TTI V3 Connector Azure Storage Queues

The first Proof of Concept(PoC) for my updated The Things Industries(TTI) V3 Webhooks Integration was to explore the use of Azure Functions to securely ingest webhook calls. The aim was to have uplink and downlink message progress message payloads written to Azure Storage Queues with output bindings ready for processing.

namespace devMobile.IoT.TheThingsIndustries.HttpInputStorageQueueOutput
{
	using System.Net;
	using System.Threading.Tasks;

	using Microsoft.Azure.Functions.Worker;
	using Microsoft.Azure.Functions.Worker.Http;
	using Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs;
	using Microsoft.Extensions.Logging;


	[StorageAccount("AzureWebJobsStorage")]
	public static class Webhooks
	{
		[Function("Uplink")]
		public static async Task<HttpTriggerUplinkOutputBindingType> Uplink([HttpTrigger(AuthorizationLevel.Function, "post")] HttpRequestData req, FunctionContext context)
		{
			var logger = context.GetLogger("UplinkMessage");

			logger.LogInformation("Uplink processed");
			
			var response = req.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK);

			return new HttpTriggerUplinkOutputBindingType()
			{
				Name = await req.ReadAsStringAsync(),
				HttpReponse = response
			};
		}

		public class HttpTriggerUplinkOutputBindingType
		{
			[QueueOutput("uplink")]
			public string Name { get; set; }

			public HttpResponseData HttpReponse { get; set; }
		}

...

		[Function("Failed")]
		public static async Task<HttpTriggerFailedOutputBindingType> Failed([HttpTrigger(AuthorizationLevel.Function, "post")] HttpRequestData req, FunctionContext context)
		{
			var logger = context.GetLogger("Failed");

			logger.LogInformation("Failed procssed");

			var response = req.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK);

			return new HttpTriggerFailedOutputBindingType()
			{
				Name = await req.ReadAsStringAsync(),
				HttpReponse = response
			};
		}

		public class HttpTriggerFailedOutputBindingType
		{
			[QueueOutput("failed")]
			public string Name { get; set; }

			public HttpResponseData HttpReponse { get; set; }
		}
	}
}

After some initial problems with the use of Azure Storage Queue output bindings to insert messages into the ack, nak, failed, queued, and uplink Azure Storage Queues I found it didn’t take much code and worked reliably on my desktop.

Azure Functions Desktop Development environment running my functions

I used Telerik Fiddler with some sample payloads to test my application.

Telerik Fiddler Request Composer “posting” sample message to desktop endpoint

Once the functions were running reliably on my desktop, I created an Azure Service Plan, deployed the code, then generated an API Key for securing my HTTPTrigger endpoints.

Azure Functions Host Key configuration dialog

I then added a TTI Webhook Integration to my TTI SeeduinoLoRaWAN application, manually configured the endpoint, enabled the different messages I wanted to process and set the x-functions-key header.

TTI Application Webhook configuration

After a short delay I could see messages in the message uplink queue with Azure Storage Explorer

Azure Storage Explorer displaying content of my uplink queue

Building a new version of my TTIV3 Azure IoT connector is a useful learning exercise but I’m still deciding whether is it worth the effort as TTI has one now?

Azure HTTP Trigger Functions with .NET Core 5

My updated The Things Industries(TTI) connector will use a number of Azure Functions to process Application Integration webhooks (with HTTP Triggers) and Azure Storage Queue messages(with Output Bindings & QueueTriggers).

On a couple of customer projects we had been updating Azure Functions from .NET 4.X to .NET Core 3.1, and most recently .NET Core 5. This process has been surprisingly painful so I decided to build a series of small proof of concept (PoC) projects to explore the problem.

