Click here to Skip to main content
Click here to Skip to main content

WCF Serialization – A Case Study

, 6 Aug 2012
Rate this:
Please Sign up or sign in to vote.
A Case Study to explore ways to customize and improve WCF by overriding the default serialization behaviour

Objective 

I have started this case study in hopes of knowing if I can override the default serialization behaviour of WCF and soon I began to wonder if there is a way to improve and customize it for the project I was working on.

Before I go into what I found let me explain briefly about what happens during a WCF call.

When a service call is initiated all the data (method parameters) will be transmitted to the server by using a process of serialization and deserialization as explained below.

1) At the client side the Entity will be serialized into an XML message.

2) This XML message is sent through wire to reach the Server.

3) At server side the XML message will be De-serialized into the Entity form.

The same process happens in reverse when returning an object from server to client.

WCF uses DataContractSerializer by default for serialization. You can find more details about this at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms731073

Here is a sample xml message for an Entity called person which has a Name and Address properties.

<Person>
<Name>Jay Hamlin</Name>
<Address>123 Main Street</Address>
</Person>   

Looking at the message it is obvious that not only data but also the class names and field names i.e.. metadata is also transmitted. Since the message is self-describing it is ideal way of communicating with 3rd party services which can discover the data type of the message based on the metadata content. But this is not really required if you are communicating internally with your own services (as is the case with many SOA based applications).

Now excluding the actual logic you have written with in the service there are 2 main things that are happening behind the screen which have potential impact on the performance of your services.

The first one is of course the serialization and deserialization at both client and server sides. The second one is of a more serious nature the actual message transmission that happens over network (either internal high speed LAN or through internet). No matter how fast your network is transmitting big data (> 1MB) will take time.

The size of the message (I will hereby call this as payload) is therefore very critical to improving the performance of your services.

Below are the objectives of this exercise

  1. Find if there is a simple way to override the serialization behaviour of WCF and implement something of your own.
  2. Since we can’t remove the actual data from the message what are the ways we can use to reduce the Meta data within the message and still be able to communicate with 3rd party services.
  3. For self-owned services used only by your clients find if there is a way to completely remove metadata from the equation.

Overriding WCF Serialization Behaviour

There are 4 simple steps to implement your own serialization to WCF.

  1. Create your own serializer class which implements XmlObjectSerializer and override all virtual methods.
  2. Create your own Operation Behaviour class which will implement DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior and override all the virtual methods to use the newly created Serializer.
  3. Write your own ContractBehaviourAttribute class which implements IContractBehavior. Replace the default serializer behaviour with your own created one.
  4. For all the service interfaces where you would wish to use the new serialization add the newly created attribute to the interface.

Step - 1 (Create your own Serializer)

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.Runtime.Serialization;
using System.IO;

namespace CustomWCFSerialization
{
    public class MySerializer : XmlObjectSerializer
    {
        const string localName = "MyObject";
        Type type;

        public MySerializer(Type type)
        {
            this.type = type;
        }

        public override bool IsStartObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryReader reader)
        {
            return reader.LocalName == localName;
        }

        public override object ReadObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryReader reader, bool verifyObjectName)
        {
            // Write your own De-Serialization logic
        }

        public override void WriteEndObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryWriter writer)
        {
            writer.WriteEndElement();
        }

        public override void WriteObjectContent(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryWriter writer, object graph)
        {
            // Write your own Serialization logic
        }

        public override void WriteStartObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryWriter writer, object graph)
        {
            writer.WriteStartElement(localName);
        }
    }
}
  

Step – 2 (Create your own Operation Behaviour)

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.ServiceModel.Description;
using System.Runtime.Serialization;
using System.Runtime.Serialization.Json;
using System.Xml;

namespace CustomWCFSerialization
{
    public class MyOperationBehavior : DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior
    {
        public MyOperationBehavior(OperationDescription operation) : base(operation) { }

        public override XmlObjectSerializer CreateSerializer(Type type, string name, string ns, IList<Type> knownTypes)
        {
            return new MySerializer(type);
        }

        public override XmlObjectSerializer CreateSerializer(Type type, XmlDictionaryString name, XmlDictionaryString ns, IList<Type> knownTypes)
        {
            return new MySerializer(type);
        }
    }
}
  

