Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Setting up an Internal Friendly URL

Note: This solution is not necessarily the best or most efficient solution in all cases.  It is, however, very simple and works with any site - even ones you have no control over.


Internal Web System XYZ must be accessed via an ugly URL such as

Desired End State:

Internal users should be able to type in a friendly URL (such as and get sent directly to the "homepage" of the desired system.  Search result optimization and using deep links with the friendly URL are not required.

One Solution Using IIS 7.5 (should work with earlier versions by hunting for the same options):

  • Register and other related host names such as in your organization's DNS.  If the server where you will be hosting the friendly URL is more likely to change its IP address instead of its name, use a CNAME record; if the server is more likely to change its name but keep its IP address, use an A record.
  • Open your IIS Manager and right-click Sites... Add Web Site.
    • The site name should be " (redirect)".
    • The physical path should be a folder in a secure location local to the web server.  (whatever is appropriate for your environment - it will only require a few KB of storage).
    • Set the host name to "" .
    • Hit OK.  This should create the site and start it automatically.
  • Go to the "HTTP Redirect" HTTP Redirect Screenshot option under the IIS section for the new site, and check the box for "Redirect requests to this destination".
    • Set the destination to your application's "real" full URL including the protocol (http or https), port numbers, deep path, document, query string, etc.
    • Check the box for "Redirect all requests to exact destination (instead of relative to destination), but do not check the box for "Only redirect requests to content in this directory (not subdirectories)".
    • The default status code "Found (302)" is fine.
    • Click the crazy Apply button in the far upper right.  Apply Screenshot
  • Next, open the "HTTP Response Headers" option HTTP Response Headers Screenshot 
    • Click the small "Set Common Headers..." button in the actions bar (upper right).
    • You can uncheck "Enable HTTP keep-alive" and set the box to expire web content "Immediately".
    • Click OK.

Set Common HTTP Response Headers dialog

  • Clients should now get redirected to the main site by visiting the friendly URL.  Because the HTTP header indicates that the content expires immediately, the IIS server hosting the friendly URL will be hit every time.  Since the only response is an HTTP redirect enforced by IIS (< 500 bytes), the load should be very light except in the most extreme circumstances, and this gives you the ability to easily change the redirect URL at some point and have the change take effect immediately.
  • If you want to include content in the root folder for the web site to make the intention clear to a server admin browsing to this folder, you can create a default.htm file with the following content:

    <!-- Note: This site is redirected via IIS Settings.  This  page should actually never be seen or used. -->
    <head><meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="0;url=" /></head>
    <body><a href="">Click here to continue to the site.</a></body>

Please note, though, that this extra step is absolutely not required, though, since the IIS server should be ignoring all site content due to the HTTP Redirect setting.  It could also "get stale" in case the redirection URL is updated in IIS but not in the HTML file which could cause more confusion.


Raw Request to (captured with Fiddler):

Fiddler capture text (Request)

Raw Response from IIS (captured with Fiddler):


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Using SkyDrive at Work for Collaboration - A Quick Start Guide

It seems that many of my projects in the past year or so have required sharing files with external business partners.  I've found that SkyDrive has been quite useful for this purpose.  Here's how to get started quickly and securely sharing files.

Setting up SkyDrive sync:

1. If you don't yet have a Microsoft account, go ahead and sign up using your normal work email address - you don't need a Hotmail account or any Microsoft-specific domain name as your Microsoft user ID anymore.  Use a strong password, or better yet use a password solution like LastPass.

2. Download the SkyDrive application for your system (Windows 7 client is 5.7 MB as of Feb 2013).  This step isn't strictly needed, but it does make the integration much more seamless.


3. When the setup finishes, a wizard will ask you to make some unimportant choices and then one very important choice.  One of the items in setup that I personally turn off is the ability to remotely retrieve files on my work PC via the SkyDrive web user interface.  You may find this feature useful, but I've decided that it does not make sense for my scenario.

