Friday, 11 October 2013

The ExpandoObject Stringified

I had a requirement to output some data as part of a number of pages in an e-commerce site. This data would change from page to page and typically get richer as a user would go through an order path in the application. The data needed to be in JSON format and was going to be used by the marketing guys to help track information about user behaviour across the order process. The data was also subject to change regularly depending on what the marketing team wanted to track. In short, I had to construct a JSON string on the server side in C#.

I had seen something like this done before where a StringBuilder was used to construct a large JSON string which was then pushed out in the response with the rest of the page markup. This approach seemed messy and difficult to maintain. I did a bit of research on some approaches to constructing a potentially complex and changing JSON object using C# and came across the ExpandoObject class. MSDN has a nice succinct explanation of ExpandoObject:
"Represents an object whose members can be dynamically added and removed at run time."
You can find this class in .NET 4 in the System.Dynamic namespace. ExpandoObject lets you effectively "model" an object on the fly with properties that don't really exist (just like using the ViewBag in ASP.NET MVC). In my case, it saved me from writing a number of classes or complex strings just to hold data that was to be output in page responses. Instead, I could use ExpandoObject and then use a JSON serializer to stringify the object.

The example below shows how easy and flexible it is to use ExpandoObject with the Newtonsoft .NET JSON library (available as a NuGet package):
dynamic orderInfo = new ExpandoObject();

orderInfo.OrderDate = DateTime.Today;

orderInfo.ProductTypesAdded = new List<dynamic>();

orderInfo.ReachedCheckout = true;
orderInfo.PaymentMethod = "Card";
orderInfo.DeliveryInfo = new ExpandoObject();
orderInfo.DeliveryInfo.Method = "First";
orderInfo.DeliveryInfo.Country = "UK";

var json = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(orderInfo);
The resulting JSON is: