by grantcolley

The Origin framework is a WPF shell application for hosting line-of-business modules in a document style layout. Origin implements Prism, Unity, the AvalonDock docking system and a custom navigation bar.

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The Origin framework is a WPF shell application for hosting line-of-business modules in a document style layout. Origin implements Prism, Unity, the AvalonDock docking system and a custom navigation bar.

Screenshot 1. Example Dipsecure module Alt text

Screenshot 2. Example workflow module implementing Dipstate for an activity based workflow. Alt text


I first started developing Origin as an exercise in WPF shell development using Prism and Unity. Origin is a simple WPF shell that implements the AvalonDock docking system along with a custom navigation bar for hosting modules in a document style layout that supports MVVM. It is an ideal platform for developers who need to start writing line-of-business functionality without having to worry about writing a shell from scratch.

Getting Started

Download the source code and run the solution

  1. Download the source code from GitHub.

  2. Open the solution file DevelopmentInProgress.Origin.sln using Visual Studio.

  3. You will see three projects in the solution and each will be discussed below. For the time being note the start-up project is DevelopmentInProgress.Origin and the build output will go to a folder called Binaries.

    Alt text

  4. Build the solution.

  5. Run it.

What you get with the solution

The solution contains the following three projects:

  1. DevelopmentInProgress.Origin - this is the Origin framework containing the shell. You will create line-of-business modules as dll's that will plug into the framework. You will find out how to create a module below.

  2. DevelopmentInProgress.ExampleModule - this module contains examples of some basic functionality offered by the Origin framework. It's not pretty but is a great place to start learning about how it works by stepping through the code. Once you are familiar with the Origin framework you can remove it from the solution. When you do, don’t forget to remove it from the ModuleCatalog.xaml file in the DevelopmentInProgress.Origin project too.

  3. DevelopmentInProgress.ModuleTemplate - the quickest way to get started writing a module is to use this template. It comes with a document view and view model and is preconfigured in the navigation panel. Just rename the project and objects as appropriate. You’ll probably want a new image too!

Creating a Module

The following three steps describe how to create your own module using the DevelopmentInProgress.ModuleTemplate project as an example.

Alt text

Step 1 - Create a Class Library for the module

  1. Open the solution DevelopmentInProgress.Origin.sln in Visual Studio and add a new Class Library project.

  2. In the new project add a reference to the DevelopmentInProgress.Origin project.

  3. Add references to:

    • PresentationCore.dll
    • PresentationFramework.dll
    • WindowsBase.dll
    • System.Xaml.dll
  4. Add references to the following Prism libraries in the ThirdParty folder:

    • Microsoft.Practices.Prism.dll
    • Microsoft.Practices.Prism.UnityExtensions.dll
    • Microsoft.Practices.Unity.dll
  5. In the projects properties page go to the Build tab and change the build output path to the same location as the build output for the DevelopmentInProgress.Origin project e.g. ..\..\..\Binaries\.

  6. Create the following three folders in the project:

    • View
    • ViewModel
    • Images
  7. Add two .png images in the Images folder. One will be for the module and one will be for the document. These images will appear on the navigation panel. Don't forget to set their BuildAction property to Resource.

Step 2 - Create your View, ViewModel and Module classes

  1. In the ViewModel folder:

    1. Create a new class called NewDocumentViewModel.cs and make it inherit the DocumentViewModel abstract class.

    2. Modify the constructor to accept ViewModelContext, passing it into the base constructor.

    3. Override the OnPublished(object data) and SaveDocument() methods. To do so asynchronously just mark the methods with the async keyword and then await a long running task.

        public class NewDocumentViewModel : DocumentViewModel
            public NewDocumentViewModel(ViewModelContext viewModelContext)
                : base(viewModelContext)

            protected async override void OnPublished(object data)
                // Do stuff here...

            protected async override void SaveDocument()
                // Save stuff here...
  1. In the View folder:

    1. Create a new WPF UserControl class called NewDocumentView.xaml.

    2. In the code behind file inherit from DocumentViewBase instead of UserControl.

    3. Modify the constructor to accept IViewContext and NewDocumentViewModel, passing them into the base constructor along with Module.ModuleName.

    4. Set the data context to the newDocumentViewModel.

    5. In the xaml file rename the UserControl root element to view:DocumentViewBase.

    6. Remove the DesignHeight and DesignWidth properties.

         public partial class NewDocumentView : DocumentViewBase
             public NewDocumentView(IViewContext viewContext, NewDocumentViewModel newDocumentViewModel)
                 : base(viewContext, newDocumentViewModel, Module.ModuleName)
                 DataContext = newDocumentViewModel;
      <view:DocumentViewBase x:Class="DevelopmentInProgress.ModuleTemplate.View.NewDocumentView"
  2. Create a class called Module.cs.

    1. Module must Inherit from ModuleBase.

    2. Add a constant string property called ModuleName and give your module a name.

    3. Modify the constructor to accept IUnityContainer, ModuleNavigator and ILoggerFacade, passing them into the base constructor.

