Category Archives: Step-by-Step

Two Roles and a Queue – Creating an Azure Service with Web and Worker Roles Communicating through a Queue

Two Roles and a Queue Lab from Boston Azure Firestarter

At the Firestarter event on May 8, 2010, I spoke about Roles and Queues and worked through a coding lab on same. The final code is available in a zip file. The Boston Azure Firestarter – Bill Wilder – Roles and Queues deck can be downloaded – though since there were so many questions we didn’t get to covering a number many of the slides! – this was a hot topic!

The remainder of this post contains the narrative for the LAB we did as a group at the Firestarter. It probably will not stand alone super well, but may be of interest to some folks, so I’ve posted it.

The following procedure assumes Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2010 Express on Windows 7. The same general steps apply to Visual Studio 2008, Visual Studio 2010, and Web Developer 2008 Express versions, though details will vary.

0. Open Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2010 Express and select File | New Project

1. Select Windows Azure Service and click Okay:

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If you have trouble finding the Windows Azure Service template, you can type “Azure” into the search box in the top-right to narrow the options. Also, if you don’t have the Windows Azure SDK installed, you will need to install that before proceeding – but there will be a link provided by Visual Web Developer 2010 Express that will direct you to the right page. Install it if you need to and try again up to this point.

2. You will see a special dialog box for New Cloud Service Project from which you will add both a Web Role

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and a Worker Role

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Verify that both WebRole1 and WorkerRole1 are in the list on the right side, then click OK.

3. Before you begin making code changes, you can run your new application. You can run it in the debugger by pressing the F5 key.

You will probably get the following error message:

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The error message is telling you that you need to close Visual Web Developer 2010 Express and restart it with elevated privileges.

4. To start any Windows program with elevated privileges , right-click on the application then choose Run as administrator from the pop-up menu:

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Before it obeys your request to run as administrator, Windows 7 will double-check by popping up a security dialog.

Now you can reload your project and try running it again. The app should run and you should see a blank web browser page.

5. Once you’ve proven your application runs, it is time to make some changes.

Make the code changes indicated for the Two Roles and A Queue Lab in CODING STEP 1.

Note: the “coding step 1” and future coding steps were handouts (paper!) at the Boston Azure Firestarter on Sat May 8, 2010. In lieue of reproducing them here, I will post the final solution.

This lab will establish some WebRole basics.

6. When done applying CODING STEP 1, run the application again.

7. After demonstrating your application runs, Deploy it to Azure.

This is a simple application so it helps us get through the initial deployment with minimal challenges.

8. Apply CODING STEP 2 – Add Queue (in local dev fabric storage)

9. CODING STEP 3 – Add “DumpQueue” method and “FirestarterWebRoleHelpers.cs”

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You will get the following dialog box – type “code file” into the search area on the top-right, select Visual C# Code File, and type in the filename “FirestarterWebRoleHelpers.cs” as shown and click Add:

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The new file “FirestarterWebRoleHelpers.cs” will open in the editor. It should be empty to begin with. Cut and Paste in the contents from http://bostonazure.org/files/FirestarterWebRoleHelpers.cs.txt.

Why? The contents of this file has little to do with Windows Azure, so we don’t want to focus on it. But we want to use some utility routines from it so that we can focus on Azure concepts.

10. CODING STEP 4 – Adding Cloud-based Queue

First we need to configure the cloud.

Go to http://windows.azure.com and log in. You may wish to consult instructions on redeeming a token at https://blog.codingoutloud.com/2010/05/06/redeeming-an-azure-token/ or http://bit.ly/dgCuMn

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Your storage account has a subdomain, as circled above. This – and the Access Key – need to be added to your Web Role and Worker Role so that they can access (and share the same queue within) cloud-hosted storage.

Right-click in Visual Studio on the WebRole1, select Properties, and select the Settings tab on the left. It will appear something like this:

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Now click on Add Setting and give the new item the name “DataConnectionString”, the Type “Connection String”, and click on the “…”

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This will bring up the Storage Connection String editor – fill in the fields – where your “Account name” is the same as the subdomain shown on the Storage Service (see above – in that screen shot it is “bostonazurequeue”) and the Key can be either Primary or Secondary Access Key (from same area in the Azure Portal):

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You are NOT DONE in the screen yet. Also add a Setting named “StatusUpdateQueueName”– of Type “String” – with Value “updatemessagequeue1” as follows:

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Click OK.

11. Now REPEAT BOTH STEPS for WorkerRole1.

Yes, add both Settings also to WorkerRole1 – they both will end up with the same settings. You can “cheat” with cut and paste in the .cscfg and .csdef files.

