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Magellan Forms
5 min read

Magellan Forms

This is an old post and doesn't necessarily reflect my current thinking on a topic, and some links or images may not work. The text is preserved here for posterity.

Back to: Magellan Home

Data entry forms are common in line of business WPF applications, and they can become repetitive to write. Magellan includes a new set of controls that you can use to rapidly throw data entry forms together.

The goals of Magellan Forms are:

  • Minimal XAML
  • Abstract presentation concerns
  • Use conventions to infer as much information as possible
  • Flexible and extensible

Getting Started

To illustrate, take a form declared like this:

    <Field For="{Binding Path=Server.Server}" />
    <Field For="{Binding Path=Server.CachedExchangeMode}" />
    <Field For="{Binding Path=Server.Username}" />
    <Field For="{Binding Path=Server.SecurityMode}" />

The object model that this form is bound to looks like this:

public class ExchangeServerSettings : ServerSettings
    public string Server { get; set; }

    public string Username { get; set; }

    [DisplayName("Use cached Exchange mode")]
    public bool CachedExchangeMode { get; set; }

    [DisplayName("Security mode")]
    public ExchangeSecurityMode SecurityMode { get; set; }

public enum ExchangeSecurityMode

This markup and code is all Magellan Forms needs to figure out how to render the form:

A WPF form. Notice how the checkbox and

Magellan was able to infer:

  • The caption for each field, using either the DisplayName attribute or property name.
  • The control to use for each field, based on the control type


While Magellan Forms is able to infer settings based on the bindings, the feature is optional. You can instead manually set all of the field values:

<Field Header="First name:">
    <TextBox Text="{Binding Path=FirstName}" Width="200" />

Fields are just ContentControls, so you can use anything you like inside a field. You can also choose to infer most of a field while overriding a specific setting, for example:

<Field Header="Surname:" For="{Binding Path=LastName}" />


A Form is simply an ItemsControl, which by default uses a StackPanel to lay out the children. A Field is a ContentControl. This means you can use styles and templates to customize how they are rendered.

For example, suppose our design team decided that all labels should now be right-aligned:

Now the labels are right-aligned

They just have to override the Field template in App.xaml:

<Style TargetType="Field">
    <Setter Property="Template">
            <ControlTemplate TargetType="Field">
                        <ColumnDefinition Width="120" />
                        <ColumnDefinition Width="Auto" />
                        <ColumnDefinition Width="*" />

                    <Label Content="{TemplateBinding Header}" HorizontalContentAlignment="Right" Margin="2" />
                    <ContentPresenter Grid.Column="1" />


The conventions used to infer control types and display settings can be customized through two extension points:

  1. IFieldConvention, used to figure out the heading and other settings
  2. IEditorStrategy, a list of which is used to create the appropriate editor for a type

You can implement IFieldConvention and then register it via the attached inherited property on a field:

<Form Form.FieldConvention="{x:Static MyFieldConvention.Instance}"> ...

When the default field convention is choosing an editor, it consults a list of registered IEditorStrategy implementations. There are three out of the box:

  1. TextBoxEditorStrategy
  2. ComboBoxEditorStrategy
  3. CheckBoxEditorStrategy

Writing your own is easy. For example, suppose you want to show a masked editor for numeric types. The code below assumes you use something like the Xceed masked editor:

public class MaskedTextBoxEditorStrategy : IEditorStrategy
    public object CreateEditor(FieldContext context)
        var isInteger = context.PropertyDescriptor.PropertyType == typeof(int);
        var isDecimal = context.PropertyDescriptor.PropertyType == typeof(decimal);

        if (!isInteger && !isDecimal) 
            // This editor is only concerned with numeric types 
            return null;

        var maskedTextBox = new MaskedTextBox();
        maskedTextBox.Mask = isInteger ? "999,999" : "999,999.99";
        BindingOperations.SetBinding(maskedTextBox, TextBox.TextProperty, context.FieldBinding);
        return maskedTextBox;

The editor then just needs to be registered (usually somewhere in App.xaml.cs):

EditorStrategies.Strategies.Insert(0, new MaskedTextBoxEditorStrategy());

Note that when a field is inferred, all editors are consulted in order, and the first non-null result is used. That's why you typically want to Insert an editor to the top of the list rather than adding it to the end. I'm interested in feedback on this design.


Editor strategies can also make use of validation attributes to provide richer information and UI cues. For example, suppose you had a standard range of TextBox sizes:

<Style x:Key="TextBox.Small" TargetType="TextBox" BasedOn="{StaticResource {x:Type TextBox}}">
    <Setter Property="Width" Value="100" />

<Style x:Key="TextBox.Normal" TargetType="TextBox" BasedOn="{StaticResource {x:Type TextBox}}">
    <Setter Property="Width" Value="200" />

<Style x:Key="TextBox.Big" TargetType="TextBox" BasedOn="{StaticResource {x:Type TextBox}}">
    <Setter Property="Width" Value="300" />

The view model could use make use of Data Annotations to specify the maximum text length and whether a field is mandatory:

public string Username { get; set; }

A custom editor strategy could detect these and set the TextBox settings as follows:

public class CustomTextBoxEditorStrategy : IEditorStrategy
    public object CreateEditor(FieldContext context)
        if (context.PropertyDescriptor.PropertyType != typeof(string))
            // We only deal with strings
            return null;

        var required = context.PropertyDescriptor.Attributes.OfType<RequiredAttribute>().FirstOrDefault();
        var length = context.PropertyDescriptor.Attributes.OfType<StringLengthAttribute>().FirstOrDefault();

        if (required != null)
            context.Field.IsRequired = true;

        var textBox = new TextBox();
        BindingOperations.SetBinding(textBox, TextBox.TextProperty, context.Binding);
        if (length != null)
            var max = length.MaximumLength;
            if (max < 20) textBox.Style = (Style)context.Field.FindResource("TextBox.Small");
            else if (max < 50) textBox.Style = (Style)context.Field.FindResource("TextBox.Normal");
            else textBox.Style = (Style)context.Field.FindResource("TextBox.Big");

            textBox.MaxLength = max;
        return textBox;

The editor strategy can also set values on the bindings, such as adding new ValidationRules.


Magellan Forms provides a foundation that allows you to leverage a little infrastructure code (editor strategies, styles, annotations) to gain a lot of reuse. I like to think of this as 'semantic XAML', that is, the functional XAML just describes that I want a form with some fields, rather than all the specifics about layout. The layout decisions are differed to styles that designers can manage, giving us consistency and a single point of change. I hope you find the feature useful.

Note for partial trust applications

Inference relies on invoking a private member on BindingExpression to work. This means it won't work in XBAP's and other partial trust scenarios. The rest of the forms library should work - just don't use the For property.


I'd like to thank my colleague, Miguel Madero, who worked with me to figure out how inference would work.

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Paul Stovell's Blog

Hello, I'm Paul Stovell

I'm a Brisbane-based software developer, and founder of Octopus Deploy, a DevOps automation software company. This is my personal blog where I write about my journey with Octopus and software development.

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