Microsoft .Net (24)

Finding ASP.Net Core Error Logs on IIS

I don't think there are many IT tasks more frustrating than troubleshooting Microsoft technologies on Windows. These things are simply not made so that anyone knows what's going on, and the really brutal stuff happens when you combine Windows, IIS and Asp.Net Core. Correct me if I'm wrong, but by default it's not configured to report any errors anywhere, unless you run it in a console. And if you want to troubleshoot a deployment that isn't working, be prepared to spend hours finding out what the hell has happened. NOT fixing the error, just identifying it.

There's a myriad of places where logged messages could appear, and this seems to depend on the error type: if you knew what's going on you'd probably be able to guess where the message is, but in that case you wouldn't need the error logs in the first place. And if you ask Google, you'll find sites that list these options for you. I'll try to list them here:

  • IIS access log - useless for this as it lists successful requests
  • HTTPERR - for errors, but in my IIS it's empty even if my web app falls apart. It's in C:\Windows\System32\LogFiles\HTTPERR
  • Event Log - they say that Asp.Net errors appear in the Application section here. But Asp.Net Core doesn't seem to respect that.
  • Detailed error page - this doesn't seem to exist anymore (even though it can be turned on in IIS configuration). Some sites suggest that the only solution is to implement our own!
  • Adding a custom logger - serilog works great, but I need to change the source code to use it. Why would that be necessary? I was unable to find a way to just configure logging to save messages to a file - it can do this to console, but to a file, it seems, not. There isn't even a standard config entry for the log file name, you have to add your own configuration logic.
  • Failed request tracing - this, in fact, does produce some results but again it also hides a lot. It seems to be good for errors in the IIS pipeline, but when my Asp.Net Core application broke, the trace showed a warning (!) that a component in the pipeline returned a 500 internal server error. But what error exactly, it didn't say.
  • Stdout error loging in web.config - finally something useful, it can be turned on without modifying the code and it helped me see the actual error, after 4-5 hours of fighting the damn thing (note that you need to create the log folder yourself and possibly give the web app permissions to write to it). But this is seemingly just part of the solution, I'm guessing it works only if Asp.Net Core works. If not, see above.

Configuring Orchard Core for AD (AD FS) Authentication

How to set the Orchard Core CMS to use a local domain / Active Directory for authentication? The current Ochard version (1.1) doesn't seem to support it, at least not that I know... It does support Azure AD but that is a different beast. One way to make it work is to install Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) on your server, which would broaden the AD's compatibility by making it support several additional authentication protocols, amongst which is OpenID which is supported by Orchard.

This post will be focused on how to make Orchard and ADFS work together, not how to install ADFS - but I intend to write another post (effectively, a prequel!) that will provide guidance on how to do it. There's a myriad of configuration options and many choices to be made in the process - most of which, in fact, you don't have to make because they don't apply to your particular problem, but there's noone to tell you that. I'll try to fill the gap by providing information on which steps led me to the solution and which can be ignored... But more on that next time, for now I'll say this: setting up ADFS is not that hard, setting up a Certificate Authority to work with it seeems nightmarishly complicated but isn't, and I think both are worth the effort if you have applications that can authenticate through ADFS... If you centralize the users, they will have to remember - and have the chance to forget - only a single password.

Ok, so how to do this for Orchard? I'm writing this as I have done it on Windows 2019, other versions should be similar and post-2012 versions almost identical, from what I've seen. Note that I'm by no means an expert on authentication protocols, I'm just documenting the setup that worked for me in order to help others trying to do the same thing.


AD FS Application Group

Configuring ADFS for this is dead simple when you know where to go: type "AD FS" in the start menu to filter down to "AD FS Manager" and then start it (alternatively, it is accessible from the Tools menu of the Server Manager app). Right-click Application Groups in the left list and click Add Application Group. Select the Web Browser Accessing a Web Application option and give it a name. Click Next to go to native application setup: here you get a generated Client ID (you'll need that for Orchard configuration) and the option to add one or more redirect URLs. From what I've seen, Orchard always uses its root as a redirect URL so add that. This URL must coincide with Orchard configuration, otherwise the authentication will throw an error. Multiple URLs can be added which is handy because you can configure a single application group to work with a development Orchard instance you run in Visual Studio (something like https://localhost:5001 - yes, it will work with localhost as well) and a production server (https://orchard.mydomain.local). Click Next - I left this setting at "Permit everyone" - and then two Next's and one Close to finish. And now you have a configuration that can work with Orchard. It can be improved, but more on that later.

