Entity Framework Views with Real-Time conditions – DEVELOPPARADISE
17/07/2018

Entity Framework Views with Real-Time conditions

Introduction

Views in databases are brilliant. It allows for a layer of abstraction over the actual data model and to allow a set of search queries which are used a lot to be reused very quickly. While the Entity Framework has support for using Views, sometimes you want to be able to write the view in the Code itself. This can be especially useful when the code does some form of encryption on the data (in case you can’t use the database encryption).

This article describes how to setup a basic view with conditional queries.

Background

This article assumes basic knowledge of the Entity Framework and how to run basic queries.
It will also be useful to have a quick look at the brilliant LinqKit (https://github.com/scottksmith95/LINQKit) as this is used for “Or” statements inside the full project.

Knowledge of Expressions is also highly recommended.: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.linq.expressions.expression(v=vs.110).aspx

Using the code

The biggest difficulty to writing the Views are the condition. After all, a view is nothing more then:
 

var query = context.Students.Include(s=>s.Courses.Select(c=>c.Course));

Luckily the System.Linq.Expression class comes into play here and this provides almost all the logic we need. Using this it brings us to the following as a base for creating a condition:

var result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);

selector.body is the selector of a specific property of an Object. e.g. s=> s.Name

value is the value we are searching for.  

selector.Parameters are any parameters in case a parameter Expression is used. We are not using that explicitely for the purpose of this article. (It might be used underneat by the Expression class though).

For numbers and booleans this is all well and good, but this doesn’t really work for string or for DateTime values. 

For DateTime values you need to do some trickery as there is more data in the DateTime then just the Date (as the name implies). As such, 

DateTime s1 = DateTime.Now; DateTime s2 = DateTime.Now.AddMilliseconds(1);
s1 == s2 => false;

As DateTime comparisons are on the ticks level, a comparison almost always fails (especially as they come from a Website usually where a user has filled it in).

The best way around this is to do the following:

Expression<Func<T, bool>> result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.GreaterThanOrEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
DateTime d2 = ((DateTime)(object)value).AddDays(1);
result = result.And(Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(d2)), selector.Parameters));

This will do an “IsEqual” check for the DateTime value (with the given value) by making it a check between Today and Tomorrow (where today is the date value given). Of course, this example is useful if a comparison is to be done on Date level, if the time comes into play as well you may want to enhance this logic.

For string this is even more complicated as a SmallerThen and GreateThen for a string doesn’t really work. For example the following:
 

string s1 = "J";
string s2 = "ABC";
Which is smaller? Also s1< s2 doesn't work at all.

As such we should add some additional logic for strings:

if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(string))
{
    result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(
        Expression.LessThanOrEqual(
        Expression.Call(
            selector.Body, typeof(string).GetMethod("CompareTo", new[] { typeof(string) }),
            Expression.Constant(value))
        , Expression.Constant(0, typeof(int))
        )
    , selector.Parameters);
}

This allows the Expression to call the CompareTo method (even when accessing the database). We have to  do the same for the GreaterThan and the OrEqual variants as well.

Putting this together you get the following function for building a condition:

        /// <summary>
        /// Builds a conditional Expression based upon the comparison type passed
        /// </summary>
        /// <typeparam name="T">The class the conditional expression is for</typeparam>
        /// <typeparam name="DataType">The type of data to be compared upon</typeparam>
        /// <param name="selector">Expression to retrieve the Field to compare on</param>
        /// <param name="value">The value to compare to</param>
        /// <param name="comparison">The comparison type to use</param>
        /// <param name="expressions">Any additional expression to add (using AND) to this generated expression.</param>
        /// <returns>A conditional expression</returns>
        public Expression<Func<T, bool>> BuildCondition<T, DataType>(Expression<Func<T, DataType>> selector, DataType value, ComparisonTypes comparison, params Expression<Func<T, bool>>[] expressions)
        {
            Expression<Func<T, bool>> result = null;
            switch (comparison)
            {
                case ComparisonTypes.Equals:
                default:
                    if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(DateTime))
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.GreaterThanOrEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                        DateTime d2 = ((DateTime)(object)value).AddDays(1);
                        result = result.And(Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(d2)), selector.Parameters));
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.Equal(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    }

