Date Handling in VB.NET

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One common view of good UI design holds that the user should be free to enter arbitrary text, and it is up to the application to make sense of the entry. Nowhere is this truer than with date values, and the SmartDate type is designed to simplify how a business developer uses dates and exposes them to the UI. Examples of free-form date entry are easy to find. Just look at widely used applications like Microsoft Money or Intuit s Quicken. In these applications, users are free to enter dates in whatever format is easiest for them. Additionally, various shortcuts are supported; for example, the + character means tomorrow, while means yesterday. Most users find this approach more appealing than being forced to enter a date in a strict format through a masked edit control, or having to always use the mouse to use a graphical calendar control. Of course, being able to additionally support a calendar control is also a great UI design choice. Date handling is also quite challenging because the standard DateTime data type doesn t have any comprehension of an empty or blank date. Many applications have date values that may be empty for a time and are filled in later. Consider a sales order, in which the shipment date is unknown when the order is entered. That date should remain blank or empty until an actual date is known. Without having the concept of an empty date, an application will require the user to enter an invalid placeholder date until the real date is known; and that s just poor application design.
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In the early 1990s, I worked at a company where all far-future dates were entered as 12/31/99. Guess how much trouble the company had around Y2K, when all of its never-to-be-delivered orders started coming due!
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CHAPTER 5 s COMPLETING THE FRAMEWORK
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It is true that the Nullable(Of T) type can be applied to a DateTime value like this: Nullable(Of DateTime). This allows a date to be empty in a limited sense. Unfortunately, that isn t enough for many applications, since an actual date value can t be meaningfully compared to Nothing. Is Nothing greater than or less than a given date With Nullable(Of T), the answer is an exception; which is not a very useful answer. Additionally, data binding doesn t deal well with Nothing values, and so exposing a Nothing value from a business object s property often complicates the UI code.
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The Csla.SmartDate type is designed to augment the standard .NET DateTime type to make it easier to work with date values. In particular, it provides the following key features: Automatic translation between String and DateTime types Translation of shortcut values to valid dates Understanding of the concept of an empty date Meaningful comparison between a date and an empty date Backward compatibility with SmartDate from the previous edition of this book The DateTime data type is marked NotInheritable, meaning that a new type can t inherit from it to create a different data type. However, it is possible to use containment and delegation to wrap a DateTime value with extra functionality. That s exactly how the SmartDate type is implemented. Like DateTime itself, SmartDate is a value type: <Serializable()> _ Public Structure SmartDate Implements IComparable Private Private Private Private mDate As Date mEmptyIsMax As Boolean mFormat As String mInitialized As Boolean
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Notice that it has an mDate instance field, which is the underlying DateTime value of the SmartDate. Supporting empty date values is more complex than it might appear. An empty date still has meaning, and in fact it is possible to compare a regular date to an empty date and get a valid result. Consider the previous sales order example. If the shipment date is unknown, it will be empty. But effectively, that empty date is infinitely far in the future. Were you to compare that empty shipment date to any other date, the shipment date would be the larger of the two. Conversely, there are cases in which an empty date should be considered to be smaller than the smallest possible date. This concept is important, as it allows for meaningful comparisons between dates and empty dates. Such comparisons make implementation of validation rules and other business logic far simpler. You can, for instance, loop through a set of Order objects to find all the objects with a shipment date less than today; without the need to worry about empty dates: For Each order As Order In OrderList If order.ShipmentDate <= Today Then Assuming ShipmentDate is a SmartDate, this will work great, and any empty dates will be considered to be larger than any actual date value.
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