Two Web API Gotchas

net, Web Development comments edit

I just spent a day fighting these so I figured I’d share. You may or may not run into them. They do get pretty low-level, like, “not the common use case.”

PROBLEM 1: Why Isn’t My Data Serializing as XML?

I had set up my media formatters so the XML formatter would kick in and provide some clean looking XML when I provided a querystring parameter, like http://server/api/something?format=xml. I did it like this:

var fmt = configuration.Formatters.XmlFormatter;
fmt.MediaTypeMappings.Add(new QueryStringMapping("format", "xml", "text/xml"));
fmt.UseXmlSerializer = true;
fmt.WriterSettings.Indent = true;

It seemed to work on super simple stuff, but then it seemed to arbitrarily just stop - I’d get XML for some things, but others would always come back in JSON no matter what.

The problem was the fmt.UseXmlSerializer = true; line. I picked the XmlSerializer option because it can create prettier XML without all the extra namespaces and cruft of the standard DataContractSerializer

UPDATE: I just figured out it’s NOT IEnumerable<T> that’s the problem - it’s an object way deep down in my hierarchy that doesn’t have a parameterless constructor.

When I started returning IEnumerable<T> values, that’s when it stopped working. I thought it was because of the IEnumerable<T>, but it turned out that I was enumerating an object that had a property with an object that had another property that didn’t have a default constructor. Yeah, deep in the sticks. No logging or exception handling to explain that one. I had to find it by stepping into the bowels of the XmlMediaTypeFormatter.

PROBLEM 2: Why Aren’t My Format Configurations Being Used?

Somewhat related to the first issue - I had the XML serializer set up for that query string mapping, and I had JSON set up to use camelCase and nice indentation, too. But for some weird reason, none of those settings were getting used at all when I made my requests.

Debugging into it, I could see that on some requests the configuration associated with the inbound request message was all reset to defaults. What?

This was because of some custom route registration stuff.

When you use attribute routes…

  1. The attribute routing mechanism gets the controller selector from the HttpConfiguration object.
  2. The controller selector gets the controller type resolver from the HttpConfiguration object to which it holds a reference.
  3. The controller type resolver locates all the controller types for the controller selector.
  4. The controller selector builds up a cached list of controller name-to-descriptor mappings. Each descriptor gets passed a reference to the HttpConfiguration object.
  5. The attribute routing mechanism gets the action selector from the HttpConfiguration object.
  6. The action selector uses type descriptors from the controller type selector and creates a cached set of action descriptors. Each action descriptor gets passed a reference to the HttpConfiguration object and get a reference back to the parent controller descriptor.
  7. The actions from the action selector get looked at for attribute route definitions and routes are built from the action descriptor. Each route has a reference to the descriptor so it knows what to execute.
  8. Execution of an action corresponding to one of these specific routes will use the exact descriptor to which it was tied.

Basically. There’s a little extra complexity in there I yada-yada’d away. The big takeaway here is that you can see all the bajillion places references to the HttpConfiguration are getting stored. There’s some black magic here.

I was trying to do my own sort of scanning for attribute routes (like on plugin assemblies that aren’t referenced by the project), but I didn’t want to corrupt the main HttpConfiguration object so I created little temporary ones that I used during the scanning process just to help coordinate things.

Yeah, you can’t do that.

Those temporary mostly-default configurations were getting used during my scanned routes rather than the configuration I had set with OWIN to use.

Once I figured all that out, I was able to work around it, but it took most of the day to figure it out. It’d be nice if things like the action descriptor would automatically chain up to the parent controller descriptor (if it’s present) to get configuration rather than holding its own reference. And so on, all the way up the stack, such that routes get their configuration from the route table, which is owned by the root configuration object. Set it and forget it.