Vishful thinking…

Black magic behind the MSD Map Services?

Posted in ArcGIS, ESRI by viswaug on September 29, 2009

Much has been said about the performance boost that can be achieved by running MSD map services over MXD map services. Here I will talk a little bit about the other side of the MSD map services which trips up developers like me. The only information that I was able to find about the capabilities/short-comings of the MSD map services from ESRI was on their blog post here. Since, I develop and use a few custom Server Object Extensions (SOEs), I noticed that some of the SOEs that I had written earlier had stopped working when registered with MSD map services. And the following piece of information from the blog post mentioned earlier seemed to indicate the cause of the problem.

What capabilities (server object extensions) are supported for MSD-based map services?

The WMS and KML capabilities are available with MSD-based services, as well as the default Mapping capability. Custom server object extensions can also work with MSD-based services but they cannot access fine-grained ArcObjects; they must use the coarse-grained methods on MapServer and its related classes.

The important part of the above statement is tha ‘custom SOEs cannot access fine-grained ArcObjects’. Well, what does that really mean? It kinda means that you cannot access the fine-grained ArcObjects features that are exposed through the IMapServerObjects interface on the MapServer server object. But being from the .NET world, I had trouble wrapping my head around how the same MapServer server object class can serve both the MXD map services and also the MSD map services and behave differently for each service type. How can the same MapServer class offer the IMapServerObjects features for MXD map services but not for MSD map services? I tried casting(QI) the MapServer server object obtained from a MSD map service to an IMapServerObjects interface which actually resulted in an exception being thrown. But the same cast worked on the MapServer object obtained from a MSD map service. My first thought when I noticed this behavior was that maybe the MSD map services are actually served by a different new server object class and not the MapServer class that serves the MXD map services. The ESRI  9.3.1 documentation doesn’t mention anything about a new server object. So, either ESRI didn’t document it or the same MapServer has developed multiple-personalities in AGS 9.3.1. To test it out, I obtained the CLSID of the server object that served MSD map services and the MXD map services. The were the exact SAME. That probably means that the same MapServer class is just behaving differently in different usage scenarios by leveraging some COM black magic which I don’t have too much knowledge about.

Since, we can’t get at the rich features in the IMapServerObjects interface, the custom SOEs on MSD map services really become only a little more useful than custom COM utility objects. So, some of the custom server object extensions that developers wrote earlier for MXD map services will not work with MSD map services. And that is a real bummer for me. One way (that I really really hate) to overcome this limitation is to run another MXD map service for the MSD map service. The MSD map service makes the maps and the MXD map service is only used to obtain and use the features of the  custom server object extension. I do really hate the idea of running a another expensive map service process on the AGS machine only for the purpose of using the features of the custom server object extensions. Although, I do have some ideas on a better ways of working around these limitations. The most frustrating part about this whole thing is that I think internally ESRI does have access to fine grained ArcObjects for the MSD map services and they just don’t let us know how to gain access to the fine grained ArcObjects. Why/How do I say that? The reason for my suspicions that the above is the case is because, the WMS and KML server object extensions in-fact DO work with MSD map services also. Which means that those server object extensions are able to access fine-grained ArcObjects to do what they need to do.

Update : Another change that relates to SOEs in AGS 9.3.1 is regarding it registration process. As many might have noticed, their SOEs shows (or doesn’t showup :)) up without any label in the ArcCatalog->Service Properties->Capabilities tab. It took me a while to realize what was happening. I had initially assumed that the SOE wasn’t showing up in the list. But later, luckily I discovered that the SOE was in-fact displaying but there was just no label for it in the Capabilities list box. In 9.3, the IServerObjectExtensionType interface has been superseded by the IServerObjectExtensionType2 interface ArcObjects style. So, when you register the SOE with ArcGIS Server by calling the CreateExtensionType, the returned object should be casted to the type IServerExtensionType2 and the ‘DisplayName‘ property should be set on it before calling AddExtensionType. This ‘DisplayName‘ property is what shows up in the capabilities tab and if it is not set, the entry for the SOE in the capabilities tab will be empty. Earlier, the extension’s Name property used to show up in the capabilities tab. But no longer, it is the DisplayName property that is used to label the entry in the capabilities tab list box. I hope ESRI finds some time to update their documentation about this over here.

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