Maarten Balliauw {blog}

Web development, NuGet, Microsoft Azure, PHP, ...


Hybrid Azure applications using OData

OData in the cloud on AzureIn the whole Windows Azure story, Microsoft has always been telling you could build hybrid applications: an on-premise application with a service on Azure or a database on SQL Azure. But how to do it in the opposite direction? Easy answer there: use the (careful, long product name coming!) Windows Azure platform AppFabric Service Bus to expose an on-premise WCF service securely to an application hosted on Windows Azure. Now how would you go about exposing your database to Windows Azure? Open a hole in the firewall? Use something like PortBridge to redirect TCP traffic over the service bus? Why not just create an OData service for our database and expose that over AppFabric Service Bus. In this post, I’ll show you how.

For those who can not wait: download the sample code: (7.87 kb)

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What we are trying to achieve

The objective is quite easy: we want to expose our database to an application on Windows Azure (or another cloud or in another datacenter) without having to open up our firewall. To do so, we’ll be using an OData service which we’ll expose through Windows Azure platform AppFabric Service Bus. But first things first…

  • OData??? The Open Data Protocol (OData) is a Web protocol for querying and updating data over HTTP using REST. And data can be a broad subject: a database, a filesystem, customer information from SAP, … The idea is to have one protocol for different datasources, accessible through web standards. More info? Here you go.
  • Service Bus??? There’s an easy explanation to this one, although the product itself offers much more use cases. We’ll be using the Service Bus to interconnect two applications, sitting on different networks and protected by firewalls. This can be done by using the Service Bus as the “man in the middle”, passing around data from both applications.

Windows Azure platform AppFabric Service Bus

Our OData feed will be created using WCF Data Services, formerly known as ADO.NET Data Services formerly known as project Astoria.

Creating an OData service

We’ll go a little bit off the standard path to achieve this, although the concepts are the same. Usually, you’ll be adding an OData service to a web application in Visual Studio. Difference: we’ll be creating a console application. So start off with a console application and add the following additional references to the console application:

  • Microsoft.ServiceBus (from the SDK that can be found on the product site)
  • System.Data.Entity
  • System.Data.Services
  • System.Data.Services.Client
  • System.EnterpriseServices
  • System.Runtime.Serialization
  • System.ServiceModel
  • System.ServiceModel.Web
  • System.Web.ApplicationServices
  • System.Web.DynamicData
  • System.Web.Entity
  • System.Web.Services
  • System.Data.DataSetExtensions

Next, add an Entity Data Model for a database you want to expose. I have a light version of the Contoso sample database and will be using that one. Also, I only added one table to the model for sake of simplicity:

Entity Data Model for OData

Pretty straightforward, right? Next thing: expose this beauty through an OData service created with WCF Data Services. Add a new class to the project, and add the following source code:

1 public class ContosoService : DataService<ContosoSalesEntities> 2 { 3 // This method is called only once to initialize service-wide policies. 4 public static void InitializeService(DataServiceConfiguration config) 5 { 6 // TODO: set rules to indicate which entity sets and service operations are visible, updatable, etc. 7 // Examples: 8 // config.SetEntitySetAccessRule("MyEntityset", EntitySetRights.AllRead); 9 // config.SetServiceOperationAccessRule("MyServiceOperation", ServiceOperationRights.All); 10 config.SetEntitySetAccessRule("Store", EntitySetRights.All); 11 config.DataServiceBehavior.MaxProtocolVersion = DataServiceProtocolVersion.V2; 12 } 13 }

Let’s explain this thing: the ContosoService class inherits DataService<ContosoSalesEntities>, a ready-to-use service implementation which you pass the type of your Entity Data Model. In the InitializeService method, there’s only one thing left to do: specify the access rules for entities. I chose to expose the entity set “Store” with all rights (read/write).

In a normal world: this would be it: we would now have a service ready to expose our database through OData. Quick, simple, flexible. But in our console application, there’s a small problem: we are not hosting inside a web application, so we’ll have to write the WCF hosting code ourselves.