One detail that might be of interest is that the relying party identifier in the web application properties is the same as the native app's client ID. This is obviously right and it works that way, but the form explicitly gives "" as an example for a relying party identifier - so, a URL and not an ID: a false lead.


Orchard OpenID Authentication Client

Orchard Authentication Client Settings for ADFSNow log in to Orchard's dashboard, go to Configuration - Features, filter the list for "OpenID" to find the OpenID Client and click the Enable button next to it. While you're at it, find the Users Registration feature and enable it if it isn't already.

Now move on to Security - OpenID Connect - Settings - Authentication Client. Set the display name to something that your users can recognise, because it will be displayed on an alternative login button - for example, "[mydomain] AD FS" (it would probably be less scary for them without "AD FS" but I kept that part so that I myself know what it is). The Authority field is the base URL where your Federation Service server accepts OpenID requests. It's something like https://fs.yourdomain.local/adfs, and you can check this from your AD FS Manager app: expand the Service node on the left and then select Endpoints. It will list a bunch of available URLs for different protocols and uses, none of them will be exactly /adfs/ but all will start with it, and several will be explicitly tagged as OpenID. I suppose Orchard knows how to add the rest of the URL by itself.

Next in the Orchard settings is the ClientID - you should copy it from the application group in AD FS. (If you forgot to do it, open AD FS Manager, select Application Groups on the left, then double click your application in the list and double click the native app in the dialog that opens... You will see the client ID, copy it and paste it back into Orchard). For basic configuration, all that is left is to select the authentication flow: I myself got it to work by checking "Use id_token response type" in the Implicit Authentication Flow section. The various callback and redirect paths I left at default (blank) as well as the scope (blank) and response mode (form_post).

A word of caution is in order here: if you're experimenting with settings, be careful around the Client Secret field (it isn't visible for implicit authentication flow). I'm not sure if it's a bug in Orchard but once set, the field cannot be reset directly as it doesn't show the saved value: there is nothing to delete. (Looking at the code, I'm under the impression that selecting a different flow type could reset it, though, but I was unable to find the right combination, possibly because the Edge browser joined in on the game, see below). Why is this important? The newer versions of AD FS report an error if you send a client secret where it is not needed, so nothing works because of it. It's quite a puzzle, you'll see the client secret field empty but AD FS will complain that it receives one. To make things worse, I allowed the Edge browser to remember my login password and for some reason it seemed to fill the Client Secret field with it, making it non-empty even if I didn't set it and making it look like Orchard did in fact show the saved value... So just be careful with it, don't say I didn't warn you.


User Registration

Now go to Security - Settings - User Registration, make sure that in the top combo box you have AllowRegistration or AllowOnlyExternalUsers selected. The first will allow anyone to register in Orchard (locally or through external OpenID authentication) and the second will allow only externally authenticated users to register. There seems to also be an option that the user log in with a local name and then link an external login to it - something like this can be done by logging in as a local user, then opening the user menu (usually top right and showing the username), clicking on External Logins and then logging in with an additional external user. But I haven't experimented much with this, my goal for Orchard was - as stated above - to use external users only.

At this point, you should be able to log in with the external user: log out, go to the login page and you should see a "Use another service to log in" label and a button with the AD FS name as configured previously. But when you do, Orchard will ask you to type in your local username (also provide you with an ugly generated default) and an e-mail.


Retrieving additional claims

To make this process smoother, we can configure it to retrieve the username and e-mail from AD. First we need to tell the AD FS to send additional stuff: go to AD FS Manager, select Application Groups, double click the group created previously, and double click its Web application. Go to the Instance Transform Rules tab. Click Add Rule: it will select "Send LDAP Attributes as Claims" by default for rule template, so click Next and add rules for different attributes. I added these pairs (LDAP attribute => Outgoing claim type):

  • SAM-Account-Name => "SAMAccountName" (I typed the claim name in myself, it isn't present in the dropdown... It doesn't matter what name you give it as long as it doesn't clash with another one and you use the same name in the Orchard registration script afterwards)
  • E-Mail-Addresses => E-Mail Address

For experimentation, I added various other attributes (given name, surname) to get the user's name - but haven't found a place to store them. It doesn't seem that Orchard cares for having anything more than a username and e-mail for a user.

