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Windows Forms applications are often referred to as rich clients. This term emphasizes the fact that this type of application enjoys the full feature set of the operating system on which it runs. The main characteristics of a rich client are as follows: Feature-rich UI, including drag and drop, toolbars and menus, animation, and so on Easier to implement than its web-based counterpart Implementing rich client features in web-based applications could be difficult if not impossible. Unrestricted security permissions When installed locally, WinForm applications enjoy unrestricted permissions, while web-based applications and downloaded controls are usually sandboxed. Access to all hardware resources and peripherals, such as drives, printers, scanners, and ports
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Although locally installed WinForm .NET applications are granted unrestricted permissions by default, the administrator can control the permitted operations granted to their code by using code access security policies, as we explained in chapter 8.
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Based on my experience, however, many organizations shy away from designing homegrown solutions as WinForm applications. Instead, they usually opt for web-based designs. Why is that, considering all the advantages that the rich client model has to offer There are a few good reasons, but the top one I hear is the difficult deployment model. WinForm applications usually have binary dependencies to other system or third-party libraries. For this reason, they need to be explicitly installed on the client machine. In the past, this has led to many problems, including the notorious DLL Hell phenomenon, where a rogue installation program replaces system files, which in turn, causes one or more existing applications to stop working. To further complicate the matter, after the application is rolled out to the end users, some infrastructure has to be set up to handle the application updates, such as bug fixes and new versions. The Microsoft .NET Framework introduces several new features aimed at simplifying the WinForm application deployment, such as web-based deployment, versioning, and side-by-side execution. Expect these features to improve in the next versions of Windows and .NET. For example, the forthcoming release of Visual Studio .NET, code-named Whidbey, will feature the ClickOnce deployment model. It will allow us to create rich clients that can automatically update themselves from a central web location. For this reason, I predict that the pendulum will start swinging back in the near future and the rich client will take the place it deserves. 10.1.1 Report-enabling rich clients Let s now see how what we learned in chapter 9 applies to report-enabling WinForm clients. As you would recall, in chapter 9 we said that RS offers two options for requesting
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reports. First, you can requests reports by URL. This is the simplest and easiest way to request reports. Second, when URL access is impractical, you can request reports by SOAP. The main characteristic of the second access option is the increased feature set accessible via a wide spectrum of SOAP APIs that goes beyond requesting reports only. These two access options map to the two application design models that we discussed in chapter 8 in the following ways: Client-to-Report Server With this model, the client application requests reports by URL via direct access to the Report Server. Client-to-Fa ade-to-Report Server With this model, an additional layer, which we will call a fa ade, is introduced between the client and the Report Server. The fa ade submits report requests on the server side of the application by calling the RS Web service. When evaluating both patterns, I recommend that you consider the Client-to-Report Server model first. In hindsight, if there is one thing that my consulting career has taught me, it is to keep things simple, unless there is a good reason to deviate from the KIS principle (Keep It Simple). Translated to WinForm reporting this means that you should Request reports by URL whenever possible Take advantage of the Report Server role-based security model whenever possible My advice is to avoid the temptation to make your reporting architecture too flexible and sophisticated. As usual, there is a delicate balance between flexibility and complexity. If you focus on the side of flexibility, you may end up with an over-engineered solution with a reduced reporting feature set. Let s now examine how the Client-to-Report Server reporting model can be applied to WinForm applications. 10.1.2 Using the Client-to-Report Server model The Client-to-Report Server model can be used with both client/server and distributed application designs. Yes, the latter case doesn t necessarily invalidate requesting reports by URL. For example, if the client needs to evaluate some business rules before the report is submitted, it could ask the business layer to do so and, if the validation is successful, request the report on the client side, as shown in figure 10.1. There are good reasons to keep things simple and favor the Client-to-Report Server model, including the following: Easy integration with RS You don t need to take extra steps to handle report images, report sessions, and presenting the report to the end user. The HTML Viewer As we mentioned in the previous chapter, when reports are requested by URL, they are rendered inside the HTML Viewer, which sponsors RICH CLIENT WANTED 339
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the handy report toolbar. The HTML Viewer can simplify some mundane reporting tasks, such as handling parameters, exporting to different formats, zooming, and so on. Support of all interactive features URL access preserves all interactive report features when reports are exported to HTML because most of the interactive features, such as expandable sections, document maps, and toggled visibility, require additional HTTP-GET requests. Faster performance No additional overhead is incurred to serialize the report payload to a binary array and render the report on the client side. In terms of security, the Client-to-Report Server design fits naturally into the rolebased security model of the Report Server. If restricted report access is required, the administrator can assign the Windows user accounts and groups to RS roles and establish security policies to secure items in the report catalog. We discussed the role-based security model in detail in chapter 8. One thing that you should be cautious about is performing security checks inside the presentation layer. An adept user could figure out the report s URL and request the report directly in the browser, bypassing the presentation layer. Instead, for applications with stringent security requirements, you should consider the following approaches: Using the security techniques based on user identity, such as the ones we discussed in chapter 8 For example, your report can pass the interactive user identity obtained from the User.UserID property to the data source to filter data per user Using custom code in your reports to access the application business logic layer for business rules validation, as shown in figure 10.1 Migrating to the Client-to-Fa ade-to-Report Server model
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Figure 10.1 The WinForm version of the Client-toReport Server model promotes requesting reports by URL.
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