12. Enable Cloud-hosted Queue from Web Role

Now you are ready go on to make the code changes to use this new configuration item.

Apply CODING STEP 4: Enabling the Cloud-hosted Queue from the Web Role

Now run your application using cloud storage for the queue:

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Note that you can also examine the contents of the queue online by visiting http://myAzureStorage.com and providing the same credentials you used when setting up the DataConnectionString above for both the Web and Worker roles.

13. Enable Cloud-hosted Queue from Worker Role

Now you are ALMOST ready go on to make the code changes to use this new configuration item.

Before applying the coding, we need to add a project reference (otherwise you won’t be able to Resolve use of networking classes used in the FirestarterWorkerRoleHelpers.). In Visual Studio on the right side, under the Solution Explorer, right-click on the References element underneath WorkerRole1 and select Add Reference, then from the .NET tab, select System.Web and click okay:

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Also, similar to step 9 above, add a new Code File called “FirestarterWorkerRoleHelpers.cs” to hold some additional needed (but not core to Azure) code.

The new file “FirestarterWorkerRoleHelpers.cs” will open in the editor. It should be empty to begin with. Cut and Paste in the contents from http://bostonazure.org/files/FirestarterWorkerRoleHelper.cs.txt.

Now you can apply Apply CODING STEP 5: Enabling the Cloud-hosted Queue from the Worker Role.

14. Deploying to Staging Area in Cloud to Staging

15. Cutover from Staging to Production

16. Add in secret Twitter posting code from your Worker Role…

Yes, this can be done by including a hash character (#) as part of the message you type into your web application.

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Redeeming an Azure Token

At some select events (like Boston Azure Firestarter, Boston Azure User Group hands-on meeting, or even Protein Folding with Azure @home), Microsoft sometimes provides tokens for participants who wish to try out Windows Azure for real – by deploying real bits into the cloud – deploying multiple instances of Web Roles and Worker Roles, using Queue for scaling, storing data and blobs in Azure Storage and exercising SQL Azure… Some of the tokens are good for up to 4 weeks – which is awesomely convenient for really kicking the tires on Azure if you are a developer. Which I am… Here is a little guidance on getting your account set up once you have a token in hand.

Note that you will be interacting with the Windows Azure Developer Portal (or Dev Portal for short) to redeem your token and establish your temporary account. The Dev Portal is useful to learn about and get to know.

1. First visit http://windows.azure.com and log in with the provided credentials. Use the provided email address for your Windows Live ID.

(NOTE: If any of the images in this post are too small to read, click on them to see a larger version.)

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2. You will see a screen like the following. Note the row with the light blue background; this background color only appears when your mouse is hovering there. Click on the Project Name that matches your token account name.

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(Notice that the account owner is “waaccts@microsoft.com” – this is because you are using a Token. Azure supports having an overall account that pays the bills, then sub-accounts for developers. This is an example.)

3.  Now you are in! You can proceed to review some of the help resources lists, or click around on any of the tabs to the left. But to create a new application that you can host on the Azure cloud, you can click on the “New Service” link next to the green “+” sign.

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4. After you choose “New Service” you will see the following. Note the two main options in the middle for Storage Account and Hosted Services.

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Select Hosted Services to begin. Be sure to click on the words “Hosted Services” as opposed to the “Learn More” link, as they are different.

5. The next page will ask you for a name – this name will only be used to help you identify this service from a list in the developer portal, so don’t spend too much time coming up with the perfect name. You don’t need to provide anything for the Description.

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After providing a name, click Next.

6.  Now you are faced with a form where the choices you make actually do matter.  Here’s what’ you’ll need to do:

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Type in a “Public Service Name” – this will be the Internet-visible sub-domain from which your deployed application will be visible. For example, if you choose “foo” then your Azure Service will live at http://foo.cloudapp.net after you publish it.

After you settle on a Public Service Name (using Check Availability button as need), you also need to select a Region. Pick the “anywhere” region in your continent (or closest to your continent) such as Anywhere US and click Create.

Here’s what mine looked like before I clicked Create:

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Now your Azure Service has been created.

7. You will see a screen inviting you to Deploy a Hosted Service Package. We won’t do that now (though you could if you had an application ready). Instead, we will create an Azure Storage Account. From here:

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Click on the “New Service” link which is near the top-left – below the large Windows Azure logo – and you will see the same screen you saw in step 4:

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This time select Storage Account and you will see the following:

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Give it a name, as I did in screenshot, and click Next.