Hosting the OData service using a custom WCF host

Since we’re not hosting inside a web application but in a console application, there’s some plumbing we need to do: set up our own WCF host and configure it accordingly.

Let’s first work on our App.config file:

1 <?xml version="1.0"?> 2 <configuration> 3 <connectionStrings> 4 <add name="ContosoSalesEntities" connectionString="metadata=res://*/ContosoModel.csdl|res://*/ContosoModel.ssdl|res://*/ContosoModel.msl;provider=System.Data.SqlClient;provider connection string=&quot;Data Source=.\SQLEXPRESS;Initial Catalog=ContosoSales;Integrated Security=True;MultipleActiveResultSets=True&quot;" providerName="System.Data.EntityClient"/> 5 </connectionStrings> 6 7 <system.serviceModel> 8 <services> 9 <service behaviorConfiguration="contosoServiceBehavior" 10 name="ServiceBusHost.ContosoService"> 11 <host> 12 <baseAddresses> 13 <add baseAddress="http://localhost:8080/ContosoModel" /> 14 </baseAddresses> 15 </host> 16 <endpoint address="" 17 binding="webHttpBinding" 18 contract="System.Data.Services.IRequestHandler" /> 19 20 <endpoint address="https://<service_namespace>" 21 binding="webHttpRelayBinding" 22 bindingConfiguration="contosoServiceConfiguration" 23 contract="System.Data.Services.IRequestHandler" 24 behaviorConfiguration="serviceBusCredentialBehavior" /> 25 </service> 26 </services> 27 <serviceHostingEnvironment aspNetCompatibilityEnabled="true" /> 28 29 <behaviors> 30 <serviceBehaviors> 31 <behavior name="contosoServiceBehavior"> 32 <serviceMetadata httpGetEnabled="true" /> 33 <serviceDebug includeExceptionDetailInFaults="True" /> 34 </behavior> 35 </serviceBehaviors> 36 37 <endpointBehaviors> 38 <behavior name="serviceBusCredentialBehavior"> 39 <transportClientEndpointBehavior credentialType="SharedSecret"> 40 <clientCredentials> 41 <sharedSecret issuerName="owner" issuerSecret="<secret_from_portal>" /> 42 </clientCredentials> 43 </transportClientEndpointBehavior> 44 </behavior> 45 </endpointBehaviors> 46 </behaviors> 47 48 <bindings> 49 <webHttpRelayBinding> 50 <binding name="contosoServiceConfiguration"> 51 <security relayClientAuthenticationType="None" /> 52 </binding> 53 </webHttpRelayBinding> 54 </bindings> 55 </system.serviceModel> 56 </configuration>

There's a lot of stuff going on in there!

  • The connection string to my on-premise database is specified
  • The WCF service is configured

To be honest: that second bullet is a bunch of work…

  • We specify 2 endpoints: one local (so we can access the OData service from our local network) and one on the service bus, hence the https://<service_namespace> URL.
  • The service bus endpoint has 2 behaviors specified: the service behavior is configured to allow metadata retrieval. The endpoint behavior is configured to use the service bus credentials (that can be found on the AppFabric portal site once logged in) when connecting to the service bus.
  • The webHttpRelayBinding, a new binding type for Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus, is configured to use no authentication when someone connects to it. That way, we will have an OData service that is accessible from the Internet for anyone.

With that configuration in place, we can start building our WCF service host in code. Here’s the full blown snippet:

1 class Program 2 { 3 static void Main(string[] args) 4 { 5 ServiceBusEnvironment.SystemConnectivity.Mode = ConnectivityMode.AutoDetect; 6 7 using (ServiceHost serviceHost = new WebServiceHost(typeof(ContosoService))) 8 { 9 try 10 { 11 // Open the ServiceHost to start listening for messages. 12 serviceHost.Open(TimeSpan.FromSeconds(30)); 13 14 // The service can now be accessed. 15 Console.WriteLine("The service is ready."); 16 foreach (var endpoint in serviceHost.Description.Endpoints) 17 { 18 Console.WriteLine(" - " + endpoint.Address.Uri); 19 } 20 Console.WriteLine("Press <ENTER> to terminate service."); 21 Console.ReadLine(); 22 23 // Close the ServiceHost. 24 serviceHost.Close(); 25 } 26 catch (TimeoutException timeProblem) 27 { 28 Console.WriteLine(timeProblem.Message); 29 Console.ReadLine(); 30 } 31 catch (CommunicationException commProblem) 32 { 33 Console.WriteLine(commProblem.Message); 34 Console.ReadLine(); 35 } 36 } 37 } 38 }

We’ve just created our hosting environment, completely configured using the configuration file for WCF. The important thing to note here is that we’re spinning up a WebServiceHost, and that we’re using it to host multiple endpoints. Compile, run, F5, and here’s what happens:

Command line WCF hosting for AppFabric service bus

Consuming the feed

Now just leave that host running and browse to the public service bus endpoint for your OData service, i.e. https://<service_namespace>

Consuming OData over service bus

There’s two reactions possible now: “So, this is a service?” and “WOW! I actually connected to my local SQL Server database using a public URL and I did not have to call IT to open up the firewall!”. I’d go for the latter…

Of course, you can also consume the feed from code. Open up a new project in Visual Studio, and add a service reference for the public service bus address:

Add reference OData

The only thing left now is consuming it, for example using this code snippet:

1 class Program 2 { 3 static void Main(string[] args) 4 { 5 var odataService = 6 new ContosoSalesEntities( 7 new Uri("https://<service_namespace>")); 8 var store = odataService.Store.Take(1).ToList().First(); 9 10 Console.WriteLine("Store: " + store.StoreName); 11 Console.ReadLine(); 12 } 13 }

(Do not that updates do not work out-of-the-box, you’ll have to use a small portion of magic on the server side to fix that… I’ll try to follow up on that one.)


That was quite easy! Of course, if you need full access to your database, you are currently stuck with PortBridge or similar solutions. I am not completely exposing my database to the outside world: there’s an extra level of control in the EDMX model where I can choose which datasets to expose and which not. The WCF Data Services class I created allows for specifying user access rights per dataset.

Download sample code: (7.87 kb)

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Simplified access control using Windows Azure AppFabric Labs

Windows Azure ApFabric Access ControlEarlier this week, Zane Adam announced the availability of the New AppFabric Access Control service in LABS. The highlights for this release (and I quote):

  • Expanded Identity provider support - allowing developers to build applications and services that accept both enterprise identities (through integration with Active Directory Federation Services 2.0), and a broad range of web identities (through support of Windows Live ID, Open ID, Google, Yahoo, Facebook identities) using a single code base.
  • WS-Trust and WS-Federation protocol support – Interoperable WS-* support is important to many of our enterprise customers.
  • Full integration with Windows Identity Foundation (WIF) - developers can apply the familiar WIF identity programming model and tooling for cloud applications and services.
  • A new management web portal -  gives simple, complete control over all Access Control settings.

Wow! This just *has* to be good! Let’s see how easy it is to work with claims based authentication and the AppFabric Labs Access Control Service, which I’ll abbreviate to “ACS” throughout this post.

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What are you doing?

In essence, I’ll be “outsourcing” the access control part of my application to the ACS. When a user comes to the application, he will be asked to present certain “claims”, for example a claim that tells what the user’s role is. Of course, the application will only trust claims that have been signed by a trusted party, which in this case will be the ACS.

Fun thing is: my application only has to know about the ACS. As an administrator, I can then tell the ACS to trust claims provided by Windows Live ID or Google Accounts, which will be reflected to my application automatically: users will be able to authenticate through any service I configure in the ACS, without my application having to know. Very flexible, as I can tell the ACS to trust for example my company’s Active Directory and perhaps also the Active Directory of a customer who uses the application


Before you start, make sure you have the latest version of Windows Identity Foundation installed. This will make things easy, I promise! Other prerequisites, of course, are Visual Studio and an account on Note that, since it’s still a “preview” version, this is free to use.

