Mastering Xamarin.Forms

4.3 (3 reviews total)
By Ed Snider
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About this book

Discover how to extend and build upon the components of the Xamarin.Forms toolkit to develop an effective, robust mobile app architecture. Starting with an app built with the basics of the Xamarin.Forms toolkit, we’ll go step by step through several advanced topics to create a solution architecture rich with the benefits of good design patterns and best practices.

We’ll start by introducing a core separation between the app’s user interface and the app’s business logic by applying the MVVM pattern and data binding.

Discover how to extend and build upon the components of the Xamarin.Forms toolkit to develop an effective, robust mobile app architecture. Starting with an app built with the basics of the Xamarin.Forms toolkit, we’ll go step by step through several advanced topics to create a solution architecture rich with the benefits of good design patterns and best practices.

We’ll start by introducing a core separation between the app’s user interface and the app’s business logic by applying the MVVM pattern and data binding.

Then we will focus on building out a layer of plugin-like services that handle platform-specific utilities such as navigation, geo-location, and the camera, as well as how to use these services with inversion of control and dependency injection. Next we’ll connect the app to a live web-based API and set up offline synchronization. Then, we’ll dive into testing the app—both the app logic through unit tests and the user interface using Xamarin’s UITest framework. Finally, we’ll integrate Xamarin Insights for monitoring usage and bugs to gain a proactive edge on app quality.

Publication date:
January 2016
Publisher
Packt
Pages
184
ISBN
9781785287190

 

Chapter 1. Getting Started

The goal of this book is to focus on how to apply best practices and patterns to mobile apps built with Xamarin.Forms, and not on the actual Xamarin.Forms toolkit and API itself. The best way to achieve this goal is to build an app end-to-end, applying new concepts in each chapter. Therefore, the goal of this first chapter is to simply put together the basic structure of a Xamarin.Forms mobile app codebase, which will serve as a foundation that we can build of off throughout the rest of this book.

In this chapter, we will do the following:

  • Introduce and define the features of the app that we will build throughout the rest of the book

  • Create a new Xamarin.Forms mobile app with an initial app structure and user interface

 

Introducing the app idea


Just like the beginning of many new mobile projects, we will start with an idea. We will create a travel app named TripLog; and, like the name suggests, it will be an app that will allow its users to log their travel adventures. While the app itself will not be solving any real-world problems, it will have features that will require us to solve real-world architecture and coding problems. The app will take advantage of several core concepts such as list views, maps, location services, and live data from a RESTful API, and we will apply patterns and best practices throughout the rest of this book to implement these concepts.

Defining features

Before we get started, it is important to understand the requirements and features of the TripLog app. We will do this by quickly defining some of the high level things this app will allow its users to do, as follows:

  • View existing log entries (online and offline)

  • Add new log entries with the following data:

    • Title

    • Location using GPS

    • Date

    • Notes

    • Rating

  • Sign into the app

 

Creating the initial app


To start off the new TripLog mobile app project, we need to create the initial solution architecture. We can also create the core shell of our app's user interface by creating the initial screens based on the basic features we just defined.

Setting up the solution

We will start things off by creating a brand new, blank Xamarin.Forms solution within Xamarin Studio, using the following steps:

  1. In Xamarin Studio, click File | New | Solution. This will bring up a series of dialog screens that will walk you through creating a new Xamarin.Forms solution. On the first dialog, select App on the left, under the Cross-platform section, and then select Xamarin.Forms App in the middle and click Next, as shown in the following screenshot:

  2. On the next dialog screen, enter the name of the app, TripLog, and make sure Use Portable Class Library is selected for the Shared Code option, as shown in the following screenshot:

  3. On the final dialog screen, simply click the Create button, as shown in the following screenshot:

After creating the new Xamarin.Forms solution, you will have several projects created within it, as shown in the following screenshot:

There will be a single portable class library project and two platform-specific projects:

  • TripLog: This is a portable class library project that will serve as the "core" layer of the solution architecture. This is the layer that will include all of our business logic, data objects, Xamarin.Forms pages, and other non-platform-specific code. The code in this project is common and not specific to a particular platform and therefore can be shared across the platform projects.

  • TripLog.iOS: This is the iOS platform-specific project containing all of the code and assets required to build and deploy the iOS app from this solution. By default, it will have a reference to the TripLog core project.

  • TripLog.Droid: This is the Android platform-specific project containing all of the code and assets required to build and deploy the Android app from this solution. By default, it will have a reference to the TripLog core project.

