First steps in Caliburn Micro with Windows Phone 8 – How to manage different DataContext

After a while I’m back to publish a post about Caliburn Micro and Windows Phone. The reason is that, during the development of my Movies Tracker app, I’ve found my self in a corner case I haven’t managed before: a ContextMenu. We’re talking about a control available in the Phone Toolkit, that can be used to add a contextual menu to a control. Windows Phone itself uses it widely: for example, when you press and hold your finger on an icon in the application list; or when you’re the People hub and you want to do some operations on a contact.

Usually ContextMenu is used in combination with a control that is used to display a collection, like a ListBox or LongListSelector: the user sees a list of items and can tap and hold on one of them to do some additional actions.

MoviesTracker1

Which is the problem in a MVVM application? That, in this case, we’re working with two different DataContext at the same time. Let’s see why:

  • The ListBox is placed inside a view, that will be connected to a specific ViewModel, that will take care of populating the collections, get the item selected by the user and stuff like that;
  • The ContextMenu is placed inside the ItemTemplate of the ListBox, since it’s applied to every single item of the list. This means that the DataContext of the ContextMenu control is different: inside an ItemTemplate the DataContext is represented by the object that is inside the collection (if you have a List<Person>, for example, the DataContext of the single item will be the Person class).

This means that, probably, you’ll define the actions to execute when the user taps on an item of the ContextMenu in the ViewModel of the page but the control won’t be able to see them, since it will expect to find them inside the Person object. And this is not good: defining methods inside a class that represents an entity is not a good idea; plus, probably the actions we’re going to execute (for example, deleting the selected item), will require us to interact with other properties of the ViewModel (like the collection), that can’t be accessed from the Person class.

Let’s see how to manage this scenario using Caliburn Micro.

Let’s start!

We’re going to use a simple scenario: an application to display a list of persons using a ListBox. By using a ContextMenu, we’ll give to the user the ability to delete a specific item. Let’s start with a standard Caliburn project: if you don’t know how to setup it, please refer to the other posts of the series. Our goal is to have one View with its specific ViewModel, connected together with the naming convention every Caliburn developer should be already familiar with.

First, we’re going to add to our project, using NuGet, the Phone Toolkit: simply right click on your project, choose Manage NuGet packages, search for and install the package called “phone toolkit”. Then, we add a new Person class, that we’re going to use to store the information about the persons. Since it’s a sample, it’s really simple:

public class Person
{
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public string Surname { get; set; }
}

Now we can define the View, inside the standard page MainPage.xaml: we’re going to include the ListBox control, with a simple ItemTemplate. We’ll simply display, in fact, name and surname of the person. Plus, we’re going to add the ContextMenu control to manage the contextual options:

<StackPanel>
    <ListBox x:Name="Persons">
        <ListBox.ItemTemplate>
            <DataTemplate>
                <StackPanel>
                    <toolkit:ContextMenuService.ContextMenu>
                        <toolkit:ContextMenu>
                            <toolkit:MenuItem Header="delete" />                                                        
                        </toolkit:ContextMenu>
                    </toolkit:ContextMenuService.ContextMenu>
                    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Name}" />
                    <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Surname}" />
                </StackPanel>
            </DataTemplate>
        </ListBox.ItemTemplate>
    </ListBox>
</StackPanel>

To use the ContextMenu you’ll need to add the toolkit’s namespace in your page declarations in the XAML:

xmlns:toolkit=”clr-namespace:Microsoft.Phone.Controls;assembly=Microsoft.Phone.Controls.Toolkit”

First, we’re going to use the collections naming convention: since the name of the ListBox is Persons, we expect to have a collection with the same name in the ViewModel. This way, the data of the collection will be automatically displayed in the ListBox. The second thing to notice is that we’ve added the ContextMenu inside the StackPanel: this way the user will be able to tap and hold inside the item to display the menu. We’ve added just one action, using the MenuItem control: the deletion of the current item.

What we need to do when the user chooses the delete option?

