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ASP.NET MVC 3 Beta integration for Autofac

5 min read

I have just checked into trunk a first pass at the ASP.NET MVC 3 Beta integration for Autofac. In hope of simplifying the requirements for those getting started with the integration I wanted to prevent the need to:

The code below is an example of all you would need to put into the application start event to get up and running.

ContainerBuilder builder = new ContainerBuilder();
builder.Register(c => new Logger()).As<ILogger>().InstancePerHttpRequest();

IContainer container = builder.Build();
DependencyResolver.SetResolver(new AutofacDependencyResolver(container));

The core piece of the integration is the AutofacDependencyResolver. This is an implementation of the IDependencyResolver interface that Brad Wilson outlines in his blog post series on ASP.NET MVC 3 Service Location. The interface requires you to implement two simple methods: GetService and GetServices. When no service is found GetService should return null, and GetServices should return an empty IEnumerable<object>. The implementation of these methods ends up being straight forward (ignoring for now the code related to managing the CurrentLifetimeScope).

public object GetService(Type serviceType)
    return CurrentLifetimeScope.IsRegistered(serviceType) ? CurrentLifetimeScope.Resolve(serviceType) : null;

public IEnumerable<object> GetServices(Type serviceType)
    Type enumerableServiceType = typeof(IEnumerable<>).MakeGenericType(serviceType);
    object instance = CurrentLifetimeScope.Resolve(enumerableServiceType);
    return ((IEnumerable)instance).Cast<object>();

When MVC needs to create a controller it will ask the DependencyResolver for an instance. The AutofacDependencyResolver returns the controllers that are registered in the container it was provided. These are usually registered using the RegisterControllers method on the ContainerBuilder as shown in the first code sample. There is no longer a need to create a class that derives from the DefaultControllerFactory for the sole purpose of returning controller instances. This means the AutofacControllerFactory is no longer required and has been removed.

The Autofac MVC integration has always supported the concept of a HTTP request lifetime scope. This means that the lifetime of a service can be scoped to the current HTTP request. The ILogger service registration in the sample code above uses the InstancePerHttpRequest method to indicate that the same instance of the logger service should be used for all dependency resolutions that occur during the current HTTP request. To make sure that the nested lifetime scope that Autofac creates for each request is disposed, it needs to be notified when the request has ended.

The only reliable way to do this is to create a HTTP module that subscribes to the EndRequest event of the HttpApplication. To register a HTTP module you need to add an entry to the web configuration file, which is something that I was hoping to avoid. Rick Strahl outlines one way of achieving programmatic registration of a module in his Dynamically hooking up HttpModules post, but for the integration this would require the user to manually add the code to their HttpApplication instance (by default called MvcApplication).

It turns out that there is in fact another way to programmatically register a module. The Microsoft.Web.Infrastructure.dll assembly that ships with the ASP.NET Web Pages installer (AspNetWebPages.msi) contains a rather helpful class called DynamicModuleUtility. It has a single method called RegisterModule that accepts a Type for the module to register. You can only call this helper from a method that is marked as pre application start code as defined by the PreApplicationStartMethodAttribute applied to an assembly. The same trick is used in System.Web.Pages.dll to register the new WebPageHttpModule. Phil Haack has a blog post that talks about the PreApplicationStartMethodAttribute and some other interesting new ASP.NET 4 features in greater detail if you are keen to know more. You need to install ASP.NET Web Pages before installing ASP.NET MVC 3 so we know the assembly with this helpful little gem will be available.

In the Autofac integration we first needed to add the assembly attribute.

[assembly: PreApplicationStartMethod(typeof(PreApplicationStartCode), "Start")]

This points to a static class that contains a single static method called Start. Inside this method we call the DynamicModuleUtility to register the RequestLifetimeModule that will informs us when the HTTP request has ended. There is no need to ever call this class directly but unfortunately, it and the method must be public. That is why we have the EditorBrowsable attribute being applied in order to hide the class from the editor. Not really that much work to save a user from having to dive into the web configuration file.

public static class PreApplicationStartCode
    private static bool _startWasCalled;

    public static void Start()
        if (_startWasCalled) return;

        _startWasCalled = true;

There is a new interface in the MVC 3 integration called ILifetimeScopeProvider. The HTTP module RequestLifetimeModule shown above actually implements this interface and is the default implementation used by the AutofacDependencyResolver. You can see from the AutofacDependencyResolver code shown at the start of the post that the resolutions are happening from the CurrentLifetimeScope property.

internal ILifetimeScope CurrentLifetimeScope
        if (_lifetimeScopeProvider == null)
            _lifetimeScopeProvider = GetRequestLifetimeModule();
        return _lifetimeScopeProvider.GetLifetimeScope(_container, _configurationAction);

You can add your own ILifetimeScopeProvider implementation to the container that is passed to the AutofacDependencyResolver if you want to replace the HTTP request based lifetime behaviour. The AutofacDependencyResolver will attempt to retrieve it from the container during its constructor. Because the RequestLifetimeModule is the default ILifetimeScopeProvider and an instance was already created by ASP.NET when the module was initialised, we can go and grab that from the HttpModuleCollection of the current HttpApplication.

static ILifetimeScopeProvider GetRequestLifetimeModule()
    HttpModuleCollection httpModules = HttpContext.Current.ApplicationInstance.Modules;
    for (int index = 0; index < httpModules.Count; index++)
        if (httpModules[index] is RequestLifetimeModule)
            return (RequestLifetimeModule)httpModules[index];
    throw new InvalidOperationException(string.Format(
        AutofacDependencyResolverResources.HttpModuleNotLoaded, typeof(RequestLifetimeModule)));

None of the model binding code has been moved into the new integration yet. I am hoping that this can be refactored to use the new IModelBinderProvider interface. This is only a first pass based on a new approach so it is likely that some of this will change. I have certainly found the exercise interesting enough that I thought it was worth sharing the start of the journey.