Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

Journey To Self Hosting

November 29, 2014

I was recently tasked with working out the best options for hosting web applications and their data for a client. This was their foray into whether to throw all their stuff into the cloud or to build their own infrastructure to host everything on.

Hosting Options

There are a lot of options available now. Most of which are derivatives of either external cloud or internal (possibly cloud). All of which come with features and some price tags that need to be weighed up. I’ve been collecting resources of providers and their offerings (both cloud and in-house) for quite a while. So I didn’t have to go far to pull them together for comparison.

All sites and apps require a different amount of each resource type to be allocated to them. For example many web sites are still predominantly static, which require more network band-width than any other resource, some memory, a little processing power and provided they’re being cached on the server, not a lot else. These resources are very cheap.

If you’re running an e-commerce site, then you can potentially add more Disk I/O which is usually the first bottleneck, processing power and space for your data store. Add in redundancy, backups and administration of.
Fast disks (or lets just call it storage) are cheap. In fact most hardware is cheap.

Administration of redundancy, backups and staying on top of security starts to cost more. Although the “staying on top of security” will need to be done whether you’re on someone else’s hardware or on your own. It’s just that it’s a lot easier on your own because you’re in control and dictate the amount of visibility you have.

The Cloud

The Cloud


It’s out of your hands.
Indeed it is, in more ways than one. Your trust is going to have to be honoured here (or not). Yes you have SLA’s, but what guarantee do the SLA’s give you that the people working on your system and data are not having a bad day. Maybe they’ve broken up with their girlfriend, or what ever. It takes very little to miss something that could drastically compromise your system and or data.

VPS’s can be spun up quickly, but remember, good things take time. Everything has a cost. Things are quick and easy for a reason. There is a cost to this, think about what those (often hidden) costs are.

In some cases it can be cheaper, but you get what you pay for.


Your are trusting others with your data. Even others that you are not aware of. In many cases, hosting providers can be (and in many cases are) forced by governments and other agencies to give up your secrets. This is very common place now and you may not even know it’s happened.

Your provider may go out of business.

There is an inherent lack of security in all the cloud providers I’ve looked at and worked with. They will tell you they take security seriously, but when someone that understands security inspects how they do things, the situation often looks like Swiss cheese.

In-House Cloud

In-House Cloud


You are in control of your data and your application, providing you or “your” staff:

  • and/or external consultants are competent and haven’t made mistakes in setting up your infrastructure
  • Are patching all software/firmware involved
  • Are Fastidiously hardening your server/s (this is continuous. It doesn’t stop at the initial set-up)
  • Have set-up the routes and firewall rules correctly
  • Have the correct alerts set-up
  • Have implemented Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDS’s/IPS’s)
  • Have penetration tested the set-up and not just from a technical perspective. It’s often best to get pairs to do the reviews.

The list goes on. If you are at all in doubt, that’s where you consider the alternatives. In saying that, most hosting and cloud providers perform abysmally, despite their claims that your applications and data is safe with them.

It “can” cost less than entrusting your system and data to someone (or many someone’s) on the other side of the planet. Weigh up the costs. They will not always be what they appear at face value.

Hardware is very cheap.


Potential lack of in-house skills.

People with the right skills and attitudes are not cheap.

It may not be core business. You may not have the necessary capitols in-house to scope, architect, cost, set-up, administer. Potentially you could hire someone to do the initial work and the on going administration. The amount of on going administration will be partly determined by what your hosting. Generally speaking hosting company web sites, blogs etc, will require less work than systems with distributed components and redundancy.

Spinning up an instance to develop or prototype on, doesn’t have to be hard. In fact if you have some hardware, provisioning of VM images is usually quick and easy. There is actually a pro in this too… you decide how much security you want baked into these images and the processes taken to configure.

Consider download latencies from people you want to reach possibly in other countries.

In some cases it can be more expensive, but you get what you pay for.


The decision for this client was made to self host. There will be a follow up post detailing some of the hardening process I took for one of their Debian web servers.

Keeping your events thread safe

March 11, 2012

An area I’ve noticed where engineers often forget to think about synchronization is where firing events.
Now I’m going to go over a little background on C# delegates quickly just to refresh what we learnt or should have learnt years ago at the beginnings of the C# language.

It seems to be a common misconception, that all that is needed to keep synchronisation,
is to check the delegate (technically a MulticastDelegate, or in architectural terms the publisher of the publish-subscribe pattern (more commonly known as the observer pattern)) for null.

Defining the publisher without using the event keyword

public class Publisher {
   // ...

