Environment Checks and Better Command Line Abilities for your .Net Core Application

Oakton.AspNetCore is a new package built on top of the Oakton 2.0+ command line parser that adds extra functionality to the command line execution of ASP.Net Core and .Net Core 3.0 codebases. At the bottom of this blog post is a small section showing you how to set up Oakton.AspNetCore to run commands in your .Net Core application.

First though, you need to understand that when you use the dotnet run command to build and execute your ASP.Net Core application, you can pass arguments and flags both to dotnet run itself and to your application through the string[] args argument of Program.Main(). These two types of arguments or flags are separated by a double dash, like this example: dotnet run --framework netcoreapp2.0 -- ?. In this case, “–framework netcoreapp2.0” is used by dotnet run itself, and the values to the right of the “–” are passed into your application as the args array.

With that out of the way, let’s see what Oakton.AspNetCore brings to the table.

Extended “Run” Options

In the default ASP.Net Core templates, your application can be started with all its defaults by using dotnet run.  Oakton.AspNetCore retains that usage, but adds some new abilities with its “Run” command. To check the syntax options, type dotnet run -- ? run:

 Usages for 'run' (Runs the configured AspNetCore application)
  run [-c, --check] [-e, --environment <environment>] [-v, --verbose] [-l, --log-level <logleve>] [----config:<prop> <value>]

  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Flags
  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        [-c, --check] -> Run the environment checks before starting the host
    [-e, --environment <environment>] -> Use to override the ASP.Net Environment name
                      [-v, --verbose] -> Write out much more information at startup and enables console logging
          [-l, --log-level <logleve>] -> Override the log level
          [----config:<prop> <value>] -> Overwrite individual configuration items
  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To run your application under a different hosting environment name value, use a flag like so:

dotnet run -- --environment Testing

or

dotnet run -- -e Testing

To overwrite configuration key/value pairs, you’ve also got this option:

dotnet run -- --config:key1 value1 --config:key2 value2

which will overwrite the configuration keys for “key1” and “key2” to “value1” and “value2” respectively.

Lastly, you can have any configured environment checks for your application immediately before starting your application by using this flag:

dotnet run -- --check

More on this function in the next section.

 

Environment Checks

I’m a huge fan of building environment tests directly into your application. Environment tests allow your application to self-diagnose issues with deployment, configuration, or environmental dependencies upfront that would impact its ability to run.

As a very real world example, let’s say your ASP.Net Core application needs to access another web service that’s managed independently by other teams and maybe, just maybe your testers have occasionally tried to test your application when:

  • Your application configuration has the wrong Url for the other web service
  • The other web service isn’t running at all
  • There’s some kind of authentication issue between your application and the other web service

In the real world project that spawned the example above, we added a formal environment check that would try to touch the health check endpoint of the external web service and throw an exception if we couldn’t connect to the external system. The next step was to execute our application as it was configured and deployed with this environment check as part of our Continuous Deployment pipeline. If the environment check failed, the deployment itself failed and triggered off the normal set of failure alerts letting us know to go fix the environment rather than letting our testers waste time on a bad deployment.

With all that said, let’s look at what Oakton.AspNetCore does here to help you add environment checks. Let’s say your application uses a single Sql Server database, and the connection string should be configured in the “connectionString” key of your application’s connection. You would probably want an environment check just to verify at a minimum that you can successfully connect to your database as it’s configured.

In your ASP.Net Core Startup class, you could add a new service registration for an environment check like this example:

// This method gets called by the runtime. Use this method to add services to the container.
public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
    // Other registrations we don't care about...
    
    // This extension method is in Oakton.AspNetCore
    services.CheckEnvironment<IConfiguration>("Can connect to the application database", config =>
    {
        var connectionString = config["connectionString"];
        using (var conn = new SqlConnection(connectionString))
        {
            // Just attempt to open the connection. If there's anything
            // wrong here, it's going to throw an exception
            conn.Open();
        }
    });
}

Now, during deployments or even just pulling down the code to run locally, we can run the environment checks on our application like so:

dotnet run -- check-env

Which in the case of our application above, blows up with output like this because I didn’t add configuration for the database in the first place:

Running Environment Checks
   1.) Failed: Can connect to the application database
System.InvalidOperationException: The ConnectionString property has not been initialized.
   at System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection.PermissionDemand()
   at System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnectionFactory.Permissi
onDemand(DbConnection outerConnection)
   at System.Data.ProviderBase.DbConnectionInternal.TryOpenConnectionInternal(DbConnection outerConnection, DbConnectionFactory connectionFactory, TaskCompletionSource`1
 retry, DbConnectionOptions userOptions)
   at System.Data.ProviderBase.DbConnectionClosed.TryOpenConnection(DbConnection outerConnection, DbConnectionFactory connectionFactory, TaskCompletionSource`1 retry, 
DbConnectionOptions userOptions)
   at System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection.TryOpen(TaskCompletionSource`1 retry)
   at System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection.Open()
   at MvcApp.Startup.<>c.<ConfigureServices>b_
_4_0(IConfiguration config) in /Users/jeremydmiller/code/oakton/src/MvcApp/Startup.cs:line 41
   at Oakton.AspNetCore.Environment.EnvironmentCheckExtensions.<>c__DisplayClass2_0`1.<CheckEnvironment>b__0(IServ
iceProvider s, CancellationToken c) in /Users/jeremydmiller/code/oakton/src/Oakton.AspNetCore/Environment/EnvironmentCheckExtensions.cs:line 53
   at Oakton.AspNetCore.Environment.LambdaCheck.Assert(IServiceP
rovider services, CancellationToken cancellation) in /Users/jeremydmiller/code/oakton/src/Oakton.AspNetCore/Environment/LambdaCheck.cs:line 19
   at Oakton.AspNetCore.Environment.EnvironmentChecker.ExecuteAll
EnvironmentChecks(IServiceProvider services, CancellationToken token) in /Users/jeremydmiller/code/oakton/src/Oakton.AspNetCore/Environment/EnvironmentChecker.cs:line 31

