Vishful thinking…

Deployment hassles with the ‘black box’ MXD file format

Posted in ArcGIS, ESRI by viswaug on July 18, 2009

The MXD file format has always remained a ‘black box’ with its proprietary binary file format which cannot be opened or modified without ArcMap / ArcCatalog / ArcObjects. It’s even got a voodoo doctor that magically treats all its ailments, the ‘MXD Doctor’ software utility. This is fine in the most of the desktop world where the user most probably has access to ArcMap / ArcCatalog. But in the world of server applications that use ArcGIS Server, it does become quite a hassle. The problem occurs during the deployment phase. During the development and the demo phase, we might have prepared the MXD file with all the layers referencing FeatureClasses in the development / demo  geodatabase. But when you move the MXD to the production environment, the layers should now be modified to reference the FeatureClasses from the production geodatabase. Well, to switch the FeatureClass data source reference for the layers in the MXD, you will need access to ArcMap / ArcCatalog. IMHO, I don’t believe that we should be installing ArcMap / ArcCatalog in the production server environment, especially for a reason like the one mentioned above. Installing a full-blown desktop GIS software on a server environment might not make the IT folks very happy and might open up / expose security vulnerabilities. Given the binary nature of the MXD file, I can’t open up the file in a text editor and switch the data sources. And AFAIK, I don’t believe that there is a tool / script that will help make the switch of the data sources without the need for ArcMAP / ArcCatalog. Also, it is not just the MXD file format, the other ESRI file format like ‘.sde’ and ‘.gds’ etc all are in a binary format which makes deployment more painful that it should really be.

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Hunting down memory leaks in Silverlight

Posted in .NET, Silverlight by viswaug on July 13, 2009

Recently, I was noticing some memory issues with a Silverlight application I was working on. I was creating a dialog window (user control) dynamically where the user could edit and save data. The dialog user control was data bound to a ‘ViewModel’ type which populates the data controls in the dialog and is then used to populate and save a business object. After, the user clicks on the OK or the Cancel button, i was disposing away with the user control from memory by setting its reference to NULL. But, when i repeated the process of opening and closing the dialog multiple times, the memory used by Internet Explorer always kept going up. This made me suspicious that even though I was setting the user control’s reference to NULL, the user control was never disposed away from memory.

To confirm that multiple instances of the user control were still in memory, I resorted to using “windbg”. Following the steps below, you can confirm and debug memory leaks in Silverlight and also in the .NET CLR.

  1. Download and install windbg from here.
  2. Run the Silverlight application and bring it to a state where you think a memory problem exists. In my case above, I had to open and close the suspect dialog multiple times.
  3. Run windbg and attach to the Internet Explorer process running your Silverlight application.

    windbg1windbg2

  4. Load the SOS debugging extension for Silverlight. This is installed with the Silverlight SDK on your system. The ‘SOS.dll’ is found under the Silverlight installation directory. For me it is at “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Silverlight\2.0.40115.0\sos.dll”. To load the SOS debugging extension execute the command “.load C:\Program Files\Microsoft Silverlight\2.0.40115.0\sos.dll” in the windbg window.

    windbg3

  5. Run the “!dumpheap -stat” command to view the objects in memory and the count of their instances.
  6. Run the “!dumpheap –stat –type [TypeName]” command to view the number of instances of the specified type in memory. In my case, I found that the number of instances of the dialog user control object in memory was always equal to the number of times I had opened and closed the dialog user control. This indicated that the user control object were not getting disposed from memory even when I had set its reference to NULL.
  7. Run the “!dumpheap –type [TypeName]” command to view all the memory addresses of the object’s instances.
  8. Run the “!gcroot [Address]” command to view how the instance of the object can be reached. In other words, it tells us what is holding on to the reference of the object and thus keeping the object in memory without being cleaned up by the garbage collector. The output here is hard to read, but the pain of going through this exercise will definitely pay off when the memory leak in the application has been fixed.

In my case, it turned out that the ‘ViewModel’ object the dialog user control was being data bound to was holding on to a reference to the user control object. So, to fix the memory leak, all I had to do was to set the ‘DataContext’ property of the user control to NULL before setting the user control reference itself to NULL.

Exploring/Exploiting the query operation in the ArcGIS REST API

Posted in ArcGIS, ESRI, GIS by viswaug on July 9, 2009

I was starting to look harder at the query operation in the ArcGIS Server REST API today to figure if I can leverage it to get specific results I needed instead of building my own REST services. The scenario I was looking at was to be able to get the records corresponding to the minimum and the maximum values in a given field. To provide an example, let’s say you have a ‘States’ layer with a field called ‘POP2008’ that contains population numbers for the year 2008. In this case, I want to obtain the state records with the minimum and the maximum population for the year 2008. At the outset, there didn’t seem to be a way to do it. After spending some time investigating the possibilities with the REST API query operation, I found that the above was in fact possible. Assuming that the FeatureClass name of the ‘States’ layer is ‘States_DTL’, the query below will produce the desired results.

POP2008 = (SELECT MIN(POP2008) from States_DTL) OR POP2008 = (SELECT MAX(POP2008) from States_DTL)

I was surprised to find out that I was able to use the name of a FeatureClass in the query. Agreed, the user of the REST API will/might not know the name of the FeatureClass. But the user could get lucky and be able to guess the name of the FetaureClass after ‘n’ tries. The FeatureClass / Table being used doesn’t even need to be a part of the MapService. I am not yet sure about how far this behavior can be exploited. Nevertheless, I found that this behavior was a little more than interesting.