8. As in step 5, this is also an important choice, though not visible to humans visiting your site. You will need to know this address to program against it. Of course you can look it up in the Dev Portal at any time, but why not choose a logical name. Fill in the fields similar to step 5 – be sure to choose the same Region you chose with step 5 – and click Create.

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9. You are now ready to build and deploy Azure applications that use Web Roles, Worker Roles, and various kinds of storage.

You will need the keys shows to programmatically access your storage.

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You can always come back and look up the values of these keys, of course. Also, if a key is compromised, you can regenerate it easily, invalidating the prior one. There are two separate keys that can be used/invalidated independently. These keys are specific to this Storage Service you created; you can create more Storage Services with different keys and even use multiple of them together.

Getting Started with Windows Azure Development

This is an update from an old post on Azure Development Requirements, this time focused on a reasonable stack of tools for Azure development. (The structure is based on list from Jason Haley which he prepared for a talk to the April 29, 2010 meeting of the Boston Azure cloud computing user group.)

How-To Configure an Azure Development Environment

0. Operating System Running IIS 7.x

No way of getting around the need for a Windows operating system that runs IIS 7.0 or IIS 7.5 — either directly or indirectly (see note below on using virtualization).

The operating system versions that support IIS 7.0 include:

  • Vista Business Edition and Ultimate

The operating system versions that support IIS 7.5 include:

What happens if I don’t have Vista, Win 7, or Server 2008?

There is one other hope. Use Virtual PC (or your favorite virtualization solution) and run an instance of a supported operating system in a virtual mode. (This blog post on creating a virtual machine image for Windows 7 using Virtual PC 2007 may help.)

Once you have an operating environment – real or virtual – the rest is the same.

How do I enable IIS 7.x to run?

If you are running a desktop version of Windows (Vista or Windows 7), it is likely you need to enable IIS through the control panel. Here are step-by-step instructions for enabling IIS 7.5 on Windows 7.

If you are doing this to prepare for the April 29 Boston Azure or the May 8th Firestarter meeting, please make sure you have enabled IIS7 with ASP.NET and have WCF HTTP Activation enabled.

1. Visual Studio

You need a copy of Visual Studio that supports Azure development. Currently your options are Visual Studio 2008 SP1Visual Studio 2010 (many editions), and Visual Web Developer 2010 Express Edition.

If you don’t know which version of Visual Studio to install, go with Visual Web Developer 2010 Express Edition (which is also free).

2. Windows Azure Tools and SDK

Download and install Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio 1.1 (Feb 2010) – this includes the Windows Azure SDK (and its samples)

Pay special attention to the first note at the top of that post:

Visual Studio must be run as an Administrator

You must run Visual Studio with elevated permissions when building Cloud Services for Windows Azure.

It is possible to create a shortcut that will launch Visual Studio with administrative permissions by setting the “Run as Administrator” checkbox in the Advanced Properties page of the Shortcut tab; this is available from the Properties menu option off of the context menu.

3. Microsoft SQL Server

A local installation of SQL Server is needed for local development work involving SQL Azure, Azure Table Storage, or Azure queues.

You only need to do this step if you didn’t install a version of SQL Server during Step 1 (above) while installing Visual Studio.

If you do not have a paid license for SQL Server, your best bet is to download a free copy of either Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express or Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express.

If you don’t know which version of SQL Server to install, go with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express (which is also free).

4. Windows Azure Platform Training Kit

At least for the April Boston Azure meeting, you will  also need the Windows Azure Platform Training Kit (Dec 2009 update) since Jason Haley (the main speaker) will assume we have this installed so he can reference it during the meeting.

5. Future Optional Extra Credit Tools

Once you have deployed to the cloud, you may also be interested in:

  • Fiddler (for IE) and Firebug (for Firefox) to spy on http traffic going back and forth to a deployed Azure app
  • What else?

6. Do You Have a Token?

If you are lucky enough to have a token for free (though time-limited) access to Azure services in the cloud, here’s How to Redeem an Azure Token.

Three ways to tell if a .NET Assembly (DLL) has Strong Name

Three ways to tell if a .NET Assembly is Strongly Named (or has Strong Name)

Here are several convenient ways to tell whether a .NET assembly is strongly named(English language note: I assume the form “strongly named” is preferred over “strong named” since that’s the form used in the output of the sn.exe tool shown immediately below.)

Towards the end, this post discusses use of Strong Names with Silverlight.

Then in the final section of this post the often confusing – though very important – differences between Strongly Named assemblies and Digitally Signed assemblies are clarified.

