TicketDesk 2.5 – Progress and Developer Notes

I wanted to give everyone an update on the progress of TicketDesk 2.5, and take a few minutes to explain the general architecture that’s starting to take shape over on the develop branch at CodePlex.

Projects and Architecture:

The Database supports any version of SQL Server 2008 or higher, including Azure SQL (but not compact edition). The design of TicketDesk would also fit a document database very well too, so TD may eventually end up having a RavenDB and/or Azure DocumentDB variant.

The Schema is managed by code-first migrations, with the execution of migrations handled by startup initializers and/or on-screen admin tools. It uses multi-tenant, code-first migrations. The identity and the business domains have separate contexts and models, each of which are tenants within the same DB. Similarly, search and email will be separate tenants too.

TicketDesk.Domain is the core business layer. It has no dependencies on web-specific frameworks, azure frameworks, or specific security providers. It does have a dependency on entity framework, and leverages EF as a full scale business service platform, not just as a data access technology.

I call this a “pervasive EF Domain model”. It’s a lot like most domain models you see described in any .net book or tutorial, but without unnecessary abstractions to hide the entity framework components.

The Entities directly contain their own business logic, while DbSets act as generic repositories. Custom repository functions are provided mostly through extension methods. Some extensions are defined in the domain assembly, while those with web specific dependencies are defined within the web application instead –which is why a DI framework or IoC container has’t been necessary within the domain project.

The DbContext is treated as the root business service, and it provides the unit-of-work pattern. Truly cross-cutting business logic will be handled directly by the DbContext, or through extension methods and helper services.

The application doesn’t need a formal DDD style design, but with search and email breaking out into separate services, the design is headed in that general direction. By the time TD 3 is complete, there will likely be a formal service bus mechanism handling communications between separate root business contexts, and this will drive a DDD style eventual consistency pattern.

The first parts of that design will appear in 2.5 with the queue mechanisms that support email and search. It likely will never adhere to the full DDD battery of principals and patterns, but it will borrow heavily from those designs where they make sense.

TicketDesk.Domain.Legacy exists only for conversion of TD2.1 databases… it’s just an isolated container for EF migrations and migration helpers. It has a completely custom initial migration that upgrades a TD 2.1x database to the starting TD 2.5 schema. After that, the regular TD 2.5 migrations from the main domain assembly will bring the database up to the final schema version.

TicketDesk.Search encapsulates all search related functionality. Currently it has local lucene and azure search providers. This could be decomposed into separate assemblies, but I haven’t seen the need yet to go that far with it yet.

Currently, it also fakes a “queue” based mechanism, but before TD 2.5 ships this will be replaced by a more formal queue management system.

TicketDesk.Identity encapsulates all non-web/owin specific security functionality. This is an odd one architecturally, since much of the overall identity system does need dependencies on owin middleware components. Right now, the core EF and aspnet.identity stuff is isolated here, but the web app layers on additional user and role managers.

Much of this is boilerplate identity code borrowed from stock samples, so as I refactor it for TD’s specific needs, I’m thinking seriously about moving all of the identity stuff to this assembly, and letting it have owin dependencies. I’m waiting until I tackle ADAL and/or OpenID Connect (for AD federated security) before I decide for sure, but I don’t want to go as far as to write a custom abstraction layer for this thing.

Either way, the identity stuff will remain decoupled from the business domain assembly entirely.

TicketDesk.Web.Client is the main web application. Nothing special about this design, except that it is an ultra-modern use of the latest MVC stack. It uses Owin/Katana, Aspnet.Idneity, and all the new toys like that.

It makes light use of the Dependency Resolver, with Simple Injector as the underlying DI service. The UI is written to bootstrap 3, with some light jQuery and custom javascript here and there. It does use the jquery unobtrusive ajax stuff for partial view rendering –a concession that makes it easier to port the old UI without having to completely re-invent the entire design.

Mail / WebJob: I haven’t implemented these yet, but email will be split out like search, and will use a DB queue table when running on-prem, and will use Azure Queue Storage when running on Azure. On Azure, mail delivery will be handled by Azure WebJobs.

What I’m working though now, or in the very near future:

Building out the rest of the core UI:

I’m working my way through porting the UI to MVC 5, Razor, and bootstrap 3 now. TicketCenter is close to done, and I’m currently working on the New Tickets screen. Afterwards I’ll get into the main ticket viewer/editor.

The goal is to reproduce most of the current behavior exactly as it exists in TD 2.1. Later, I’ll revisit the behavior to further streamline it. The Viewer/Editor is an command/action design, rather than a view/edit/submit design, so it lends itself better to an MVC style design pattern anyway. There are a few activities that do need some smoothing out, but most of that will wait until TD3.

Main Text Editor:

TicketDesk has alternately used an HTML WYSIWYG editor, or a Markdown editor in past versions. I’ve always intended to support both at the same time, but for some reason never seem to get around to it.

TD 2.5 will offer both options though. I have the PageDown editor (markdown) working in the new ticket editor already, but I also plan to implement a limited html editor –probably SummerNote. The back-end has always supported both kinds of content, so all I have to do there port the current code over from TD 2.1.

There will be admin settings where the admin can choose which editors are enabled, and which is the default. If multiple are available from the settings, each user will be able to set their own preference.

Ticket Center Lists Editor:

TD 2.1’s ticket center is designed around the idea of user tailored lists (my tickets, history, open tickets, etc.). In TD 1, you could customize these lists, and I intended to make that a feature of TD 2 as well. A customization screen appropriate for non-technical users is a big challenge, and TD 2 also had a significantly more complex way of managing settings for these lists, so I never had time to make that happen the way I wanted.

For TD 2.5, we will at least have tools to let admins change the default list definitions, maybe by just letting them edit the raw JSON if nothing else. A full end-user custom list designer would be nice, but it will probably have to wait on TD3.

Images & Attachments:

TicketDesk has traditionally only supported file attachments, but not embedded images via the text editor. It stores those files in the database directly. This makes it very easy to move the database from one server to another, and also simplifies backups as well. While performance hasn’t been a problem, this isn’t the best approach in cloud or hosted deployments… if nothing else, the cost of renting SQL storage space is very high compared to file or blob storage.

TD 2.5 will need a plugable storage provider that can store attachments on the local file system (or file share ), or in Azure Storage Blobs. The legacy database migration feature will need to move existing file data to the storage provider before it removes the old attachments table.

Eventually I hope to have support for popular file storage solutions like dropbox and friends.

The front-end text editors will ideally be able to handle inline image uploads, though I don’t think a full media gallery is really necessary –image re-use almost never happens with help desk type systems anyway. If an uploaded image is bigger than a certain size, it should be swapped for a thumbnail in the editor text, and the full image included as an attachment instead.

Eliminate MVC Areas:

I don’t like what areas do to MVC’s routes and navigation, especially with the newer attribute routing stuff. It was cool back in the days of MVC 2 and portable areas, but has outlived its usefulness in MVC 5.

Right now, I do have a couple of areas setup in the code, but I plan to remove these very soon, then cleanup the action and url links so they don’t have to specify an area as custom routedata each time.

Admin:

TD 2.5 will have a “first-run” setup experience. There is a sort of stub for this already, but this will be replaced by an expanded wizard to walk the admin through setting up everything. Most important is setting up the database, security, email, and search features.

Part of this experience will include directing the admin on how to make a few changes in web.config that can’t be automated easily, like adding custom machine keys and such.

Localization (pre-support):

I’ve already have this worked out in TD3. The UI text will be supplied from resource files, instead of being hard-coded. I haven’t quite gotten into the string-heavy part of the system yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll start moving all of the text to resource files. TD 2.5 itself will not provide a full internationalization experience out of the box, but I want to go ahead and get the code in shape for the features coming in TD3. This will also make it super easy for developers to localize the system themselves.

Thanks to everyone for their support and patience!

3 Replies to “TicketDesk 2.5 – Progress and Developer Notes”

  1. TicketDesk is what I’ve been looking for: ASP.NET, Azure, Angular. I’m planning to port it to a slightly different user scenario beyond IT help desks.

    1. I’m glad it is useful. There are a number of other uses for TicketDesk beyond helpdesk. I know of several automotive shops using it, as well as at least one apartment complex (using it for maintenance request).

  2. Thank you so much Stephen for great work.
    I’m also using TicketDesk 2.0 to display complains in local municipality, they using it very well to assign tickets internally. Basically we have a dedicated mobile application used by common users to register complains and attach images as evidence. After very less effort we customized it according to requirement.
    We developed messaging service to send complain updates to user. Also, this application is hosted on shared server so we customized to store attachments in file system.
    Thanks.

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