In the labs account, create a project and in that project create a service namespace. This is what you should be seeing (or at least: something similar):

AppFabric labs project

Getting started: setting up the application side

Before starting, we will require a certificate for signing tokens and things like that. Let’s just start with creating one so we don’t have to worry about that further down the road. Issue the following command in a Visual Studio command prompt:

MakeCert.exe -r -pe -n "CN=<your service namespace>" -sky exchange -ss my

This will create a certificate that is valid for your ACS project. It will be installed in the local certificate store on your computer. Make sure to export both the public and private key (.cer and .pkx).

That being said and done: let’s add claims-based authentication to a new ASP.NET Website. Simply fire up Visual Studio, create a new ASP.NET application. I called it “MyExternalApp” but in fact the name is all up to you. Next, edit the Default.aspx page and paste in the following code:

1 <%@ Page Title="Home Page" Language="C#" MasterPageFile="~/Site.master" AutoEventWireup="true" 2 CodeBehind="Default.aspx.cs" Inherits="MyExternalApp._Default" %> 3 4 <asp:Content ID="HeaderContent" runat="server" ContentPlaceHolderID="HeadContent"> 5 </asp:Content> 6 <asp:Content ID="BodyContent" runat="server" ContentPlaceHolderID="MainContent"> 7 <p>Your claims:</p> 8 <asp:GridView ID="gridView" runat="server" AutoGenerateColumns="False"> 9 <Columns> 10 <asp:BoundField DataField="ClaimType" HeaderText="ClaimType" ReadOnly="True" /> 11 <asp:BoundField DataField="Value" HeaderText="Value" ReadOnly="True" /> 12 </Columns> 13 </asp:GridView> 14 </asp:Content>

Next, edit Default.aspx.cs and add the following Page_Load event handler:

1 protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e) 2 { 3 IClaimsIdentity claimsIdentity = 4 ((IClaimsPrincipal)(Thread.CurrentPrincipal)).Identities.FirstOrDefault(); 5 6 if (claimsIdentity != null) 7 { 8 gridView.DataSource = claimsIdentity.Claims; 9 gridView.DataBind(); 10 } 11 }

So far, so good. If we had everything configured, Default.aspx would simply show us the claims we received from ACS once we have everything running. Now in order to configure the application to use the ACS, there’s two steps left to do:

  • Add a reference to Microsoft.IdentityModel (located somewhere at C:\Program Files\Reference Assemblies\Microsoft\Windows Identity Foundation\v3.5\Microsoft.IdentityModel.dll)
  • Add an STS reference…

That first step should be easy: add a reference to Microsoft.IdentityModel in your ASP.NET application. The second step is almost equally easy: right-click the project and select “Add STS reference…”, like so:

Add STS reference

A wizard will pop-up. Here’s a secret: this wizard will do a lot for us! On the first screen, enter the full URL to your application. I have mine hosted on IIS and enabled SSL, hence the following screenshot:

Specify application URI

In the next step, enter the URL to the STS federation metadata. To the what where? Well, to the metadata provided by ACS. This metadata contains the types of claims offered, the certificates used for signing, … The URL to enter will be something like https://<your service namespace>

Security Token Service

In the next step, select “Disable security chain validation”. Because we are using self-signed certificates, selecting the second option would lead us to doom because all infrastructure would require a certificate provided by a valid certificate authority.

From now on, it’s just “Next”, “Next”, “Finish”. If you now have a look at your Web.config file, you’ll see that the wizard has configured the application to use ACS as the federation authentication provider. Furthermore, a new folder called “FederationMetadata” has been created, which contains an XML file that specifies which claims this application requires. Oh, and some other details on the application, but nothing to worry about at this point.

Our application has now been configured: off to the ACS side!

