Tag Archives: Jasper

New Jasper Alpha for HTTP Services

Jasper is the name of an OSS project I’ve been working on for a disturbingly long time that’s the spiritual successor to FubuMVC. In more concrete terms, Jasper is built around what I think is a unique Roslyn-powered command execution pipeline that can be used as any combination of:

  1. An alternative to MVC Core for authoring HTTP services
  2. An in-memory service bus or command executor ala MediatR, but with more functionality
  3. A lightweight service bus
  4. A full fledged service bus when used in conjunction with real messaging infrastructure like Rabbit MQ or Azure Service Bus (Jasper fills the mediator rule between your code and the underlying transport)

To get you started on Jasper and to see what it’s capable, there’s actually a set of tutorials so far:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Jasper as an In Memory Command Executor / Mediator
  3. Using Jasper as a Lightweight Service Bus
  4. Building HTTP Services with Jasper
  5. Hybrid Jasper/MVC Core Application


What’s changed recently?

I changed Jasper’s direction a little bit starting last September. I’ve gone through the internals and tried very hard to replace any bit of code or infrastructure that was specific to Jasper that I thought could be adequately replaced by stuff built into ASP.Net Core. To that end, a lot of Jasper’s custom bootstrapping code was thrown out and replaced by fully embracing ASP.Net Core’s IWebHostBuilder infrastructure — even when Jasper is running “headless” with no real HTTP server.

I also replaced Jasper’s built in error handling and retry policies it had inherited from FubuMVC with a few extensions to Polly so users have the full power of Polly available to them — and I and any eventual Jasper community have a lot less code to document and support;)

I had quite a bit of free time at CodeMash and NDC London recently, so was able to work quite a bit on Jasper’s HTTP service support, including the new “MVC Extender” functionality that allows you to mix and match MVC Core elements into Jasper endpoints.


What’s Next

There’s going to be another pre-1.0 alpha within the next two weeks that will focus mostly on the messaging functionality. I can justify some day job time on it in the next couple weeks where I’ll be working on improving the Rabbit MQ integration, finishing the Azure Service Bus integration, and testing out the custom Azure AppInsights extension.

Beyond that? Performance optimization maybe, but I’d like to push for a 1.0 release soon and try to start building some interest and community around it. The only thing that will slow that down is to see if I wanna try to make Jasper 1.0 wait for ASP.Net Core 3.0 because every single OSS tool I maintain that depends on ASP.Net Core has been broken by every single ASP.Net Core release.


I’m very interested in whatever feedback you might have, either here, on twitter, or the Gitter room for Jasper.



Jasper as an In-Memory Bus Part 1

I just finished the work in Jasper I’d described in Changing Jasper’s Direction and released a new Jasper 0.9 Nuget and a matching dotnet new template package with the newly streamlined structure. Hopefully, this represents the first big step on the march to a 1.0 release and production readiness by the end of this year. I’m going to start blogging a lot more examples on Jasper in hopes of building some community and possibly attracting some other contributors.

Today I want to talk about using Jasper as an in memory bus (like MediatR) within an ASP.Net Core application. To make Jasper less scary, let’s start with an ASP.Net Core application built with the dotnet new webapi template. After adding a dependency to Jasper via Nuget, you can add Jasper to your new application with this code:

    public class Program
        public static void Main(string[] args)

        public static IWebHostBuilder CreateWebHostBuilder(string[] args) =>
                // This is all you have to do to use Jasper
                // with all its default behavior

Do note that this quietly replaces the default ASP.net Core DI container with Lamar that is absolutely required for Jasper usage. Also note that this is choosing to use Jasper with all its default behavior. Lastly, this simplified configuration approach will only discover message handlers within the same assembly with your main application. See this page for more information on configuring Jasper.

Now, let’s say we need to have an HTTP endpoint that will receive a command to create a new user within our system like this:

    public class CreateUser
        public string FirstName { get; set; }
        public string LastName { get; set; }
        public string Email { get; set; }

Since we’ve decided that we want the actual work to be done by a Jasper message handler instead of just burying it within the normal MVC controller cruft, let’s write our first Jasper message handler that will handle this message by just writing a message to the console:

    public class UserHandler
        public void Handle(CreateUser user)
            Console.WriteLine("Hey, I got a new user!");

Or to stay with using async anytime the handler involved any kind of IO, use an asynchronous version:

    public class UserHandler
        public Task Handle(CreateUser user)
            return Console.Out.WriteLineAsync("Hey, I got a user");

