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Understanding COM+ with VFP, Part 2 

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Understanding COM+ with VFP, Part 2

Craig Berntson

In Part 2 of this series, Craig Berntson examines client distribution, security, and error handling.

In Part 1 of this series (see the May 2001 issue of FoxTalk), I reviewed COM and MTS and introduced COM+ services under Windows 2000. I also showed you how to create a new COM+ application and install a component on the server. Now in Part 2, I'll look at how to get the client to use the component on the server, security, and error handling.

Is the client always right?

Last month, I showed you how to install your application on the server. But that doesn't do much good if you can't get to the component from the client. The good news is, Windows 2000 makes it easy to set things up on the client. Let's go back to the component we built and installed last month. As a quick review, here's the component code:


I call this the world's dumbest COM component. All it does is multiply two numbers. However, keeping the sample code simple allows us to concentrate on the COM+ aspects of the example.

Now we need to do an install on the client. Let's go back to the Component Services Manager. Expand the tree under COM+ Applications and select MyFirstCOMApp. This is the COM+ Application that we built and installed last month. Now right-click on MyFirstCOMApp and select Export. The COM Application Export Wizard will appear (see Figure 1). You're first prompted to enter the full path and filename for the application file. Enter C:\COMApps\MyFirstCOMAppProxy. Then make sure you've selected "Application Proxy—Install on other machines to enable access to this machine." (The other option, "Server Application," is used when you want to install the component on another server.) Then click Next and then Finish.

The wizard has created two files—MyFirstCOMAppProxy.MSI.CAB and MyFirstCOMAppProxy.MSI. These files can be copied and installed on the client computer. These files don't include the component. You don't need it on the client. They contain information on the public methods and properties of the component and pointers to the server so that Windows can find the component and instantiate it.

Again, you never install the component on the client. Instead, you install a proxy. Your application thinks the component is installed and running locally, but it isn't. Make note of this. A component installed on an application server never runs on the client. For some reason, this is a difficult concept for some people to understand.

You instantiate the server component exactly the same way you instantiate a local component. Try this in the Command Window:


Why did this work? VFP makes a call to Windows, asking for the component to be instantiated. Windows looks up the component information in the Registry and finds that the component lives on an application server. Windows then instantiates a proxy to the component and makes a call to the server to instantiate the component. VFP doesn't know it's talking to the proxy; it thinks it's talking directly to the component. When you call the Multiply method, the proxy sends the call to the server via DCOM and the result is passed back to the proxy, which passes it on to VFP.

Are you feeling insecure?

Now that the component is installed on the server and the client proxies are installed, let's see how easily we can grant or prohibit access to the component. COM+ uses role-based security. A role is a type of user. For example, in a bank you might have tellers, managers, loan officers, customer service people, and so forth. Each of these people is a role. You want to prohibit tellers from making loans, so in COM+, you could set up security on a loan component to prohibit this. The nice thing is that this is a configuration option and easy to change using the Component Services Manager.

Roles are based on Windows users and groups, so the first step in setting up the security scheme is to establish the Windows security groups. It can be confusing to understand where roles fit in the hierarchy of groups and users. The COM+ Help file states, "Roles are categories of users that have been defined for the application for the purpose of determining access permissions to the application's resources. The developer assigns the roles (as symbolic user categories) to the application." That sounds a lot like a Windows user group to me, so to keep it easy, think of a role as a user group that's application-specific.

Now, getting back to our bank example, we'd have four groups: tellers, managers, loan officers, and customer service. Go ahead and create them on the server using Windows User Manager in NT or the Computer Management Applet in Windows 2000. Enter the first user group, and then the other three.

Once those groups are created, go back to MyFirstCOMApp in the Component Services Manager. Click on Roles, and then right-click and select New Role. Enter the first role, Teller, and click OK (see Figure 2). It's not necessary to name the roles the same as the Windows user groups, but it makes management easier. Now create the three remaining roles of Manager, Loan Officer, and Customer Service.

Next we need to identify the users in each role. Expand the tree under Teller. You'll see a folder labeled "Users." Click on the folder, and then right-click and select New User. Scroll down the list of Windows users and groups and select the Tellers user group, and then click Add. Do the same for Managers and Customer Service. Then click OK. You'll see each of the Windows Security groups added to the Teller role in Component Services (see Figure 3).

When new users are added to the system, they're added to the proper Windows group, which in turn automatically puts them in the proper role. So far, we've identified the roles, but we haven't told Component Services to use any security. Click on MyFirstCOMApp, right-click and select Properties, and then select the Security tab. Check "Enforce access checks for this application," and then click OK (see Figure 4). Ignore the other options for now, I'll discuss them shortly.

Now right-click on MyComm.Math and select Properties, then the Security tab. You'll see that "Enforce component level access checks" is selected. You'll also see the security roles listed. Simply check the roles that are to have access to this component (see Figure 5).

You can drill down and assign the security access to the interface or method level if you want. This enables you to have a single component with several interfaces, each having different security levels. If a user doesn't have the proper access to use a component, an error message is returned stating that the component couldn't be instantiated.

Now, let's go back to the Application Security dialog box (see Figure 4). There are some additional options that I need to discuss. The first is Security level. This controls when COM+ validates the user's security. With the first option, "Perform access checks only at the process level," role-checking won't be done at the component, interface, or method levels. Under the second option, "Perform access checks at the process and component level," the security role is checked when a call is made to the component. You'll almost always use the second option. However, the first option is useful when you've already validated the user.

The next setting is "Authentication level for calls." There are six options, as described in Table 1. As you move through the list, each option gets progressively more secure. Note that the higher the level of security, the longer it takes to validate the user. The default level is Packet.

Table 1. Authentication levels.

Level Description
None No authentication.
Connect Checks security only when the client connects to the component.
Call Check security at the beginning of every call.
Packet Checks security and validates that all data was received.
Packet Integrity Checks security and validates that none of the data was modified in transit.
Packet Privacy Checks security and encrypts the packet.

Finally, we have "Impersonation level." This sets the level of authority that the component gives to other processes. There are four different levels as described in Table 2. The default is Impersonate.

Table 2. Impersonation levels.

Level Description
Anonymous The second process knows nothing about the client.
Identify The second process can identify who the client is.
Impersonate The second process can impersonate the client, but only for processes on the same server.
Delegate The second process can impersonate the client in all instances.

Thus far, I've discussed declarative, role-based security, which is defined and managed at runtime. You can also use programmatic security. This allows you to branch your code based on the access level of the user. For example, a loan officer might only be able to authorize a loan up to $50,000. After that, it takes a manager's approval to authorize the loan.


By using both role-based and programmatic security, you can support just about any security scheme that you need.

Error handling

One of the questions I often see on online forums is, "How do I report an error back to the user?" If you think about this, the answer doesn't seem easy. You can't display any dialog boxes with the error from your component. It's running on a different computer than the user interface. VFP has the COMRETURNERROR() function to send the error message back to the client. COMRETURNERROR() takes two parameters. The first is the name of the module where the error occurred. The second is the message to display to the user. Let's look at the code.


Now compile the code into a DLL and instantiate it.


You might expect "This will never be displayed" to show on the VFP desktop. However, an error dialog box appears instead.

You can return any error information you want in the message parameter. You also might want to enhance the error method by capturing additional information using AERROR() or writing information to an error log. There's one caveat: The Error method won't fire if an error occurs in the Init method.


That pretty much covers installation, security, and error handling. Next month, I'll discuss transactions and see how COM+ and VFP 7 allow us to include VFP data in transactions, something that couldn't be done with MTS and VFP 6.

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