  • We need to identify on which item the context menu has been activated;
  • We need to delete the item from the collection;

And here comes the problem I’ve described in the beginning of the post: we need to manage these operations in the ViewModel of the page (since it’s the one that contains the collection) but, since we’re inside the ItemTemplate, the application will look for them inside the Person object. Let’s introduce some Caliburn magic to solve our problem:

<phone:PhoneApplicationPage
    x:Class="Caliburn.ContextMenu.Views.MainPageView"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:phone="clr-namespace:Microsoft.Phone.Controls;assembly=Microsoft.Phone"
    xmlns:shell="clr-namespace:Microsoft.Phone.Shell;assembly=Microsoft.Phone"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    xmlns:toolkit="clr-namespace:Microsoft.Phone.Controls;assembly=Microsoft.Phone.Controls.Toolkit"
    xmlns:micro="clr-namespace:Caliburn.Micro;assembly=Caliburn.Micro"
    mc:Ignorable="d"
    FontFamily="{StaticResource PhoneFontFamilyNormal}"
    FontSize="{StaticResource PhoneFontSizeNormal}"
    Foreground="{StaticResource PhoneForegroundBrush}"
    SupportedOrientations="Portrait" Orientation="Portrait"
    shell:SystemTray.IsVisible="True"
    x:Name="Page">

    <!--LayoutRoot is the root grid where all page content is placed-->
    <Grid x:Name="LayoutRoot" Background="Transparent">
        <Grid.RowDefinitions>
            <RowDefinition Height="Auto"/>
            <RowDefinition Height="*"/>
        </Grid.RowDefinitions>

        <!--TitlePanel contains the name of the application and page title-->
        <StackPanel x:Name="TitlePanel" Grid.Row="0" Margin="12,17,0,28">
            <TextBlock Text="MY APPLICATION" Style="{StaticResource PhoneTextNormalStyle}" Margin="12,0"/>
            <TextBlock Text="page name" Margin="9,-7,0,0" Style="{StaticResource PhoneTextTitle1Style}"/>
        </StackPanel>

        <!--ContentPanel - place additional content here-->
        <Grid x:Name="ContentPanel" Grid.Row="1" Margin="12,0,12,0">
            <StackPanel>
                <ListBox x:Name="Persons">
                    <ListBox.ItemTemplate>
                        <DataTemplate>
                            <StackPanel>
                                <toolkit:ContextMenuService.ContextMenu>
                                    <toolkit:ContextMenu>
                                        <toolkit:MenuItem Header="delete" 
                                                          micro:Action.TargetWithoutContext="{Binding ElementName=Page, Path=DataContext}"
                                                          micro:Message.Attach="[Event Tap] = [Action Delete($datacontext)]" />
                                    </toolkit:ContextMenu>
                                </toolkit:ContextMenuService.ContextMenu>
                                <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Name}" />
                                <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Surname}" />
                            </StackPanel>
                        </DataTemplate>
                    </ListBox.ItemTemplate>
                </ListBox>
            </StackPanel>
        </Grid>
    </Grid>
</phone:PhoneApplicationPage>

I’ve included, this time, the whole XAML of the page for just one reason: please notice that I’ve assigned a name (using the x:Name property) to the page. Thanks to this name, I’m able to use a special attached property provided by Caliburn, called Action.TargetWithoutContext. It’s purpose is to change the DataContext of the action that we’re going to assign to the interaction: instead of using the default one (in this case, it would be the Person object) we can override it and specify a new one.  In our sample, we’re going to set the same DataContext of the page, that is our ViewModel: this is why we need to give to the entire page a name, so that we can refer to it to access to the DataContext property.

Now that the item is connected to the correct DataContext, we can define the action in the same way we’ve learned before: by using the Message.Attach attached property and setting first the event we want to manage (Tap) and then the method defined in the ViewModel to execute (Delete). You can notice something new: that we’re passing a parameter called $datacontext to the method. This way, we’re going to pass to the method the current DataContext, that is the selected Person object. This wasn’t needed when we simply had to manage the selected item in the list, thanks to the SelectedItem property of the ListBox control. This time, we can’t rely on it because, when we interact with another control in the ItemTemplate (like our ContextMenu or a Button) the SelectedItem doesn’t get a proper value, so we wouldn’t have a way to know which is the item the user is interacting with.