Now, switching to the MVC Core side, let’s add the controller action that receives a JSON POST for CreateUser and delegates to Jasper:

    public class UserController : ControllerBase
        private readonly IMessageContext _messages;

        public UserController(IMessageContext messages)
            _messages = messages;

        public async Task CreateUser([FromBody] CreateUser user)
            // Process the message NOW MISTER
            await _messages.Invoke(user);

            // OR

            // Put the incoming message in the in
            // memory worker queues and Jasper
            // will process it when it can
            await _messages.Enqueue(user);

            // OR, not sure why you'd want to do this, but say
            // you want this processed in 5 minutes
            await _messages.Schedule(user, 5.Seconds());

            return Ok();

The IMessageContext interface is the entry point for all messaging within Jasper and is automatically registered in your application’s Lamar container as ContainerScoped().

Alrighty then, it’s not super exciting in functionality, but this is actually a working application that hopefully shows off a decent getting started story for adding Jasper to an ASP.net Core system. In my next set of posts we’ll embellish the message handling to show off Jasper’s durable messaging, “outbox” support, and middleware.

In the meantime, please feel free to kick the tires on Jasper and let the community know what you think works and what needs some improvement in the Gitter room.


Jasper vs. MediatR

As strictly an in-memory messaging bus, Jasper supports a superset of MediatR’s functionality, but with a very different runtime architecture. In terms of implementation, MediatR is purposely simplistic and mostly relies on Inversion of Control (IoC) containers’ support for discovering and resolving generic types implementing its ​adapter interfaces likeIRequestHandler. Jasper, on the other hand, does its own command discovery (using Lamar’s built in type scanning) and eschews the usage of adapter interfaces or base classes in favor of naming conventions.

Selfishly speaking, MediatR has been a big headache to me with StructureMap and Lamar support because it encourages users to be too ambitious with generics to work around MediatR’s limited support for runtime composition. I certainly hope that Jasper’s middleware strategy — if it ever gets significant usage in the wild — generates far less user confusion.

As far as advantages, MediatR is obviously more mature, heavily used, and well understood by folks (as long as they stay sane on the generics usage). Plus some folks will prefer MediatR’s more explicit interfaces versus Jasper’s usage of conventions. In my opinion, Jasper’s potential advantages are:

  • Cleaner code because Jasper adapts itself to your code rather than forcing you to use its constructs
  • Higher performance, especially when it’s idiomatic Jasper HTTP handlers versus the combination of ASP.Net Core controller actions + MediatR.
  • Jasper supports quite a bit more functionality, and gives you much more control over message priority, error handling, and durability
  • Jasper composition and middleware design allows users to intelligently order middleware and provides many more extensibility scenarios
  • It’s rudimentary right now (just dump out the generated code), but Jasper provides out of the box diagnostics to show you what middleware is applied for which message types

Changing Jasper’s Direction

I usually won’t publish blog posts on weekends because nobody reads them, but in this case I’m just jotting down my own thoughts.

I’ve been working off and on for about 4-5 years on a new .Net framework called Jasper (see the “Jasper” tag for my previous posts). Jasper was originally envisioned as a better version of FubuMVC, including both its web framework side and its later functionality as a pretty full fledged service bus that could do publish/subscribe messaging through its own lightweight in process queue (LightningQueues) without any other additional infrastructure.

For the last half of 2017 and the early part of 2018 some of my colleagues and I worked a lot on Jasper specifically as a service bus that could be backwards compatible with older FubuMVC applications and be usable in a large, on premise deployed ecosystem. To that end, most of Jasper’s code deals with messaging concerns, including quite a bit of functionality that overlaps with big, grown up messaging tools like RabbitMQ or Azure Service Bus.

After getting back into Jasper again the past couple weeks I think these things:

  • The backwards compatibility with FubuMVC doesn’t matter anymore and could be eliminated
  • If I were using Jasper for messaging at any kind of scope, I’d want to be using Rabbit MQ or Azure Service Bus anyway
  • I’m personally way more interested myself in getting back to the HTTP side of things or learning Azure technologies through integration with Jasper
  • The codebase is big and probably a little daunting
  • In my opinion, the special thing about Jasper is its particular flavor of the Russian Doll runtime pipeline, extensibility, and the way it allows you to write very simple code in your application.
  • It’s extremely hard to get developers to use any kind of alternative framework, but it’s far less difficult to get developers to try out OSS libraries that complement, extend, or improve the mainstream framework they’re already working with.

