(Third Party) Dependency Injection in ASP.NET Core

One of the nice things that the new ASP.NET Core stack brings to the table, is Dependency Injection (DI) as a first-class citizen, right out of the box. DI is nothing new, even for ASP.NET, but in the earlier versions, it wasn't baked into the platform, and developers were forced to jump through hoops in order to enable it.

Let's look at the status quo and how things are changing for the better with the new DI system in ASP.NET Core...

Status quo

Because of the history of ASP.NET, the timelines and factoring of its different products, like WebForms, MVC, SignalR, Katana (OWIN) and Web API, they've each had their own way of doing DI. Some products have extensibility points that you can leverage in order to plug in an Inversion of Control (IoC) container:

  • Web API: System.Web.Http.Dependencies.IDependencyResolver and System.Web.Http.Dependencies.IDependencyScope
  • MVC: System.Web.Mvc.IDependencyResolver
  • SignalR: Microsoft.AspNet.SignalR.IDependencyResolver

While others, like WebForms and Katana, doesn't. Some will argue that the IDependencyResolver-type abstraction, which is essentially an implementation of the Service Locator pattern, is an anti-pattern and should be avoided, but that's a discussion for another day.

There are also other ways of achieving DI within some of the frameworks; MVC has IControllerFactory and IControllerActivator, Web API has IHttpControllerActivator etc. All of these are extensibility points that you can implement in order to leverage DI in your controllers.

Implementing these abstractions yourself isn't something that you typically want or should have to do. Most IoC containers have already implemented these adapters for you and ship them as NuGet packages. If we take Autofac as an example, some adapters include

  • Autofac.Mvc4
  • Autofac.Mvc5
  • Autofac.Owin
  • Autofac.WebApi
  • Autofac.WebApi2
  • Autofac.SignalR
  • Autofac.Web (WebForms)

As you can see, it quickly starts to add up - and this is just for a single container! Imagine if I'd compiled a list for the gazillion different IoC containers in the .NET space. Each of the adapters needs to be maintained, updated, versioned etc. That's a big burden on the adapter maintainers and the community in general.

On the consuming side of this, for a typical web application using MVC, SignalR and Web API, you'd end up needing three (or more) of these adapters, in order to leverage DI across the application.

The future

Even though a lot of ideas and code have been carried forward from Katana, ASP.NET Core is by all means a re-imagining, re-write, re-EVERYTHING of the entire, current ASP.NET stack. Hell, it's even triggered a re-jigging of the entire .NET (Core) platform and tooling. This means that it's a perfect time to bring DI into the platform itself, and make all components on top benefit of a single, unified way of doing DI.

Say hello to IServiceProvider! Even though the interface itself isn't new (it's been living in mscorlib under the System namespace since .NET 1.1), it's found new life in the ASP.NET Core DI system. It's also accompanied by a couple of new interfaces; IServiceCollection, which is essentially a builder for an IServiceProvider and IServiceScope, which is intended for resolving services within a specific lifetime scope, like per-request.

In order for things to Just Work™, out of the box, Microsoft have implemented a lightweight IoC container that ships with the ASP.NET Core hosting layer. It's in the Microsoft.Extensions.DependencyInjection NuGet package.

When ASP.NET Core is bootstrapped, it creates an instance of IServiceCollection and passes it to user code using the ConfigureServices method of the Startup class:

public class Startup  
{
    public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
    {
        // This method gets called by the runtime.
        // Use this method to add services to the container.

         // Adds the services MVC requires to run.
        services.AddMvc();

        // Add some custom services
        services.AddSingleton<ICache, Cache>();
        services.AddScoped<IDatabaseSession, DatabaseSession>();
    }

    // ...
}

In this method, you're free to add whatever services your application needs, and they will magically be available for constructor injection across the board. Different components in the stack also ship with extension methods to conveniently add the services the component needs to the collection, like AddMvc (shown above), AddCors, AddEntityFramework etc.

Now, it's important to note that the default implementation, living in Microsoft.Extensions.DependencyInjection is a deliberately lightweight, feature poor (is that a word?), fast, implementation of an IoC container. It has just the amount of features needed for the runtime/platform/framework to compose itself and run. A "lowest common denominator" feature set, if you will. If you want more advanced features, like many do, Microsoft actively encourages you to Bring Your Own Container (BYOC), or layer the functionality on top, which I've done with Scrutor. This brings us back to IoC container adapters.

If you want to use a third party container, you have to, like before, implement your own version of IServiceProvider (and its accompanying interfaces), or use an adapter that someone in the community has already provided. There are already several of these available, like

The difference this time (this time, it'll be different, I promise ;)), is that you only need a single adapter to enable DI across the board. To plug in the adapter, you have to change the return type of the ConfigureServices method to IServiceProvider and return the adapter implementation. By using StructureMap.Dnx as an example, let's look at our startup class again:

public class Startup  
{
    public IServiceProvider ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
    {
        // This method gets called by the runtime.
        // Use this method to add services to the container.

        // Adds the services MVC requires to run.
        services.AddMvc();

        // Add some custom services
        services.AddSingleton<ICache, Cache>();
        services.AddScoped<IDatabaseSession, DatabaseSession>();

        // Create an instance of a StructureMap container.
        var container = new Container();

        // Here we can add stuff to container, using StructureMap-specific APIs...

        // Populate the StructureMap container with
        // services from the IServiceCollection.
        container.Populate(services); 

        // Resolve the StructureMap-specific IServiceProvider
        // and return it to the runtime.
        return container.GetInstance<IServiceProvider>();
    }

    // ...
}

By doing this, all components will resolve its services from the StructureMap container, and you'll be able to utilize the full feature set of StructureMap, like awesome diagnostics, property injection, convention based registrations, profiles, decoration etc.

This post turned out longer than I expected, just to show a couple of lines of code at the end, but I thought it would be interesting to put everything in perspective and hopefully you did too. As you can see the DI story has been greatly simplified in the this new world, while still allowing you, as an application, library or framework developer, to utilize DI across the board, with minimal effort.