   // Define the delegate data type
   public delegate void MyDelegateType();

   // Define the event publisher
   public MyDelegateType OnStateChange {
      get{ return _onStateChange;}
      set{ _onStateChange = value;}
   private MyDelegateType _onStateChange;

   // ...

When you declare a delegate, you are actually declaring a MulticastDelegate.
The delegate keyword is an alias for a type derived from System.MulticastDelegate.
When you create a delegate, the compiler automatically employs the System.MulticastDelegate type rather than the System.Delegate type.
When you add a method to a multicast delegate, the MulticastDelegate class creates a new instance of the delegate type, stores the object reference and the method pointer for the added method into the new instance, and adds the new delegate instance as the next item in a list of delegate instances.
Essentially, the MulticastDelegate keeps a linked list of Delegate objects.

It’s possible to assign new subscribers to delegate instances, replacing existing subscribers with new subscribers by using the = operator.
Most of the time what is intended is actually the += operator (implemented internally by using System.Delegate.Combine()).
System.Delegate.Remove() is what’s used when you use the -+ operator on a delegate.

class Program {
   public static void Main() {

      Publisher publisher = new Publisher();
      Subscriber1 subscriber1 = new Subscriber1();
      Subscripber2 subscripber2 = new Subscripber2();

      publisher.OnStateChange = subscriber1.OnStateChanged;

      // Bug: assignment operator overrides previous assignment.
      // if using the event keyword, the assignment operator is not supported for objects outside of the containing class.
      publisher.OnStateChange = subscriber2.OnStateChanged;


Another short coming of the delegate is that delegate instances are able to be invoked outside of the containing class.

class Program {
   public static void Main() {
      Publisher publisher = new Publisher();
      Subscriber1 subscriber1 = new Subscriber1();
      Subscriber2 subscriber2 = new Subscriber2();

      publisher.OnStateChange += subscriber1.OnStateChanged;
      publisher.OnStateChange += subscriber2.OnStateChanged;

      // lack of encapsulation

C# Events come to the rescue

in the form of the event keyword.
The event keyword address’s the above problems.

The modified Publisher looks like the following:

public class Publisher {
   // ...

   // Define the delegate data type
   public delegate void MyDelegateType();

   // Define the event publisher
   public event MyDelegateType OnStateChange;

   // ...

Now. On to synchronisation

The following is an example from the GoF guys with some small modifications I added.
You’ll also notice, that the above inadequacies are taken care of.
Now if the Stock.OnChange is not accessed by multiple threads, this code is fine.
If it is accessed by multiple threads, it’s not fine.
Why I hear you ask?
Well, between the time the null check is performed on the Change event
and when Change is fired, Change could be set to null, by another thread.
This will of course produce a NullReferenceException.

The code on lines 59,60 is not atomic.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;

namespace DoFactory.GangOfFour.Observer.NETOptimized {
    /// <summary>
    /// MainApp startup class for .NET optimized
    /// Observer Design Pattern.
    /// </summary>
    class MainApp {
        /// <summary>
        /// Entry point into console application.
        /// </summary>
        static void Main() {
            // Create IBM stock and attach investors
            var ibm = new IBM(120.00);

            // Attach 'listeners', i.e. Investors
            ibm.Attach(new Investor { Name = "Sorros" });
            ibm.Attach(new Investor { Name = "Berkshire" });

            // Fluctuating prices will notify listening investors
            ibm.Price = 120.10;
            ibm.Price = 121.00;
            ibm.Price = 120.50;
            ibm.Price = 120.75;

            // Wait for user

    // Custom event arguments
    public class ChangeEventArgs : EventArgs {
        // Gets or sets symbol
        public string Symbol { get; set; }

        // Gets or sets price
        public double Price { get; set; }

    /// <summary>
    /// The 'Subject' abstract class
    /// </summary>
    abstract class Stock {
        protected string _symbol;
        protected double _price;

        // Constructor
        public Stock(string symbol, double price) {
            this._symbol = symbol;
            this._price = price;

        // Event
        public event EventHandler<ChangeEventArgs> Change;

        // Invoke the Change event
        private void OnChange(ChangeEventArgs e) {
            // not thread safe
            if (Change != null)
                Change(this, e);

        public void Attach(IInvestor investor) {
            Change += investor.Update;

        public void Detach(IInvestor investor) {
            Change -= investor.Update;

        // Gets or sets the price
        public double Price {
            get { return _price; }
            set {
                if (_price != value) {
                    _price = value;
                    OnChange(new ChangeEventArgs { Symbol = _symbol, Price = _price });

    /// <summary>
    /// The 'ConcreteSubject' class
    /// </summary>
    class IBM : Stock {
        // Constructor - symbol for IBM is always same
        public IBM(double price)
            : base("IBM", price) {

    /// <summary>
    /// The 'Observer' interface
    /// </summary>
    interface IInvestor {
        void Update(object sender, ChangeEventArgs e);

    /// <summary>
    /// The 'ConcreteObserver' class
    /// </summary>
    class Investor : IInvestor {
        // Gets or sets the investor name
        public string Name { get; set; }

        // Gets or sets the stock
        public Stock Stock { get; set; }

        public void Update(object sender, ChangeEventArgs e) {
            Console.WriteLine("Notified {0} of {1}'s " +
                "change to {2:C}", Name, e.Symbol, e.Price);

At least we don’t have to worry about the += and -= operators. They are thread safe.