I’m still mulling things over, but at this point I wanna switch directions so that Jasper is mostly about its runtime pipeline as a “command processor” that can be used 3 (maybe 4) ways:

  1. As a standalone, in memory service bus and command dispatcher (which it already does today, as is, and quite robustly, thank you) that you could embed in any kind of .Net Core application. For example, Jasper could be used in combination with ASP.Net Core the same way that folks use MediatR today.
  2. As an alternative way to write HTTP services in ASP.Net Core that’s effectively Jasper’s own lightweight HTTP router connected to Jasper’s runtime pipeline for command execution (it’s not documented at all other than a single blog post, but much of the basics are already in place). This could be used in place of or side by side with MVC Core or any other kind of ASP.Net Core middleware.
  3. As a connector between publish/subscribe queues like RabbitMQ or Azure Service Bus and Jasper’s command execution. Basically, Jasper handles all the things like serialization and messaging workflow described in Sure, You Can Just Use RabbitMQ — which Jasper’s existing messaging support generally does right now as is. What would change here is mostly subtraction as Jasper would rely much more on RabbitMQ/Azure Service Bus/etc. for message routing instead of the custom code that exists in Jasper’s codebase today.

That still sounds like a potentially huge tool, but there’s maybe a lot more in common between those 3 things than it appears. Jasper’s sharing all the command execution mechanics, the IoC integration, logging set up, and even sharing content negotiation (serialization) between items 1, 2, & 3 above.

Nuget wise, after whacking some code listed later in this post and the recent reorganization of the codebase anyway, I think Jasper is divided into these Nugets:

  • Jasper — The core library. Has the TCP transport (its tiny), the core runtime pipeline, the in memory bus and command execution functionality, the HTTP handler support, anything to do with extension discovery, and the integration into ASP.Net Core hosting. As much as possible, Jasper tries to rely on common pieces like the basic logging, hosting, and configuration elements of ASP.Net Core, so there’s no good reason in my mind to separate out the HTTP support from the core
  • Jasper.Persistence.Marten — integrates Marten/Postgresql into a Jasper application. Marten-backed saga persistence, durable messaging, and the outbox support
  • Jasper.Persistence.SqlServer — Sql Server backed message and saga persistence, including the outbox support. I’m not sure what to do with saga persistence here yet
  • Jasper.RabbitMQ — the RabbitMQ transport for Jasper
  • Jasper.AzureServiceBus — future
  • Jasper.TestSupport.Storyteller — tooling to host and monitor Jasper applications in Storytellerspecifications
  • Jasper.TestSupport.Alba — tooling to run Alba specifications directly against a Jasper runtime
  • Jasper.MvcCoreExtender — future, use MVC Core constructs in Jasper HTTP services and possibly act as a performance accelerator to existing MVC Core applications

So here’s my current thinking on what does or does not change:


  • The HTTP transport that uses Kestrel as another bus transport alternative. It needs a little more work anyway and I don’t see anyone using it
  • Anything to do with the dynamic subscription model, and that’s quite a bit
  • The Consul extension. Most of it is for the subscriptions that goes away, and the rest of it could be done by just piping Consul through ASP.Net Configuration
  • Request/Reply or Send/Await mechanics in the service bus. Only there for fubu compatibility we no longer care about. It’d be long gone as is but too many tests depend on it. Ugh.
  • The model binding support. I don’t think it’d be commonly used and I’d rather cede that to MVC Core
  • Node registration and discovery. Use what’s already in Azure or AWS for this kind of thing and let’s thin down Jasper


  • The lightweight TCP protocol stays, but it’s documented clearly as most appropriate for small to medium workloads or for local testing or for just a simple getting started story
  • The outbox mechanics w/ either Marten or Sql Server
  • The current in memory worker queues, with possible thought toward making them extensible for concerns like throttling in the future
  • The serialization and content negotiation
  • Jasper’s command line integration via Oakton. I think it’s turning out to be a cheap way to build in diagnostics and maintenance tasks right into your app.
  • The environment check support. I’m not aware of any equivalent in ASP.Net Core yet
  • Jasper’s internal HTTP router. I think it’s going to end up being much faster than the one built into ASP.net Core

Enhance or Add


  • The built in error handling/retry/circuit breaker stuff in Jasper is battle tested through years of usage in production as part of FubuMVC, but I want to see if there’s a way to replace it with Polly to shrink the codebase and add a lot more capabilities. It’s not a slam dunk though

Compiling Code At Runtime with Lamar – Part 2

In my previous post, I introduced Lamar‘s ability and utilities for generating code in memory and compiling that code into usable, in memory assemblies with the Roslyn compiler. In this post I’m going to try to explain the more complicated “frames” model with Lamar that provides the backbone for the related Jasper framework’s middleware and runtime pipeline strategy.