Step – 3 (Create your own ContractBehaviourAttribute)

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.ServiceModel.Description;
using System.Reflection;

namespace CustomWCFSerialization
{
    public class MyContractBehaviorAttribute : Attribute, IContractBehavior
    {
        public void AddBindingParameters(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint, System.ServiceModel.Channels.BindingParameterCollection bindingParameters)
        {
        }

        public void ApplyClientBehavior(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint, System.ServiceModel.Dispatcher.ClientRuntime clientRuntime)
        {
            this.ReplaceSerializerOperationBehavior(contractDescription);
        }

        public void ApplyDispatchBehavior(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint, System.ServiceModel.Dispatcher.DispatchRuntime dispatchRuntime)
        {
            this.ReplaceSerializerOperationBehavior(contractDescription);
        }

        public void Validate(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint)
        {
            // Write your own type validation logic
        }

        private void ReplaceSerializerOperationBehavior(ContractDescription contract)
        {
            foreach (OperationDescription od in contract.Operations)
            {
                for (int i = 0; i < od.Behaviors.Count; i++)
                {
                    DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior dcsob = od.Behaviors[i] as DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior;
                    if (dcsob != null)
                    {
                        od.Behaviors[i] = new MyOperationBehavior(od);
                    }
                }
            }
        }
    }
}
  

Step – 4 (Start using it)

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.ServiceModel;

namespace CustomWCFSerialization.BinarySerializationSample
{
    [MyContractBehavior]
    [ServiceContract]
    public interface ICustomerService
    {
        [OperationContract]
        void InsertCustomer(Customer customer);

        [OperationContract]
        Customer GetCustomer(int id);

        [OperationContract]
        List<Customer> GetCustomers();
    }
}
  

I am not going into more detail as this is not the real objective of the case study. Please download the code to gain more understanding on this.

Approach – 1 (Sending as little Meta data as possible)

If you are communicating with 3rd party services you can’t really avoid sending metadata as otherwise they will not be able to understand the message. Another thing that comes into picture is the support the services offer in terms of message format. Since generally most of the 3rd party services support both XML and JSON formats it does not make sense to go for any other new standard. Let us look at how JSON message looks for the same entity Person.

{"Person":  
  {
  "Name": "Jay Hamlin",
  "Address": "123 Main Street",
  }
}

Just by looking we can make out that this message is smaller than XML message. How much smaller depends on your entity and how much data it has. But logically we can say that Meta data content alone is reduced by half and of course the actual data size remains same.

Assuming 50% of the message is data and 50% is metadata we can say using JSON will reduce 25% of the message payload. In other terms 25% reduction in network latency time. Also keep in mind that since we are talking about 3rd party services the network most definitely will be slower and so 25% is a major improvement.

To implement JSON serilization we need not create our own serializer as Microsoft has already provided DataContractJsonSerializer in System.Runtime.Serialization namespace. So we can omit step 1 while implementing this.

Step - 1 - Not needed

Step - 2

public class DataContractJsonSerializerOperationBehavior : DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior
{
    public DataContractJsonSerializerOperationBehavior(OperationDescription operation) : base(operation) { }

    public override XmlObjectSerializer CreateSerializer(Type type, string name, string ns, IList<Type> knownTypes)
    {
        return new DataContractJsonSerializer(type);
    }

    public override XmlObjectSerializer CreateSerializer(Type type, XmlDictionaryString name, XmlDictionaryString ns, IList<Type> knownTypes)
    {
        return new DataContractJsonSerializer(type);
    }
}  