Click OK to save this rule. Some sites mention that additional scopes have to be added here to be able to retrieve all the claims (specifficaly the allatclaims scope): they are in the Client Permissions tab and can be checked but everything seems to work for me with only the default - openid - scope checked. By default, Orchard uses the "openid" and "profile" scopes. (I suppose you could restrict your rules to a different scope and add that scope on the Orchard's Authentication client settings page).

We now need to modify Orchard's user registration script to use this data when creating a user. It's in Security - Settings - User registration, you need to check "Use a script to generate username based on etc." to make it editable. My script looks like this:

if(context.loginProvider == "OpenIdConnect")
  var unameClaim = context.externalClaims.find(c => c.type == "SAMAccountName");
  if(unameClaim != null)
      context.userName = unameClaim.value;

You can also uncomment the already provided line -

log("warning", JSON.stringify(context));

- to see the full structure of the returned claims in the log. This can help troubleshoot problems - for example, I experimented with code authentication flow but couldn't get ADFS to send any of the additional claims whatever I did, although authentication worked.

(By the way, the language used in the script is JavaScript, and a rather recent version it seems if it can handle these LINQ-like expressions... Haven't been able to find this information anywhere, but luckily I made a couple of syntax errors and got yelled at by some kind of JavaScript engine, which made it clear).

Having set this, you can now also tick the checkboxes below the script - "Do not ask username", "Do not ask email address" and "Do not create local password for external users" because everything can now be retrieved from AD.

We can even go a step further and tie a domain group to a local Orchard role. This is done using the same Issuance Transform Rules tab as before in the Web application properties: click Add Rule as before but this time select "Send Group Membership as a Claim". Here you can select a domain group and have the ADFS send a claim if the user is a member - there's a predefined "Group" claim type (I'm not sure if that's what it is meant for, looks like it is) and then type in a claim value - which I set to the group name.

But for my configuration I opted for a simpler solution: if the user logs in as the domain administrator, I'll assign it Orchard's administrator role. I think it's cleaner that way: ordinary users are just business users (they deal with content) and an administrator logs in rarely just to administer stuff. I used the following script (it can be set through Security -> Settings -> User Login, check "Use a script to set roles based on etc" to make the field editable):

if (context.loginProvider == "OpenIdConnect")
  // if it's the domain admin, accept it as the local administrator
  var unameClaim = context.externalClaims.find(claim => claim.type == "SAMAccountName");
  if(unameClaim != null && unameClaim.value == "Administrator")

And, by and large, that's all it takes... Admittedly, it requires some time to get done but it's not very hard to do - and wouldn't be too hard to configure differently, I suppose. The bigger part of work lies, of course, in installing the ADFS and the CA (if needed) for it, but that is a different story which I hope to get to tell soon.

Implementing Equals() and GetHashCode() in ORM classes with autoincrement keys

The requirements for implementing Equals() and GetHashCode() in .Net are very hard to satisfy and in some areas nearly impossible. There are some situations where an object's identity inevitably changes, and saving an ORM-mapped object with autogenerated key is a case in point. Making its hash code conform with requirements would require an inordinately large quantity of code.

The plot goes something like this: loading ORM objects on the same session (in NHibernate speak) or context (Entity Framework) guarantees that for one record only one object instance will be created. But, if you use multiple sessions/context, no such guarantee exists. (And you want to do this if objects have different lifespans: for example, you fill a combo box once and then bind it to different records... Obviously, I'm talking about WinForms here, but the principle applies to server-side logic although it's probably not as frequent). In case of multiple instances, .Net components don't know it's the same record unless you override Equals() and get them compared by primary key values. In WinForms, for example, this means that a combo box won't know which record in the dropdown is equal to the one in the bound property, and won't select it.