The purpose of the “frames” model is to be able to generate dynamic methods by declaring a list of logical operations in generated code via Frame objects, then let Lamar handle:

  • Finding any missing dependencies of those frames
  • Determine what the necessary variable inputs are
  • Ordering all the frames based on dependency order just prior to generating the code

Before diving into an example, here’s a little class diagram of the main types:


The various types represent:

  • Frame – Named after the StackFrame objects within stack traces in .Net. Models a logical action done in the generated code. Concrete examples in Lamar or Jasper would be calling a method on an object, calling a constructor function, or specific frame objects to create wrapped transaction boundaries or exception handling boundaries.
  • Variable – pretty well what it sounds like. This type models a variable within the generated method, but also includes information about what Frame created it to help order the dependencies
  • IVariableSource – mechanism to “find” or create variables. Examples in Lamar include resolving a service from an IoC container, passing along a method argument, or the example below that tells you the current time
  • IMethodVariables – interface that is used by Frame classes to go find their necessary Variable dependencies.

Alrighty then, let’s make this concrete. Let’s say that we want to generate and use dynamic instances of this interface:

public interface ISaySomething
    void Speak();

Moreover, I want a version of ISaySomething that will call the following method and write the current time to the console:

public static class NowSpeaker
    public static void Speak(DateTime now)

Our dynamic class for ISaySomething will need to pass the current time to the now parameter of that method. To help out here, there’s some built in helpers in Lamar specifically to write in the right code to get the current time to a variable of DateTime or DateTimeOffset that is named “now.”

To skip ahead a little bit, let’s generate a new class and object with the following code:

// Configures the code generation rules
// and policies
var rules = new GenerationRules("GeneratedNamespace");

// Adds the "now : DateTime" variable rule to 
// our generated code
rules.Sources.Add(new NowTimeVariableSource());

// Start the definition for a new generated assembly
var assembly = new GeneratedAssembly(rules);

// Add a new generated type called "WhatTimeIsIt" that will
// implement the 
var type = assembly.AddType("WhatTimeIsIt", typeof(ISaySomething));

// Getting the definition for the method named "Speak"
var method = type.MethodFor(nameof(ISaySomething.Speak));

// Adding a frame that calls the NowSpeaker.Speak() method and
// adding it to the generated method
var @call = new MethodCall(typeof(NowSpeaker), nameof(NowSpeaker.Speak));

// Compile the new code!

After all that, if we interrogate the source code for the generated type above (type.SourceCode), we’d see this ugly generated code:

    public class WhatTimeIsIt : Lamar.Testing.Samples.ISaySomething

        public void Speak()
            var now = System.DateTime.UtcNow;


Some notes about the generated code:

  • Lamar was able to stick in some additional code to pass the current time into a new variable, and call the Speak(DateTime now) method with that value.
  • Lamar is smart enough to put that code before the call to the method (that kind of matters here)
  • The generated code uses full type names in almost all cases to avoid type collisions rather than trying to get smart with using statements in the generated code

So now let’s look at how Lamar was able to add the code to pass along DateTime.UtcNow. First off, let’s look at the code that just writes out the date variable:

public class NowFetchFrame : SyncFrame
    public NowFetchFrame(Type variableType)
        // there's some sleight of hand here that's marking
        // this new Variable as created by this frame object
        // so that the dependency relationship is made
        Variable = new Variable(variableType, "now", this);
    public Variable Variable { get; }
    public override void GenerateCode(
        GeneratedMethod method, 
        ISourceWriter writer)
        writer.WriteLine($"var {Variable.Usage} 
            = {Variable.VariableType.FullName}.{nameof(DateTime.UtcNow)};");
        Next?.GenerateCode(method, writer);

In the frame above, you’ll see that the GenerateCode() method writes its code into the source, then immediately turns around and tells the next Frame – if there is one – to generated its code. As the last step to write out the new source code, Lamar:

  1. Goes through an effort to find any missing frames and variables
  2. Sorts them with a topological sort (what frames depend on what other frames or variables, what variables are used or created by what frames)
  3. Organizes the frames into a single linked list
  4. Calls GenerateCode() on the first frame

In the generated method up above, the call to NowSpeaker.Speak(now) depends on the now variable which is in turn created by the NowFetchFrame, and that’s enough information for Lamar to order things and generate the final code.

