When working with a client in the hardware maintenance business, I developed an efficient and robust solution to solve a specific label printing business problem. This blog will discuss the business requirement and how I solved it with a simple solution using a message queue, DebuggableService, and XML Serialization.
A few months ago, I received a requirement to add shipping label printing functionality to a client’s web application. The customer had several facilities throughout the world and each facility had many label printers that are used by other applications to print mailing labels.
The client’s web application was implemented in ASP.NET and Web API 2, using C#, knockoutJS, and SQL Server. The shipping label printing functionality would need to be added to the current application.
A label had to be printed after successfully receiving an item, and attached to the item, before it was moved to the warehouse. There are over 50 label types with different formats and content that can be generated, each with their own specific data requirements.
With potentially hundreds of employees using the application at any time, I did not want to trigger a label print directly from the web application, which may have put stress on the network and the individual label printers. As such, much thought went into the design. It was determined to decouple the request for a label to be printed through the application and the actual printing of the label.
Instead, I used a message queue to capture label printing requests generated when an order was received. Upon a successful order receipt, the application would generate a message to the message queue. The message would include printer name, number of labels to print, label type, label template location (on the server), label specific data, and template name. To do the actual label printing, I implemented a windows service to read and process messages from the message queue and to format and send print requests to the label printers.
To make the development of the windows service efficiently, I downloaded the DebuggableService project template from the Microsoft Visual Studio Marketplace. This project template made it easy to both debug the service as a console project, and install the service as a windows service.
As there was to be only one global windows service to handle queue messages, I opted to use a SQL Server Table as the message queue. The service would continually poll the queue for messages, read any and all messages, process the messages, delete the messages after successful processing, log processing result to an application log, and then resume message polling.
I could have opted to use an actual message queue, but that would have required the creation of a queue which would have added more complexity, and pieces to the application, with no strong benefit.
The schema for the queue table (LabelQueue) is listed below in Figure 1.
In order to minimize change management regarding the LabelQueue table, I opted to pass all label configuration messages as XML within the ReceiptItemViewModel column. This prevents the table from being modified should any label content be modified or if new labels are added.
I also opted to use XML Serialization to format, write and read the information within the ReceiptItemViewModel column. To format the information correctly as XML, I used the following code:
which calls the following .NET API code to serialize the class to XML:
To read the information within the Windows Service, I used the following code:
which calls the following .NET API code to deserialize the class back to an object:
Another approach would have been to directly create a data model to hold individual elements of the label in specific data table columns. However, this approach would lead to table modifications, if the label data requirements changed in the future.
This blog discussed a business requirement to print shipping labels from an existing application, and how I implemented a simple solution using a message queue implemented as a table in SQL Server, DebuggableService a project template obtained from the Microsoft Visual Studio Marketplace, and XML Serialization, part of the C# API.
The solution effectively decoupled the request and processing of the label printing functionality and minimized the potential for database modification should the label data be modified in the future.