But first, here are three approaches for telling whether a .NET Assembly is Strongly Named...

Approach #1: Testing for Strong Name on Command Line or in a Script

You tell whether an Assembly/DLL has been successfully strong-named using the Strong Name Tool (sn.exe) (which can be found somewhere like here: C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.0A\bin\sn.exe) by running the following at the command line:

sn -vf System.Data.dll

Here are the results when running against a strongly named assembly, then one that is not strongly named.

C:\> sn -v C:\WINDOWS\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\System.Data.dll
Microsoft (R) .NET Framework Strong Name Utility  Version 4.0.30128.1
Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.
Assembly 'C:\...\System.Data.dll' is valid
C:\> sn -v C:\WINDOWS\ismif32.dll
Microsoft (R) .NET Framework Strong Name Utility  Version 4.0.30128.1
Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.
C:\WINDOWS\ismif32.dll does not represent a strongly named assembly

Since the return value from sn.exe is 0 (zero) when the strong name is in place, and 1 (one) if not correctly strong named, you can test for this in a script by examining ERRORLEVEL, as in the following (put it into a text file called “sn-test.bat” for example and run as “sn-test foo.dll”):

@ echo off
if "%1"=="" goto END 
sn -q -vf %1 > NUL 
if ERRORLEVEL 1 goto NOT_STRONG
:STRONG
echo Has strong name: %1
goto END
:NOT_STRONG
echo Not strong named: %1
goto END
:END

Note that this will tell you whether it has SOME strong name, but does not tell you which one. So this technique is not appropriate for all uses, but might help in, say, an automated script that checks your about-to-be-released assemblies to make sure you remembered to add the strong names to them. (See note below – “Strong Names not for Security”.)

If you need finer-grain control and wish to write low-level code to ascertain the strong-naming status of an assembly, you can do that too.

Approach #2: Viewing Strong Name Details with IL DASM

Visual Studio ships with a handy utility – the Microsoft Intermediate Language Disassembler (ILDASM.EXE (tutorial)) – which can be used for disassembling .NET binaries to peruse the contents, perhaps for viewing the method signatures or viewing the .NET Assembly Manifest. It is helpful to load an assembly using IL DASM and examine the manifest to see whether there is a strong name key available. Your first step is to load the desired Assembly using the ildasm.exe utility. On my Windows 7 machine, IL DASM is found at

C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.0A\bin\ildasm.exe

and you can load up the System.Drawing.dll .NET Assembly as in the following example:

C:\> ildasm C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\System.Drawing.dll

Once loaded, you will see a screen like the one below.

Note the MANIFEST section highlighted. Double-click on MANIFEST which load the following screen of manifest-specific data:

Find the section for the Assembly you’ve loaded – in this case, System.Drawing and following the section (which is marked with the “.assembly System.Drawing” directive highlighted above, and the content begins with the opening brace (“{“) shown above, and ends with its matching brace later in the manifest, and shown below.

The highlighted part of the manifest is the public key for this assembly. This public key can also be seen using the sn.exe tool, as follows:

C:\> sn -Tp C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\System.Drawing.dll echo Not strong named: %1
Microsoft (R) .NET Framework Strong Name Utility  Version 3.5.30729.1
Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.
Public key is 002400000480000094000000060200000024000052534131000400000100010007d1fa57c4aed9 f0a32e84aa0faefd0de9e8fd6aec8f87fb03766c834c99921eb23be79ad9d5dcc1dd9ad2361321 02900b723cf980957fc4e177108fc607774f29e8320e92ea05ece4e821c0a5efe8f1645c4c0c93 c1ab99285d622caa652c1dfad63d745d6f2de5f17e5eaf0fc4963d261c8a12436518206dc09334 4d5ad293
Public key token is b03f5f7f11d50a3a

Note that the Public key in the output from sn.exe matches the highlighted public key in the image immediately above it (of course you should ignore the spaces between pairs of digits in the screen shot).

If an assembly is not strongly named, the Public key will be missing from the manifest and will not be displayed by sn -Tp command.

Since IL DASM comes with both Visual Studio and with the .NET SDK, it is already on the desktop for most .NET Developers, and is therefore sometimes the handiest tool. The third option, .NET Reflector, is a third-party tool, though one adopted by many .NET Developers due to its awesomeness. Reflector conveniently shows more details about the strong name.