Visual Studio Azure Function Trigger type selector

I started with the Visual Studio 2019 Azure Function template and created a plain HTTPTrigger.

public static class Function1
{
   [Function("Function1")]
   public static HttpResponseData Run([HttpTrigger(AuthorizationLevel.Function, "get", "post")] HttpRequestData req,
      FunctionContext executionContext)
   {
      var logger = executionContext.GetLogger("Function1");
      logger.LogInformation("C# HTTP trigger function processed a request.");

      var response = req.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK);
      response.Headers.Add("Content-Type", "text/plain; charset=utf-8");

      response.WriteString("Welcome to Azure Functions!");

      return response;
   }
}

I changed the AuthorizationLevel to Anonymous to make testing in Azure with Telerik Fiddler easier

public static class Function1
{
	[Function("PlainAsync")]
	public static async Task<IActionResult> Run([HttpTrigger(AuthorizationLevel.Anonymous, "get", "post", Route = null)] HttpRequestData request, FunctionContext executionContext)
	{
		var logger = executionContext.GetLogger("UplinkMessage");

		logger.LogInformation("C# HTTP trigger function processed a request.");

		var response = request.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK);

		response.Headers.Add("Content-Type", "text/plain; charset=utf-8");

		response.WriteString("Welcome to Azure Functions!");

		return new OkResult();
	}
}

With not a lot of work I had an Azure Function I could run in the Visual Studio debugger

Azure Functions Debug Diagnostic Output

I could invoke the function using the endpoint displayed as debugging environment started.

Telerik Fiddler Composer invoking Azure Function running locally

I then added more projects to explore asynchronicity, and output bindings

Azure Functions Solution PoC Projects

After a bit of “trial and error” I had an HTTPTrigger Function that inserted a message containing the payload of an HTTP POST into an Azure Storage Queue.

[StorageAccount("AzureWebJobsStorage")]
public static class Function1
{
	[Function("Uplink")]
	public static async Task<HttpTriggerUplinkOutputBindingType> Uplink([HttpTrigger(AuthorizationLevel.Function, "post")] HttpRequestData req, FunctionContext context)
	{
		var logger = context.GetLogger("UplinkMessage");

		logger.LogInformation("Uplink processed");
			
		var response = req.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK);

		return new HttpTriggerUplinkOutputBindingType()
		{
			Name = await req.ReadAsStringAsync(),
			HttpReponse = response
		};
	}

	public class HttpTriggerUplinkOutputBindingType
	{
		[QueueOutput("uplink")]
		public string Name { get; set; }

		public HttpResponseData HttpReponse { get; set; }
	}
}

The key was Multiple Output Bindings so the function could return a result for both the HttpResponseData and Azure Storage Queue operations

Azure Functions Debug Diagnostic Output

After getting the function running locally I deployed it to a Function App running in an App Service plan

Azure HTTP Trigger function Host Key configuration

Using the Azure Portal I configured an x-functions-key which I could use in Telerik Fiddler

After fixing an accidental truncation of the x-functions-key a message with the body of the POST was created in the Azure Storage Queue.

Azure Storage Queue Message containing HTTP Post Payload

The aim of this series of PoCs was to have an Azure function that securely (x-functions-key) processed an Hyper Text Transfer Protocol(HTTP) POST with an HTTPTrigger and inserted a message containing the payload into an Azure Storage Queue using an OutputBinding.

Use the contents of this blog post with care as it may not age well.

TTN V3 Connector Revisited

Earlier in the year I built Things Network(TTN) V2 and V3 connectors and after using these in production applications I have learnt a lot about what I had got wrong, less wrong and what I had got right.

Using a TTN V3 MQTT Application integration wasn’t a great idea. The management of state was very complex. The storage of application keys in a app.settings file made configuration easy but was bad for security.

The use of Azure Key Vault in the TTNV2 connector was a good approach, but the process of creation and updating of the settings needs to be easier.

Using TTN device registry as the “single source of truth” was a good decision as managing the amount of LoRaWAN network, application and device specific configuration in an Azure IoT Hub would be non-trivial.