If you ran this command during continuous deployment scripts, the command should cause your build to fail when it detects environment problems.

In some of Calavista’s current projects , we’ve been adding environment tests to our applications for items like:

  • Can our application read certain configured directories?
  • Can our application as it’s configured connect to databases?
  • Can your application reach other web services?
  • Are required configuration items specified? That’s been an issue as we’ve had to build out Continuous Deployment pipelines to many, many different server environments

I don’t see the idea of “Environment Tests” mentioned very often, and it might have other names I’m not aware of. I learned about the idea back in the Extreme Programming days from a blog post from Nat Pryce that I can’t find any longer, but there’s this paper from those days too.

 

Add Other Commands

I’ve frequently worked in projects where we’ve built parallel console applications that reproduce a lot of the same IoC and configuration setup to perform administrative tasks or add other diagnostics. It could be things like adding users, rebuilding an event store projection, executing database migrations, or loading some kind of data into the application’s database. What if instead, you could just add these directly to your .Net Core application as additional dotnet run -- [command] options? Fortunately, Oakton.AspNetCore let’s you do exactly that, and even allows you to package up reusable commands in other assemblies that could be distributed by Nuget.

If you use Lamar as your IoC container in an ASP.Net Core application (or .Net Core 3.0 console app using the new unified HostBuilder), we now have an add on Nuget called Lamar.Diagnostics that will add new Oakton commands to your application that give you access to Lamar’s diagnostic tools from the command line. As an example, this library adds a command to write out the “WhatDoIHave()” report for the underlying Lamar IoC container of your application to the command line or a file like this:

dotnet run --lamar-services

Now, using the command above as an example, to build or add your own commands start by decorating the assembly containing the command classes with this attribute:

[assembly:OaktonCommandAssembly]

Having this assembly tells Oakton.AspNetCore to search the assembly for additional Oakton commands. There is no other setup necessary.

If your command needs to use the application’s services or configuration, have the Oakton input type inherit from NetCoreInput type from Oakton.AspNetCore like so:

public class LamarServicesInput : NetCoreInput
{
    // Lots of other flags
}

Next, the new command for “lamar-services” is just this:

[Description("List all the registered Lamar services", Name = "lamar-services")]
public class LamarServicesCommand : OaktonCommand<LamarServicesInput>
{
    public override bool Execute(LamarServicesInput input)
    {
        // BuildHost() will return an IHost for your application
        // if you're using .Net Core 3.0, or IWebHost for
        // ASP.Net Core 2.*
        using (var host = input.BuildHost())
        {
            // The actual execution using host.Services
            // to get at the underlying Lamar Container
        }

        return true;
    }


}

Getting Started

In both cases I’m assuming that you’ve bootstrapped your application with one of the standard project templates like dotnet new webapi or dotnet new mvc. In both cases, you’ll first add a reference to the Oakton.AspNetCore Nuget. Next, break into the Program.Main()entry point method in your project and modify it like the following samples.

If you’re absolutely cutting edge and using ASP.Net Core 3.0:

public class Program
{
    public static Task<int> Main(string[] args)
    {
        return CreateHostBuilder(args)
            
            // This extension method replaces the calls to
            // IWebHost.Build() and Start()
            .RunOaktonCommands(args);
    }

    public static IHostBuilder CreateHostBuilder(string[] args) =>
        Host.CreateDefaultBuilder(args)
            .ConfigureWebHostDefaults(x => x.UseStartup<Startup>());
    
}

For what I would guess is most folks, the ASP.Net Core 2.* setup (and this would work as well for ASP.Net Core 3.0 as well):

public class Program
{
    public static Task<int> Main(string[] args)
    {
        return CreateWebHostBuilder(args)
            
            // This extension method replaces the calls to
            // IWebHost.Build() and Start()
            .RunOaktonCommands(args);
    }

    public static IWebHostBuilder CreateWebHostBuilder(string[] args) =>
        WebHost.CreateDefaultBuilder(args)
            .UseStartup<Startup>();
    
}

The two changes from the template defaults is to:

  1. Change the return value to Task<int>
  2. Replace the calls to IHost.Build() and IHost.Start() to use the RunOaktonCommands(args) extension method that hangs off IWebHostBuilder and the new unified IHostBuilder if you’re targeting netcoreapp3.0.

And that’s it, you’re off to the races.

 

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