                    break;
                case ComparisonTypes.NotEquals:
                    if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(DateTime))
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                        DateTime d2 = ((DateTime)(object)value).AddDays(1);
                        result = result.Or(Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.GreaterThanOrEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(d2)), selector.Parameters));
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.NotEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    }

                    break;
                case ComparisonTypes.SmallerThan:
                    if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(string))
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(
                            Expression.LessThan(
                                Expression.Call(
                                    selector.Body, typeof(string).GetMethod("CompareTo", new[] { typeof(string) }),
                                    Expression.Constant(value))
                                , Expression.Constant(0, typeof(int))
                            )
                        , selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    break;
                case ComparisonTypes.SmallerOrEquals:
                    if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(DateTime))
                    {
                        DateTime d2 = ((DateTime)(object)value).AddDays(1);
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(d2)), selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    else if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(string))
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(
                            Expression.LessThanOrEqual(
                                Expression.Call(
                                    selector.Body, typeof(string).GetMethod("CompareTo", new[] { typeof(string) }),
                                    Expression.Constant(value))
                                , Expression.Constant(0, typeof(int))
                            )
                        , selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.LessThanOrEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    }

                    break;
                case ComparisonTypes.GreaterThan:
                    if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(DateTime))
                    {
                        DateTime d2 = ((DateTime)(object)value).AddDays(1);
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.GreaterThanOrEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(d2)), selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    else if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(string))
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(
                            Expression.GreaterThan(
                                Expression.Call(
                                    selector.Body, typeof(string).GetMethod("CompareTo", new[] { typeof(string) }),
                                    Expression.Constant(value))
                                , Expression.Constant(0, typeof(int))
                            )
                        , selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.GreaterThan(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    }

                    break;
                case ComparisonTypes.GreaterOrEquals:
                    if (typeof(DataType) == typeof(string))
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(
                            Expression.GreaterThanOrEqual(
                                Expression.Call(
                                    selector.Body, typeof(string).GetMethod("CompareTo", new[] { typeof(string) }),
                                    Expression.Constant(value))
                                , Expression.Constant(0, typeof(int))
                            )
                        , selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.GreaterThanOrEqual(selector.Body, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    }
                    break;
                case ComparisonTypes.Like:
                    result = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, bool>>(Expression.Call(selector.Body, "Contains", null, Expression.Constant(value)), selector.Parameters);
                    break;
            }

            if (expressions != null)
            {
                foreach (var exp in expressions) result = result.And(exp);
            }

            return result.Expand();
        }

This allows for building virtually any condition you want and should cover most (if not all) cases. 

You can use this as follows:

this.BuildCondition<Student, string>(s => s.Name, this.Value, this.Comparison);

Putting this together (using the brilliant linqkit) you can use:
 

var query = context.Students.Include(s=>s.Courses.Select(c=>c.Course));
var condition = this.BuildCondition<Student, string>(s => s.Name, this.Value, this.Comparison);
var pr = PredicateBuilder.New<T>();
pr.And(condition); //You can also use the Or here, depending on what you want to achieve.
query = query.AsExpandable().Where(pr.Expand());
var result = query.ToList();

There you have it, a full working view with conditions. Well, there is a bit more to it to make it reusable for your setup. Please see the attached project for more information and a fully working example. The DB is build in the configuration, so just run “update-database” from the Package Manager Console in Visual Studion.

Points of Interest

The very annoying part is that Linq doesn’t support “Or” statements. Luckily LinqKit provides a way around that.  Other then that, this provides a good start for creating your own code based views with the Entity Framework. That said, it´s recommended to use normal Views whenever possible as that is much easier to optimize for performance.

History

– First version with a basic description of how to make the conditions.

– Made links to websites actual links.

– Updated link to Expression to point to the class rather than the concept.

– Some small text enhancements, addition of proper <code> tags