Ok. So how do we make it thread safe?
Now I’ll do my best not to make your brain hurt.
We can assign a local copy of the event and then check that instead.
How does that work you say?
The Change delegate is a reference type.
You may think that  threadSafeChange references the same location as Change,
thus any changes to Change would also be reflected in threadSafeChange.
That’s not the case though.
Change += investor.Update does not add a new delegate to Change, but assigns it a new MulticastDelegate,
which has no effect on the original MulticastDelegate that threadSafeChange also references.

The reference part of reference type local variables is stored on the stack.
A new stack frame is created for each thread with every method call
(whether its an instance or static method).
All local variables are safe…
so long as they are not reference types being passed to another thread or being passed to another thread by ref.
So, only one thread can access the threadSafeChange instance.

private void OnChange(ChangeEventArgs e) {
   // assign reference to heap allocated memory to stack allocated implements thread safety
   EventHandler<ChangeEventArgs> threadSafeChange = Change;
   if ( threadSafeChange != null)
      threadSafeChange(this, e);

Now for a bit of error handling

If one subscriber throws an exception, any subscribers later in the chain do not receive the publication.
One way to get around this problem, is to semantically override the enumeration of the subscribers.
Thus providing the error handling.

private void OnChange(ChangeEventArgs e) {
   // assign reference to heap allocated memory to stack allocated implements thread safety
   EventHandler<ChangeEventArgs> threadSafeChange = Change;
   if ( threadSafeChange != null) {
      foreach(EventHandler<ChangeEventArgs> handler in Change.GetInvocationList()) {
         try {
            //if subscribers delegate methods throw an exception, we'll handle in the catch and carry on with the next delegate
            handler(this, e);
            // if we only want to allow a single subscriber
            if (Change.GetInvocationList().Length > 1)
               throw new Exception("Too many subscriptions to the Stock.Change" /*, provide a meaningful inner exception*/);
         catch (Exception exception) {
            // what we do here depends on what stage of development we are in.
            // if we're in early stages, pre-release, fail early and hard.

LSP / DbC and .NET’s support

October 12, 2010
Part 2

Some Examples

Bear in mind, there are additional overloads for most/all of the following procedures.
Be sure to check them out.

Examples of Preconditions


Ensures that a condition is true when in debug mode.


Contract.Assert(MyInput != null);


Instructs code analysis tools to assume that the condition supplied as an argument is true, even if it can not be statically proven to always be true.
Good example of how this can be used.


Contract.Assume(MyInput != null);


Must be at the beginning of a method or property. Ensures that a condition is true before any other code.
The following example ensures that MyInput parameter is valid (not null in this case) before any other code is run on the same thread.


Contract.Requires(MyInput != null);


Is used to inform the compiler to treat all code before it as if it was a code contract.
This is useful for legacy code.
For example if you have parameter validation code that does not use Code Contract’s.
The contract tools recognise if/then/throw statements as preconditions when the statements appear first inside a method or property,
and the set of such statements are followed by a Contract method call, such as Requires, Ensures, EnsuresOnThrow or EndContractBlock.


if(MyInput == null)
    throw new NullReferenceException("The input is null");

Examples of Postconditions


Ensures that a condition is true on exit of a method or property.


Contract.Ensures(0 <= speed && speed <= 800);


This method call must be at the beginning of a method or property, before any other code.
If an exception is thrown, the specified condition must be true and the exception being thrown is of the specified type parameter.


public bool AddAndProcessItem(T item)

		 // add item to a collection and set it's Added property to true
	catch (AdditionException)
		 item.Added = false;

	// ... other operations
	return true;


Allows the iteration through a collection to ensure all members meet a specific requirement.


