Xamarin.Tips – MVVM Light Set Expressions Explained

I recently published a post about creating some Visual Studio code snippets for shorcutting the overhead of writing bindable properties and commands with MvvmLight. Xamarin.Tips – Visual Studio Code Templates/Snippets for MVVM Light

This post sparked some people who may or may not have used  Mvvm Light in the past to ask me about how it works underneath, and specifically the Set call made. For example:

private string _myText;

public string MyText
{
    get
    {
        return _myText;
    }
    set
    {
        // This is where the questions are.
        Set(() => MyText, ref _myText, value);
    }
}

I figured I would make another post to dissect this and explain what it is and how it is used!


First off, why are we doing this at all? What does this really do for us?

We use MvvmLight in order to create two-way or one-way bindings to our views whether that is in WPF, UWP, or Xamarin.Forms. The way these bindings are handled is by implementing INotifyPropertyChanged. When we implement INotifyPropertyChanged, we create a public event called PropertyChanged. PropertyChanged takes a custom EventArgs that includes the name of the property that was changed as a string. You would invoke that like this:

PropertyChanged?.Invoke(new PropertyChangedEventArgs("MyText"));

We can then have an event handler attached to this:

myViewModel.PropertyChanged += (sender, args) =>
{
    Console.WriteLine(args.PropertyName); // "MyText"
};

However, platforms such as WPF, UWP, and Xamarin give us the ability to use XAML to create these bindings like this (in Xamarin.Forms):

<Label Text="{Binding MyText}"/>

Setting bindings like this creates event handlers in the background if the BindingContext (or DataContext if you’re in UWP/WPF) implements INotifyPropertyChanged.

So now we can create auto-updating views with our bindings and calling PropertyChanged, but that’s a pain to do for every single property. That’s where libraries like MvvmLight come into play. They help handle a lot of the manual calls and ugly code. So now let’s look at what MvvmLight is really doing under the covers.

First, we need to look at the ViewModelBase class that MvvmLight ships and that contains the Set method we are talking about. ViewModelBase inherits from ObservableObject (another class MvvmLight), and ObservableObject is what is implementing INotifyPropertyChanged! We found it!

So how are ViewModelBase.Set and ObservableObject.Set making their way to calling PropertyChanged?

Let’s dissect the three parameters for the Set method used in the templates I created:

Set(() => MyText, ref _myText, value);
  1. The first is of type Expression<Func>. It is an expression that is returning the property that is calling it? This is where the fun stuff is really happening, so more on that later.
  2. The second is the underlying field that needs to be updated, passed in as a reference type rather than by value.
  3. The third is the new value that it is being set to.

The last two seem to make sense right away: what field are we updating, and what is the value we are setting it to? We need to pass the field in as a ref so that when we update it, it updates in the original model that passed it in rather than simply passing the value of the field into the method.

So what is that Expression?

The only thing left in order to call PropertyChanged is the name of the property being updated, so that must be what the property expression is for. Without decompiling the MvvmLight dlls and looking at the source code, we can infer how we might be able to pull the property name out of that Expression.

First, we need to get the Body of the Expression as a System.Linq.Expression.MemberExpression. The MemberExpression has a Member property which we can then pull property info from. We can cast that Member as a System.Reflection.PropertyInfo, and with that PropertyInfo, we can take the name of the property.

Expression<Func<string>> myTextExpression = () => MyText;
var body = myTextExpression.Body as MemberExpression;
var member = body.Member as PropertyInfo;
var finalPropertyName = member.Name; // we have it!

Then the final step is to finally invoke PropertyChanged with that property name.

I do also want to point out that although I use this particular Set method from MvvmLight, the ObservableObject and ViewModelBase do come with multiple overloads of Set that might work better for your preferred practices. For example, you can call Set without the property expression, and just pass the name of the property in directly. For example:

private string _myText;

public string MyText
{
    get
    {
        return _myText;
    }
    set
    {
        Set("MyText", ref _myText, value); 
    }
}

OR to be even more optimized, you can use nameof to get the name of the property without having to have string-literals floating around in your code:

private string _myText;

public string MyText
{
    get
    {
        return _myText;
    }
    set
    {
        Set(nameof(MyText), ref _myText, value); 
    }
}

Here are all the overloads available to use:

ViewModelBase.cs

protected bool Set<T>(Expression<Func<T>> propertyExpression, ref T field, T newValue, bool broadcast);
protected bool Set<T>(string propertyName, ref T field, T newValue = default(T), bool broadcast = false);
protected bool Set<T>(ref T field, T newValue = default(T), bool broadcast = false, [CallerMemberName] string propertyName = null);

ObservableObject.cs

// THIS IS THE ONE WE WERE USING
protected bool Set<T>(Expression<Func<T>> propertyExpression, ref T field, T newValue);
protected bool Set<T>(string propertyName, ref T field, T newValue);
protected bool Set<T>(ref T field, T newValue, [CallerMemberName] string propertyName = null);

If you happen to have any other questions about how this works, or about breaking down Expressions like we did, feel free to drop a comment on this post, or mention me on Twitter @Suave_Pirate.



And as always:



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3 thoughts on “Xamarin.Tips – MVVM Light Set Expressions Explained”

  1. You can also set your backing field like this:
    Set(ref _myText, value);

    In this case, “MyText” is being passed to the Set method, because the propertyName parameter (with default value null) has got the CallerMemberName attribute.

    Like

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