I've been developing with WPF for many months now. It's a great framework and I'm able to do fancy, elegant stuff that would have been a lot more difficult with WinForms.

However, I do have the feeling that for normal "line of business" type of applications without any special UI requirements, it still takes me longer to code the UI in XAML than it did to drag-and-drop it in WinForms.

For example, in WinForms, I would just drop an additional label and an additional textbox on the form and arrange everything (using the helper lines) until it looks nice. In WPF, I'd start by factoring out the properties of the existing label and textbox into a style, so I can reuse them; think about the most suitable layout element, maybe refactor some dockpanels/stackpanels into a grid (or vice versa); try different values for the margins etc. Although I have a lot of experience in WPF, it still takes a long time.

I know that I could just forget about "clean XAML" and use the GUI designer in Visual Studio 2008 (which just absolutely positions everything inside a huge grid), but I fear that I would lose a lot of the advantages that XAML offers by doing that.

Have you experienced something similar? If yes, what did you do to speed up everyday WPF development?


If you use VS2010 I think the visual designer for the XAML is better now and I think brings the development time more in line with classic winforms development.

If you still need to target .NET 3.5 you can by setting the solution to compile to 3.5 instead of 4.0. This might be a good option for you if you aren't using VS2010 yet.

Paul Mendoza
+3  A: 

That's kinda like saying "Sliced apples are easy to make, but apple pie tastes better. How can I make apple pie as easily as I can slice apples?" Well, you can make it easier by using pre-made pie crusts or buying pre-sliced apples, but it will never be quite as easy, because lets face it, you're making something that's a lot more complex and potentially tastier.

It sounds like making styles holds you up. You could get off to a much quicker start if you just imported the same styles with every project. Usually I fly right along once I have all of my styles made.

Otherwise, the only way to make it as easy as the drag-and-drop WinForms designer is to use the drag-and-drop WPF designer.


I feel your pain... Everytime we add a new field into the database, another TextBox/ComboBox has to be made on the form. I've found that using Expression Blend allows me to be much quicker at laying out the form. The downside is that using Blend tends to create more xaml than writing it by hand, so I usually end up cleaning up the xaml a bit.

In the end, Blend is a much better designer than Visual Studio (2010 included), so it's much quicker to do your design work in Blend, and development work in VS. (just my two cents)

I think this begs the question: Are there any tools out there to help automate/streamline XAML refactoring/cleanup?
Mike Hofer
+3  A: 

What I do to speed up everyday WPF development:

  1. Ignore look and feel for as long as I can. Ideally, tweaking alignments and margins and defining styles is the very last thing I do.

  2. Use the DockPanel before using a Grid, and a Grid before using a StackPanel.

  3. When using the Grid, star-size everything. I'll come back and fix this later, but during prototyping, having a clear idea of how many rows and columns the Grid actually has is enormously helpful.

  4. Prototype in Kaxaml, finish in Expression Blend, test in Visual Studio. Figuring out a methodology for this has taken a lot of time, and it's still very much a work in progress. But Kaxaml is great for quickly seeing how a XAML prototype will behave, and Blend is great for working out the visuals and encapsulating things into user controls and styles.

  5. When using Blend, don't create layouts in the artboard, create them in the object outline. When I'm first developing a WPF UI, the hierarchy of objects is a hundred times more important than how it looks on the screen. I'm still learning to do this, and it seems possible that once I get good enough at it I won't need to prototype in Kaxaml anymore.

  6. Work on the smallest thing possible. This requires a lot of discipline. I've got a nice big complex XAML file, and I decide that I need to edit the template of a control The first thing to do is to create a tiny XAML file with that control in it, and edit the control template there. The temptation to work like this in situ is strong, as editing the control template is only a right-click away. Don't do it.

  7. Don't even think about whether or not I should develop a view model for my tiny little one-off application. Yes, I should.

