OK, I’m a little late at getting to this but I have just posted the code for my recent talk: Creating Awesome Chat Bots with the Bot Framework and C#.

To all that attended, thanks for joining me. I had a lot of fun preparing and presenting.

The code is here: https://github.com/schwammy/bot-demo

Unfortunately, this isn’t the easiest sample to get running. I think the code serves as a good example of some great things you can do with bots. However, if you want to actually use it, there are several steps that need to be done in advance. I’ve copied the text below from the readme file. As I say in a lot of my presentations, each step is pretty easy. However, putting them all together, especially for the first time, can be tricky. There are lots of good articles and videos on the web already for getting started with Bot Framework (and LUIS and QnA). I suggest reading up a bit and then follow my very basic instructions to get the code sample running.

Contact me if you have any questions or issues. Have Fun!

Getting Started

Before using this code you need to get set up

  1. Follow the instructions in the Prerequisites section here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/bot-service/dotnet/bot-builder-dotnet-quickstart
  2. Install the emulator. The link is on the same page as above in the section: “Test your bot”

  3. You will also need:

Resources Setup

  1. After you create a LUIS account, create a LUIS app. You can leave it blank if you want. TechBashBot.sln contains a file LuisModel.json that can be imported to get started quickly.

  2. After you create a QnA Maker account, create a QnA service. You can import the questionsn and answers from TechBashBot.sln using the QnAMaker.tsv file.
  3. After you create your Azure Account, create a Web App Bot. Just add a resource and search “bot”, then choose Web App Bot

App Configuration

Once all of your resources are set up, you need to configure the code:

  1. Update the web.config file with the MicrosoftAppId and MicrosoftAppPassword for your new Web App Bot

  2. Update LuisDialog.cs by setting the new LUIS model id and subscription key
  3. Update QnADialog.cs by setting the QnA Service subscription key and knowledgebase id

If you spend your day in a code editor like Visual Studio, you want to make the experience as good as it gets. One simple change you can make is to change your font. You’ll be surprised how a font change can make your code more readable and make writing software more enjoyable.

Here is an example of code using the font Consolas

image

This next sample uses FiraCode. In many ways it looks similar to Consolas, but it adds some cool features. In particular, it works really well with symbols that are made up of multiple characters. Check out the Lambda expression in the sample below. It makes “=>” look really cool. It works really well for “==” and “===” and “>=”, etc. These things are called Ligatures. I really don’t know much about fonts. It is all explained pretty well on GitHub where you can download and install the font (they provide instructions too).

image

 

Here is a screenshot from the GitHub site for FiraCode that shows how it looks for various multi-character symbols…

image

So, chose a font that works great for you! I like FiraCode. You can read more and download FiraCode here.

 

image

 

I’ve been using the Azure Portal more and more these days and one thing is for sure, I still have a lot to learn. There is soooo much to do in Azure. This presents a problem with clutter. Since I don’t use all of the features, I find the “menu” of options to be pretty noisy. But the good news is, that is an easy problem to solve.

 

To the left I’ve pasted a screenshot of the Azure Portal’s side menu (actually, that is only part of it). You’ll note that the items on that list are shown as “favorites”. But I didn’t favorite them! With a few clicks I can clean this up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just click “All services” and you can see the complete list. The list is pretty long but I’ve included a screenshot of some of it below:

image

From this screen you can easily select which items really are your favorites. That will immediately reduce the size of the side menu. In addition, you will find a TON of other options that were not displayed on the favorites list originally. That’s a little depressing because it shows that there is even more to learn in Azure than I first thought. But I guess that is a good problem to have.

But wait, there’s more!

 

imageimage

Next, notice that as you hover over each item in the favorite list, you will see an icon indicating that you can grab it. If you do, you can drag the item up or down in the list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

image

When I am done selecting favorites and moving them around, I am left with a menu that makes it really easy for me to find what I need. No noise. Only the items I want in the order I want them. Now I can get to work!

 

Not a lot has changed with LINQ over the years. But I still find that developers aren’t completely familiar with the differences with some of the methods. In this post I’ll show the differences between:

  • Single()
  • SingleOrDefault()
  • First()
  • FirstOrDefault()

Of course these methods are similar but there are times when using the wrong one could lead to big problems with your application. The obvious similarity between these methods is that they are meant to return a single item. This is quite different from methods like Where() which returns a collection of items.

