The .NET support black hole
Today I ran into a bit of an issue. A work-item for LLBLGen Pro v5.1 is to support all the new features of SQL Server 2016. One of the features of SQL Server 2016 is ‘Always Encrypted’. You can enable this feature through the connection string, and after that all data-access is encrypted, no further coding needed. As this is a connection string setting, it’s enabled in every ORM out there out of the box, also in ours. That’s of course not the problem. The problem is adding more control over this feature to the developer writing code which targets SQL Server 2016.
Starting in .NET 4.6, the SqlClient API offers a way to specify when and when not to encrypt using SQL Server 2016. This is done through a setting in SqlCommand’s constructor: you can specify a SqlCommandColumnEncryptionSetting value which gives you control over when to encrypt and when not to encrypt, which could greatly enhance performance if you just partly encrypt your catalog.
There’s something odd though: Although SqlCommand has a property for this, ColumnEncryptionSetting, it’s read-only. Its backing variable is set through the constructor. Now, why is this a problem, you ask? Well, unless your code is creating SqlCommand instances directly, you can’t set the setting for a given SqlCommand instance: if you use DbProviderFactory, and most ORMs do, or if you use CreateCommand() on the connection object, you can’t set the setting. You can only set it if you directly use the constructor.
Any database-generic code out there uses either DbProviderFactory or the CreateCommand() method on the connection object, and thus can’t use this feature.
Looking at this, somewhat terribly designed SqlCommand API, I wondered: “Ok, there’s a serious problem with this API, where can I give feedback so they can fix it?”. I couldn’t answer that. With a product you purchase from a vendor, you can do to that vendor’s support channel, ask them what they think should be done to get this resolved and you eventually reach a conclusion, but here, I have literally no idea.
With .NET Core, most development regarding .NET within Microsoft is focused on that, and a lot of airtime is given to that on GitHub, blogposts etc. But .NET full, e.g. v4.6.2, where do you go with an issue like this? Connect? Mail someone within Microsoft, hoping they’ll route it to some person who won’t delete it right away and look at it? About Connect I’ll be short: no way in hell am I going to spent another second of my time on this planet in that crappy system. Not only does the .NET team not reply to any issues there, I still have some open issues there which are years old and no-one bothers to answer them. It’s like writing the problem into some text file and never look at it again, same result.
About emailing someone within Microsoft: that might work, but it also might not. I happen to know some people within Microsoft and I’m sure they’ll at least read the email, but it’s a silly way to give feedback: here we have a mega-corporation which makes billions of dollars each month, says to be a developer focused company and you have to email your question to some employee and hope to get answers? How fucked up is that!
Now, my technical issue with SqlCommand is not something everyone will run into. That’s also not the point. The point is: if there’s an issue with the .NET BCL/API, there should be a clear path to the teams working on this codebase to give them feedback, report issues and get things fixed. Today there’s none. Oh of course, if things related to .NET Core pop up, we can open an issue on GitHub and start the conversation there, but this isn’t related to .NET Core: SqlClient on .NET core doesn’t contain any encryption related code (as far as I can tell, .NET Core’s SqlCommand lacks code related to encryption which is in the SqlCommand class in the reference source), so this issue is out of scope for .NET Core. (As an aside, the SqlClient team isn’t really responsive on .NET Core issues either, e.g. #1039 or #3480)
Microsoft seriously has to get things fixed in this area. We .NET developers now have no way to give feedback to them regarding APIs we have to work with every day. It’s not sustainable nor reliable. I don’t need the email address of the SqlClient team, I need a publically available system where I can file issues and Microsoft can respond swiftly to them so I can tell my clients and customers why things are the way they are. Which is how we do things in the ISV world: give support to our paying customers quickly and fully so they can help their customers quickly and fully. You know, as professionals.
What Microsoft currently ‘offers’ is a sign which says ‘back in 5!’ although the sign is up there for a long time.