Ok, so we override Equals(): usually, the record has an autoincrement key called, say, ID. We implement it so that it compares ID's of different objects (and type, obviously)... And now we run into the .Net requirement which says that two objects that are equal must have the same hash code, and that the hash code must never change for an object. We can override GetHashCode() to return the hash of the ID, but if the object gets saved to the database, the ID - and therefore the hash - will change.

Here's an example of how it would work: create a new ORM object instance, it's ID is NULL or zero. Use it as index in a dictionary, the dictionary retrieves the index's hash code and stores data in a special bucket for this hash. Save the record - the ID changes. If the hash code changes now, you won't be able to retrieve your data from the dictionary anymore. But if you load this record on a different session/context, it will have a different hash code unless we somehow notify it to use the already generated one... Which would probably mean using a static instance of a component that tracks all objects. Way too much work to get a hash code right, isn't it...

A couple of details that could lead us closer to a solution:

  • On a new object instance (unsaved - with ID null or zero or whatever), we cannot use the ID in our overrides. Two objects with the empty ID are not equal nor will they ever be: if they both get saved into the database, it will create two separate records, and their IDs will acquire new values that were never used before... An unsaved object is only equal to itself. We could generate same hash codes for unsaved objects, but this wouldn't resolve our problem if a saved object gets its hash from the ID - it would still be different.
  • While we're at it, it's useful knowing how the Dictionary works: it calls GetHashCode() on the given index and stores the entry in a bucket tagged with this hash code. Of course, there may be multiple objects with the same hash, and a bucket may contain multiple entries. Therefore, when retrieving data, the dictionary also calls Equals() on indexes in the bucket to see which of the entries is the right one. This means we have to get both Equals() and GetHashCode() right for the dictionary to work: Equals() should be OK in its simplest form if we always use the same instance for the index - basically, Equals() must be able to recognise the object as equal to itself.
  • Other components, like grids and combo boxes, also use hash codes to efficiently identify instances, so a dictionary isn't the only thing we're supporting with this.

One part of the solution seems mandatory: we need to remember the generated hash on the object. This is mandatory only on an object whose ID may change in the future: if a saved object gets a permanent ID (as they usually do), caching is not necessary. If an unsaved object gets saved, we still use the hash we generated using the empty ID. We do this on-demand: when GetHashCode() is called, the hash is generated and remembered. This is probably the only meaningful way to do this, but it's worth pointing out one detail: if the object isn't used in a dictionary, it's hash won't be generated and won't change when it's saved. Thus, we narrowed down our problem to where this feature is actually used.

But there's still the possibility to have two objects that are equal (same record loaded on different sessions) but have different hash codes (the first one saved into the database and then the same record loaded afterwards). I'm not sure what problems this would create, but one is obvious: we wouldn't be able to use both of them interchangeably in a dictionary (or, possibly, a grid). This is not entirely unnatural, at least to me: if I used an object as an index in a dictionary, I'm regarding the stored entry as related to the object instance and not the record that sits behind it. I'm unaware of other consequences - please comment if you know any.

Note that we can also avoid the dictionary problem by using the IDs themselves instead of objects... But still, it would remain for grids and elsewhere. Also I'm not sure if it could be resolved by not using the data layer (ORM) objects in the dictionaries and grids but having data copied into business layer object instances: if we did this, we'd still need a component that tracks duplicates, only it would track business objects instead of data objects.

Can we narrow this further down? A rather important point is that the ID gets changed only when saving data - and ORMs usually save the whole session as one transaction. If we discarded the saved session and started afresh, we'd get correct hash codes and unchanged IDs. We'd only have a brief period of possible irregularity in the time after the old data is saved and before new data is loaded, and only if we load data on different sessions and use it in a dictionary or some other similar component. In client-side applications, this is a risky period anyway because different components get the new data at different times, and care must be taken not to mix it. At least some kind of freeze should be imposed on the components - suspending layout, disabling databinding etc. Also, reloading data is natural if you have logic that runs in the database (usually triggers) that may perform additional changes to data after we saved ours (and it may do this on related records, not just the ones we saved)... But that is a different, as they say, can of worms: it's just that these worms often link up to better plot our ruin.

