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Calling Web Service Functions Asynchronously from a Web Page

, 2 Apr 2010
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A user had a problem calling a Web Service from a web page asynchronously. I tried his code on my machine and was able to reproduce the problem. I was able to solve his problem, but only after taking the long scenic route through some of the more perplexing nuances of Web Services and Proxies.

Over on the ASP.NET forums where I moderate, a user had a problem calling a Web Service from a web page asynchronously. I tried his code on my machine and was able to reproduce the problem. I was able to solve his problem, but only after taking the long scenic route through some of the more perplexing nuances of Web Services and Proxies.

Here is the fascinating story of that journey.

Start with a Simple Web Service

public class Service1 : System.Web.Services.WebService
{
    [WebMethod]
    public string HelloWorld()
    {
        // sleep 10 seconds
        System.Threading.Thread.Sleep(10 * 1000);
        return "Hello World";
    }
}

The 10 second delay is added to make calling an asynchronous function more apparent. If you don't call the function asynchronously, it takes about 10 seconds for the page to be rendered back to the client. If the call is made from a Windows Forms application, the application freezes for about 10 seconds.

Add the web service to a web site. Right-click the project and select "Add Web Reference…"

Next, create a web page to call the Web Service.

Note: An ASP.NET web page that calls an 'Async' method must have the Async property set to true in the page's header:

<%@ Page Language="C#" 
         AutoEventWireup="true" 
         CodeFile="Default.aspx.cs" 
         Inherits="_Default"  
         Async='true'  %>

Here is the code to create the Web Service proxy and connect the event handler. Shrewdly, we make the proxy object a member of the Page class so it remains instantiated between the various events.

public partial class _Default : System.Web.UI.Page 
{
    localhost.Service1 MyService;  // web service proxy

    // ---- Page_Load ---------------------------------

    protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {
        MyService = new localhost.Service1();
        MyService.HelloWorldCompleted += EventHandler;      
    }

Here is the code to invoke the web service and handle the event:

// ---- Async and EventHandler (delayed render) --------------------------

protected void ButtonHelloWorldAsync_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    // blocks
    ODS("Pre HelloWorldAsync...");
    MyService.HelloWorldAsync();
    ODS("Post HelloWorldAsync");
}
public void EventHandler(object sender, localhost.HelloWorldCompletedEventArgs e)
{
    ODS("EventHandler");
    ODS("    " + e.Result);
}

// ---- ODS ------------------------------------------------
//
// Helper function: Output Debug String

public static void ODS(string Msg)
{
    String Out = String.Format("{0}  {1}", 
    DateTime.Now.ToString("hh:mm:ss.ff"), Msg);
    System.Diagnostics.Debug.WriteLine(Out);
}

I added a utility function I use a lot: ODS (Output Debug String). Rather than include the library it is part of, I included it in the source file to keep this example simple.

Fire up the project, open up a debug output window, press the button and we get this in the debug output window:

11:29:37.94 Pre HelloWorldAsync... 
11:29:37.94 Post HelloWorldAsync 
11:29:48.94 EventHandler 
11:29:48.94 Hello World 

Sweet. The asynchronous call was made and returned immediately. About 10 seconds later, the event handler fires and we get the result. Perfect….right?

Not so fast cowboy. Watch the browser during the call:

What the heck? The page is waiting for 10 seconds. Even though the asynchronous call returned immediately, ASP.NET is waiting for the event to fire before it renders the page. This is NOT what we wanted.

I experimented with several techniques to work around this issue. Some may erroneously describe my behavior as 'hacking' but, since no ingesting of Twinkies was involved, I do not believe hacking is the appropriate term.

If you examine the proxy that was automatically created, you will find a synchronous call to HelloWorld along with an additional set of methods to make asynchronous calls. I tried the other asynchronous method supplied in the proxy:

// ---- Begin and CallBack ----------------------------------

protected void ButtonBeginHelloWorld_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    ODS("Pre BeginHelloWorld...");
    MyService.BeginHelloWorld(AsyncCallback, null);
    ODS("Post BeginHelloWorld");
}
public void AsyncCallback(IAsyncResult ar)
{
    String Result = MyService.EndHelloWorld(ar);
    
    ODS("AsyncCallback");
    ODS("    " + Result);
}

The BeginHelloWorld function in the proxy requires a callback function as a parameter. I tested it and the debug output window looked like this:

04:40:58.57 Pre BeginHelloWorld... 
04:40:58.57 Post BeginHelloWorld 
04:41:08.58 AsyncCallback 
04:41:08.58 Hello World 

It works the same as before except for one critical difference: The page rendered immediately after the function call. I was worried the page object would be disposed after rendering the page but the system was smart enough to keep the page object in memory to handle the callback.

Both techniques have a use:

Delayed Render: Say you want to verify a credit card, look up shipping costs and confirm if an item is in stock. You could have three web service calls running in parallel and not render the page until all were finished. Nice. You can send information back to the client as part of the rendered page when all the services are finished.

Immediate Render: Say you just want to start a service running and return to the client. You can do that too. However, the page gets sent to the client before the service has finished running so you will not be able to update parts of the page when the service finishes running.

Summary

YourFunctionAsync() and an EventHandler will not render the page until the handler fires.

BeginYourFunction() and a CallBack function will render the page as soon as possible.

I found all this to be quite interesting and did a lot of searching and researching for documentation on this subject….but there isn't a lot out there. The biggest clues are the parameters that can be sent to the WSDL.exe program:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/7h3ystb6(VS.100).aspx

Two parameters are oldAsync and newAsync. OldAsync will create the Begin/End functions; newAsync will create the Async/Event functions. Caveat: I haven't tried this but it was stated in this article. I'll leave confirming this as an exercise for the student. Smile | :)

Included Code

I'm including the complete test project I created to verify the findings. The project was created with VS 2008 SP1. There is a solution file with 3 projects, the 3 projects are:

  • Web Service
  • ASP.NET Application
  • Windows Forms Application

To decide which program runs, you right-click a project and select "Set as Startup Project".

I created and played with the Windows Forms application to see if it would reveal any secrets. I found that in the Windows Forms application, the generated proxy did NOT include the Begin/Callback functions. Those functions are only generated for ASP.NET pages. Probably for the reasons discussed earlier. Maybe those Microsoft boys and girls know what they are doing.

I hope someone finds this useful.

Steve Wellens

License

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

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About the Author

Steve Wellens
EndWell Software, Inc.
United States United States
I am an independent contractor/consultant working in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. I work in .Net, Asp.Net, C#, C++, XML, SQL, Windows Forms, HTML, CSS, etc., etc., etc.

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMember 409156620-Jun-13 3:58 
GeneralSource Code for Test Project PinmemberBonCoder19-Dec-12 3:31 
GeneralRe: Source Code for Test Project PinmemberSteve Wellens19-Dec-12 5:00 

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