What changed in the EF Tooling in Visual Studio 2013 (and Visual Studio 2012 Out Of Band)

The recently shipped version of Visual Studio 2013 contains a new version of EF Tooling (a standalone version for Visual Studio 2012 is also available for download). The main goal of this release was to teach the EF designer how to talk to both EF5 and EF6. It was quite an undertaking given how EF6 differs from EF5 (binary incompatible, no correspondence between provider models and metadata workspace, EF6 runtime assemblies no longer in GAC just to name a few differences) and required changes to the existing functionality. Some of these changes may be confusing to people who used previous versions of EF tooling. The goal of this post is to take a look what has changed, why, and how it works now.
Before EF6 things were reasonably straightforward – from the EF Tooling standpoint there could be only one version of the EF runtime installed on the box – EF1, EF4 or EF5. In addition it was easy to determine the version of EF just by looking at the installed version of the .NET Framework – .NET Framework 3.5 meant EF1, .NET Framework 4 meant EF4 and .NET Framework 4.5 meant EF5. Note that the designer did not need to distinguish between EF4.x versions (treated as EF4) or EF5 for .NET Framework 4 (also treated as EF4) since they were built on top of the core EF runtime version residing in GAC. The installed (GAC’ed) version of the EF runtime automatically implied the latest supported version of Csdl, Ssdl, Msl and Edmx (‘schemas’ as we internally call them) since each version of the core EF runtime introduced a new version of schemas. But then happened EF6 – no longer in GAC, works on .NET Framework 4 and .NET Framework 4.5 (also meaning you could have v3 schemas on .NET Framework 4), binary incompatible with earlier versions of EF, some types moved to new/different namespaces, etc. The only way for tooling to be able to handle all of this was to break a number of assumptions made in the designer and, in some cases, change how the designer works. Below is a list of things that changed the most with a short explanation why they changed and what to expect:

  • For Model First the code is no longer generated when adding an empty model to the project. This is probably the most confusing change (funnily it was internally reported to me as a bug multiple times even before we shipped the new EF Tooling the first time in Visual Studio 2013 RC). The reason for this change is simple – since some types in EF6 were moved to different namespaces the code we used to generate for EF5 no longer works with EF6 (and vice versa). In some cases (e.g. you don’t have a reference to any EF runtime in your project) it is just impossible to tell whether the user is going it need EF5 or EF6 code. The most interesting part is that the code for we used to add when creating an empty model was is in reality not that useful before the database was created – yes, you could write code against the generated context/entities but you would not be really able to run it without the database. Therefore, we changed the workflow a bit and now the code generation templates are added when you create the database from model instead of when you add an empty model to your project because the wizard will make you select the version of EF you would like to use in your project, if there already isn’t one.
  • Code Generation Strategy disabled for EF6 models. Again this is partially related to changes to types and namespaces. Code generated for EF5 would not work with EF6. In addition the code we generate for ObjectContext based context and EntityObject based entities for EF5 (and earlier) applications is generated using System.Data.Entity.Design.dll. System.Data.Entity.Design.dll is part of the .NET Framework and does not fit into the EF6 shipping model. Therefore instead of updating System.Data.Entity.Design.dll we decided to support only T4 template based code generation for EF6. EF Tooling ships with T4 templates for generating DbContext based context and POCO entities. If, for some reason, you absolutely need ObjectContext based context the EF6 templates were posted on VS Gallery. For EF5 (or earlier) applications the Code Generation Strategy drop down is not blocked and you can choose between T4 and LegacyObjectContext (yes, we changed the option names as well because they were a bit ridiculous in VS2012 where ‘None’ basically meant T4 and ‘Default’ meant ObjectContext but the ‘None’ option was default).
  • Impossible to select the version of Entity Framework. To determine the applicable version of EF the designer looks for references to EntityFramework.dll and System.Data.Entity.dll in the project (note that EntityFramework.dll wins over System.Data.Entity.dll when determining the version). If it cannot find any, the user has to select the version in the wizard. Otherwise the latest version of EF found in the project is being used and the selection will not be possible (radio buttons will be disabled or the wizard page will not be shown at all).
  • Using third party providers. In the simple days of EF5 (and earlier) EF providers were registered globally and you could get one basically anytime and anywhere. Those days are long gone. In EF6 EF providers don’t have a global registration point. Rather, they are registered in the config file or using code based configuration. When you select a connection in the wizard the designer tries to find a reference to a corresponding provider in your project. If it cannot find one you won’t be able to use EF6 – instead you will be asked to close the wizard, install the provider and restart the wizard (note that this does not apply to the provider for Sql Server – EF Tooling contains EF6 provider for Sql Server which in the majority of cases make things easier for the user).
  • Retargeting. Depending on the referenced version of Entity Framework in the project changing the target .NET Framework version for the project may but may not change the edmx file. If the project references System.Data.Entity.dll and does not reference EF6 retargeting will result in upgrading/downgrading the version of the edmx file to match the latest supported version of the schema for the given .NET Framework and, as a result, EF runtime version. If the project contains a reference to EF6 toggling the target between .NET Framework 4 and .NET Framework 4.5 will not result in changing the edmx version since EF6 is supported on both versions and understands v3 schemas. Targeting .NET Framework 3.5 should always downgrade to v1 since EF1 is the only version available on .NET Framework 3.5. One caveat to retargeting is that you should always update your NuGet packages after retargeting. This is because EF (and potentially other packages) has a different assembly for .NET Framework 4 and for .NET Framework 4.5 (one of the reasons is that Async is not natively supported on .NET Frramework 4) and even though they are both shipped in the same NuGet package, NuGet does not replace project references after changing the target .NET Framework version. This leads either to missing functionality (e.g. Async not available on .NET Framework 4.5 (when using EF6 for .NET Framework 4 on .NET Framework 4.5)) or weird build errors saying you don’t have reference to EntityFramework.dll (only running MsBuild /v:diag will tell you that the reference you have was ignored since the referenced EntityFramework.dll was built for a later version of .NET Framework than the one the project is currently targeting (happens when using EF6 for .NET Framework 4.5 on .NET Framework 4)).
  • Using EF6 and EF5/EF4 in one project. Initially we did not want to support this scenario at all. However it is not only pretty easy to end up in such a situation but supporting this would also be helpful for people wanting to gradually move legacy, bigger projects from EF5 to EF6, so finally we decided to do what we can to support mixed EF versions in one project. The most important thing the designer has to do to handle this scenario correctly is to ensure that the right provider is being used for a given edmx file. Also, the version of the edmx file needs to be in sync with the referenced version of the EF runtime. Seems easy at first but there are some cases where things may behave a bit weird. A canonical example is when you have a project targeting .NET Framework 4 and you don’t have a reference to any Entity Framework runtime. When you create a new model it will create a v2 edmx since this was the latest supported schema version in .NET Framework 4. Now you create a database from your model and select EF6. Since EF6 supports v3 schemas the version of your edmx file will be changed to v3. Because the number of dimensions for versioning scenarios ended up being bigger than we originally expected and had a number of exceptions on top of that it was initially hard to tell what the outcome for each combination should be. To address this I created a set of rules which were much easier to understand and to follow when working on versioning scenarios. You can find these rules here.
  • In-the-box packages are not the latest available. EF Tooling contains EF6 NuGet packages that will be added to the project when adding a new model if needed. However, since EF Tooling ships with Visual Studio which has a different cadence that EF the included packages may not be the latest ones. In fact in case of EF6 we fixed a few (mostly performance related) bugs after Visual Studio 2013 was locked down. As a result version 6.0.1 of EF was shipped on the same day as Visual Studio 2013 but the version of EF that ships with Visual Studio 2013 is 6.0.0 and does not contain fixes included in 6.0.1. Moreover 6.0.2 is on its way and again – it will be a runtime only release. Updating EF package is as easy as running the following command from Package Manager Console (Tools → Library Package Manager → Package Manager Console)
    Update-Package EntityFramework

2 thoughts on “What changed in the EF Tooling in Visual Studio 2013 (and Visual Studio 2012 Out Of Band)

  1. Joe says:

    This sentence is missing some commas and maybe an “of”, “Therefore we changed the workflow a bit and now the code generation templates are added when you create the database from model instead when you add an empty model to your project because the wizard will make you select the version of EF you would like to use in your project if there already isn’t one.”


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