Lastly, we had to use a custom IVariableSource to teach Lamar how to resolve the now variable. That code looks like this:

public class NowTimeVariableSource : IVariableSource
    public bool Matches(Type type)
        return type == typeof(DateTime) || type == typeof(DateTimeOffset);

    public Variable Create(Type type)
        if (type == typeof(DateTime))
            return new NowFetchFrame(typeof(DateTime)).Variable;

        if (type == typeof(DateTimeOffset))
            return new NowFetchFrame(typeof(DateTimeOffset)).Variable;

        throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException(nameof(type), "Only DateTime and DateTimeOffset are supported");

Out of the box, the Lamar + Jasper combination uses variable sources for:

  • Services from the internal IoC container of the application
  • Method arguments
  • Variables that can be derived from a method argument like HttpContext.Request
  • The “now” convention shown here


I don’t know how popular this thing is going to be, but it’s powering the dynamic code generation of Jasper’s runtime pipeline and it’s the key to Jasper’s efficiency compared to other .Net tools with similar functionality. The early feedback I got was that this model was very abstract and hard to follow. I’m open to suggestions, but the very nature of needing to do the recursive dependency detection and ordering kind of necessitates a model like this in my opinion.

Compiling Code At Runtime with Lamar – Part 1

This code was originally written and proven out in the related Marten and described in a post titled Using Roslyn for Runtime Code Generation in Marten. This code was ripped out of Marten itself, but it’s happily running now in Lamar a couple years later.

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a new library called Lamar that I mean to be the next generation replacement for the venerable, but creaky StructureMap library. Besides the IoC Container support though, Lamar also provides some tooling and a model to generate and compile code at runtime, then ultimately load and use the newly generated types.

If all you want to do is take some C# code and compile that in memory to a new, in memory assembly, you can use
the Lamar.Compilation.AssemblyGenerator class.

Let’s say that you have a simple interface in your system like this:

    public interface IOperation
        int Calculate(int one, int two);

Next, let’s use AssemblyGenerator to compile code with a custom implementation of IOperation that we’ve generated
in code:

        public void generate_code_on_the_fly()
            var generator = new AssemblyGenerator();

            // This is necessary for the compilation to succeed
            // It's exactly the equivalent of adding references
            // to your project

            // Compile and generate a new .Net Assembly object
            // in memory
            var assembly = generator.Generate(@"
using Lamar.Testing.Samples;

namespace Generated
    public class AddOperator : IOperation
        public int Calculate(int one, int two)
            return one + two;

            // Find the new type we generated up above
            var type = assembly.GetExportedTypes().Single();
            // Use Activator.CreateInstance() to build an object
            // instance of our new class, and cast it to the 
            // IOperation interface
            var operation = (IOperation)Activator.CreateInstance(type);

            // Use our new type
            var result = operation.Calculate(1, 2);

There’s only a couple things going on in the code above:

  1. I added an assembly reference for the .Net assembly that holds the IOperation interface
  2. I passed a string to the ​GenerateCode() method, which successfully compiles my code and hands me back a .Net Assembly object
  3. Load the newly generated type from the new Assembly
  4. Use the new IOperation

If you’re not perfectly keen on doing brute force string manipulation to generate your code, you can
also use Lamar’s built in ISourceWriter to generate some of the code for you with
all its code generation utilities:

public void generate_code_on_the_fly_using_source_writer()
    var generator = new AssemblyGenerator();

    // This is necessary for the compilation to succeed
    // It's exactly the equivalent of adding references
    // to your project

    var assembly = generator.Generate(x =>
        x.StartClass("AddOperator", typeof(IOperation));
        x.Write("BLOCK:public int Calculate(int one, int two)");
        x.Write("return one + two;");
        x.FinishBlock();  // Finish the method
        x.FinishBlock();  // Finish the class
        x.FinishBlock();  // Finish the namespace

    var type = assembly.GetExportedTypes().Single();
    var operation = (IOperation)Activator.CreateInstance(type);

    var result = operation.Calculate(1, 2);


In Part 2, I’ll talk about the “frames” model that’s heavily used within Jasper (shown in this post).

