not all types are serializable in all ways. For example, classes that don't provide a parameterless constructor can't be serialized in Xml mode. Classes that don't have the Serializable attribute can't be serialized in Binary mode. You'll consider this distinction when you contemplate how to use custom types with profiles (see the "Profiles and Custom Data Types" section), but for now just keep in mind that you may run across types that can be serialized only if you choose a different serialization mode.

8. Profile Groups

If you have a large number of profile settings, and some settings are logically related to each other, you may want to use profile groups to achieve better organization.

For example, you may have some properties that deal with user preferences and others that deal with shipping information. Here's how you could organize these profile properties using the <group> element:

    <group name="Preferences">
      <add name="LongDisplayMode" defaultValue="true" type="Boolean" />
      <add name="ShowSummary" defaultValue="true" type="Boolean" />
    <group name="Address">
      <add name="Name" type="String" />
      <add name="Street" type="String" />
      <add name="City" type="String" />
      <add name="ZipCode" type="String" />
      <add name="State" type="String" />
      <add name="Country" type="String" />

Now you can access the properties through the group name in your code. For example, here's how you retrieve the country information:

lblCountry.Text = Profile.Address.Country

Groups are really just a poor man's substitute for a full-fledged custom structure or class. For instance, you could achieve the same effect as in the previous example by declaring a custom Address class. You'd also have the ability to add other features (such as validation in the property procedures). The next section shows how.

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