Entity Framework, DataSet, or Custom Classes: Which Should I Use?

c# dataset entity-framework wcf


I am really having a hard time here. I need to design a "Desktop app" that will use WCF as the communications channel. Its a multi-tiered application (DB and application server are the same, the client goes through the internet cloud).

The application is a little complex (in terms of SQL and code logics) then the usual LOB applications, but the concept is the same: Read from DB, update to DB, handle concurrency etc. My problem is that now with Entity Framework out in the open, I cant decide which way to proceed: Should I use Entity Framework, Dataset or Custom Classes.

As I understand by Entity Framework, it will create the object mapping of my DB tables ALONG WITH the CRUD scripts as well. Thats all well and good for simple CRUD, but most of the times the "Select" is complex and it requires a custom SQL. I understand I can use Stored Procedures in EF (I dont like SP btw, i dont know why, I like to code my SQL in the DAL by hand, I feel more secure and comfortable that way).

With DataSet, I will use my custom SQLs and populate on the data set. With Custom classes (objects for DB tables) I will populate my custom SQLs on those custom classes (collections and lists etc). I want to use EF, but i dont feel confident in deploying an application whose SQL I have not written and cant see in the code. Am I missing something here.

Any help in this regard would be greatly appreciated.


11/5/2009 8:15:04 AM

Accepted Answer

I would agree with Marc G. 100% - DataSets suck, especially in a WCF scenario (they add a lot of overhead for handling in-memory data manipulation) - don't use those. They're okay for beginners and two-tier desktop apps on a small scale maybe - but I wouldn't use them in a serious, professional app.

Basically, your question boils down to how do you transform your rows from the database into something you can remote across WCF. This means some form of mapping - either you do it yourself, using DataReaders and then shoving all the data into WCF [DataContract] classes - you can certainly do that, gives you the ultimate control, but it's also tedious, cumbersome, and error-prone.

Or you let some ready-made ORM handle this grunt work for you - take your pick amongst Linq-to-SQL (great, easy-to-use, flexible, but SQL Server only), EF v4 (out by March 2010 - looks very promising, very flexible) or any other ORM, really - whatever suits your needs best.

Other serious competitors in the ORM space might include Subsonic 3.0 and NHibernate (amongst many many others).

So to sum up:

  • forget about Datasets
  • either you have 100% control and to the mapping between SQL and your objects yourself
  • you let some capable ORM handle that (Linq-to-SQL, EF v4, Subsonic, NHibernate et al) - which one really doesn't matter all that much, i.e. it's also a matter of personal preference and coding style
11/5/2009 8:41:06 AM

Expert Answer

I can't advocate datasets, especially in an SOA environment like WCF - it'll work, but for mostly the wrong reasons. They simply aren't portable, and IMO don't really "work" over service boundaries. Of course, IMO they don't work in most other scenarios too ;-p

So then it comes down to how much plumbing you want to do. Most ORMs will create WCF-serializable types for you; personally I'd use LINQ-to-SQL at the moment; it is both simpler and more complete than EF, although EF 4.0 is meant to be much better than EF in 3.5sp1. You can use custom TSQL (via ExecuteQuery, which still does the mapping back to objects), but I tend to use either SPROC (for complex queries) or LINQ-generated queries (for simple requests).

Writing the types yourself is fine too, and will work with NHibernate etc. So many options.

11/5/2009 8:20:11 AM

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