Now let’s focus on the differences.

I have noticed that in most cases, developers tend to use First() as the go to method for returning a single item from a collection. In my opinion, this is a bad idea. I tend to use Single() more often but of course there are times when each is appropriate. Here’s why…

Let’s start with a data set to work from. Here are some members of two great bands:

	List<Person> list = new List<Person>();
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 1, FirstName = "John", LastName = "Lennon"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 2, FirstName = "Paul", LastName = "McCartney"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 3, FirstName = "George", LastName = "Harrison"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 4, FirstName = "Ringo", LastName = "Starr"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 5, FirstName = "Jimmy", LastName = "Page"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 6, FirstName = "Robert", LastName = "Plant"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 7, FirstName = "John", LastName = "Bohnam"});
	list.Add(new Person {Id = 8, FirstName = "John Paul", LastName = "Jones"});

Let’s assume that the Id field is unique.

First, the method Single()

If I want to select a user by Id, I could use Single()

Person x = people.Single(p => p.Id == 1);

That will return the Person object for John Lennon.

For Single, the big difference comes when things aren’t as I expect them to be. Consider the following examples.

Person x = people.Single(p => p.Id == 9);

In this case, there is no person with an Id of 9. So Single() will throw an exception: “Sequence contains no matching element”.

Here’s another scenario

Person x = people.Single(p => p.FirstName == "John");

This too will throw an exception. This time it is “Sequence contains more than one matching element”.

So which is the best to use? It really depend on the situation. Often when you are selecting an item by Id, it is because you already know the Id. And if you do, I think it is safe to expect that the object with that Id exists. So I use Single(). In this case, the exception will be thrown if the user doesn’t exist but maybe that is ok because exceptions are for when things go wrong and in this case, something must have gone wrong. I also showed using Single(p => p.FirstName == “John”). But why would I do that? What reason could I have for selecting a Single item by a field that is not unique? Was I just curious to know if we had any Johns in the system? Would I have been better off with Any(p => p.FirstName == “John”) that returns a boolean?

Another option is SingleOrDefault()

Person x = people.SingleOrDefault(p => p.Id == 1);

This too will return the object for John Lennon.

Person x = people.SingleOrDefault(p => p.Id == 9);

SingleOrDefault() is safer. This time instead of an exception, x will be Null. Of course, as the developer, only I can decide which is better (Single or SingleOrDefault). It really depends on what I expect to happen and what other code exists to deal with unexpected results.

Person x = people.SingleOrDefault(p => p.FirstName == "John");

And SingleOrDefault() will still throw an exception if there is more than one “John”: “Sequence contains more than one matching element”

Next, a look at First() and FirstOrDefault()

Often, First() will give similar results but I find it misleading and using First() where inappropriate may actually hide problems. Consider the following:

Person x = people.First(p => p.Id == 1);

This too returns the object John Lennon.

Seems like everything is fine. But what if our data was bad. What if somehow we had two people with Id 1. Before you say “that would never happen”, think about some of the systems that you have supported. What if there was a mistake in the data entry validation? What if there was a bad import. My point is, it could happen. So now, if we use First(), we will get the first item in the collection that has the matching Id. It seems to me like in this case, I’d rather have Single throw an exception for me!

Unlike Single(), First() will NOT throw an exception if there is more than one matching element. Consider this:

Person x = people.First(p => p.FirstName == "John");

You can’t just assume that the result is John Lennon. It could depend on your data source and how the data was entered. Also, if a statement also had an OrderBy()

Person x = people.OrderBy(o => o.LastName).First(p => p.FirstName == "John");

Now I’m getting John Bohnam.

Yes, there are definitely cases when this is OK. But most of the time, I’d bet it is not. Why would I ever want the First() John?

Person x = people.FirstOrDefault(p => p.FirstName == "John");

This would have the same result as above. I could get John Lennon or John Bohnam depending on other factors.

Person x = people.FirstOrDefault(p => p.FirstName == "Pete");

Here, I get Null again (no exception). Sorry Pete Best, you’re not in the list.

So which to use?

There are circumstances for all of these. It’s great that we have 4 options. The important part is that as the developer, you understand that these are different. Please just don’t fall back on First() and use it all the time. Think about which is right for the circumstances you have at the moment.