    Note

    If you are using Xamarin Studio on a Windows machine, you will only get an Android project when you create a new Xamarin.Forms solution.

    In order to include a Windows (WinRT) app in your Xamarin.Forms solution, you will need to use Visual Studio on a Windows machine.

    Although the screenshots and samples throughout this book are demonstrated using Xamarin Studio on a Mac, the code and concepts will work in Xamarin Studio and Visual Studio on a Windows machine as well. Refer to the Preface for further details on software and hardware requirements that need to be met in order to follow along with the concepts in this book.

You'll notice a file in the core library named TripLog.cs, which contains a class named App that inherits from Xamarin.Forms.Application. Initially, the App constructor sets the MainPage property to a new instance of ContentPage that simply displays some default text. The first thing we are going to do in our TripLog app is to build the initial views, or screens, required for our UI, and then update that MainPage property of the App class in TripLog.cs.

Updating the Xamarin.Forms packages

If you expand the Packages folder within each of the projects in the solution, you will see that Xamarin.Forms is actually a NuGet package that is automatically included when we select the Xamarin.Forms project template. It is possible that the included NuGet packages are out of date and need to be updated, so be sure to update them in each of the projects within the solution, so that you are using the latest version of Xamarin.Forms.

Creating the main page

The main page of the app will serve as the main entry point into the app and will display a list of existing trip log entries. Our trip log entries will be represented by a data model named TripLogEntry. Models are a key pillar in the MVVM pattern and data-binding, which we will explore more in Chapter 2, MVVM and Data Binding; but in this chapter, we will just create a simple class that will represent the TripLogEntry model. Let us now start creating the main page:

  1. First, add a new Xamarin.Forms ContentPage to the project by right-clicking on the TripLog core project, clicking Add, and then clicking New File. This will bring up the New File dialog screen, as shown in the following screenshot:

  2. On the New File dialog screen, select Forms in the left pane and then select Forms ContentPage in the right pane. Name the new file MainPage and click the New button.

  3. Next, update the MainPage property of the App class to a new instance of Xamarin.Forms.NavigationPage whose root is a new instance of TripLog.MainPage that we just created:

    public App()
    {
        MainPage = new NavigationPage(new TripLog.MainPage());
    }
  4. Create a folder in the TripLog core project named Models, and create a new empty class file in that folder named TripLogEntry.

  5. Update the TripLogEntry class with the following auto-implemented properties:

    public class TripLogEntry
    {
        public string Title { get; set; }
        public double Latitude { get; set; }
        public double Longitude { get; set; }
        public DateTime Date { get; set; }
        public int Rating { get; set; }
        public string Notes { get; set; }
    }
  6. Now that we have a model to represent our trip log entries, we can use it to display some trips on the main page using a ListView. We will use a DataTemplate to describe how the model data should be displayed in each of the rows in the ListView using the following code:

    public class MainPage : ContentPage
    {
        public MainPage ()
        {
            Title = "TripLog";
    
            var items = new List<TripLogEntry> 
            {
                new TripLogEntry
                {
                    Title = "Washington Monument",
                    Notes = "Amazing!",
                    Rating = 3,
                    Date = new DateTime(2015, 2, 5),
                    Latitude = 38.8895,
                    Longitude = -77.0352
                },
                new TripLogEntry
                {
                    Title = "Statue of Liberty",
                    Notes = "Inspiring!",
                    Rating = 4,
                    Date = new DateTime(2015, 4, 13),
                    Latitude = 40.6892,
                    Longitude = -74.0444
                },
                new TripLogEntry
                {
                    Title = "Golden Gate Bridge",
                    Notes = "Foggy, but beautiful.",
                    Rating = 5,
                    Date = new DateTime(2015, 4, 26),
                    Latitude = 37.8268,
                    Longitude = -122.4798
                }
            };
    
            var itemTemplate = new DataTemplate (typeof(TextCell));
            itemTemplate.SetBinding (TextCell.TextProperty, "Title");
            itemTemplate.SetBinding (TextCell.DetailProperty, "Notes");
    
            var entries = new ListView {
                ItemsSource = items,
                ItemTemplate = itemTemplate
            };
    
            Content = entries;
        }
    }

Running the app

At this point, we have a single page that is displayed as the app's main page. If we debug the app and run it in a simulator, emulator, or on a physical device, we should see the main page showing the list of the log entries we hard-coded into the view, like in the following screenshot. In Chapter 2, MVVM and Data Binding, we will refactor this quite a bit as we implement MVVM and leverage the benefits of data-binding.

