Electron.NET: Custom Application Menus

This post will take the existing sample Electron.NET application used in Create a Desktop Application using ASP.NET Core and Electron.NET and Electron.NET with a Web API and expand it to customize the application menu. I leaned heavily on the Electron.NET API Demos repo to guide how this should be done. The code before any changes can be found here.

Menu Controller

While not a requirement I follow the API Demo example of putting the application level menus in its own controller. Add a  MenusController to the  Controllers directory. The following is the full class.

What the above comes down to is building an array of  MenuItem types and then using   Electron.Menu.SetApplicationMenu(menu) to pass the array to Electron which handles replacing the default set of menus with the ones defined in the array.

For most of the items that were on the default set of menus all that is needed to add back the default functionality is to set the  Role to the function you want. For example in the above for a Copy menu item, we can assign  Role to  MenuRole.copy and Electron will handle the implementation of a copy without us having to write any additional code.

Navigate to a page from the application menu

One thing I wanted to be able to do was from a menu create a new contact. It was easy enough to add a top-level menu for Contacts and a sub-item for Create. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out how to build a URL that would work. The following code is the menu items for the Contacts menu.

The ASP.NET Core backend is running on localhost, the key that took me awhile to locate was the port. In the end, I found that the port being used can be found using  BridgeSettings.WebPort.

Include the menu

The final change that is needed is to make sure the new set of menus get rendered. For the sample application open the  _Layout.cshtml file in the  Views/Shared directory. Inside the  head tag add the following line which will force a call to the  MenusController when the application loads.

Wrapping Up

Customizing the application menu ended up being pretty easy. If I hadn’t wanted to navigate to a specific page I would have been done in no time, but hitting the issue with navigation helped me learn more about how Electron.NET is working. You can check out the finished code here.

Electron.NET with a Web API

This post will be expanding on the introduction to Electron.NET that I did here to add in a Web API hit to pull some data as well as the UI on the Electron side to use this data. The code before any changes can be found here.

API Creation

To create the API I used the following from the command prompt in the folder where I wanted the new project to be created.

API Data

Now that the API project is created we need to add in the ability to interact with a database with Entity Framework Core. Adding in Entity Framework Core ended up turning into a post of its own when you can read here.

The model and DB Context of the API project match what was in the blog post I linked above, but I am going to include them here. The following is the model.

Next, is the DB Context, which is empty other than the DB Set for the contacts table.

With our model and context setup, we can run the following two commands to add the initial migration and apply the migration to the database.

API Endpoints

The API is just going to handle the basic CRUD (create, read, update, delete) operations for contact. Instead of hand coding the controller we are going to use some code generation provided by Microsoft. First, we need to add the  Microsoft.VisualStudio.Web.CodeGeneration.Design NuGet package to the API project using the following command in a command prompt set to the root of the API project.

Now with the above package installed, we can use the following command to generate a controller with the CRUD operations already implemented.

There is a lot of switches when using  aspnet-codegenerator. The following is a rundown of the ones used above.

  • controller tells the code generator we are creating a controller
  • name defines the name of the resulting controller
  • model is the model class that will be used for the generation
  • dataContext is the DB Context that will be used for the generation
  • outDir is the directory the output will be in relative to the current directory of your command prompt
  • api tells the code generator this controller is for a REST style API and that no views should be generated

With the code generation complete the API should be good to go.

Electron Model

Over in the Electron project, we need a model to match the data the API is returning. This could be the point where a third project is added to allow the API and the Electron app to share common items, but just to keep the example simple I’m just going add a copy of the contact model from the API project to the Electron project.  The following is the full contact model class.

Electron Views

Now that we have a model in our Electron project we need to create the views that go along with it. Start by adding the code generation package like we did above using the following command.

Unfortunately, controller generation needs a DBContext to work which our project doesn’t have, so we have to take the long way about to generate our views and then manually create a controller to go with them. In order to get view generation to work, I had to add references to the Entity Framework Core Tools package using the following command.

In the  csproj file add the following .NET CLI tool reference.

Now the project is ready to use the command prompt to generate the views we will need for our CRUD operations related to our contacts. Use the following commands to create the full range of views needed (Create, Edit, List, Delete, Details).

Again there is a lot of switches when using  aspnet-codegenerator. The following is a rundown of the ones used above.

  • view  tells the code generator we are creating a view
  • the next two items are the name of the view and the name of the view template
  • model is the model class that will be used for the generation
  • useDefaultLayout uses the default layout (surprise!)
  • outDir is the directory the output will be in relative to the current directory of your command prompt

The Index.cshtml generated above comes with links for Edit, Details, and Delete that won’t work as generated. Open the file and make the following changes to pass the key of the contact trying to be opened.

Electron Controller

With the views complete let’s add a  ContactsController.cs to the  Controllers directory. The code for the controller follows, but I’m not going to go into the details. I took a controller from another contact base project and just replaces all the Entity Framework stuff with calls to the API we created above. Please don’t use this as an example of how something like this should be done it is just quick and dirty to show that it can work.

Electron Add Link To Navigation

The final step to add a link to the list of contacts to the navigation bar of the application. Open the  _Layout.cshtml and in the unordered list for the nav bar add the following line.

Wrapping Up

That is all the changes to get the application up and running. If you run the API and then use  dotnet electronize start from a command prompt in the ElectronTest project root all should be good to go.

The completed code can be found here.

Create a Desktop Application using ASP.NET Core and Electron.NET

Electron is a cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and Mac) library for building desktop applications using JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. Even if you have never head of Electron I’m sure you have used some of the desktop applications it has been used to build such as Visual Studio Code, Atom, Slack.

Electron.NET provides a wrapper around Electron with an ASP.NET Core MVC application in the mix. Here is the reason why this was done from the creates of the project.

Well… there are lots of different approaches how to get a X-plat desktop app running. We thought it would be nice for .NET devs to use the ASP.NET Core environment and just embed it inside a pretty robust X-plat enviroment called Electron. Porting Electron to .NET is not a goal of this project, at least we don’t have any clue how to do it. We just combine ASP.NET Core & Electron.

Project Creation

Seems only fitting to use VS Code for this post since it is built using the same base library. From the command line create a new ASP.NET Core MVC application using the following command.

Make note that it is important at this time that you use the MVC template when attempting this and not a Razor Page application. This is more of a warning if you are using Visual Studio to do your project creation and not the CLI command above.

Next, we need to reference the ElectronNET.API NuGet package which can be added using the following command.

Then, open the csproj and add a reference for the Electron.NET CLI tool which should match the following.

After that make sure and restore packages using the following command.

Wire-up Election.NET

Open Program.cs and add UseElectron(args) to the WebHost builder chain.

Net, open Startup.cs and add the following line to the bottom of the Configure function. This is what will open the Electron window on startup.

Finally, run the following from the command prompt to get the project ready to run under Electron. This should only need to be done once.

Run the application

At this point, the application is ready to go. The neat part is you can just hit F5 and it will run like any normal ASP.NET Core application (this would change when you get into Electron specific calls I’m sure) or if you run the following command it will run inside of the Electron shell.

Wrapping up

It was surprisingly simple to get a new application up and running, of course so far the app isn’t anything other than a web site hosted in Electron. My plan is to take this base application and create my normal basic contacts application, which will be the next post. From there I may look into layering in some Electron features.

The completed code can be found here.