// first param MyCollection is of type IEnumerable
// second param is a delegate, or lambda (often called a predicate when used like this)
Contract.ForAll(MyCollection, x=>x!=null);

Object Invariants

Used to mark methods that contain object invariant specifications.
Defined by decorating a method with the ContractInvariantMethodAttribute.
ContractInvariantMethodAttribute can only be used on a single method per class.
The method must return void and carry out no operations other than a sequence of calls to Contract.Invariant


void ObjectInvariant ()
   Contract. Invariant ( _y >= 0 );
   Contract. Invariant ( _x > _y );

Code Contract Values

There are also some useful pseudo variables that can be used when writing postconditions.


A methods or properties return value can be refered to by Contract.Result<T>()
Contract.Result<T>() can be used only in the conditional expression for the Ensures contract.
Methods with a return type of void cannot refer to Contract. Result<T>() within their postconditions for the obvious reason.


Contract.Ensures(0 < Contract.Result());


Contract.OldValue<T>(T value) can be used only in the conditional expression for the Ensures contract.
The generic type argument may be omitted whenever the compiler is able to infer its type.
There are a few restrictions around the use of OldValue. Have a look at the User Manual document. Listed at the end of the post.


Contract.Ensures(MyInput != Contract.OldValue(MyInput));


Using the PureAttribute indicates that a type, method, property, etc is pure, that is, It has no visible side-effects for callers.
You can only use a method/property/etc in a contract if it is declared Pure.
If the method/property/etc is not decorated with this attribute when called from within a contract, a warning will be given “Detected call to impure method”.

See this post, it has a good example.

Interface Contracts

Contracts for interfaces must be defined in a separate class decorated with the ContractClassForAttribute.
The interface sporting the contract must be decorated with the ContractClassAttribute specifying the type that has the interfaces contract.
The class that implements the interfaces contract is expected to be abstract.
The User Manual listed at the end of this post has some good examples of how to set up Interface Contracts.


interface IDoSomething
	int DoSomething(int value);

sealed class ContractForInteface : IDoSomething
	int IDoSomething.DoSomething(int value)
		Contract.Requires( value != 0);
		//contracts require a dummy value
		return default(int);

There’s plenty of good documentation around Code Contracts

System.Diagnostics.Contracts Namespace
The Contract Class
Brief description of Code Contracts and how to use them
The User Manual
Code Contracts on DevLabs
DimeCasts has a few web casts on Code Contracts

LSP / DbC and .NET’s support

October 11, 2010
Part 1

Two design principle’s I believe go hand in hand are

  1. Dr. Barbara Liskov’s Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP)
  2. Dr. Bertrand Meyer’s Design by Contract (DbC)

Lets keep our Object Oriented relationships adhering to the LSP and the DbC.
The LSP and the DbC provide both theory and practical guidelines of how we as software engineers can design…

  • Hierarchical components that behave the same across all layers.
  • Systems that produce predictable results on a layer, from changes made on another layer (providing architecture that can be reasoned about).
    As programmers, we need to be able to make correct assumptions about the behaviour of abstract data types and their derivatives.
    LSP and DbC provide us with the ability to create intuitive class hierarchies that support the object oriented architectural reasoning process.
  • Extensible code. Ability to add functionality without having to change existing code, but rather extending it.


The LSP states that you shouldn’t inherit from a base class unless the derived class truly “is a” more specific version of the base class (Liskov 1988).
Subtype objects must be behaviourally substitutable for supertype objects.
Programmers must be able to reason correctly about and rely upon the behaviour of subtypes using only the specification of the supertype behaviour.

Robert C. Martin wrote this excellent article on LSP.
Which I found here along with many other great articles.

Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas summarise LSP like this: “Subclasses must be usable through the base class interface without the need for the user to know the difference.”
In other words, all the routines defined in the base class should mean the same thing when they’re used in each of the derived classes.

As Steve McConnell in Code Complete puts it:
If you have a base class of Account and derived classes of CheckingAccount, SavingsAccount, and AutoLoanAccount.
A programmer should be able to invoke any of the routines derived from Account on any of Account’s subtypes without caring about which subtype a specific account object is.

If a program has been written so that the LSP is true, inheritance is a powerful tool for reducing complexity because a programmer can focus on the generic attributes of an object without worrying about the details.
If a programmer must be constantly thinking about semantic differences in a subclass implementation, then inheritance is increasing complexity rather than reducing it.
This goes against software’s primary technical imperative of managing complexity.
Suppose a programmer has to think this
“If I call the InterestRate() routine on CheckingAccount or SavingsAccount,
it returns the interest the bank pays,
but if I call InterestRate() on AutoLoanAccount I have to change the sign because it returns the interest the consumer pays to the bank.”
According to LSP, AutoLoanAccount should not inherit from the Account base class in this example
because the semantics of the InterestRate() routine are not the same as the semantics of the base class’s InterestRate() routine.