Creating the new entry page

The new entry page of the app will give the user a way to add a new log entry by presenting a series of fields to collect the log entry details. There are several ways to build a form to collect data in Xamarin.Forms. You can simply use a StackLayout and present a stack of Label and Entry controls on the screen. You can also use a TableView with various types of ViewCells. In most cases, a TableView will give you a very nice default, platform-specific look-and-feel; however, if your design calls for a more custom look-and-feel, you might be better off leveraging the other layout options available in Xamarin.Forms. For the purposes of this app, we're going to use a TableView.

There are some key data points we need to collect when our users log new entries with the app, such as Title, Location, Date, Rating, and Notes. For now, we're going to use a regular EntryCell for each of these fields. We will update, customize, and add to these fields later in this book. For example, we will wire the location fields up to a geo-location service that will automatically determine the location, and we will make the date field use an actual platform-specific date picker control; but for now, we're just focused on building the basic app shell.

In order to create the new entry page that contains a TableView, perform the following steps:

  1. First, add a new Xamarin.Forms ContentPage to the project and name it NewEntryPage.

  2. Update the constructor of the NewEntryPage class using the following code to build the TableView that will represent the data entry form on the page:

    public class NewEntryPage : ContentPage
    {
        public NewEntryPage ()
        {
            Title = "New Entry";
    
            // Form fields
            var title = new EntryCell {
                Label = "Title"
            };
    
            var latitude = new EntryCell {
                Label = "Latitude",
                Keyboard = Keyboard.Numeric
            };
    
            var longitude = new EntryCell {
                Label = "Longitude",
                Keyboard = Keyboard.Numeric
            };
    
            var date = new EntryCell {
                Label = "Date"
            };
    
            var rating = new EntryCell {
                Label = "Rating",
                Keyboard = Keyboard.Numeric
            };
    
            var notes = new EntryCell {
                Label = "Notes"
            };
    
            // Form
            var entryForm = new TableView {
                Intent = TableIntent.Form,
                Root = new TableRoot {
                    new TableSection()
                    {
                        title,
                        latitude,
                        longitude,
                        date,
                        rating,
                        notes
                    }
                }
            };
    
            Content = entryForm;
        }
    }

Now that we have created the new entry page, we need to add a way for users to get to this new screen from the main page. We will do this by adding a "New" button to the main page toolbar. In Xamarin.Forms, this is accomplished by adding a ToolbarItem to the base ContentPage ToolbarItems collection and wiring up the ToolbarItem Clicked event to navigate to the new entry page, as shown in the following code:

public MainPage ()
{
    var newButton = new ToolbarItem {
        Text = "New"
    };

    newButton.Clicked += (sender, e) => {
        Navigation.PushAsync(new NewEntryPage());
    };

    ToolbarItems.Add (newButton);

    // ...
}

In Chapter 3, Navigation Service, we will build a custom service to handle navigation between pages, and we will replace the Clicked event with a data-bound ICommand ViewModel property, but for now, we will use the default Xamarin.Forms navigation mechanism.

Now, when we run the app we will see a New button on the toolbar of the main page. Clicking the New button should bring us to the New Entry page, as shown in the following screenshot:

We will need to add a "Save" button to the New Entry page toolbar, so that we can have a way of saving new items. For now, this button will just be a placeholder in the UI that we will bind an ICommand to in Chapter 2, MVVM and Data Binding, when we dive into MVVM and data-binding.

The Save button will be added to the new entry page toolbar the same way the New button was added to the main page toolbar.

In the NewEntryPage constructor, simply create a new ToolbarItem and add it to the base ContentPage ToolbarItems property, as shown in the following code:

public NewEntryPage ()
{
    // ...

    var save = new ToolbarItem {
        Text = "Save"
    };

    ToolbarItems.Add (save);

    // ...
}

When we run the app again and navigate to the New Entry page, we should now see the Save button on the toolbar, as shown in the following screenshot:

Creating the entry detail page

When a user taps on one of the log entry items on the main page, we want to take them to a page that displays more details about that particular item, including a map that plots the item's location. Along with additional details and a more in-depth view of the item, a detail page is also a common area where actions on that item might take place, for example, editing the item or sharing the item on social media.

The detail page will take an instance of a TripLogEntry model as a constructor parameter, which we will use in the rest of the page to display the entry details to the user.

