Start Your Transpilers

Friday, May 1, 2015 by K. Scott Allen

Early last year I began to take ECMAScript 2015 seriously and leaned towards using the new language features of JavaScript sooner rather than later. The tools needed to make the new language work in existing browsers already existed. Some people thought I was crazy.

This year the ES2015 / ES6 specification is a final draft stage and is only waiting for a final blessing. I’m even more convinced that the language is ready to use. In fact, why stop with ES 2015? ES7 already has some firm specs and the tools are even better.

Consider these points:

1. The technical committee responsible for ECMAScript specifications has committed to delivering a new version of the language every year.  

2. The best way to keep up with the challenges presented by contemporary applications is to tackle those challenges using the best features of a language. ES6 is considerably better than ES5 and dramatically changes how to build and organize abstractions. ES7 should include better support for metaprogramming and async work.

3. Next generation frameworks, like Aurelia, are already taking advantage of ES7 features. It is natural for people who build frameworks like to stay on the cutting edge and use the best features a language has to offer.

4. Browsers will perpetually be behind the curve going forward, but tools and polyfills will make most new language features work. There will always be exceptions which require native support from the JavaScript VM, like collections using weak references, but almost everything in ES2015 can be polyfilled or transformed into a working syntax.

I still see some resistance to using new tools in a JavaScript build process, even though most environments have been using tools to minify and concat JavaScript for years. It is time to rethink any resistance to source code transformations. For the above reasons, I think everyone should start working with a transpiler (ES* –> ES5) or a compiler (TypeScript –> ES5) without further ado.

Serialization Options With Azure DocumentDB

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 by K. Scott Allen

DocumentDBBehind the scenes, Azure’s DocumentDB uses Json.NET to serialize objects. Json.NET offers some flexibility in how serialization behaves through a number of serialization settings, but the DocumentDB SDK doesn’t expose these settings.

What if we want to change, say, the  NullValueHandling behavior to ignore null values?

Michalis Zervos offers one solution. Serialize objects using your own code then save the result as a document with the stream based APIs of DocumentDB. This approach gives you the ultimate control over when and how to serialize each object.

Another approach is to use the global default settings of Json.NET.

JsonConvert.DefaultSettings = () =>
    return new JsonSerializerSettings
        NullValueHandling = NullValueHandling.Ignore

Being global, you’ll want these settings to apply to all the documents saved into Azure, as well as any other serialization that might be happening in the same application. but it can turn this document:

  "Name": "Scott",
  "Medications": null,
  "Procedures": null,
  "id": "c15a4b48-bc7b-4440-a32b-88a9c345f705"

.. into this one:

  "Name": "Scott",
  "id": "e388eb16-de6f-4de6-9b11-851c2a67ef9e"

DocumentDb Limits and Statistical Outliers

Monday, April 27, 2015 by K. Scott Allen

Azure’s DocumentDB has an appealing scalability model, but you must pay attention to the limits and quotas from the start. Of particular interest to me is the maximum request size for a document, which is currently 512kb. When DocumentDB first appeared the limit was a paltry 16KB, so 512kb feels roomy, but how much real application data can that hold?

Let’s say you need to store a collection of addresses for a hospital patient.

public class Patient
    public string Id { get; set; }
    public IList<Address> Addresses { get; set; }

public class Address
    public string Description { get; set; }
    public string City { get; set; }
    public string Country { get; set; }

In theory the list of address objects is an unbounded collection and could exceed the maximum request size and generate runtime errors. But in practice, how many addresses could a single person associate with? There is the home address, the business address, perhaps a temporary vacation address. You don’t want to complicate the design of the application to support unlimited addresses, so instead you might enforce a reasonable limit in the application logic and tell customers that having more than 5 addresses on file is not supported.

A Harder Problem

Here’s a slightly trickier scenario.

public class Patient
    public string Id { get; set; }
    public IList<Medication> Medications { get; set; }

public class Medication
    public string Code { get; set; }
    public DateTime Ordered { get; set; }
    public DateTime Administered { get; set; }

Each medication entry consists of an 8 character code and two DateTime properties, which gives us a fixed size for every medication a patient receives, but again the potential problem is the total number of medications a patient might receive.