Scheduled or Delayed Message Execution in Jasper

This is definitely not a replacement for something like Hangfire, but it’s very handy for what it does. 

Here’s a couple somewhat common scenarios in an event driven or messaging system:

  • Handling a message failed, but with some kind of problem that might be resolved if the message is retried later in a few seconds or maybe even minutes
  • A message is received that starts a long running process of some kind, and you may want to schedule a “timeout” process later that would send an email to users or do something to escalate the process if it has not finished by the scheduled time

For these kinds of use cases, Jasper supports the idea of scheduled execution, where messages can be sent with a logical “execute this message at this later time.”

Retry Later in Error Handling

The first usage of scheduled execution is in message handling error policies. Take this example below where I tell Jasper to retry handling an incoming message that fails with a TimeoutException again after a 5 second delay:

public class GlobalRetryApp : JasperRegistry
    public GlobalRetryApp()

Behind the scenes, the usage of the RetryLater()method causes Jasper to schedule the incoming message for later execution if that error policy kicks in during processing.

Scheduling Messages Locally

To schedule a message to be processed by the current system at a later time, just use the IMessageContext.Schedule() method as shown below:

public async Task schedule_locally(IMessageContext context, Guid issueId)
    var timeout = new WarnIfIssueIsStale
        IssueId = issueId

    // Process the issue timeout logic 3 days from now
    // in *this* system
    await context.Schedule(timeout, 3.Days());

This method allows you to either express an exact time or to use a TimeSpan argument for delayed scheduling. Either way, Jasper ultimately stores the scheduled message against a UTC time. IMessageContext is the main service in Jasper for sending and executing messages or commands. It will be registered in your IoC container for any Jasper application.

Sending Scheduled Messages to Other Systems

To send a message to another system that should wait to execute the message on its end, use this syntax:

public async Task send_at_5_tomorrow_afternoon_yourself(IMessageContext context, Guid issueId)
    var timeout = new WarnIfIssueIsStale
        IssueId = issueId

    var time = DateTime.Today.AddDays(1).AddHours(17);

    // Process the issue timeout at 5PM tomorrow
    // Do note that Jasper quietly converts this
    // to universal time in storage
    await context.Send(timeout, e => e.ExecutionTime = time);

Do note that Jasper immediately sends the message. For right now, the thinking is that the receiving application will be responsible for handling the execution scheduling. We may choose later to make this be the responsibility of the sending application instead to be more usable when sending messages to other systems that aren’t using Jasper.

Persistent Job Scheduling

The default, in memory message execution scheduling is probably good enough merely for delayed message processing retries as shown above, However, if you’re using the scheduled execution as part of your business workflow, you probably want to be using the durable message persistence. Today your two options are to use either Postgresql with Marten, or the new Sql Server backed message persistence.

With durable messaging, the scheduled messages are persisted to a backing database so they aren’t lost if any particular node is shut down or the whole system somehow crashes. Behind the scenes, Jasper just uses polling to check the database for any scheduled messages that are ready to execute, and pulls these expired messages into the local worker queues of a running node for normal execution.

The scheduled messages can be processed by any of the running nodes within your system, but we take some steps to guarantee that only one node will execute specific scheduled messages. Rather than using any kind of leader election, Jasper just takes advantage of advisory locks in Postgresql or application locks in Sql Server as a lightweight, global lock between the running nodes within your application. It’s a much simpler (read, less effort on my time) mechanism than trying to do some kind of leader election between running nodes. It also allows Jasper to better spread the work across all of the nodes.


Roslyn Powered Code Weaving Middleware

Jasper, with a big assist from Lamar, supports a unique middleware strategy that I believe will result in significantly higher performance, cleaner exception stack traces (and that matters), and better visibility into its runtime pipeline than similar frameworks in .Net. If you want to follow along with this code, you’ll need at least Jasper 0.8.3 that’s being indexed by Nuget as you read this and Jasper.SqlServer 0.8.2 because I managed to find some bugs while writing this post. Of course.

At this point, most .Net frameworks for messaging, local command running, or service bus message handling have some sort of support for nested middleware or what I used to call the Russian Doll Model. ASP.Net Core middleware is one example of this. Behaviors from NServiceBus is another example.

The great thing about this model when used judiciously is that it’s a great way to handle certain kinds of cross cutting concerns outside of your main HTTP route handling or message handling code. Used well, middleware will allow you to reuse a lot of code and simplify your application code by removing the need for repetitive infrastructure or workflow code.