Approach #3: Viewing Strong Name Details with Reflector

You can load an assembly in the free version RedGate’s .NET Reflector and quickly see the strong name details – or lack thereof for non-strong named assemblies. In the image below, see at the bottom where the strong name string is highlighted. Note that the strong name has five parts (though the Culture is optional):

  1. Simple Name or Assembly name without the “.dll” extension (“System.Data” in case of assembly “System.Data.dll”)
  2. Assembly version (“2.0.0.0” in case of “System.Data.dll”)
  3. Culture (“neutral” in case of “System.Data.dll”, but might be “en-us” for US English, or one of many others)
  4. Public Key or PublicKeyToken (public part of the cryptographic public/private key pair used to strong name the assembly, “b77a5c561934e089” in case of “System.Data.dll”)
  5. Processor Architecture – Defines the assembly’s format, such as MSIL (intermediate language) or x86 (binary for Intel x86 processors)

Using Reflector to show strong name

In the next image, see at the bottom where the LACK OF complete name string is highlighted; this assembly does not have a strong name to display, so “Name” field includes a null value for PublicKeyToken. (Note that in the real world, Spring.Core.dll is in fact released as strongly named by the good folks on the Spring.NET project; the screen shot below was done on a non-production version of that DLL.)

Reflector shows missing strong name

While you are at it… make Reflector the default program for “launching” assemblies (actually would need to be for all files ending in the .DLL extension, but Reflector is smart enough to not choke on non-.NET assemblies).

Approach #4: (Bonus!) Viewing Strong Name with Windows Explorer

This post promised three ways to tell if a .NET Assembly has a strong name – but here is a bonus 4th way. Windows Explorer will not show you the strong name characteristics of an assembly, with one exception – for assemblies in the Global Assembly Cache (GAC), strong name data is included in the Properties dialog. If  you are examining the GAC, this can be handy.

Of course, if an assembly is in the GAC at all, it is strongly named by definition; assemblies are required by .NET to be strongly named to be allowed in the GAC.

Strong Naming for Silverlight

Silverlight also has support for strongly named assemblies, which is needed for the Cached Assembly Feature introduced in Silverlight 3.0.

(Silverlight 4 also introduces supports for digital signatures on XAP files, created by signtool.exe, which are validated by the Silverlight runtime for out-of-browser (OOB) applications running with elevated trust.)

Strongly Name Assembly != Digitally Signed Assembly

Strong Names and Digital Signatures are Orthogonal Concerns – Almost

Strongly Naming and Digitally Signing are largely orthogonal concerns. They have different purposes, different tools, and the digital certificates may come from different sources (for publicly distributed binaries, the certs for Digital Signing usually will come from a PKI source, though that is not essential for the Strong Naming certs).

The only dependency among them is that if the Assembly is to be Strongly Named, then the Strong Naming step has to happen before the Digital Signing step.

How do I check whether an assembly is Digitally Signed? You can run the following command to determine whether assembly “foo.dll” is digitally signed:

signtool verify /pa foo.dll

If you want to see the hash – for example, to compare with another assembly’s hash – then you can view it using the following command sequence:

signtool verify /v /pa /ph foo.dll | find "Hash"

Of course, you can use sn.exe and signtool.exe together (one after another) to examine an assembly to ascertain both whether it is strongly named and whether it has been digitally signed.

Strong Names are NOT for Security!

Finally, a word of caution… Strong names are about versioning, not about security. Strong names are more about avoiding DLL Hell (which is largely an accidental concern) than about avoiding hackers (which is deliberate). While a strong name may help alert you to tampering, realize that strong names can be hacked, and Microsoft emphasizes that  strong-named assemblies do not give the same level of trust as digitally signing:

Strong names provide a strong integrity check. Passing the .NET Framework security checks guarantees that the contents of the assembly have not been changed since it was built. Note, however, that strong names in and of themselves do not imply a level of trust like that provided, for example, by a digital signature and supporting certificate.

Consider digitally signing your .NET assemblies if it is important to you or your customers that the origin of the assemblies be traceable and verifiable. One source of digital certificates that can be used for Digitally Signing assemblies is Verisign which has Authenticode Certificates.

See also the response to this comment for more details.

Make Reflector the default action for opening .NET Assemblies in Windows Explorer

Many .NET developers know and love the .NET Reflector tool. If you are one of them, consider making Reflector the default action for when you double-click on (i.e., open) a .DLL file. Just like assigning Microsoft Word to open .DOC files, you can assign a program to open your .DLL files. It is easy… Here are the instructions for Windows 7 – for other versions of Windows the process is similar.