The first question then, is how many Medication objects can a 512kb request support?

The answer, estimated with a calculator and verified with code, is just over 6,000.

The second question then, is 6,000 a safe number?

To answer the second question I found it useful to analyze some real data and find that the odds of busting the request size are roughly 1 in 100,000, which is just over 4 standard deviations. Generally a 4 sigma number is good enough to say “it won’t happen”, but what’s interesting when operating at scale, is that with 1 million patients you’ll observe the 4 sigma event not once, but 10 times.

From the business perspective, the result is unacceptable, so back to the drawing board.

We use to say that you spend 80% of your time on 20% of the problem. At scale there is the possibility of spending 80% of your time on 0.000007% of the problem.

Aurelia Hello World with ASP.NET 5

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 by K. Scott Allen

The purpose of this post isn’t to give an exhaustive tour of Aurelia features, but to show a simple Aurelia application running in ASP.NET 5 and demystify some of the tools you’ll commonly see used with Aurelia. This post makes use of jspm and the SystemJS module loader. These tools and libraries aren’t required to use Aurelia, but they sure can make life easier.

1. Create a new, empty ASP.NET 5 web application with Visual Studio 2015.

2. Install and initialize jspm. In a previous post we looked at using jspm with the latest pre-release of ASP.NET. You’ll want to follow all those same steps, particularly the initialize step telling jspm to use ./wwwroot as the public folder path. We want Aurelia installed and served from a jspm_packages folder inside this wwwroot folder, since ASP.NET 5 serves static assets from wwwroot by default.

3. Use jspm to install some of the core Aurelia pieces. From the command line:

jspm install aurelia-framework
jspm install aurelia-bootstrapper

jspm will download all the required files and place them in the jspm_packages folder of wwwroot.

4. We are now ready to create an index.html file in wwwroot. There are 4 significant instructions in the following markup.

    <title>Hello from Aurelia</title>
<body aurelia-app>
    <script src="jspm_packages/system.js"></script>
    <script src="config.js"></script>

The aurelia-app attribute tells Aurelia where it will take control of the DOM and inject our applications’ first view and viewmodel.

The script tag to load system.js brings glorious magic to the page. SystemJS is a module loader, much like  Require JS, but SystemJS knows how to load different types of modules – AMD, CommonJS, and ES6 modules. SystemJS also contains the ability to dynamically compile ES6 code into ES5 code on the fly. We’ll take advantage of the dynamic compilation features to use Aurelia without setting up any build task for our script code. jspm installs SystemJS by default.

The script tag to load config.js brings in configuration data to tell the module loader where to find script files, like scripts for Aurelia as well as our own application. The configuration also tells the loader how to behave. Fortunately for us, jspm creates and maintains the config.js file, so the only work we have to do is include the file on the page. 

Finally, we will use the module loader’s API to import the aurelia-bootstrapper. The module loader will find and load the bootstrapper and the bootstrapper’s dependencies into the browser.  Once the bootstrapper has control, it will begin to spin up Aurelia using some default configuration options, and go looking for our application, which we will build in the next two steps.

5. By default, Aurelia will go looking for an app.js script in the same folder as our index.html file. Let’s fill app.js with the following code:

export class App {
    constructor() {
        this.message = "";

    activate() {
        this.message = "Hello, World!";

    changeMessage() {
        this.message = "Goodbye!";


View models in Aurelia are plain, vanilla JavaScript.  There is no magic or registration code required. The framework will automatically invoke the activate method, which can return a promise if long running work needs done.

6. Once Aurelia finds and activates app.js, the framework will try to load an app.html file to function as the view for the model. We’ll create app.html in the wwwroot folder, too.

        <button click.trigger="changeMessage()">Say Goodbye</button>

Binding model content into the DOM is as easy as using the string interpolation ${ } syntax, while events are directed to model methods using trigger, delegate, and call expressions.  


