In my two last posts, I laid out the technical design of the Preview Posting feature, and then showed how to simplify its design to get around the unwanted behavior of TryFunction.

One thing is obvious from these posts: Preview Posting wants to simulate posting of a document (or journal) to show what the results would be, but without leaving any actual trace in the database. In database lingo – we want the transaction to be rolled back.

Rolling back is no brainer. Simply throw an error, or do a silent abort, Except if there is COMMIT. In that case, no rolling back helps.

I have announced earlier that my today’s post will be about how to nest transactions in C/AL so that an inner COMMIT has no effect on the transaction as a whole, which can still be successfully rolled back.

That’s what this post is about.

Nested transactions are nothing special for SQL. Take a look at this T-SQL batch:

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When you run it, you see this:

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We started a transaction, showed that there is data in the table, then started an inner transaction, then deleted all data, committed the inner transaction to the database, showed that there is no data in the table, then rolled back, and then showed that data is still untouched in the table.

In SQL Server, you can nest transactions down to 32 levels, and yet NAV – which runs on top of this powerful engine – seemingly cannot nest transactions at all. In C/AL everything is always one level deep, and when you commit, you commit all, and when you rollback, you rollback all.

Or, at least, it used to be that way all the way up to NAV 2013. Starting with NAV 2013, you can nest transactions, but you need to pull a clever trick: you need to call into the testability framework.

Now, I know that testability framework is not intended to be used in scenarios that I am about to describe, and it’s also not widely familiar to developers, so give me little latitude here.

Since version 2013, NAV’s testability framework includes an interesting new property on the test runner codeunits: TestIsolation. It comes with three options: None (default), Function, Codeunit.

With the None option, each test function runs inside as an isolated transaction which is committed at the end of the test. If the test succeeded, any data it wrote is persisted in the database. If there was a COMMIT anywhere in the test (and provided you didn’t change the TransactionModel property of the test function) then data up to that point is committed, and a new transaction is started. If the test fails after that point, data that was committed, is persisted. It behaves exactly as you would expect C/AL code to behave.

However, with Function and Codeunit options, each test function, or codeunit, respectively, are wrapped into an outer transaction, which is rolled back at the end of the test function (or test codeunit) execution. Regardless of whether a test succeeded or failed, the transaction is rolled back, and no data is persisted. Even if there was one or more COMMITs anywhere inside the code executed by the test, everything is rolled back. This is possible because to enable this feature, NAV makes full use of SQL Server transaction nesting capability.

Let me now put a big, fat, stinking disclaimer here: I am not recommending you to use this approach – I am simply using this example to show that concept of nested transactions is not foreign to C/AL and that you can easily put it to practical use if you need it. The testability framework is designed to be used solely for the purposes of unit testing and was not intended by Microsoft to be used in production. All code it executes will still happily run in production, but Microsoft will always officially discourage such use, and will never want to provide any support for anything that results out of its use.

So now that you know that you shouldn’t try this at home, let’s redesign the Preview Posting feature so that it takes advantage of transaction nesting in C/AL through testability framework.

This is what we’ll need:

  • A test codeunit that runs codeunit 80
  • A test runner codeunit that runs the test codeunit
  • Commenting a line of code in codeunit 19
  • Rewriting the Preview function in codeunit codeunit 81

Let’s get started.

First, create a new codeunit, set its Subtype to Test, and add the following code:

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It uses one global variable of type Record 36 and a function to set this variable from the test runner codeunit.

The test function is a simplified version of the part of the Code function in codeunit 81, except it also calls the  Finish function in codeunit 19 – something that normally happens a bit later in codeunit 19. We need it here, because at this point data is still in the database, and not rolled back by the test runner. Also, we don’t really need the PreviewMode, because we don’t care if any COMMIT is called, but without it – even though everything is correctly rolled back at the end – there is a distinct peculiar behavior if preview mode is not set, that I’ll explained later.

Now, create another codeunit, set its Subtype to TestRunner, and add the following code:

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It has one global variable for Record 36. You first must set this variable through the call to SetSalesHeader.

When you run this codeunit, it first sets the sales header record on the test codeunit, and then runs the test codeunit.

OnBeforeTestRun always returns TRUE because you want to run all the tests. This trigger will run twice: first time for the test codeunit, and the second time for the SalesPostPreview function.

In OnAfterTestRun we simply throw any error that happened during posting. If there was an error, the user must see it.

Make sure to set the TestIsolation to either Function or Codeunit – it doesn’t really matter, as long as it is not None.

Now, let’s go to codeunit 19, and make a minor change:

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The only purpose of this CONSISTENT call was to prevent accidental COMMITs. Since we don’t care if there are any COMMITs, we don’t need this.