One last tip

These statements may work correctly but they are just wasting keystrokes. I always say “less is more” with code.

Person x = people.Where(p => p.Id == 1).Single();
Person x = people.Where(p => p.Id == 1).First();

Please don’t do that. It’s much simpler to just say:

Person x = people.Single(p => p.Id == 1);
Person x = people.First(p => p.Id == 1);

The Microsoft Bot Framework makes it pretty easy to get started creating Chat Bots. If you haven’t gotten started yet, I recommend checking out this site: Bot Framework.

For a recent Bot that I created, we had the need for the Bot to expand. What I mean is, I want my bot chat UI to start out collapsed like a search box but then expand once a user starts talking to my bot.

7F9021F8-69F8-40A0-A26B-8EEC0CD32A1B

 

There are lots of examples for getting started with the Bot Framework. For this post, I will assume you already know how to do that. Hopefully you already know how to hook up the Web Chat control to communicate with your bot – here are some details about that.

I’ll start with the client-side code for this feature

For this feature, we will utilize the Web Chat’s backchannel using the DirectLine connection to the Bot. Then we can respond to events sent to the Web Chat from the bot. Here is the JavaScript needed to do this.

First, create a connection to the Bot with DirectLine:

        var directLine = new BotChat.DirectLine({ secret: &quot;YOUR KEY GOES HERE&quot; })

Next, subscribe to the event. All I am doing is listening for the event named “init” and when it occurs, add a class “fullSize” to the HTML element that hosts the bot.

        directLine.activity$
            .filter(isInitEvent)
            .subscribe(changeSize);

        function isInitEvent(activity) {
            return activity.type === &quot;event&quot; &amp;&amp; activity.name === &quot;init&quot;;
        }

        function changeSize(activity) {
            console.log(&quot;here&quot;)
            var container = document.getElementById(&quot;bot-chat-container&quot;);
            container.classList.add(&quot;fullSize&quot;);
        }

Lastly, create the Web Chat:

        BotChat.App({
            botConnection: this.directLine,
            user: { id: &#39;user&#39; },
            bot: { id: &#39;bot&#39; },
        }, document.getElementById(&quot;bot-chat-container&quot;));

I’m just using a little CSS to hide and show the rest of the Web Chat UI. Feel free to enhance this part a little, it could be better. Hopefully you get the idea.

        #bot-chat-container {
            border: 1px solid #333;
            height: 50px;
        }

        #bot-chat-container.fullSize {
            height: 300px;
        }

        .wc-header {
            display: none;
        }

        .fullSize .wc-header {
            display: block;
        }

        .wc-console svg {
            fill: black;
            margin: 11px;
        }

        /* These styles are used to hide the upload button...*/

        .wc-console label {
            display: none;
        }

        .wc-console .wc-textbox {
            left: 10px;
        }

All that is left to show of the UI is this DIV. But this isn’t too exciting:

<div id="bot-chat-container" />

Here is the Server-Side Code

This whole thing is based on an event coming to the Web Chat UI from the Bot on the server. I’m using C# and it is pretty simple stuff. When you create a Bot, the MessagesController is stubbed out for you to handle various Activity Types. In this case, I am concerned with ActivityType.ConversationUpdate. Check to see if the a new member is added to the conversation and if so, send event named “init”.

private async Task&lt;Activity&gt; HandleSystemMessage(Activity message)
        {
            if (message.Type == ActivityTypes.DeleteUserData)
            {
		// ...
            }
            else if (message.Type == ActivityTypes.ConversationUpdate)
            {
                using (var scope = Microsoft.Bot.Builder.Dialogs.Internals.DialogModule.BeginLifetimeScope(Conversation.Container, message))
                {
                    var client = scope.Resolve&lt;IConnectorClient&gt;();
                    if (message.MembersAdded.Any())
                    {
                        foreach (var newMember in message.MembersAdded)
                        {
                            if (newMember.Id != message.Recipient.Id)
                            {
                                var reply = message.CreateReply();
                                reply.Type = ActivityTypes.Event;
                                reply.Name = &quot;init&quot;;
                                await client.Conversations.ReplyToActivityAsync(reply);

                            }
                        }
                    }
                }
            }
		// ... etc. etc.

That’s all.