1. Download Reflector and install it; remember where it is installed

2. Using Windows Explorer, navigate to any DLL file on your computer

3. Right-click on the DLL and select “Open with…” from the popup menu

4. From the Caution dialog that appears, select “Open with…” (yes, you have to select it twice, once in step 3, again in step 4):

5. From the dialog that appears, choose the second option – “Select a program from a list of installed programs”:

6. Now you will simply need to choose  the “Browse…” button and navigate to wherever it is you installed Reflector.exe, click the “Open” button and you are done.

Now whenever you want to examine a DLL in Reflector, you can double-click on it from Windows Explorer. If you tool around in the command line like I sometimes will do, you can also launch the DLL in Reflector by just “running” it from the command line like you might do for a .txt document to open it in Notepad.

Realize that Reflector can’t do much with a DLL that is not actually a .NET Assembly, but will handle that case gracefully.

The Project Location is not Trusted – Dealing with the Dreaded Unblock

The Project Location is not Trusted

Dealing with the dreaded blocked files problem

Quickly Unblocking files marked as Unsafe

Ever download a Zip (or other files) and have to manually “Unblock” one or more files through Windows Explorer’s Properties dialog, like this?

Perhaps you been mystified by a message like this one from Visual Studio?

Mysterious Visual Studio error message

Read on to understand what’s happening and to learn how to more easily deal with Unblocking such downloaded files on Windows 7, Vista, and XP.

Why does this happen? Why do files become “Blocked”?

It appears that Internet Explorer (versions 7 and  8, maybe late patches in IE 6) applies the “block” in a stream (see below for more on streams). Some programs handle these “blocked” files more gracefully than others (looks like the latest Adobe PDF reader can read files like this w/o error).

I’ve seen blocking happen when downloading Visual Studio solutions from the web or from an email. I’ve also seen it when downloading documents to disk for use later. You can view the file’s properties in Windows Explorer to see if the block is there (look for the “Unblock” option, as seen above).

Another option is to use Notepad as illustrated in Colin Mackay’s Tip of the Day from nearly a year ago:

notepad MyDownloadedFile.zip:zone.identifier

Of course, substitute your filename in instead of BostonAzureSite.zip, but keep everything else identical. You will see the external zone stream:

[ZoneTransfer]
ZoneId=3

Windows is protecting us from ourselves. I guess if you don’t know what you are doing, you could hurt yourself; you’ve downloaded something “untrusted” from the interweb. This “protection” is in Windows 7 and Windows Vista, and apparently can even appear in Windows XP if certain Microsoft software updates are installed. I assume this has some benefits to someone!

But if you are a programmer / hacker / techie, and are comfortable hacking and generally know what you are doing, read on…

Easily Unblock downloaded files marked by IE as Unsafe

Normally, to Unblock files, you need to visit them one at a time with Windows Explorer, pop up the properties, and click on the Unblock button. This is tedious. If you want to be able to Unblock files more quickly, including whole directory trees at once, then consider doing the following.

Go get streams.exe from the big brains at Systinternals (which is part of Microsoft) and copy the executable to c:\bin\streams.exe. (If you put it somewhere else, make a compensating adjustment in the next step.)

Use Notepad to save the following into a text file named unblock-menu.reg and save it to disk:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell\UnBlock]

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell\UnBlock\command]
@="c:\\bin\\streams.exe -d -s \"%1\""

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shell\UnBlock]

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shell\UnBlock\command]
@="c:\\bin\\streams.exe -d \"%1\""

What do these Registry Settings do?

This file lists some registry settings that will allow you to invoke streams.exe from the right-click context menu in Windows Explorer. Depending on whether you right-click on a folder or a file, the context menu will vary, as will the action. For a folder (directory), the registry setting says “call the program streams.exe with the parameters ‘-d -s’ and name-of-whatever-folder-i-clicked-on” which will cause streams.exe to visit each file in that directory tree and remove its streams information. If you right-click on just one file, the command is similar, except does not use the “-s” flag (which says to recurse into subdirectories).

Now install these registry settings by executing this file, probably by double-clicking on unblock-menu.reg from Windows Explorer. You will probably get a warning from Windows saying you must be nuts to attempt to modify the registry. However, if you are a programmer you are probably cool with it (and may also be nuts).

Now you are ready for the next time Windows protects you from yourself by blocking content you didn’t want marked as unsafe in the first place. You can right-click on any file or directory on your computer and select “Unblock” and that will apply the Unblock process. If you apply it to a file, it will only impact that file. If you apply it to a directory (aka folder) then it will recursively apply to all files and directories below that folder.

Here’s what you will see when you right-click on a directory / folder from Windows Explorer – note the new option:

And here’s what you will see when you right-click on a file:

Other Options

I learned about the streams.exe utility from a handy post about unblocking files for Vista. In that same post, they describe how to turn the feature off altogether using the Policy Editor.