And finally, codeunit 81, and it’s Preview function. I won’t comment and then insert, because I am fully rewriting it, so the following code example doesn’t follow commenting best practices:

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In here, we start the preview, then set the sales header on the test runner and then run the test runner. Test runner will run the posting wrapped in an outer transaction, which it will duly roll back at the end. Finally we show the entries collected inside the test codeunit.

And that’s all. When you run Preview Posting, you get the preview of the posting results, and no trace of any changes in the database.

(One issue: when you comment out the SetPreviewMode function, then the sales header record is deleted as a part of the posting procedure. Even though it is rolled back at the end, NAV will close the sales order page, and hide the preview-posted order from the order list. Pressing F5 will show it again. Since this is undesirable for preview posting, I kept the preview mode in place.)

Now that you have seen how it works and why, I’ll once again re-state that this is not really how Preview Posting should have been originally designed. The reason why I showed this is to:

  1. Show that Microsoft has already modified the C/AL behavior to allow nested transactions when they redesigned the testability framework for version 2013. This change in behavior was justified, and was implemented properly, without dubious (at best!) design choices (as in the case of TryFunction).
  2. Propose a different implementation of TryFunction logic and a bit of improved transaction handling in C/AL.

Now that we have seen this example of Preview Posting implemented in three different ways – none of which is perfect – we must agree that both of these claims are true:

  • There is justified business need for better transaction control in C/AL; and
  • The NAV runtime already possesses all of the functionality needed to properly make full use of the database stack and nested transactions.

I believe you already agree with me that TryFunction is not implemented the right way and that it’s behavior of not rolling back data and allowing you to commit data after an error is plain wrong. There are several ways of properly implementing it, and we can argue about those, but my suggestion of the implementation of the TryFunction feature would be the following:

  • When TryFunction is called, NAV always starts an inner transaction.
  • If there is a database error inside the TryFunction, the whole transaction is marked as uncommittable.
  • If there is an explicit call to COMMIT inside the TryFunction, it is ignored. Maybe SAVE TRANSACTION is invoked on SQL Server, but without properly brainstorming it, I believe simply ignoring it is okay.
  • At the end of TryFunction, if there was no database error, NAV commits the inner transaction.

This would make a lot of sense.

First – if there as a database error, it should not be possible to commit the transaction or parts of the transaction. That premise is at the heart of transactional systems, and NAV should not reinvent any (wrong) wheels here. The concept of uncommittable transactions already exists in NAV – we can explicitly mark transaction as uncommittable through CONSISTENT(FALSE). Here, it would be the runtime that marks the transaction as uncommittable when necessary.

Second – there is no need for the dirty CONSISTENT trick or any other trick for that matter. CONSISTENT(FALSE) only makes sure that no COMMIT is hit inside a try function, because that is really disastrous (with the current behavior of not rolling back stuff). With inner transactions and concept of uncommittability, this problem is solved.

On top of that I propose to introduce two more C/AL functions:

  • ROLLBACK. Do I really need to elaborate? We may want to rollback data and then continue the execution. We already can do that with ASSERTERROR ERROR(‘’) trick which looks mighty confusing. Why not just replacing it with a proper keyword?
  • ISCOMMITTABLE. This function would tell us whether we are in an okay state. If it’s false, it would mean that some TryFunction failed at some point earlier.

These changes would take care of all the problems we currently have with TryFunction.

Now, I must admit that I didn’t analyze all the TryFunctions Microsoft put into standard application code. There might be a legitimate reason for a TryFunction not to rollback data, and maybe there is a legitimate reason to allow persisting data to the database even in case of error. If this is really true, then I would propose some more behavior changes:

  • Limit the uncomittability state for transactions only to database errors that happen inside TryFunctions. If there is any other kind of error inside TryFunction, then let the user decide what to do. For example, a TryFunction should not prevent a database transaction from committing if there was, for example, a file read error on a .NET interop variable.
  • Introduce savepoints and a new C/AL function: SAVETRANSACTION. This function would simply call the SAVE TRANSACTION in T-SQL. Then, if there is an error inside a TryFunction, it would only prevent committing stuff to the last savepoint.

However, these latest two suggestions are an overkill and not really necessary. My firm position is that a database error is a database error and after a database error no committing should be possible and if you need some data to persist, and some not to persist, then you structure your code differently (e.g. use COMMIT before TryFunction) or you should pull some real tricks to make it work, not the other way around (that being now: we have to pull crazy tricks to make it behave the way it always has, and it always should).

With this I rest my case about TryFunctions and transaction integrity. I hope I have proven my case beyond any reasonable doubt, and I hope there is still time for Microsoft to reconsider the existing behavior.


Read this post at its original location at http://vjeko.com/fixing-preview-posting-part-2, or visit the original blog at http://vjeko.com. 5e33c5f6cb90c441bd1f23d5b9eeca34

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