Getting started: setting up the ACS side

First of all, we need to register our application with the Windows Azure AppFabric ACS. his can be done by clicking “Manage” on the management portal over at Next, click “Relying Party Applications” and “Add Relying Party Application”. The following screen will be presented:

Add Relying Party Application

Fill out the form as follows:

  • Name: a descriptive name for your application.
  • Realm: the URI that the issued token will be valid for. This can be a complete domain (i.e. or the full path to your application. For now, enter the full URL to your application, which will be something like https://localhost/MyApp.
  • Return URL: where to return after successful sign-in
  • Token format: we’ll be using the defaults in WIF, so go for SAML 2.0.
  • For the token encryption certificate, select X.509 certificate and upload the certificate file (.cer) we’ve been using before
  • Rule groups: pick one, best is to create a new one specific to the application we are registering

Afterwards click “Save”. Your application is now registered with ACS.

The next step is to select the Identity Providers we want to use. I selected Windows Live ID and Google Accounts as shown in the next screenshot:

Identity Providers

One thing left: since we are using Windows Identity Foundation, we have to upload a token signing certificate to the portal. Export the private key of the previously created certificate and upload that to the “Certificates and Keys” part of the management portal. Make sure to specify that the certificate is to be used for token signing.

Signing certificate Windows Identity Foundation WIF

Allright, we’re almost done. Well, in fact: we are done! An optional next step would be to edit the rule group we’ve created before. This rule group will describe the claims that will be presented to the application asking for the user’s claims. Which is very powerful, because it also supports so-called claim transformations: if an identity provider provides ACS with a claim that says “the user is part of a group named Administrators”, the rules can then transform the claim into a new claim stating “the user has administrative rights”.

Testing our setup

With all this information and configuration in place, press F5 inside Visual Studio and behold… Your application now redirects to the STS in the form of ACS’ login page.

Sign in using AppFabric

So far so good. Now sign in using one of the identity providers listed. After a successful sign-in, you will be redirected back to ACS, which will in turn redirect you back to your application. And then: misery :-)

Request validation

ASP.NET request validation kicked in since it detected unusual headers. Let’s fix that. Two possible approaches:

  • Disable request validation, but I’d prefer not to do that
  • Create a custom RequestValidator

Let’s go with the latter option… Here’s a class that you can copy-paste in your application:

1 public class WifRequestValidator : RequestValidator 2 { 3 protected override bool IsValidRequestString(HttpContext context, string value, RequestValidationSource requestValidationSource, string collectionKey, out int validationFailureIndex) 4 { 5 validationFailureIndex = 0; 6 7 if (requestValidationSource == RequestValidationSource.Form && collectionKey.Equals(WSFederationConstants.Parameters.Result, StringComparison.Ordinal)) 8 { 9 SignInResponseMessage message = WSFederationMessage.CreateFromFormPost(context.Request) as SignInResponseMessage; 10 11 if (message != null) 12 { 13 return true; 14 } 15 } 16 17 return base.IsValidRequestString(context, value, requestValidationSource, collectionKey, out validationFailureIndex); 18 } 19 }

Basically, it’s just validating the request and returning true to ASP.NET request validation if a SignInMesage is in the request. One thing left to do: register this provider with ASP.NET. Add the following line of code in the <system.web> section of Web.config:

<httpRuntime requestValidationType="MyExternalApp.Modules.WifRequestValidator" />

If you now try loading the application again, chances are you will actually see claims provided by ACS:

Claims output from Windows Azure AppFabric Access Control Service

There', that’s it. We now have successfully delegated access control to ACS. Obviously the next step would be to specify which claims are required for specific actions in your application, provide the necessary claims transformations in ACS, … All of that can easily be found on Google Bing.


To be honest: I’ve always found claims-based authentication and Windows Azure AppFabric Access Control a good match in theory, but an ugly and cumbersome beast to work with. With this labs release, things get interesting and almost self-explaining, allowing for easier implementation of it in your own application. As an extra bonus to this blog post, I also decided to link my ADFS server to ACS: it took me literally 5 minutes to do so and works like a charm!

