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The basics of BLOBs : Developing against containers (part 1) - Accessing the StorageClient library & Accessing development storage

3/4/2011 8:48:00 AM
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Before we start writing some code against the containers, we should probably discuss where this type of functionality is useful.

If you just need a shared storage area where you can read BLOBs, you’ll probably eventually use the Azure Drive functionality rather than interacting with the BLOB storage APIs directly. Even so, it’s still useful to understand how the BLOB storage APIs work, because Azure Drive interacts with these APIs too.

If you need a scalable application in which more than one role needs to write to a single shared storage area, then you’ll need to use the StorageClient library or the REST APIs directly.

Over the next few sections, we’ll be looking at the kinds of operations you can perform against containers. Using containers is particularly interesting when you need to dynamically create storage areas and assign permissions to different parties in a scalable fashion. Typical scenarios for using containers are file hosting, enterprise workflows, and data manipulation applications that need to access data. In the next chapter, we’ll look at how you can use containers in these kinds of scenarios by generating dynamic keys; we’ll also talk about setting permissions on containers.

For now, we’ll return to our podcast example. You need a method of creating public and private containers to store your original and converted podcasts in. In this sample application, you’ll create an ASP.NET web form page in which to do that. Your final application will look like the screenshot displayed in figure 1.

Figure 1. When you’ve finished this section, you’ll have an application that can display a list of containers in your storage account using ASP.NET.

Over the next few sections we’ll look at the following topics, which will help you build the web page displayed in figure 1:

By the end of this section, you’ll have created the above web page and you’ll have a vast knowledge of containers.

Before we get started, you need to create a new web role project in Visual Studio . You should call this web role PodcastSample.

1. Accessing the StorageClient library

There are two ways of interacting with any of the storage services: you can either use the REST API directly or you can use the StorageClient library API.

One of the reasons that we’ll look at both methods is that the StorageClient library is just a .NET wrapper for the REST API. For new features, Microsoft will often release the REST API call before adding the feature to the StorageClient library. By understanding both methods of interaction, you’ll be able to use any new feature immediately (if you need to).

Another reason for looking at the REST API is that the underlying mechanism is heavily abstracted away from you. By understanding the underlying calls, you can make the best decisions architecturally for your application (especially regarding performance).

Now you might be thinking, “If the REST API is so great, why are we using the StorageClient library?” The answer to that is quite simple: as flexible as the REST API is to use, it’s one huge pain. Using the REST API directly means we get to write unreadable code; HttpWebRequest code with no IntelliSense support. By using the StorageClient library wherever possible, we get to write familiar .NET code (with IntelliSense support), which increases productivity. We can ultimately spend more time doing more important things (like browsing the internet or playing Halo).

Although the StorageClient library (Microsoft.WindowsAzure.StorageClient.dll) is automatically referenced in any new web or worker role projects that you create, you can add the reference manually if you need to. You can find the reference at C:\Program Files\Windows Azure SDK\v1.1\ref\.

You don’t need to add this assembly to your project; it’s already referenced. But when you’re building your own code, you’ll probably want to split your code into proper layers. If you do that, you’ll need to add the assembly to your own custom assembly.

Now that you know how to reference your assembly, let’s look at how you configure the StorageClient library to access your development storage account.

2. Accessing development storage

To use development storage for storing BLOBs, you need to configure your application to use the development BLOB service in the same way as you would if it were the live system.

There are two ways to tell your code to connect to the local development storage. The first is to use a magic string as your connection string. If you set your connection string to UseDevelopmentStorage=true, the development storage fabric will respond to the connections. You can also put in the real development storage fabric connection. The format of the connection string for development storage will look a lot like a production connection string. The following parts are all that’s different:

  • Account name— The only account name that’s supported for development storage is the default name, devstoreaccount1.

  • Account shared key— The default name for this value is this: Eby8vdM02xNOcqFlqUwJPLlmEtlCDXJ1OUzFT50u SRZ6IFsuFq2UVErCz4I6tq/K1SZFPTOtr/KBHBeksoGMGw==

  • Endpoint— The BLOB storage endpoint for development storage BLOB services is by default To access the BLOB file in the example in  this section   from the development storage BLOB service, you would use the following URI: This URI can be formalized as<StorageAccountName>/<Container>/<BlobName>.

You can change the default values for each of these items in the DSService.exe.config file, but it’s recommended that you use the default values.

In development storage, there’s no ability to create or host multiple storage accounts and there’s no Azure portal, so you can’t easily generate a new key. The endpoints and URI structure also differ from the live system.

With that knowledge in hand, let’s look at how you can use this information to access your account in code.

Storing Account Details in the Service Configuration File

To make things a little easier, the Windows Azure SDK provides a property that will spin up a CloudStorageAccount object with the default development storage settings:

CloudStorageAccount = CloudStorageAccount.DevelopmentStorageAccount;

Although this is probably the quickest method of getting started, it isn’t best practice. Starting this way, you’re effectively hardcoding your application to your development account. You’d have to modify and recompile your code before you could deploy your application to the live system, which can complicate your build process and introduce bugs.

The best practice for storing this information is to store the data in the service configuration file, which gives you the option to change this information without redeploying the whole application. For example, if your shared key is compromised, then you would be able to generate a new shared key and modify your application to use the new key by simply changing the service configuration via the Azure portal.

To help you easily use the ServiceConfiguration.cscfg file to store your account details, the StorageClient library provides a method that can extract the account name, shared key, and endpoint from a configuration setting. The following call is used by the library to extract these values:

CloudStorageAccount =

In the above example, your account details will be extracted from a configuration setting named DataConnectionString.

Although this code is specific to the StorageClient library, you should still store the account details in the service configuration file, even if you’re using the REST API directly. Storing the details there will simplify and standardize your code and allow you to easily use both the StorageClient library and the REST API directly within your application (you don’t want to have to modify two different settings to access your account).

Now that you know how easy it is to extract an account from your configuration, let’s look at how you define that configuration setting.

Defining Configuration Settings

You’ll first need to define your configuration settings in the service definition file before you can configure them. The following setting is the standard method of defining your storage account in your service definition file.

<Setting name="DataConnectionString"/>

Notice in this code that DataConnectionString is the same name that was passed to the FromConfigurationSetting method to extract the account name, shared key, and endpoint values.

Communicating with Development Storage

After you’ve defined the configuration settings, you can set the runtime values in your service configuration file. The following configuration settings are the defaults used to talk to development storage:

<Setting name="DataConnectionString"
value="UseDevelopmentStorage=true" />

By setting the value of DataConnectionString to UseDevelopmentStorage=true, you’re effectively telling the storage client to extract your settings from the DSService.exe.config file, which gives you the same result as using the DevelopmentStorageAccount property.

The advantage of using the FromConfigurationSetting method over the DevelopmentStorageAccount property is that you can modify the service configuration file to use the live account details (shown later in this chapter) without having to recompile or redeploy your application.

Now that your application is configured to use development storage via the StorageClient library, you can continue on and create your web page.

Other -----------------
- The basics of BLOBs : Getting started with development storage
- A closer look at the BLOB storage service
- Storing files in a scaled-out fashion is a pain in the NAS (part 2) - The BLOB service approach to file management
- Storing files in a scaled-out fashion is a pain in the NAS (part 1) - Traditional approaches to BLOB management
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