Using a Webhooks Application Integration like the TTNV2 connector is my preferred approach.

The TTNV2 Connector’s use of Azure Storage Queues was a good idea as they it provide an elastic buffer between the different parts of the application.

The use of Azure Functions to securely ingest webhook calls and write them to Azure Storage Queues with output bindingts should simplify configuration and deployment. The use of Azure Storage Queue input bindings to process messages is the preferred approach.

The TTN V3 processing of JSON uplink messages into a structure that Azure IoT Central could ingest is a required feature

The TTN V2 and V3 support for the Azure Device Provisioning Service(DPS) is a required feature (mandated by Azure IoT Central). The TTN V3 connector support for DTDLV2 is a desirable feature. The DPS implementation worked with Azure IoT Central but I was unable to get the DeviceClient based version working.

Using DPS to pre-provision devices in Azure IoT Hubs and Azure IoT Central by using the TTN Application Registry API then enumerating the TTN applications, then devices needs to be revisited as it was initially slow then became quite complex.

The support for Azure IoT Hub connection strings was a useful feature, but added some complexity. This plus basic Azure IoT Hub DPS support(No Azure IoT Central support) could be implemented in a standalone application which connects via Azure Storage Queue messages.

The processing of Azure IoT Central Basic, and Request commands then translating the payloads so they work with TTN V3 is a required feature. The management of Azure IoT Hub command delivery confirmations (abandon, complete and Reject) is a required feature.

I’m considering building a new TTN V3 connector but is it worth the effort as TTN has one now?

Azure Functions with VB.Net 4.X

As part of my “day job” I spend a lot of time working with C# and VB.Net 4.X “legacy” projects doing upgrades, bugs fixes and moving applications to Azure. For the last couple of months I have been working on a project replacing Microsoft message queue(MSMQ) queues with Azure Storage Queues so the solution is easier to deploy in Azure.

The next phase of the project is to replace a number of Windows Services with Azure Queue Trigger and Timer Trigger functions. The aim is a series of small steps which we can test before deployment rather than major changes, hence the use of V1 Azure functions for the first release.

Silver Fox systems sells a Visual Studio extension which generates an HTTP Trigger VB.Net project. I needed Timer and Queue Trigger functions so I created C# examples and then used them to figure out how to build VB.Net equivalents

Visual Studio Solution Explorer

After quite a few failed attempts I found this sequence worked for me

Add a new VB.Net class library
Provide a name for new class library
Select target framework

Even though the target platform is not .NET 5.0 ignore this and continue.

Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Functions

Added Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Functions (make sure version 1.0.38)

Visual Studio project with Azure Function Icon.

Then unload the project and open the file.

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">

  <PropertyGroup>
    <RootNamespace>TimerClass</RootNamespace>
    <TargetFramework>net5.0</TargetFramework>
  </PropertyGroup>

  <ItemGroup>
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Functions" Version="1.0.38" />
  </ItemGroup>

</Project>

Add the TargetFramework and AzureFunctionsVersion lines

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">

  <PropertyGroup>
    <RootNamespace>TimerClass</RootNamespace>
    <TargetFramework>net48</TargetFramework>
    <AzureFunctionsVersion>v1</AzureFunctionsVersion>
  </PropertyGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Functions" Version="1.0.38" />
  </ItemGroup>

</Project>

At this point the project should compile but won’t do much, so update the class to look like the code below.

Imports System.Threading

Imports Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs
Imports Microsoft.Extensions.Logging


Public Class TimerTrigger
   Shared executionCount As Int32

   <FunctionName("Timer")>
   Public Shared Sub Run(<TimerTrigger("0 */1 * * * *")> myTimer As TimerInfo, log As ILogger)
      Interlocked.Increment(executionCount)

      log.LogInformation("VB.Net TimerTrigger next trigger:{0} Execution count:{1}", myTimer.ScheduleStatus.Next, executionCount)

   End Sub
End Class

Then add an empty hosts.json file (make sure “copy if newer” is configured in properties) to the project directory, then depending on deployment model configure the AzureWebJobsStorage and AzureWebJobsDashboard connection strings via environment variables or a local.settings.json file.

