In my previous post I described how I used Durable Functions extensions in Azure Function App. Durable Functions are using several binding types that are not part of the standard suite: OrchestrationClient, OrchestrationTrigger, ActivityTrigger. These custom bindings are installed by copying the corresponding assemblies to a special Extensions folder.

Although Bring-Your-Own-Binding (BYOB) feature hasn't been released yet, I decided to follow the path of Durable Functions and create my own custom binding.

Configuration Binding

I've picked a really simple use case for my first experiments with custom bindings: reading configuration values.

Azure Functions store their configuration values in App Settings (local runtime uses local.settings.json file for that).

That means, when you need a configuration value inside your C# code, you normally do

string setting = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["MySetting"];

Alternatively, Environment.GetEnvironmentVariable() method can be used.

When I needed to collect service bus subscription metrics, I wrote this kind of bulky code:

var resourceToScale = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["ResourceToScale"];

var connectionString = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["ServiceBusConnection"];
var topic = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Topic"];
var subscription = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Subscription"];

The code is no rocket science, but it's tedious to write, so instead I came up with this idea to define Functions:

public static void MyFunction(
    [TimerTrigger("0 */1 * * * *")] TimerInfo timer,
    [Configuration(Key = "ResourceToScale")] string resource,
    [Configuration] ServiceBusSubscriptionConfig config)

Note two usages of Configuration attribute. The first one defines the specific configuration key, and binds its value to a string parameter. The other one binds multiple configuration values to a POCO parameter. I defined the config class as

public class ServiceBusSubscriptionConfig
{
    public ServiceBusSubscriptionConfig(string serviceBusConnection, string topic, string subscription)
    {
        ServiceBusConnection = serviceBusConnection;
        Topic = topic;
        Subscription = subscription;
    }

    public string ServiceBusConnection { get; }
    public string Topic { get; }
    public string Subscription { get; }
}

The immutable class is a bit verbose, but I still prefer it over get-set container in this scenario.

The binding behavior is convention-based in this case: the binding engine should load configuration values based on the names of class properties.

Motivation

So, why do I need such binding?

As I said, it's a simple use case to play with BYOB feature, and overall, understand the internals of Function Apps a bit better.

But apart from that, I removed 4 lines of garbage from the function body (at the cost of two extra parameters). Less noise means more readable code, especially when I put this code on a webpage.

As a bonus, the testability of the function immediately increased. It's so much easier for the test just to accept the configuration as input parameter, instead of fine-tuning the configuration files inside test projects, or hiding ConfigurationManager usage behind a mockable facade.

Such approach does seem to be the strength of Azure Functions code in general. It's often possible to reduce imperative IO-related code to attribute-decorated function parameters.

Implementing a Custom Binding

The actual implementation process of a custom non-trigger binding is quite simple:

Create a class library with the word "Extension" in its name. Import Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs and Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs.Extensions NuGet packages (at the time of writing I used 2.1.0-beta1 version).

Define a class for binding attribute:

[AttributeUsage(AttributeTargets.Parameter)]
[Binding]
public class ConfigurationAttribute : Attribute
{
    [AutoResolve]
    public string Key { get; set; }
}

The attribute is marked as Binding and the Key property is marked as resolvable from function.json.

Implement IExtensionConfigProvider which will tell the function runtime how to use your binding correctly.

The interface has just one method to implement:

public class ConfigurationExtensionConfigProvider : IExtensionConfigProvider
{
    public void Initialize(ExtensionConfigContext context)
    {
        // ... see below
    }
}

The first step of the implementation is to define a rule for our new ConfigurationAttribute and tell this rule how to get a string value out of any attribute instance:

var rule = context.AddBindingRule<ConfigurationAttribute>();
rule.BindToInput<string>(a => ConfigurationManager.AppSettings[a.Key]);

That's really all that needs to happen to bind string parameters.

To make our binding work with any POCO, we need a more elaborate construct:

rule.BindToInput<Env>(_ => new Env());
var cm = context.Config.GetService<IConverterManager>();
cm.AddConverter<Env, OpenType, ConfigurationAttribute>(typeof(PocoConverter<>));

I instruct the rule to bind to my custom class Env, and then I say that this class Env is convertable to any type (denoted by special OpenType type argument) with a generic converter called PocoConverter.

The Env class is a bit dummy (it exists just because I need some class):

private class Env
{
    public string GetValue(string key) => ConfigurationManager.AppSettings[key];
}

And PocoConverter is a piece of reflection, that loops through property names and reads configuration values out of them. Then it calls a constructor which matches the property count:

private class PocoConverter<T> : IConverter<Env, T>
{
    public T Convert(Env env)
    {
        var values = typeof(T)
            .GetProperties()
            .Select(p => p.Name)
            .Select(env.GetValue)
            .Cast<object>()
            .ToArray();

        var constructor = typeof(T).GetConstructor(values.Select(v => v.GetType()).ToArray());
        if (constructor == null)
        {
            throw new Exception("We tried to bind to your C# class, but it looks like there's no constructor which accepts all property values");
        }

        return (T)constructor.Invoke(values);
    }
}

This piece of code is not particularly robust, but it is good enough to illustrate the concept.

And that's it, the binding it ready! You can find the complete example in my github repo.

Deploying Custom Bindings

Since BYOB feature is in early preview, there is no tooling for automated deployment, and we need to do everything manually. But the process is not too sophisticated:

  1. Create a folder for custom bindings, e.g. D:\BindingExtensions.

  2. Set AzureWebJobs_ExtensionsPath parameter in your app settings to that folder's path. For local development add a line to local.settings.json:

     "AzureWebJobs_ExtensionsPath": "D:\\BindingExtensions",
    
  3. Create a subfolder for your extension, e.g. D:\BindingExtensions\ConfigurationExtension.

  4. Copy the contents of bin\Debug\ of your extension's class library to that folder.

  5. Reference your extension library from your Function App.

You are good to go! Decorate your function parameters with the new attribute.

Run the function app locally to try it out. In the console output you should be able to see something like

Loaded custom extension: ConfigurationExtensionConfigProvider from 
'D:\BindingExtensions\ConfigurationExtension\MyExtensions.dll'

You will be able to debug your extension if needed.

Use the following links to find out more about custom bindings, see more examples and walkthroughs, and get fresh updates:

Have a good binding!