Caveat Emptor

With great power comes great responsiblility.

I do not advise applying streams.exe to C:\ as I have no idea whether it is ever a good idea to remove all streams from all files. This may in fact be a very bad thing to do. I just don’t know.  I am personally comfortable doing it with Visual Studio projects and various documents I’ve downloaded, and have not run into any trouble, but be careful out there…

Note that the streams utility will nuke *all* the streams. So if your files contain useful additionals streams, this is probably not going to be a helpful strategy. I expect this is not likely to be a problem for the vast majority of people.

Interesting write-up on Alternate Data Streams, which are a feature of NTFS file system. Even some interesting streams hacks out there.

Creating a Windows 7 Virtual Machine Image using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

cool-monkey-thinker

Executive Summary

This post describes how to install Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, followed by a detailed walk-through of how to create a virtual machine image of a fresh Windows 7 installation using Virtual PC 2007.

In this post I concentrate on creating a Virtual PC image for Windows 7, but the steps for the other operating systems are similar.

Note this post deals with concerns for Developers. This post does not cover use of (related) virtualization techniques which are very popular today on the server-side.

Why Use Virtual Machines?

There are several reasons to use a Virtual PC-managed virtual machine for development:

You don’t want to install Pre-Release software (like a CTP – Community Technology Preview, which means “very rough”) or beta software directly on your development machine. A virtual machine environment makes it easy to manage these without risking your real machine.

You want to experiment. You may want to try out some testing with 4 GB or RAM, then maybe with 1/2 GB or RAM – so you know what to expect. Or you to keep testing something that changes your machine – and need to “start from scratch” frequently.

You want to run multiple operating systems. You may want to run Windows 7 to make sure your apps run fine on it – but you also don’t want to give up XP quite yet. You can run Windows 7 within a Windows XP host.

You want to set up a machine configuration and reuse it. You go through a lot of trouble to get your configuration “just so” and now want to share that with colleagues – or with yourself (on your home machine).

Are there other Virtualization options?

If you are a developer running XP -or- are running Win 7 on hardware that does not support hardware virtualization, Virtual PC 2007 is very likely what you want.

If you are running Windows 7, you can look into Virtual PC (sometimes seen as Virtual PC 7) (which includes XP Mode). Unlike Virtual PC 2007 which will work regardless of whether you have hardware virtualization, Virtual PC will work ONLY WHEN your computer supports hardware virtualization. Does my PC support hardware virtualization (or XP Mode)?

Unlike Virtual PC 2007, Virtual PC is for Windows 7 will not work on XP (but will work on the Windows 7 beta, sometimes known as Vista :-).

Only one of Virtual PC -or- Virtual PC 2007 can be installed concurrently on any given machine.

From Microsoft, other vendors, and open source, there are other sources of virtualization technology, and some might even be compatible with Virtual PC or VHD. [Did you know VHD format is an open standard?]. Though, consider that Virtual PC 2007 does not cost anything beyond the Windows license you (presumably) already have. Microsoft has many virtualization solutions, some with different purposes, such as App-V which is more for enterprise roll-out of apps (get it? App-V) to minimize incompatibilities due to other apps or environmental changes.

For developers, let’s assume (for reasons stated above in prior section) that you want a parallel universe to run other software within – safely – like an early beta… Virtual Machine images make these scenarios possible and easy! Let’s get down to business and walk through how to install & configure these virtual images.

Ready to Get Started?

Enable Hardware Virtualization in your Computer

The newer your PC, the more likely it is that it supports hardware acceleration for Virtualization. If you have this, you want to enable it for better performance. You may need to enable it in your BIOS. Unfortunately, the specific instructions will vary by computer manufacturer, so you’ll need to search the web for steps to enable Hardware Assisted Virtualization.

Installing Virtual PC 2007

Visit the download page for Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 download page for Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 sp1 and then select the appropriate version for your system (that is, 32- or 64-bit version).

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Once downloaded, install it.

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If you already have an earlier version of Virtual PC installed, you will likely see this self-explanatory message to uninstall the older version. If you are upgrading to Virtual PC 2007 sp1 from Virtual PC 2007, the installer will handle it for you.

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Go to your trusty Add or Remove Programs applet and remove any remnants of old Virtual PC installs and proceed.

You can run Virtual PC 2007 and look in Help > About to see which version you are running. Version “Microsoft Virtual PC 6.0.192.0” is Virtual PC 2007 sp1, which is the one expected by the rest of this post.