Visual Studio Environment variables for AzureWebJobsStorage and AzureWebJobsDashboard connection strings

Blob Trigger Sample code

Imports System.IO
Imports System.Threading

Imports Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs
Imports Microsoft.Extensions.Logging


Public Class BlobTrigger
   Shared executionCount As Int32

   ' This function will get triggered/executed when a new message is written on an Azure Queue called events.
   <FunctionName("Notifications")>
   Public Shared Async Sub Run(<BlobTrigger("notifications/{name}", Connection:="BlobEndPoint")> payload As Stream, name As String, log As ILogger)
      Interlocked.Increment(executionCount)

      log.LogInformation("VB.Net BlobTrigger processed blob name:{0} Size:{1} bytes Execution count:{2}", name, payload.Length, executionCount)
   End Sub
End Class

HTTP Trigger Sample code

Imports System.Net
Imports System.Net.Http
Imports System.Threading

Imports Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs
Imports Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs.Extensions.Http
Imports Microsoft.Extensions.Logging


Public Class HttpTrigger
   Shared executionCount As Int32

   <FunctionName("Notifications")>
   Public Shared Async Function Run(<HttpTrigger(AuthorizationLevel.Anonymous, "get", "post", Route:=Nothing)> req As HttpRequestMessage, log As ILogger) As Task(Of HttpResponseMessage)
      Interlocked.Increment(executionCount)

      log.LogInformation($"VB.Net HTTP trigger Execution count:{0} Method:{1}", executionCount, req.Method)

      Return New HttpResponseMessage(HttpStatusCode.OK)
   End Function
End Class

Queue Trigger Sample Code

Imports System.Threading

Imports Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs
Imports Microsoft.Extensions.Logging


Public Class QueueTrigger
   Shared ConcurrencyCount As Long
   Shared ExecutionCount As Long

   <FunctionName("Alerts")>
   Public Shared Sub ProcessQueueMessage(<QueueTrigger("notifications", Connection:="QueueEndpoint")> message As String, log As ILogger)
      Interlocked.Increment(ConcurrencyCount)
      Interlocked.Increment(ExecutionCount)

      log.LogInformation("VB.Net Concurrency:{0} Message:{1} Execution count:{2}", ConcurrencyCount, message, ExecutionCount)

      ' Wait for a bit to force some consurrency
      Thread.Sleep(5000)

      Interlocked.Decrement(ConcurrencyCount)
   End Sub
End Class

As well as counting the number of executions I also wanted to check that >1 instances were started to process messages when the queues had many messages. I added a “queues” section to the hosts.json file so I could tinker with the options.

{
  "queues": {
    "maxPollingInterval": 100,
    "visibilityTimeout": "00:00:05",
    "batchSize": 16,
    "maxDequeueCount": 5,
    "newBatchThreshold": 8
  }
}

The QueueMessageGenerator application inserts many messages into a queue for processing.

When I started the QueueTrigger function I could see the concurrency count was > 0

Timer Trigger Sample Code

Imports System.Threading

Imports Microsoft.Azure.WebJobs
Imports Microsoft.Extensions.Logging


Public Class TimerTrigger
   Shared executionCount As Int32

   <FunctionName("Timer")>
   Public Shared Sub Run(<TimerTrigger("0 */1 * * * *")> myTimer As TimerInfo, log As ILogger)
      Interlocked.Increment(executionCount)

      log.LogInformation("VB.Net TimerTrigger next trigger:{0} Execution count:{1}", myTimer.ScheduleStatus.Next, executionCount)

   End Sub
End Class

The source code for the C# and VB.Net functions is available on GitHub