    4. Override the Initialize() Method and do the following:

      • Register the ViewModel and View with the Unity container.
      • Create and configure your navigation objects including ModuleSettings, ModuleGroup and ModuleGroupItem classes as shown in the code listing below.
      public class Module : ModuleBase
          public const string ModuleName = "Module Template";

          public Module(IUnityContainer container, ModuleNavigator moduleNavigator, ILoggerFacade logger)
              : base(container, moduleNavigator, logger)

          public override void Initialize()
              Container.RegisterType<Object, NewDocumentView>(typeof(NewDocumentView).Name);

              var moduleSettings = new ModuleSettings();
              moduleSettings.ModuleName = ModuleName;
              moduleSettings.ModuleImagePath = @"/DevelopmentInProgress.ModuleTemplate;component/Images/ModuleTemplate.png";

              var moduleGroup = new ModuleGroup();
              moduleGroup.ModuleGroupName = "Module Template";

              var newDocument = new ModuleGroupItem();
              newDocument.ModuleGroupItemName = "New Document";
              newDocument.TargetView = typeof(NewDocumentView).Name;
              newDocument.TargetViewTitle = "New Document";
              newDocument.ModuleGroupItemImagePath = @"/DevelopmentInProgress.ModuleTemplate;component/Images/NewDocument.png";


              Logger.Log("Initialize DevelopmentInProgress.ModuleTemplate Complete", Category.Info, Priority.None);

Step 3 - Finally, add an entry for your module in the module catalog.

The ModuleCatalog.xaml file can be found in the Configuration folder of the DevelopmentInProgress.Origin project.

      <prism:ModuleInfo Ref="Module Template" 

Rebuild the solution and run it.

Alt text

Time To Get Coding

As already mentioned the best way to see how the Origin framework works and how you can write code to leverage its functionality is to look at the DevelopmentInProgress.ExampleModule project and step through the code using the debugger.

In the meanwhile lets take a look at some of the functionality the Origin framework gives you.

Open a new document and pass parameters to it

Document view models inherit the DocumentViewModel class. You can open a new document from a view model by calling the inherited method PublishDocument(NavigationSettings navigationSettings), passing a NavigationSettings object containing information about the target view, document title and parameter.

            var navigationSettings = new NavigationSettings()
                View = "ExampleDocumentNavigationView",
                Title = "Example Document",
                Data = parameter


Document navigation history

Documents show a breadcrumb style navigation history. Click a link in the navigation history and jump back to the document you came from.

Open a modal window and pass parameters to it

ocument view models and modal view models ultimately inherit the ViewModelBase class. To open a modal window call ShowModal(ModalSettings modalSettings) on the ViewModelBase class, passing a ModalSettings object containing information about the target view and view model, the window title, height and width, and the parameter.

            var modalSettings = new ModalSettings()
                Title = "Window Title",
                View = "DevelopmentInProgress.ExampleModule.View.ExampleModalView,DevelopmentInProgress.ExampleModule",
                ViewModel = "DevelopmentInProgress.ExampleModule.ViewModel.ExampleModalViewModel,DevelopmentInProgress.ExampleModule",
                Height = 700,
                Width = 700

            modalSettings.Parameters.Add("parameter", parameter);

Processing arguments passed to a view model

Arguments passed to the view model can handled in the view model by overriding the OnPublished method. To do so asynchronously just mark the method with the async keyword to await long running tasks.

To asynchronously process parameters passed to a view model inheriting from DocumentViewModel as an object:

        protected async override void OnPublished(object data)
            // Do stuff with the data passed to the document view model here...

To asynchronously process parameters passed to a view model inheriting from ModalViewModel in the form of a dictionary of key value pairs:

        protected async override void OnPublished(Dictionary<string, object> parameters)
            // Do stuff with the parameters passed to the modal view model here...

Save a document

When saving a document by clicking the Save button in the toolbar, the shell executes the Save command of the documents ViewModelBase class. You can handle the save by overriding the ViewModelBase class's SaveDocument() method. To do so asynchronously just mark the method with the async keyword to await long running tasks.

        protected async override void SaveDocument()
            // Save stuff here...

Indicate when a document has been modified

The ViewModelBase class supports property change notification via OnPropertyChanged(string propertyName, bool isDirty = false). Passing true to the isDirty parameter will show a “dirty” indicator as a red asterisk on the document or modal window. Calling ResetStatus() will clear the indicator.

Show messages in the document pane

To show messages in the document footer call ShowMessage(Message message, bool appendMessage = false) or ShowMessages(List<Message> messagesToShow, bool appendMessage = false) on the ViewModelBase class.

            var message = new Message()
                Text = "Message text",
                MessageType = MessageTypeEnum.Error

            ShowMessage(message, true);

Show a message box

To show a message box call ShowMessageBox(MessageBoxSettings messageBoxSettings) on the ViewModelBase class.

            var message = new Message()
                Title = "Show Info"
                Text = "Example message...",
                MessageType = MessageTypeEnum.Info

            var messageBoxSettings = new MessageBoxSettings() 
                Message = message,
                MessageBoxButtons = MessageBoxButtonsEnum.YesNoCancel

            var result = ShowMessageBox(messageBoxSettings);

Unhandled exceptions

Unhandled exceptions are ugly. When you get one the error message is displayed in a error message box along with the stack trace. The user can copy the content to the clipboard and send it to somebody to look at. Or you can get it from the log file.

Obtain a handle on open view models

This is probably best explained with an example, the following code illustrates how to populate a list of open document view models. Note the FindDocumentViewModel class allows you to specify a NavigationId for returning a specific document view model, or the ModuleName for returning all open document view models for the module. If you do not specify NavigationId or ModuleName then all open document view models will be returned.

        public ObservableCollection<ViewModelBase> OpenDocuments { get; private set; }

        private void GetDocuments(object param)
            var documentViewModels = new FindDocumentViewModel();

                () =>
                    documentViewModels.ViewModels.ForEach(vm =>
                        if (vm != this)

The application toolbar

The application toolbar gives you buttons to Save, Save All and Refresh documents. The Save button will save the currently active document. Save All will save all open documents. Refresh will refresh all open documents. If you don't want to use the toolbar you can hide it. Toggle the visibility of the toolbar by setting the IsShellToolBarVisible attribute in the App.config file in the DevelopmentInProgress.Origin project.