In web development projects I’ve used or seen used middleware for:

  • Transaction management or unit of work semantics
  • Input validation where the middleware can stop further processing
  • Authentication
  • Authorization

Taking just authentication and authorization as examples, in many cases I’ve seen teams be able to get away with completely ignoring these concerns upfront while focusing on the core business functionality, then being able at a later time to just add middleware for authentication and authorization to take care of these concerns without having any impact on the existing business functionality. That’s a powerful exploitation of architectural reversibility to make development easier.

I’ve also seen this technique taken way, way too far to the point where the code was very difficult to understand. My advice is something along the lines of “don’t be stupid” and pay attention to what’s happening in your code if the middleware usage does more harm than good.

What Came Before and Why It Was Problematic

In FubuMVC, we supported a middleware strategy we called “behaviors” with this interface:

    public interface IActionBehavior
        Task Invoke();
        Task InvokePartial();

Calling the main HTTP action in FubuMVC’s equivalent to controller actions was a behavior. Reading the input body was a behavior. The common things like validation, authorization, authentication, and transactional management were potentially separate behavior objects. At runtime, we would use an IoC container to build out all the behaviors for the matched route, with each “outer” behavior having a reference to its “inner” behavior and each behavior having whatever services it needed to do its work injected into its constructor function.

When it worked well, it was awesome — at least in ~2010 terms when we .Net developers were just thrilled to break away from WebForms. Alas, this model has some issues:

  • It didn’t support an asynchronous model like you’d expect with more recent tooling
  • It results in an absurd number of objects being allocated for each HTTP request. Add in the mechanics around IoC scoped containers, and there was a lot of overhead just to assemble the things you needed to handle the request
  • When something went wrong, the stack traces were epic. There was so much FubuMVC-related framework noise code in the stack trace that many developers would just throw up their hands and run away (even though the real problem was clearly in their own code if they’d just looked at the top of the stack trace, but I digress….)
  • We had tools to visualize the full chain of behaviors for each route, but I don’t think that was ever fully effective for most developers who used FubuMVC

Jasper’s Approach

Not that long after publicly giving up on FubuMVC, I happened to see some articles about how the new Roslyn “compiler as a service” would allow you to compile and load assemblies on the fly from generated C# code. I theorized that this new Roslyn behavior could be exploited to create a new runtime pipeline for HTTP or messaging frameworks where you still had something like FubuMVC’s old Behavior model for cross cutting concerns, but you used some kind of code generation to “weave” in that functionality around your application code.

To make this more concrete, consider this function from a load testing harness that:

  • Handles an HTTP POST request to the url “/one”
  • Creates a new message object
  • Writes a record to the database tracking that the message was sent for the sake of verifying behavior later
  • Sends a message using Jasper’s Sql Server-backed messaging persistence

This is the actual code for the function that handles the HTTP POST:

public static async Task post_one(IMessageContext context, SqlTransaction tx)
    // Loads a pre-packaged message body from a JSON string
    var target1 = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject(_json1);
    target1.Id = Guid.NewGuid();

    await tx.StoreSent(target1.Id, "Target");

    // Send a message through Jasper
    await context.Send(target1);

When Jasper bootstraps, it will generate a new class for each known route that inherits from this class partially shown below:

    public abstract class RouteHandler
        public abstract Task Handle(HttpContext httpContext);

        // Other methods we don't care about here

The RouteHandler classes are all compiled into a new assembly on the fly, then a single instance of each is instantiated and kept in the routing tree ready to handle any incoming requests.

The various instances of RouteHandler mediate between Jasper’s built in HTTP router and the interface it expects, the action methods that handle the actual request, and any Jasper middleware that might be mixed in. In the case of the post_one method shown above, the generated RouteHandler class is this (also on a Gist if the formatting is unreadable in your browser):

    public class SqlSender_HomeEndpoint_post_one : Jasper.Http.Model.RouteHandler
        private readonly SqlServerSettings _sqlServerSettings;
        private readonly IMessagingRoot _messagingRoot;

        public SqlSender_HomeEndpoint_post_one(SqlServerSettings sqlServerSettings, IMessagingRoot messagingRoot)
            _sqlServerSettings = sqlServerSettings;
            _messagingRoot = messagingRoot;

        public override async Task Handle(Microsoft.AspNetCore.Http.HttpContext httpContext)
            var messageContext = _messagingRoot.NewContext();
            using (System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection sqlConnection2 = new System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection(_sqlServerSettings.ConnectionString))
                await sqlConnection2.OpenAsync();
                var sqlTransaction = sqlConnection2.BeginTransaction();
                await Jasper.SqlServer.SqlServerOutboxExtensions.EnlistInTransaction(messageContext, sqlTransaction);
                await SqlSender.HomeEndpoint.post_one(messageContext, sqlTransaction);
                await messageContext.SendAllQueuedOutgoingMessages();