Installing Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

Run Virtual PC 2007 installer

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.. fill in your own info here, of course.

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I kept the default installation location and let it rip. It completed around 2 minutes later.

NOW GET DOWN TO BUSINESS!

Create fresh Windows 7 virtual machine environment using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

Download Your Windows 7 ISO Image

In order to install Windows 7, you need a copy of Windows 7. This could be a retail version of Windows 7 (from a DVD), but let’s make the assumption here that since you are a developer, you will be using a download image from MSDN that comes down as an ISO file, such as en_windows_7_professional_x86_dvd_x15-65804.iso. Note that you will need to install a 32-bit operating system to run under Virtual PC 2007. Log in to your MSDN account and select an appropriate version of Windows 7 to download, download it, and also be sure to copy the Activation Key (if applicable).

Run Upgrade Advisor

You may wish to run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor on your machine to make sure Windows 7 will be happy (as of this writing, the upgrade advisor tool is in beta). Assuming that goes well..

Run Virtual PC 2007

Run Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. From the opening screen, click the “New…” button:

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The wizard will start. Click the “Next >” button:

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Select “Create a virtual machine” and click “Next >” button…

Give your new Virtual Machine an appropriate name:

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I also changed my location:

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Select “Other” as Operating system and click “Next >” …

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The recommended RAM will likely not be sufficient, so click “Adjusting the RAM” option:

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How much memory is right? Considering Windows 7 system requirements (which call for at least 1 GB in the 32-bit version) and Visual Studio 2010 (beta 1) system requirements (which also calls for 1 GB (though not an additional 1 GB), you will hopefully be able to allocate at least 1 GB. I have 3 GB on my host machine, so I allocated 1.5 GB (1024 MB + 512 MB = 1536 MB). These values can also be tweaked later using Virtual PC.

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I chose to create a new virtual disk:

For disk space, you have another set of decisions – Windows 7 wants 15 GB, Visual Studio 2010 wants 3 GB, so I rounded up to a nice even 18.5 GB (since I don’t have an abundance of space here):

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Click “Next >” and you are almost done with this step.

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Click “Finish” and now we are in business within Virtual PC:

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Click on “Azure Dev” (or whatever you called your image) and click “Start” button to proceed:

If you have trouble starting your virtual machine due to not enough memory available, as in the following message, you either need to adjust its memory requirements of free up some memory.

You might consider throttling back your Anti-Virus software which could be a big consumer of memory (I disabled the on-the-fly file-system protection). Also, of course, close all unnecessary processes. The long-term solution is to buy a 64-bit machine with oodles of memory and be happy with that.

Once you have enough memory available, you will see the virtual machine complain very soon as it craps out after spinning up and thinking for a couple of minutes:

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This is expected. You still need to install Windows 7 to move this along. To do this, make sure you have a ready-to-go image of Windows 7 as an ISO file (as you might download from MSDN) or physical media. You have two menu options, one for each of these cases:

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In my case, I selected “Capture ISO Image…” and installed from there. Note that you navigate your host file-system for the ISO image to capture – not the file-system on your virtual machine, since that does not yet exist.

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Click “Open” and notice how the CD menu on the virtual machine has been updated:

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Now you can reboot your virtual machine to let the installation on the captured ISO image run (as if it was auto-starting to install on a physical machine). To reboot, choose Reset from the Action menu:

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You will be warned:

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But since you don’t have any unsaved changes to worry about, select the Reset button and proceed with the reset. (You have saved some information, you may be thinking, like memory and hard disk configuration; but that is all metadata about your image – not changes within the virtual machine itself – so there is no problem here.)

The reset begins…

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Here is a warning which we will come back to. Dismiss this for now:

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The system will chug and chug for a looong time – mine took around two hours to run (the good news is I let this run while I was watching the New England Patriots game this Sunday; the bad news is the Patriots fell to the Jets):

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You will then proceed to install Windows 7 … mostly you will be just moving along without much fanfare, though you will need to name your “computer”, come up with a username (and optionally a password), and will need your Activation Key for Windows 7. Here is a good guide for installing Windows 7 on Virtual PC 2007. (And another.)

Don’t that forget the magic key/mouse combo to un-capture your mouse from the Virtual Machine is Right-Alt while dragging the mouse!!

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After you get Windows 7 all configured, you probably still want to come back and install some updates:

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But that’s the end of the detailed tour. You should now have a usable baseline virtual machine image that you can reuse, share, play with, etc. Make sure you create a back-up copy! And have a look at the features which allow you to manage roll-backs.

Good luck!