Step - 3

public class JsonDataContractBehaviorAttribute : Attribute, IContractBehavior
{
    public void AddBindingParameters(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint, System.ServiceModel.Channels.BindingParameterCollection bindingParameters)
    {
    }

    public void ApplyClientBehavior(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint, System.ServiceModel.Dispatcher.ClientRuntime clientRuntime)
    {
        this.ReplaceSerializerOperationBehavior(contractDescription);
    }

    public void ApplyDispatchBehavior(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint, System.ServiceModel.Dispatcher.DispatchRuntime dispatchRuntime)
    {
        this.ReplaceSerializerOperationBehavior(contractDescription);
    }

    public void Validate(ContractDescription contractDescription, ServiceEndpoint endpoint)
    {
        foreach (OperationDescription operation in contractDescription.Operations)
        {
            foreach (MessageDescription message in operation.Messages)
            {
                this.ValidateMessagePartDescription(message.Body.ReturnValue);
                foreach (MessagePartDescription part in message.Body.Parts)
                {
                    this.ValidateMessagePartDescription(part);
                }

                foreach (MessageHeaderDescription header in message.Headers)
                {
                    this.ValidateJsonSerializableType(header.Type);
                }
            }
        }
    }

    private void ReplaceSerializerOperationBehavior(ContractDescription contract)
    {
        foreach (OperationDescription od in contract.Operations)
        {
            for (int i = 0; i < od.Behaviors.Count; i++)
            {
                DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior dcsob = od.Behaviors[i] as DataContractSerializerOperationBehavior;
                if (dcsob != null)
                {
                    od.Behaviors[i] = new DataContractJsonSerializerOperationBehavior(od);
                }
            }
        }
    }

    private void ValidateMessagePartDescription(MessagePartDescription part)
    {
        if (part != null)
        {
            this.ValidateJsonSerializableType(part.Type);
        }
    }

    private void ValidateJsonSerializableType(Type type)
    {
        if (type != typeof(void))
        {
            if (!type.IsPublic)
            {
                throw new InvalidOperationException("Json serialization is supported in public types only");
            }

            ConstructorInfo defaultConstructor = type.GetConstructor(new Type[0]);
            if (defaultConstructor == null && !type.IsPrimitive)
            {
                throw new InvalidOperationException("Json serializable types must have a public, parameterless constructor");
            }
        }

    }
}   

Step - 4

[JsonDataContractBehavior]
[ServiceContract]
public interface ICustomerService
{
    [OperationContract]
    void InsertCustomer(Customer customer);

    [OperationContract]
    Customer GetCustomer(int id);

    [OperationContract]
    List<Customer> GetCustomers();
} 

Please download the code to see the implementation details.

Go to the end of the exercise to find the performance data points I gathered.

Approach – 2 (Sending only Data)

This approach cannot be applied when communicating with external services as they do not know what classes and entities are used by you. Also currently there are no standards defined for data only serialization.

If you are confused on how a message will look here is an example where I have used a simple delimited string to define my data for the entity person.

Jay Hamlin;123 Main Street   

It is obvious that the message cannot get simpler than this. You next question might be how will the service understand that “Jay Hamlin” is the value of name field and “123 Main Street” is the Address field. Let’s go back to the C world where you have frequently used arrays. Now split the string on semi column and you will get an array. The 0th element is always Name and 1st element is always Address. So if in your object a few values are missing you would have simply omitted that field in the XML/JSON. Here you would have to give an empty string or a custom defined string to make sure that during deserialization the value would be understood as null.

So in order to achieve this kind of understanding between client and server you would need to define your own serializer which will be used by WCF to understand the message. You will be able to do this only if the services are part of your own eco system.

Before you think this requires a lot of changes and requires a lot of hard coding or changes in your domain model … I will tell you I have achieved this with minimal changes by using some reflection and in such a way that all this abstracted from your common developer.