So let’s deconstruct this generated code a little bit because there’s clearly more going on than just delegating to the post_one method. If you look up above at the post_one method, you’ll see that it’s decorated with an [SqlTransaction]attribute. That adds Jasper’s Sql Server transactional middleware into the mix. All told, the generated code:

  1. Creates a new IMessageContext object that the post_one method needs
  2. Creates and opens a new SqlConnection to the connection string specified in configuration (through the SqlServerSettings object)
  3. Starts a new transaction
  4. Enlists the IMessageContext in the current transaction using Jasper’s Sql Server-backed outbox support
  5. Calls post_one with its two arguments
  6. Commits the transaction
  7. Flushes out any queued up, outgoing messages into Jasper’s local sending queues
  8. Closes and disposes the open connection

What you don’t see in that generated code is maybe more important:

  • In this case, Jasper/Lamar didn’t have to resort to using a scoped IoC container of any kind when handling this HTTP request. That’s a lot of runtime overhead that just disappeared as compared to most other .Net frameworks that perform similar functions to Jasper
  • When something does go wrong, the exception stack traces are going to be much simpler because everything is happening in just a few methods now instead of having lots of wrapped objects implementing a middleware strategy
  • Very few object allocations compared to the way FubuMVC accomplished the exact same functionality, and that’s hugely advantageous for performance in high volume systems

I think a deeper dive blog post later is probably justified, but the implementation of the middleware is this class below:

    public class SqlTransactionFrame : AsyncFrame
        private Variable _connection;
        private bool _isUsingPersistence;
        private Variable _context;

        public SqlTransactionFrame()
            Transaction = new Variable(typeof(SqlTransaction), this);

        public bool ShouldFlushOutgoingMessages { get; set; }

        public Variable Transaction { get; }

        public override void GenerateCode(GeneratedMethod method, ISourceWriter writer)
            writer.Write($"await {_connection.Usage}.{nameof(SqlConnection.OpenAsync)}();");
            writer.Write($"var {Transaction.Usage} = {_connection.Usage}.{nameof(SqlConnection.BeginTransaction)}();");

            if (_context != null && _isUsingPersistence)
                writer.Write($"await {typeof(SqlServerOutboxExtensions).FullName}.{nameof(SqlServerOutboxExtensions.EnlistInTransaction)}({_context.Usage}, {Transaction.Usage});");

            Next?.GenerateCode(method, writer);

            if (ShouldFlushOutgoingMessages)
                writer.Write($"await {_context.Usage}.{nameof(IMessageContext.SendAllQueuedOutgoingMessages)}();");


        // This is necessary to identify other things that need to 
        // be written into the generated method as dependencies
        // to this Frame
        public override IEnumerable<Variable> FindVariables(IMethodVariables chain)
            _isUsingPersistence = chain.IsUsingSqlServerPersistence();

            _connection = chain.FindVariable(typeof(SqlConnection));
            yield return _connection;

            if (ShouldFlushOutgoingMessages)
                _context = chain.FindVariable(typeof(IMessageContext));
                // Inside of messaging. Not sure how this is gonna work for HTTP yet
                _context = chain.TryFindVariable(typeof(IMessageContext), VariableSource.NotServices);

            if (_context != null) yield return _context;

There’s a little bit of complicated goop around the code generation that’s necessary to allow Lamar to properly order the steps in the code generation, but the code generation itself is just writing C# code out — and the new C# string interpolation (finally) makes that pretty approachable in my opinion, especially compared to having to use .Net Expressions or emitting IL.


More Information

I wrote a blog post earlier this year called Jasper’s Roslyn-Powered “Special Sauce” that laid out some of the same arguments.

Using Roslyn for Runtime Code Generation in Marten presented an early form of the code generation and runtime compilation that ended up in Lamar. We ripped this out of Marten, but it still served as a proof of concept later for Jasper;)

Really, this amounts to what I think is an easier to use form of Aspect Oriented Programming.