  8. Learn Blend. Really, really learn it. Learn what all of the tiny icons that surround the selected object mean, and pay attention to them. (Here's a shortcut: I didn't set margins on that thing, but Blend did. That's the answer to maybe 30% of my "what the hell is Blend doing now?" questions.) Use the Blend UI even if I know it would be faster to edit the XAML by hand. This is again a matter of discipline, resisting the temptation to get it done now so that I can improve my ability to get more of it done later.

Robert Rossney
+1  A: 

My biggest challenge at the moment is that I'm constantly thinking of ways that the UI could be composed dynamically with data templates, which can often get in the way of simpler solutions when the extra flexibility is not required. Other than that, I've become faster now that I'm getting used to the different containers and their quirks. It's such a dramatically different technology that it's going to take time before I develop the appropriate mental tool set for my day-to-day UI tasks, especially since I still need to use WinForms regularly. I figure it's just a matter of time, however, before I have standard patterns in mind that I can deploy quickly and easily.

Dan Bryant
+1  A: 

I've been using WPF for a couple of years now - for optimal speed, I disable the design-view, use snippets, intellisense intensively (and of course ReSharper).

And then I make things simple - I have descided to use standard layout for almost everything - ie. main-screen bit -> DockPanel, ToolBar docked top -> snippet.

Popup screen -> DockPanel, ToolBar docked top, custom Persistent section docked bottom (Save and Cancel buttons) - properties of the viewmodel -> UserControl with grid, labels and properties.

For styling - first do that when I have at least 3 screens for each type - create resource dictionaries for each type. Define common stylings - Header textblock etc. Import ResourceDictionary in each screen and apply styles.

Apply coloring, margins, padding etc. in App.Xaml with non-keyed styles.

I can't think of a faster way. At least for me, I don't really need to think while doing it this way (so, I can use my brainpower later for the complex stuff) - and it gives a consistent "LOB-look" that is relatively easy to style, theme and change later on. It's basically a matter of typing.

+1  A: 

The advice about VS2010 is very good; its visual designer is actually useful, compared to VS2008's XAML designer, which was less than useless.

Microsoft's PR machine pushes the "Model-View-ViewModel" pattern extensively for line-of-business apps, to the point where they actually recommend things that can waste your time.

Do not spend hours trying to shoe-horn everything into XAML, unless your company or client has procedures which require it. If you can code it faster in VB or C#, and the code is still maintainable, testable, and readable, do it.

Do not become an MVVM purist; not even Microsoft has figured out the appropriate balance for this pattern, and even with the Silverlight 4 stuff, they haven't come up with a good set of development tools or best practices for the pattern, even though it's now been almost five years since it was first proposed; there are still very valid reasons to abandon ICommand and INotifyPropertyChanged in favor of just calling a method on your ViewModel from the code-behind. Also, no non-Microsoft WPF/Silverlight expert I've listened to in the past few months has failed to say, "I'm not sure about MVVM yet, I'm not a purist."

Find a balance and use XAML for what works for you, and C# or VB for what works for you. MS devs on their blogs are fond of calling XAML "markup", and C# or VB is "code, unfortunately". Well, if you're typing it in or laying it out, it's all code, and the truth is that all that XAML gets interpreted and then turned into C# or VB in files you can't see or readily edit, before it's compiled down. (For example, Application.g.vb is generated from Application.xaml as a partial class.)

There are XAML constructs like animations and storyboards which take many lines to lay out in XAML, but in the procedural languages might only take one or two lines of code and actually be easier to read, especially if the animation responds to an event under only certain conditions. Do what works best.

Also, if you're coding along and keep hitting run-time exceptions which make no sense, take a step back, find an alternate answer that gets you functioning, and implement it. Most XAML errors can't be caught by Intellisense or the compiler. It's possible to bang your head for weeks against a XAML problem, that can be coded in C# or VB with early binding in a comparatively much shorter time.

In short, relax and code to your own best practices, using the VS2010 tools, and you should be able to pick up speed.

Rob Perkins