In order to create the entry detail page, perform the following steps:

  1. First, add a new Xamarin.Forms ContentPage to the project and name it DetailPage.

  2. Update the constructor of the DetailPage class to take a TripLogEntry parameter named entry, as shown in the following code:

    public class DetailPage : ContentPage
    {
        public DetailPage (TripLogEntry entry)
        {
            // ...
        }
    }
  3. Add the Xamarin.Forms.Maps NuGet package to the core project as well as each of the platform-specific projects. This separate NuGet package is required in order to use the Xamarin.Forms Map control in the next step.

  4. Update the body of the constructor using a Grid layout to display the details of the entry constructor parameter, as shown in the following code:

    public DetailPage (TripLogEntry entry)
    {
        Title = "Entry Details";
    
        var mainLayout = new Grid {
            RowDefinitions = {
                new RowDefinition {
    Height = new GridLength (4, GridUnitType.Star)
             },
                new RowDefinition {
    Height = GridLength.Auto
             },
                new RowDefinition {
    Height = new GridLength (1, GridUnitType.Star)
             }
            }
        };
    
        var map = new Map ();
    
        // Center the map around the log entry's location
        map.MoveToRegion (MapSpan.FromCenterAndRadius (new Position (entry.Latitude, entry.Longitude), Distance.FromMiles (.5)));
    
        // Place a pin on the map for the log entry's location
        map.Pins.Add (new Pin {
            Type = PinType.Place,
            Label = entry.Title,
            Position = new Position (entry.Latitude, entry.Longitude)
        });
    
        var title = new Label {
            HorizontalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center
        };
        title.Text = entry.Title;
    
        var date = new Label {
            HorizontalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center
        };
        date.Text = entry.Date.ToString ("M");
    
        var rating = new Label {
            HorizontalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center
        };
        rating.Text = $"{entry.Rating} star rating";
    
        var notes = new Label {
            HorizontalOptions = LayoutOptions.Center
        };
        notes.Text = entry.Notes;
    
        var details = new StackLayout {
            Padding = 10,
            Children = {
                title, date, rating, notes
            }
        };
    
        var detailsBg = new BoxView {
            BackgroundColor = Color.White,
            Opacity = .8
        };
    
        mainLayout.Children.Add (map);
        mainLayout.Children.Add (detailsBg, 0, 1);
        mainLayout.Children.Add (details, 0, 1);
    
        Grid.SetRowSpan (map, 3);
    
        Content = mainLayout;
    }
  5. Next, we need to wire up the tapped event on the list of items on the MainPage to pass the tapped item over to the DetailPage that we just created, as shown in the following code:

    entries.ItemTapped += async (sender, e) => {
        var item = (TripLogEntry)e.Item;
        await Navigation.PushAsync (new DetailPage (item));
    };
  6. Finally, we need to initialize the Xamarin.Forms.Maps library in each platform-specific startup class (for example, AppDelegate for iOS and MainActivity for Android) using the following code:

    global::Xamarin.Forms.Forms.Init ();
    Xamarin.FormsMaps.Init ();
    LoadApplication (new App ());

Now when we run the app and tap on one of the log entries on the main page, we will be navigated to the details page to see more detail about that particular log entry, as shown in the following screenshot:

 

Summary


In this chapter, we built a simple three-page app with static data, leveraging the most basic concepts of the Xamarin.Forms toolkit. For example, we used the default Xamarin.Forms navigation APIs to move between the three pages, which we will refactor in Chapter 3, Navigation Service to use a more flexible, custom navigation service.

Now that we have built the foundation of the app, including the basic UI for each page within the app, we'll begin enhancing the app with better architecture design patterns, live data with offline syncing, nicer looking UI elements, and tests.

In the next chapter, we will introduce the MVVM pattern and data-binding to the app to enforce a separation between the user interface layer and the business and data-access logic.

About the Author

  • Ed Snider

    Ed Snider is a senior software developer, speaker, author, and Microsoft MVP based in the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area. He has a passion for mobile design and development and regularly speaks about Xamarin and Windows app development in the community. Ed works at InfernoRed Technology, where his primary role is working with clients and partners to build mobile and media focused products on iOS, Android, and Windows. He started working with the .NET framework in 2005 when .NET 2.0 came out and has been building mobile apps with .NET since 2011. Ed blogs at edsnider[dot]net and can be found on Twitter at twitter[dot]com/edsnider.

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Latest Reviews

(3 reviews total)
I love that book, perfect
Some parts of the book were easy to follow, other parts were very confusing and there was a lot of back and forth with adding code, where I would have thought this could have been done up front.
Pretty good entry level book.
Mastering Xamarin.Forms
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