4. Once the client is installed, you should have a SkyDrive folder in your user profile folder that is set up for synchronization.


5. In this folder, create a folder called "Work Collaboration".  This is where you will be making subfolders for projects that you'll be sharing with different sets of people.

When you create a new folder, it will show up with the blue circular arrows indicating that it is syncing with Skydrive...


... and after a few seconds, it should show up with a green checkbox indicating that it has synchronized with the cloud.


You are now ready to share files.

Here's how sharing works:

So, you need to share a file with a business partner?  Usually, you'd launch your mail client, type an email saying "here is the sales analysis spreadsheet you wanted to look at" and begin to attach the file. However, you know this spreadsheet is going to go back and forth at least a few times with edits. That's a lot of email! Here's the better way.

1. Create a new folder in your Work Collaboration folder called (for example) "Sales Analysis" or whatever makes sense for the project.


2. Copy the file there using Windows Explorer. This will automatically kick off the process of synchronizing it.

image image

3. Go back up one level (backspace key in Windows Explorer), right click on the folder you're going to share and click "SkyDrive... Share".


4. This will open your browser and log you in to SkyDrive.  You will be presented with the option to "Send email".  Send the email to the work address of your contact(s).  You should always check the box that says "Require everyone who accesses this to sign in" if you care about keeping the files secure.  You can also indicate if the recipients of the email can edit files in the folder (if unchecked, they will have read-only access).


Once you click Share, the list of users with granted permissions will display. You can click Done to exit.


What happens on the sharing partner's computer?

1. Your partner will get an email with content like this:


2. If they are not registered, they will be able to click the link "Sign Up now" on the SkyDrive login page.  You need to tell them to use their work email address to sign up for a Microsoft account.


3. Once they're logged in, they will see the folder and can work with the shared documents using the SkyDrive web site.  Any edits or new files uploaded to the folder will be automatically synchronized to your PC when changes are made to a shared folder in your SkyDrive.  If the documents are in one of the MS Office file formats, you or your sharing partners can even use the built-in web-based Office apps to view the documents or make edits.


4. If one of your business partners ever wants to get back to the place on SkyDrive that you've shared, they can just log in to their SkyDrive account and click "Shared" on the left-hand pane and your SkyDrive will be listed.


When I'm done sharing

When you're ready to stop sharing a file or folder, open it using the SkyDrive... Share option on the right-click menu, or if you are on the SkyDrive site already, use the "Sharing" link at the top.


On the left-hand pane, select the individuals you want to remove permissions for, and click "Remove Permissions".  They will no longer be able to access the selected items on your SkyDrive.


I hope you find SkyDrive as convenient and painless as I have.  If you have any questions about SkyDrive, please ask!  I'm a member of the SkyDrive Insiders program; you can learn more about this program here.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Using Inline “With” Blocks to Augment a VB.NET Default Constructor

Say you have a simple data transfer class that looks like this:

Public Class Employee
    Public Property Name As String
    Public Property HireDate As Date
    Public Property EmployeeID As Integer
End Class

Normally to load up this class, you might call something like this:

Dim employee As New Employee
employee.Name = "Steve"
employee.HireDate = #1/1/2013#
employee.EmployeeID = 12345

In this case there is an implied Public Sub New() that gets called for you when the class is instantiated.  However, you could also call this:

Dim employee As New Employee With {.Name = "Steve", .HireDate = #1/1/2013#, _
                                                       .EmployeeID = 12345}

Or in VB 2010 or higher which supports implied line continuation, this:

Dim employee As New Employee With {
                .Name = "Steve",
                .HireDate = #1/1/2013#,
                .EmployeeID = 12345,

Note: if you happen to be inside a “With” block already, the inner “With” will take precedence over the scope of the outer “With”.  This applies to both inline “With” blocks and normal “With” blocks, though nesting “With” blocks is not recommended for code clarity’s sake.