Running 64-bit Ace OLEDB driver with 32-bit Office

When 32-bit Microsoft Office is installed on 64-bit Windows, there is a problem connecting to OLEDB sources using Microsoft Jet provider from .Net applications (and probably others). A .Net application, unless otherwise instructed, runs as 64-bit on 64-bit OS's and expects a 64-bit OLEDB provider for Jet. But, since Office is 32-bit, there is no 64-bit provider, and it complains that the provider is "not registered on the local machine". Actually, there doesn't seem to exist a 64-bit Jet provider, and the recommendation is to use the replacement provider which is called ACE and is backwards compatible with Jet. You get it by installing the Microsoft Access Database Engine Redistributable (one version available here) - but: the 32-bit installation doesn't solve the problem, and the 64-bit installation refuses to install because you don't have 64-bit Office.

There are many possible solutions and workarounds on the net (of which the most frequent one is to degrade your application to running 32-bit only) but the real solution is not easy to find. You need to force the 64-bit Access engine installation to install by calling it with the "/passive" argument. Call it from the command prompt like so:

AccessDatabaseEngine_X64.exe /passive

Be careful, though, not to install the same version of the engine as your version of Office. To be more precise, if you install 64-bit Access 2010 engine when 32-bit Office 2010 is present on the system, your Office applications may start complaining. On my laptop, Microsoft Excel started showing a dialog that said "One of your object libraries (|) is missing or damaged" and then tried to install/repair some components, ending with an error saying that it doesn't have the rights to install fonts (?!). This was easily resolved by uninstalling the 64-bit Access engine and installing the 32-bit one, but afterwards my ACE driver was gone again. The winning combination was to upgrade to Office 2013 (still 32-bit) and then install the 64-bit Access 2010 engine. This also seems to work with the Office 2016 / Engine 2010 combination, but not with Office 2010 / Engine 2013... It seems that the newer engine versions are smarter and don't fall for the "/passive" trick, but I haven't tried that many combinations to be sure.

As the last step, you need to change your connection string to use ACE instead of Jet and you're done. What I usually do is have a utility component that detects the presence of drivers and uses ACE as a fallback to Jet. For Excel files, it looks something like this:

/// <summary>
/// True if ACE oleDb driver is supported. False if not. Null if not checked yet.
/// </summary>
private bool? AceOleDbSupported = null;

/// <summary>
/// Name of the Excel file to be imported
/// </summary>
public string FileName { get; set; }

/// <summary>
/// True if the excel file's first row counts as a header
/// </summary>
public bool HasHeaderRow { get; set; }

public string GetConnectionString()
    if (AceOleDbSupported == null)
        OleDbEnumerator e = new OleDbEnumerator();
        AceOleDbSupported = e.GetElements().Rows.Cast<DataRow>().Any(dr => dr["SOURCES_NAME"] as string == "Microsoft.ACE.OLEDB.12.0");
    if (AceOleDbSupported.Value)
        return "Provider=Microsoft.ACE.OLEDB.12.0;"
            + "Data Source=" + FileName
            + @";Extended Properties=""Excel 8.0;IMEX=1;"
            + "HDR=" + (HasHeaderRow ? "YES" : "NO") + @";""";
        return "Provider=Microsoft.Jet.OLEDB.4.0;"
            + "Data Source=" + FileName
            + @";Extended Properties=""Excel 8.0;"
            + "HDR=" + (HasHeaderRow ? "YES" : "NO") + @";""";

Fluent API vs. named arguments for readability

Fluent APIs are great to make code readable - should I say, at the expense of verbosity? Because verbosity is, actually, one of the positive traits of being fluent. It is very useful in complex and hard to follow scenarios like data transformation (think LINQ), configuration, testing etc., leading the developer to the solution but also documenting what's going on.

One example: I have a LINQ-like method that processes an array. It takes as parameters a criterion for determining duplicates and separate operations for new and repeated entries. It could look like this:

    r => r.Name.Trim(),
    x => new Entry() { Name = x.Name.Trim(), Date = x.Date },
    (a, b) => { b.Date = a.Date > b.Date ? b.Date : a.Date; }

But it isn't obvious what's going on here... The code isn't descriptive at all - and only partially due to the fact that the variable naming scheme stinks. If we make it fluent, the purpose is much clearer:

    .WithKey(r => r.Name.Trim())
    .SelectFirstAppearance(x => new Entry() { Name = x.Name.Trim(), Date = x.Date })
    .ProcessRepeatedAppearance((a, b) => { b.Date = a.Date > b.Date ? b.Date : a.Date; });

But what is the real difference here? In the second example we introduced methods just to describe the parameters from the first example. These parameters had names, though, didn't they, and in this respect the biggest flaw of the first example was that they were invisible. But, we can make them visible using named arguments. Like this:

    key: r => r.Name.Trim(),
    selectFirstAppearance: x => new Entry() { Name = x.Name.Trim(), Date = x.Date },
    processRepeatedAppearance: (a, b) => { b.Date = a.Date > b.Date ? b.Date : a.Date; }

Arguably, this makes the code as readable as the fluent example - aesthetic concerns aside. Of course, fluent can be much more powerful than this and allow more flexibility by providing different methods for different scenarios. But, when describing parameters is the primary concern, named arguments may work just as well.

Naturally, standard rules for code readability also apply, and the first one is naming. If we give descriptive names to arguments, we get something like this:

    key: sourceRow => sourceRow.Name.Trim(),
    selectFirstAppearance: sourceRow => new Entry() { Name = sourceRow.Name.Trim(), Date = sourceRow.Date },
    processRepeatedAppearance: (sourceRow, previousEntry) => { previousEntry.Date = sourceRow.Date > previousEntry.Date ? previousEntry.Date : sourceRow.Date; }

This could be enough for someone familiar with the API to understand the intention.

Get content from WPF DataGridCell in one line of code (hack)

How do you get the text displayed in a WPF DataGridCell? It should be simple, but incredibly it doesn’t seem it is: all the solutions given on the ‘net contain at least a page of code (I suppose the grid designers didn’t think anyone would want to get the value from a grid cell). But when you quick-view a DataGridCell in the debugger, it routinely shows the required value in the “value” column. It does this by calling a GetPlainText() method, which, unfortunately, isn’t public. We can hack it by using reflection – and, absurdly, this solution seems more elegant than any other I’ve seen.

DataGridCell cell = something;

var value = typeof(DataGridCell).GetMethod("GetPlainText", 
System.Reflection.BindingFlags.NonPublic | System.Reflection.BindingFlags.Instance)
.Invoke(cell, null);

Workaround for HQL SELECT TOP 1 in a subquery

HQL doesn’t seem to support clauses like “SELECT TOP N…”, which can cause headaches when for example you need to get the data for the newest record from a table. One way to resolve this would be to do something like “SELECT * FROM X WHERE ID in (SELECT ID FROM X WHERE Date IN (SELECT MAX(Date) FROM X))”, a doubly nested query which looks complicated even in this simple example and gets out of control when query conditions need to be more complex.

What is the alternative? Use EXISTS – as in “a newer record doesn’t exist”. It still looks a bit ugly but at least it’s manageable. The above query would then look like this: “SELECT * FROM X AS X1 WHERE NOT EXISTS(SELECT * FROM X AS X2 WHERE X2.Date > X1.Date)”

Note that this works only for “SELECT TOP 1”. For a greater number there doesn’t seem to be a solution at all.

Repository moved temporarily to '/viewvc/nhibernate/trunk/'; please relocate

When trying to switch my local Subversion copy of the NHibernate source to a different tag (from 3.1GA to trunk, in this case), I got this error:

Repository moved temporarily to '/viewvc/nhibernate/trunk/'; please relocate

The frustrating thing was that I was trying to relocate to exactly this url. And if I tried others, it said that I should relocate to them… I searched the net in vain for the solution, the only information I got is that I should re-configure my apache server (thanks a bunch!)

The problem is, in fact, simple: the URL is wrong. I thought I could just copy the repository’s URL from my web browser, like I do with other sites. Not here: there’s a separate entry for direct SVN access. So instead of using this url:

use this one:

It does seem like a simple problem but the solution wasn’t so easy to find.

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