Visual Studio LightSwitch is a mind-blowing new offering from Microsoft, which is currently available as a public beta. The idea behind LightSwitch is to create data-backed applications without having to write any code. This sounded too good to be true, so I dedicated some time to trying it out. Three minutes and twenty seconds to be precise!
Here is a screen shot of the application I created – it’s a simple email / phone directory for internal use within a company. I figured you’d want to store each person’s name, department, email and some phone numbers.
Remember, the entire application took 3:20 to write from scratch – just look at this search screen. I’ve got my data persisted to a SQL Express database for free. I’ve got paged results for free, I’ve got a search box that searches multiple fields for free. I’ve got the option to export to excel for free. Also note that I’ve added a “Create New Contact” page and also a “Details” page (you click on the first name) to edit existing records. I did those inside of that 3:20 as well.
What other features do you get for free… well, there is form validation to make sure people enter all the required information when adding a new record and there is even dirty-data checking for free.
So how did I write this application. Here are the details…
Step 1 – What do you want to store
This is the first screen you get. You type in the fields that you want to use in your application. The “Type” is a drop down list that contains handy options like “PhoneNumber” and “EmailAddress” as well as the more traditional number types and strings.
Step 2 – Add a screen
From the view of the data model, you just hit the “Add Screen” button and select from the five available templates. The search data screen is the one I selected for the main view in my application. Then you give it a “Screen Name” and select the “Screen Data” and click on OK.
At this point, you are actually finished – although I repeated this step to add a “Create Contact” screen and a “Details” screen (which also lets you edit the record).
Run up the example and what you have is a fully functional application, persisting its data to a database and validating user input. It’s a Silverlight application, so you can run it on the desktop or via a browser.
You can find out more about LightSwitch on the official Microsoft LightSwitch site.
Here are a couple more screen shots that show some of the stuff you get for free when using LightSwitch, like validation messages and dirty-data warnings. Even the theme of the application is free, with it’s tabbed interface and simple ribbon bar menu.