From my understanding. DbC provides constraints which enforce the LSP.
LSP is notional. DbC provides us with the practical approach.

.Net 4.0 gives us Code Contracts which directly support the DbC principle.
In looking at what the .Net framework 4.0 provides us with in the System.Diagnostics.Contracts namespace.
Bear in mind, this is not a language extension or a runtime extension. It’s just a library.
I think that using the static class’s in your code, that System.Diagnostics.Contracts provides would be a prime candidate for Aspect Oriented Programming.
It looks like the .Net CLR has support for AOP, although it doesn’t sound like it has been implemented very cleanly.
Have a look at this.
IMHO, when using AOP, the actual business code utilising the aspects, should not show any signs of the aspects (Code Contracts (in our case)).
Although it looks like there are some open source alternatives that do the job quite nicely.
Anyway, without diving into AOP, lets save it for another post and move on.

DbC is actually a registered trademark of Eiffel Software.
Bertrand Meyer when designing the Eiffel programming language came up with this term.
DbC provides us with class invariants, preconditions and postconditions.

C# for artists by Rick Miller has a good explanation of these.

Class Invariant

A class invariant is an assertion about an object property that must hold true for all valid states the object can assume.
For example, suppose an airplane object has a speed property that can be set to a range of integer values between 0 and 800.
This rule should be enforced for all valid states an airplane object can assume.
All methods that can be invoked on an airplane object must ensure they do not set the speed property to less than 0 or greater than 800.


A precondition is an assertion about some condition that must be true before a method can be expected to perform it’s operation correctly.
For example, suppose the airplane object’s speed property can be incremented by some value and there exists in the set of airplane’s public interface methods one that increments the speed property any where from 1 to 5 depending on the value of the argument supplied to the method.
For this method to perform correctly, it must check that the argument is in fact a valid increment value of 1,2,3,4, or 5.
If the increment value tests valid then the precondition holds true and the increment method should perform correctly.
The precondition must be true before the method is called, therefore it is the responsibility of the caller to make the precondition true, and the responsibility of the called method to enforce the truth of the precondition.


A postcondition is an assertion that must hold true when a method completes its operations and returns to the caller.
For example, the airplane’s speed increment method should ensure that the class invariant speed property being 0<=speed<=800 holds true when the increment method completes its operations.

Code Contracts can run on .Net 4.0 or previous versions.

Code Contracts as a whole include

1)   Static methods from the Contract class

  • Express assumptions and constraints, I.E. the object invariants, pre and post conditions.

2)   Static analyzer or static checker

  • Provide compile-time analysis.
  • Checks for implicit contracts, such as null dereferences and checking array bounds, as well as the explicit developer provided contracts.
  • Only available in Microsoft’s Premium edition or above of Visual Studio.

3)   Runtime analyzer or binary rewriter

  • modifies the IL by injecting the contracts.
  • performs runtime checking.

Once you’ve installed either the Standard or Premium Edition of the managed code contracts from DevLabs.
Projects within Visual Studio will now have an extra property pane entitled “Code Contracts”.
This pane provides configuration options for both static and runtime contract checking.

I think the idea is that if your project is targeting:

  1. A .Net framework version prior to 4.0, the System.Diagnostics.Contracts namespace is in the Microsoft.Contracts.dll.
  2. The .Net framework version is 4.0, the System.Diagnostics.Contracts namespace is in the mscorlib.dll.

Discussion on Class Construction Techniques

October 10, 2010

I had a discussion with some work colleges a short while ago,
around a couple of different techniques of constructing a class object.
The two approaches involved in the discussion where…

  1. Should we prefer constructing an object by providing public access to its members and initialising them external to the class, like the Builder pattern does?
  2. Or by initialising the objects members within its constructor, I.E. like the Factory Method and Abstract Factory does?

My take on this, was that it would be best object oriented practice to keep the initialisation of the objects members within the constructor if possible.
As far as I’m aware, there seems to be more support for the “keeping initialisation within the constructor”.

Some of my supporting arguments were the following

From Steve McConnell’s Code Complete

Chapter 6: Working Classes
Initialise all member data in all constructors, if possible.
Initialising all data members in all constructors is an inexpensive defensive programming practice.

Chapter 10: General Issues in Using Variables
Initialise a class’s member data in its constructor.
Just as a routine’s variables should be initialised within each routine, a class’s data should be initialised within its constructor.

Builder pattern verses the likes of the Factory Method and Abstract Factory.
Notice the Frequency of use for the Builder verses the other two?

Examples of class’s that know how to populate themselves


You can get code examples here if you’re not familiar with the patterns.
Any feedback on what people think about the before mentioned approaches would be great.