Thanks to this syntax, instead, we can pass the selected Person object to the method and work with it. To use both attached properties, you’ll need to declared the following namespace in your XAML’s page:

xmlns:micro=”clr-namespace:Caliburn.Micro;assembly=Caliburn.Micro”

And here is how it looks like our ViewModel:

public class MainPageViewModel : Screen
{
    private ObservableCollection<Person> persons;

    public ObservableCollection<Person> Persons
    {
        get { return persons; }
        set
        {
            persons = value;
            NotifyOfPropertyChange(() => Persons);
        }
    }

    public MainPageViewModel()
    {
        Persons = new ObservableCollection<Person>
            {
                new Person
                    {
                        Name = "Matteo",
                        Surname = "Pagani"
                    },
                new Person
                    {
                        Name = "John",
                        Surname = "Doe"
                    },
                new Person
                    {
                        Name = "Mark",
                        Surname = "White"
                    }
            };
    }

    public void Delete(Person person)
    {
        Persons.Remove(person);
    }

}

As you can see, the only difference with a standard action is that the Delete method accepts a parameter in input, which is the selected Person object: this way, we can simply remove it from the collection by calling the Remove method.

This approach isn’t useful just when you use a ContextMenu control, but every time you need to add another type of interaction with a ListBox rather than just selecting the item. I have another example of that in my Movies Tracker app: in the page used to search for a movie to add to your collection, I’ve included a button that works as “quick add”. The user can interact with a movie in the list in two ways: he can simply tap on one of them and being redirected to the detail page (and this is a standard interaction, made using the SelectedItem property of the list); or he can tap on the quick add button: in this case, I show a popup, where the user can set some options before saving it.

MoviesTracker2

This second scenario has the same problems we’ve seen with ContextMenu control: when the user taps on the button, I need to know which is the selected movie; and when the saving action is triggered, I need to execute a method declared in the ViewModel of the page, not in the Movie class, since it’s missing all the properties and classes I need to perform the operation. Same scenario, same solution: here is how it looks like the ItemTemplate of my movie list.

<DataTemplate x:Key="OnlineMoviesTemplate">
    <Grid Margin="0,0,0,12">
        <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
            <ColumnDefinition Width="Auto"/>
            <ColumnDefinition />
            <ColumnDefinition />
        </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
        <Image Width="99" Height="99" >
            <Image.Source>
                <BitmapImage UriSource="{Binding PosterThumbnailUrl}" CreateOptions="BackgroundCreation, DelayCreation" />
            </Image.Source>
        </Image>
        <StackPanel Margin="0,0,0,0" Grid.Column="1" VerticalAlignment="Top">
            <TextBlock FontSize="20"
                       FontWeight="ExtraBold"
                       Text="{Binding Title, Converter={StaticResource UppercaseConverter}}" TextWrapping="Wrap" TextAlignment="Left" />
        </StackPanel>
        <telerikPrimitives:RadImageButton RestStateImageSource="/Assets/Icons/addmovie.png" Grid.Column="2" HorizontalAlignment="Right"
                                          micro:Action.TargetWithoutContext="{Binding ElementName=Page, Path=DataContext}" micro:Message.Attach="[Event Click] = [Action AddMovie($datacontext)]" 
                                          />
    </Grid>
</DataTemplate>

As you can see, the code is exactly the same with seen for the ContextMenu: I’ve defined the Action.TargetWithoutContext and Message.Attach attached properties on the RadImageButton control so that, when the button is pressed, I execute the AddMovie method on the ViewModel of the page that contains the list. Thanks to the $datacontext syntax, I’m able to get in my method the movie the user has interacted with, so that I know which one to save. In this case, I’m using a RadImageButton (that is a Telerik control that is simply a button that, instead of being rendered using text, it uses an image) but it would have worked with any other control the user can interact with: a Button, a Checkbox, a RadioButton, etc.

In conclusion

The scenario described in this post isn’t so common: personally, I don’t suggest to abuse of the ContextMenu control, because it’s hard to discover for the user. But in case it happens (or you have to use another control, like happened to me with the button), these Caliburn Micro helpers will help you to save a lot of time and efforts.

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5 Responses to First steps in Caliburn Micro with Windows Phone 8 – How to manage different DataContext

  1. JP says:

    Hi,

    You said you’re displaying a popup in your movies tracker app.

    Could you explain how you displayed it?
    The Popup Xaml definition expects the Button event handlers to be defined in the Code Behind.
    How can the popup class be bound to the View Model?

  2. Jesús says:

    Hi,

    I’ve been implementing the first example and I’ve seen that the type of the event in MenuItem is wrong, the right event is “Click” not “Tap”.

    Regards

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