Implementation remains same as we have done for JSON. Only change is we need to implement our own serializer(step - 1). Since all other steps are explained above i am skipping them.

public class StringDelimitedSerializer : XmlObjectSerializer
{
    const string localName = "StringDelimitedObject";
    Type type;

    public StringDelimitedSerializer(Type type)
    {
        this.type = type;
    }

    public override bool IsStartObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryReader reader)
    {
        return reader.LocalName == localName;
    }

    public override object ReadObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryReader reader, bool verifyObjectName)
    {
        byte[] bytes = reader.ReadElementContentAsBase64();
        DelimitedString stream = new DelimitedString(Encoding.UTF8.GetString(bytes));
        return StringDelimitedSerializerHelper.DiscoverAndDeSerialize(stream, this.type);
    }

    public override void WriteEndObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryWriter writer)
    {
        writer.WriteEndElement();
    }

    public override void WriteObjectContent(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryWriter writer, object graph)
    {
        DelimitedString stream = new DelimitedString();
        StringDelimitedSerializerHelper.DiscoverAndSerialize(stream, graph, this.type);
        byte[] bytes = Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(stream.ToString());
        writer.WriteBase64(bytes, 0, bytes.Length);
    }

    public override void WriteStartObject(System.Xml.XmlDictionaryWriter writer, object graph)
    {
        writer.WriteStartElement(localName);
    }
} 

As you can see i have used my own helper class called 'StringDelimitedSerializerHelper' to do the actual serialization logic. This helper class will discover the type information of the object and then serializes the object to a delimited string. I have also created my own class called 'DelimitedString' to make approach neater.

The benefits of this approach also are quite obvious with a potential reduction of 50% or more payload.

Please download the code to see the implementation details for 2 custom serializers (Binary & String Delimited Serializers) i have created using this approach.

Go to the end of the exercise to find the performance data points I gathered.

Performance Data Points

All the data points given below are in comparison with DataContractSerializer.

Serializer name

Message Type

Schema

Data

Payload

Serialization Time

DataContractSerializer

XML

Yes

Yes

100%

100%

JsonSerializer

JSON

Yes

Yes

59%

101%

BinarySerializer (self created)

Binary

No

Yes

32%

321%

StringDelimitedSerializer (self created)

Delimited String

No

Yes

24%

140%

Json Serializer is taking only 1% more serialization time while offering a 41% reduction in payload/network latency and looks to be a good candidate for replacing data contract serializer.

StringDelimitedSerializer is offering a 76% reduction in payload but is taking 40% more serialization time. Take note that this serializer is self written and so needs more optimization. Also since serialization time is generally several magnitudes smaller than network latency 40% is not really a big figure.

I recommend you generate the statistics with in your own network and your own objects to get a more realistic view.

If you are really facing multiple network time out issues, in addition to applying your own serialization you can also apply some compression tools available in market.

*Payload is proportional to network latency time. Serialization time is message encoding and decoding time. 

Disclaimer

The code shared is not production ready and I recommend you spend time to thoroughly test and optimise it for performance and complex data type support before you think about using it.

This article is not about convincing you to go for an alternate serialization for WCF. You should download the sample, test it with your own services on a production like network and derive your own metrics to justify if an optimization is really needed. 

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Ravi Teja Pidaparthi
Software Developer Wipro Technologies
India India
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
SuggestionProtobuf test results PinmemberAlireza Mim18-Oct-13 22:19 
SuggestionThanks PinmemberAlireza Mim14-Oct-13 22:31 
GeneralGood Performance Analysis PinmemberMember 31201607-Aug-12 5:33 
GeneralMy vote of 4 PinmemberPriyesh Singh5-Aug-12 19:56 
GeneralRe: My vote of 4 PinmemberRavi Teja Pidaparthi6-Aug-12 9:45 
GeneralMore on performance of serializers PinmemberPunit Ganshani6-Aug-12 18:47 

General General    News News    Suggestion Suggestion    Question Question    Bug Bug    Answer Answer    Joke Joke    Rant Rant    Admin Admin   

Use Ctrl+Left/Right to switch messages, Ctrl+Up/Down to switch threads, Ctrl+Shift+Left/Right to switch pages.

| Advertise | Privacy | Mobile
Web03 | 2.8.140709.1 | Last Updated 6 Aug 2012
Article Copyright 2012 by Ravi Teja Pidaparthi
Everything else Copyright © CodeProject, 1999-2014
Terms of Service
Layout: fixed | fluid