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Posted on: Monday, March 02, 2009

Living by my philosophy of putting myself dangerously close to getting fired; sometime late last year; I ended up taking the task of working as a single programmer on a product which had been estimated to require five programmers.

Put simply, it was an 'inventory tracking system' for one of our clients involving complex workflows. Besides having client specific requirements the part of the product that we at eFORCE owned consisted of modules which could serve as building blocks for quite a few other typical web applications.

Because it consisted of the fundamental building blocks that any web application might need, we decided to call it Crux.

When we had implemented the project using the core of the product, ended we played around with the idea of open sourcing the code base of  the base framework. We did this primarily because we believed that what we had; might be able to help other developers and organizations around the world get jump started with their web-application. 

If you've worked in a typical software development shop and have ever tried to get a piece of code for one of their products,  you are working on, to be open-sourced, because you believe it will 'help the world', you probably know the reaction. It's like dropping a dead rat on the conference table in the meeting room.

Your managers and executives will probably look at you like you're an alien with a third eye when you utter the words - 'open source' and the product name that you built for them in the same sentence.

That is exactly where working in an organization that's not a 'typical software development shop' and genuinely values in innovation and collaboration helps.

When we started talking about open sourcing Crux, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of support and understanding I received from everyone whose approval I needed to get this thing out to you, dear reader.

We got this thing open-sourced, froze on the New BSD license which gives you complete freedom to use the code for commercial purposes without any restrictions. We got our very talented graphic designer to work on the skin for the open source version. We had a couple of rounds of code review done by a couple of fellow programmers and were able to get a build rolled out to you, dear reader, in virtually no time with zero meetings and zero committees

We've just finished publishing Crux on CodePlex. It's a fully functional release ready sprint but we're going to start by calling it Pre-Beta; primarily because we would like to take some more feedback from you, dear reader. During this time we would like to have room to maneuver for relatively major changes to the database and the code-base if needed.

Crux by it's very nature is composed of multiple pieces which allows you to jump start with your Web-application using it as a foundation. Alternately, you can take individual modules or DLLs out of the Crux implementation and decide to use them individually. This post describes some of those components. Going ahead I will be working on more posts and videos on each of these individual components.

A multi-tenant authentication piece

Crux authentication, unlike ASP.NET membership supports multi-tenancy and allows drawing boundaries between multiple companies which can be hosted and authentication by the same instance of the application. 

A light weight workflow engine

Windows Workflow Foundation is great; and I've myself used it in areas requiring some complex workflows; having said that, I think it's not for a typical simple web application needing basic long running workflows with human intervention. We needed something really light weight which allows us to do simple configurable long running workflows which require human intervention e.g. approval or rejection at every step, very easily without going to a huge learning curve.

Other Pieces A Typical Web Application Needs

We have a Model View Presenter Implementation, a centralized logging piece, a centralized exception handling piece etc. These are pieces we believe all good web applications should have.

We also have a fully functional administration module with a user interface which allows you to create users, assign users to companies, departments, roles etc. Things we believe most web applications end up building with or without membership controls.

Extending the behavior or injecting different behaviors into this administration piece depending on your needs and requirements is also fairly simple. 

Going forward I will be doing a series of posts on how you can use Crux to jump start your projects and applications and we at eFORCE will also be coming out with its official website soon.

I'm also planning on using Crux as a base code base for my code related posts in future so that I can learn how to code better and share my experiences with you dear reader, using an alive codebase rather than lame examples. This blog now has a separate category for Crux related posts which you might want to follow if you are interested in the development of this framework.

The Technology Stack

Crux is built using .NET 3.5, LINQ to SQL and SQL Server 2005 or SQL Express 2005.

Ways To Participate

If you're going to be working on a typical ASP.NET web application that requires multi-tenancy, building an administration piece and involve simple manual workflows I suggest giving Crux a quick test-drive before you start hand-coding these pieces yourself.

We at eFORCE, are also working on getting a team of very talented programmers and one graphic designer, to work on this project during their free time so that you can continue to get upgrades and more features in future.

Feel free to download the code from the CodePlex-svn, play around with it and if you come across bugs, feel free to file them on the project issue tracker. Feel free to file in feature requests, any problems you might be facing with the code base on the project issue tracker as well.

Feel free to email me if you would like to participate or contribute in Crux development and make a very small dent in an unimaginably big universe.

Special thanks to the following folks in the Crux team, in no particular order, for their time, efforts and contributions: Anshuman Srivastava, Esha Patra and Amit Ghosh. Thanks to Sujith Nair and everyone else at eFORCE who has been a part of  the open sourcing decision for Crux. 

More applications, tools and frameworks to come out soon.

Stay tuned for more open source goodness.