Umbraco and .NET magic

Wouldn’t it be fun, if you could simply call one method on an IPublishedContent, and get any property as the right type, always, without parsing or converting the data, passing any type-parameter or calling different methods? Wouldn’t it be cool if said method knew that a rich text editor property is always an IHtmlString and a content picker is an IPublishedContent rather than a string or an integer? Wouldn’t it be awesome if the same method returning an IPublishedContent could return an integer or a string with no additional code other than a type parameter? And how about this method is seamlessly put on top of Umbraco without interfering with existing code, but still used in the same manner?

Would your mind be blown if I told you it is possible and how to accomplish exactly that?

Basic theory

The idea behind this “method” is basically this:

“Everytime I need a property I have to call GetPropertyValue(), add a type parameter, and a magic string with the alias of the property from which I want the value.

Nine out of ten times, that value is either a string or an int that I have to parse or convert to a different type. Why do I have to pass two values each time? And what if said property is a content picker? I can’t pass IPublishedContent as a type parameter. How should umbraco know if I want a media item or a content item?

If we could “learn” umbraco to automatically give me the right value each time, so I don’t need to know if this property is a string, a media item or a DateTime. It would make our lives a bit easier.

Let’s take a look at some code

First off, we need to know what type, each of our properties have. So we look into our doctypes and each of their properties. We need two informations: Alias and Data Type.

Then we make a small class. Nothing big, just a small one:

public abstract class DocTypeProperty
     protected DocTypeProperty(){}

    public string Alias {get;set;}

This class contains half of what we need, but it’s okay.

Please note, it’s marked as abstract, and it constructor is protected. This is because, it’s purpose is not to be instantiated directly, but to serve as a base / master class, that has to be inherited.

Then we need to store our data type. This is where magic begins:

public class DocTypeProperty<TValue>
    public DocTypeProperty() : base(){}

Is that it?! No!! As I wrote: “The magic begins”.

We have now both information needed to perform the real magic, we know the alias of the property and the type we want the data as. As the smart developer you propably are, you have noticed that I have no parameters in my constructors. That is correct. More on that later.

To instantiate our “DocTypeProperty’s” we do this:

var myProp = new DocTypeProperty<string>(){ Alias = “someAlias” }

Please take note of the variable name: “myProp”. We are going to need that later.

How and when you do this I will not tell in this post, as it’s a complete post on its own. All I can tell is T4 templating IS an option!

So now we have our alias, and the type we want to convert the value into. But we are not done yet.

As I wrote ealier, I would like this to be seamlessly integrated on top of umbraco, but I cannot just pass my DocTypeProperty into the GetPropertyValue-method as is. To do this, we need to add an implicit operator, that can “transform” our neet DocTypeProperty to an old school string containing our alias:

public static implicit operator string(DocTypeProperty prop)
    return prop.Alias;

Now we can do this:


This works exactly like oldschool umbraco. No magic yet, other than the implicit operator.

Now we need to get rid of the type parameter. To do this, we need to add an extension method to IPublishedContent:

public static class PublishedContentExtensions
    public static TValue GetPropertyValue<TValue>(this IPublishedContent content , DocTypeProperty<TValue> property)
        return content.GetPropertyValue<TValue>(property);

This will result in an overload to the standard umbraco GetPropertyValue-method.
Now, we can do this:


See, simple. This will return the value of the property as a string. But this is great for standard data types, but what about other types like media pickers, content pickers, multiitem whatever picker? We still need to learn our DocTypeProperty-class, how to handle those types.

So we add this method to the generic DocTypeProperty:

public virtual TValue Map(IPublishedContent content)
    return content.GetPropertyValue<TValue>(this);

This is the generic / default mapper. It handles all default umbraco data types, like string, DateTime, int and so on.

Furthermore, we need to update our own GetPropertyValue()-method:

return property.Map(content);

So this is all jolly, but we still need to be able to get an IPublishedContent instead of just an integer with a node/media id. To do this, we need to override the mapper:

public class MediaPickerProperty : DocTypeProperty<IPublishedContent>
    public override IPublishedContent Map(IPublishedContent content)
        var umbracoHelper = new UmbracoHelper(UmbracoContext.Current); // This should not be done each time we call this method. Put it outside in a cached field!
        return umbracoHelper.TypedMedia(content.GetPropertyValue<int>(this));

Now we can make an instance of the MediaPickerProperty:

var myMediaProp = new MediaPickerProperty(){ Alias = “someMediaPicker”};

Again, note the property name. Now I have a few options:

The old fashioned:

someContent.GetPropertyValue<int>(“alias”) // returns an int.
someContent.GetPropertyValue<int>(myMediaProp) // Also returns an int.

and the new:

someContent.GetPropertyValue(myMediaProp) // Returns IPublishedContent.

And if I did this:


It would return string.

But let’s say we have myProp registered as DocType<string>, but I would like it as an IHtmlString more than just once, but not as often as I want it as string. I don’t want to have the same property registered twice. And what if I have more properties that needs to be IHtmlString once or twice?

Well, first we need to define an IHtmlStringProperty-class, and create a mapper. Like we did with the MediaPickerProperty. The mapper however, is a bit simpler, just:

return new HtmlString(content.GetPropertyValue<string>(this));

Now I need to be able to transform my DocTypeProperty<string> into my IHtmlStringProperty.

To do this, as simple as possible, we need to add a method to the base DocTypeProperty:

public TProp As<TProp>()
    where TProp : DocTypeProperty, new()
    return new TProp() { Alias = this.Alias };

It doesn’t get any simpler than that. And now you can see why I needed to have a parameterless constructor. Otherwise, this would have been a pain in the arse.

So now I can do this:

someContent.GetPropertyValue(myProp) // string

someContent.GetPropertyValue(myProp.As<IHtmlStringProperty>()); // IHtmlString

As you can see, this is completely transparent. You can write less code. , and you don’t have to remember hundreds of aliases, and update each and everyone of them when they change. You have the alias registered once. Especially if you autogenerates the properties using T4. You can always go back to umbraco’s own GetPropertyValue. Just add a type parameter. You have complete control over what types your property values are fetched as and the code is 100% reusable!

We use this approach, including the T4 templating, in all our new projects, and we are able to put upon existing applications, without interfering with code already written.