Final conclusion: AppFabric team, please ship this soon :-) I really like the way this labs release works and I think many users who find the step up to using ACS today may as well take the step if they can use ACS in the easy manner the labs release provides.

By the way: more information can be found on

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MvcSiteMapProvider 2.1.0 released!

MvcSiteMapProvider The release for MvcSiteMapProvider 2.1.0 has just been posted on CodePlex. MvcSiteMapProvider is, as the name implies, an ASP.NET MVC SiteMapProvider implementation for the ASP.NET MVC framework. Targeted at ASP.NET MVC 2, it provides sitemap XML functionality and interoperability with the classic ASP.NET sitemap controls, like the SiteMapPath control for rendering breadcrumbs and the Menu control.

Next to a brand new logo, the component has been patched up with several bugfixes, the visibility attribute is back (in a slightly cooler reincarnation) and a number of new extension points have been introduced. Let’s give you a quick overview…

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Extension points

MvcSiteMapProvider is built wih extensibility in mind. All extension point contracts are defined in the MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility namespace. The sample application on the downloads page contains several custom implementations of these extension points.

Global extension points (valid for the entire provider and all nodes)

These extension points can be defined when Registering the provider.

  Node key generator

Keys for sitemap nodes are usually automatically generated by the MvcSiteMapProvider core. If, for reasons of accessing sitemap nodes from code, the generated keys should follow other naming rules, a custom MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.INodeKeyGenerator implementation can be written.

  Controller type resolver

In order to resolve a controller type and action method related to a specific sitemap node, a MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.IControllerTypeResolver is used. This should normally not be extended, however if you want to make use of other systems for resolving controller types and action methods, this is the logical extension point.

  Action method parameter resolver

Action method parameters are resolved by using ASP.NET MVC's ActionDescriptor class. If you want to use a custom system for this, a MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.IActionMethodParameterResolver implementation can be specified.

  ACL module

To determine whether a sitemap node is accessible to a specific user, a MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.IAclModule implementation is used. MvcSiteMapProvider uses two of these modules by default: access is granted or denied by checking for [Authorize] attributes on action methods, followed by the roles attribute that can be specified in the sitemap XML.

  URL resolver

URLs are generated by leveraging a MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.ISiteMapNodeUrlResolver implementation. If, for example, you want all URLs generated by MvcSiteMapProvider to be in lowercase text, a custom implementation can be created.

  Visibility provider

In some situations, nodes should be visible in the breadcrumb trail but not in a complete sitemap. This can be solved using the MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.ISiteMapNodeVisibilityProvider extension point that can be specified globally for every node in the sitemap or granularly on a specific sitemap node. A sample is available on the Advanced node visibility page.

Node-specific extenion points (valid for a single node)

These extension points can be defined when Creating a first sitemap.

  Dynamic node provider

In many web applications, sitemap nodes are directly related to content in a persistent store like a database.For example, in an e-commerce application, a list of product details pages in the sitemap maps directly to the list of products in the database. Using dynamic sitemaps, a small class implementing MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.IDynamicNodeProvider or extending MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.DynamicNodeProviderBase can be provided to the MvcSiteMapProvider offering a list of dynamic nodes that should be incldued in the sitemap. This ensures the product pages do not have to be specified by hand in the sitemap XML.

A sample can be found on the Dynamic sitemaps page.

  URL resolver

URLs are generated by leveraging a MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.ISiteMapNodeUrlResolver implementation. If, for example, you want the URL for a sitemap node generated by MvcSiteMapProvider to be in lowercase text, a custom implementation can be created.

  Visibility provider

In some situations, nodes should be visible in the breadcrumb trail but not in a complete sitemap. This can be solved using the MvcSiteMapProvider.Extensibility.ISiteMapNodeVisibilityProvider extension point that can be specified globally for every node in the sitemap or granularly on a specific sitemap node. A sample is available on the Advanced node visibility page.


Only one conclusion: grab the latest bits and start playing with them! And feel free to bug me with feature requests and issues found.

Also, follow me on Twitter for updates on this project.