And that’s it! Once you learn just a few simple conventions, Aurelia makes applications easy. We haven’t touched on routing, dependency injection, custom elements, or any of the other features that make Aurelia great. Those are all topics for the future… 

Working With Aurelia

Monday, April 6, 2015 by K. Scott Allen


I’ve been chipping away and contributing to the Aurelia project the last couple months.

When Rob introduced Aurelia earlier this year, I took one look at the code and had a moment of déjà-vu. The Aurelia code base was the code base I saw in a feverish dream one night in early 2014 when I first started digging into the ES6 specification. It’s a beautiful code base building on the newest features of the JavaScript language, features like module and classes, and the code is a dramatic demonstration of just how different and wonderful the new world and the new paradigms can be.

On top of ES6, Rob has added the “Eisenberg Effect”,which is to say the framework is modular, extensible, testable, and favors convention over configuration. You’ll recognize many patterns if you’ve used Durandal or Caliburn Micro in the past.

Best of all, the APIs are crafted to make life easy for the developer instead of the framework authors.

Expect more Aurelia coverage in the future. Next up will be “Hello, World!” with Aurelia, ASP.NET 5, and Visual Studio 2015.

Entry Points for ASP.NET 5 Commands

Monday, March 30, 2015 by K. Scott Allen

Inside the project.json file for an ASP.NET 5 application, you can find a commands section:

"commands": {
    "gen": "Microsoft.Framework.CodeGeneration",
    "kestrel": "Microsoft.AspNet.Hosting --server Kestrel --server.urls http://localhost:5004",
    "web": "Microsoft.AspNet.Hosting --server Microsoft.AspNet.Server.WebListener --server.urls http://localhost:5002"

You can execute these commands from a command prompt with the .NET Execution Environment (dnx, formerly named k), which will hunt for a standard entry point in the assembly referenced by the command value, and also pass along any parameters in the command value.

In other words, “dnx web” will look in the Microsoft.AspNet.Hosting assembly for a main entry point, and then pass the –server and –server.urls parameters into the entry point.

Typical commands you’ll see in new projects include commands to spin up the application in a web server, or execute database migrations.

You can also create your own command hosts using the “ASP.NET 5 Console Application” template, or, you can add a Program class with a Main method inside an existing web application.

public class Program
    public Program(ILibraryManager libraryManager)
        foreach(var lib in libraryManager.GetLibraries())

    public void Main(string[] args)
        var config = new Configuration()


        foreach (var arg in args)


Notice how the Main method doesn’t require the static keyword, in fact the dnx will instantiate the Program class itself if possible, and even inject dependencies. You can ask for IServiceManifest to see all the services available at startup. In the above code, I’ve asked for an ILibraryManager, and I can use the manager to list out all the dependencies for the application.

The ASP.NET 5 configuration system works for this scenario, too. The above code sets up config.json as the first configuration source. If we set up the configuration file with a message property:

    "message":  "Hello!"

… then running the application will display the message “Hello!”.

We can override the message by specifying a command line value in the project.json file.

"commands": {
    "me" : "TestApp --message=Goodbye"

In this case, “me” is the name of the command and “TestApp” is the name of the web application. Running dnx me from the command line will display the string “Goodbye”. You can also override the command line parameters specified in the project commands by passing parameters to dnx. In other words, “dnx me --message=Allo!” will print the string “Allo!”

Although not the most exciting feature of ASP.NET 5, commands do open up some interesting possibilities for hosting and executing utility functions, data migrations, and scheduled tasks.

Pluralsight - First Look At The Next ASP.NET

Monday, March 16, 2015 by K. Scott Allen

My latest Plurasight release is an early look at the next version of ASP.NET, including:

- The unification of MVC 6 and WebAPI

- Startup and configuration of an ASP.NET 5 application

- Working with wwwroot and the new ASP.NET project structure

- Using command line tools to manage runtime versions, project commands, and deployment

- Integration with NodeJs and Grunt.

ASP vNext First Look

I hope you like it!

My Pluralsight Courses

K.Scott Allen OdeToCode by K. Scott Allen
What JavaScript Developers Should Know About ECMAScript 2015
The Podcast!