I've decided to write this post, because I've noticed a little lack of gRPC-related knowledge in .NET community. For those of you who are not familiar with it - gRPC is a standard protocol for defining high-performance RPC services, build on top of HTTP 2 by Google.

Since most of the manuals talk about gRPC services from perspective of building services using code generation tools, I'll show how to tweak the API itself and adapting it for our needs.

Since I'm not a great fan of code gen - my mindset here is more or less avoid doing things that should belong to the compiler - I've decided to drop the dependency on service definitions for gRPC and proto files for Google Protocol Buffers. But how can we define custom services and use any serializer we want back there?

Building a custom gRPC service

Core component of gRPC is a method descriptor which informs both communicating parties about details, such as what type of messages are send/received on both sides, how should they be serialized and which of the message passing patterns do they apply.

First, what descriptor needs is to specify a communication pattern. gRPC allows to use one of 4 different patterns:

  • Unary which is simply an equivalent of standard request/response communication between two participants.
  • ServerStreaming when a client sends a single requests and gets an asynchronous stream of messages back from the server.
  • ClientStreaming when a client is a side, which sends an asynchronous stream of messages, and the server responds with a single reponse, once stream completes.
  • DuplexStreaming when both client an server share two simultaneous async streams of messages working in both directions. Nice thing with read streams is that they implement IAsyncEnumerator<> interface - an IEnumerator<> equivalent that allows for asynchronous element iteration. Who knows, maybe in the future it will be integrated into C# syntax like for loops ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

While communication styles may be different, protocol always describe single message type responsible for handling requests inside provided method, and a single type of response messages. Method descriptor will require you to describe marshallers for each one of them.

Marshaller is basically a pair of functions used to serialize data back and for to array of bytes. This is my biggest complain around current design of gRPC API for .NET. IMHO there are better binary containers (ArraySegment<byte> as example) for a protocols designed for high throughput / low latency systems.

Given all of these, an example descriptor may look like that:

using Grpc.Core;

private static readonly Method<CustomRequest, CustomResponse> CustomMethod =  
    new Method<CustomRequest, CustomResponse>(
        type: MethodType.DuplexStreaming,
        serviceName: "CustomService",
        name: "CustomMethod",
        requestMarshaller: Marshallers.Create(
            serializer: request => SerializeIntoBytes(request),
            deserializer: bytes => DeserializeFromBytes(bytes)),
        responseMarshaller: Marshallers.Create(
            serializer: response => SerializeIntoBytes(response),
            deserializer: bytes => DeserializeFromBytes(bytes)));

I must admit, I like this approach to serialization. It's way more composable to give a pair of functions than to building a custom interface implementation each time a new library wants an integration point.

Once we got that, let's move to server definition. Server needs an instance of ServerServiceDefinition, a descriptor of the service itself (so far we created only a method descriptor). Thankfully we can use existing builders to quickly construct that for us.

Depending on MethodType we've chosen, we need a different versions of lambda handlers. Here I'm using duplex streaming, but keep in mind that due to API construction compiler won't detect mismatch between method type and actual delegate handler used.

var server = new Server  
{
    Ports = { { "127.0.0.1", 5000, ServerCredentials.Insecure } },
    Services =
    {
        ServerServiceDefinition.CreateBuilder()
        .AddMethod(CustomMethod, async (requestStream, responseStream, context) =>
            {
                await requestStream.ForEachAsync(async request =>
                {
                    // handle incoming request
                    // push response into stream
                    await responseStream.WriteAsync(new CustomResponse {Payload = request.Payload});
                });
            })
        .Build()
    }
};

Here a context describes all data characteristic to a connection itself.

Keep in mind that pulling data from request stream an pushing new data into response stream can happen at any pace. No need for keeping 1-for-1 rule here.

For a simple duplex streaming of ping-pong service, our server is now ready to start. Let's move to a client. For this, first we need to establish a Channel. What's easy to miss here: when creating a channel, we need to provide endpoint of a server we wish to connect to, not the client itself.

Once we got our channel, we need a call invoker. We have a few options here i.e. for a case when you want to inject your own interceptors. However here, we'll go just with a default one.

Given channel and call interceptor, we need to make an actual call. Here we're providing a method descriptor we defined earlier. We can provide some additional parameters (since gRPC uses HTTP 2.0, we can i.e. set some HTTP headers here). Again, just like in a case of server handler, make sure that the call method you're using reflects correct method type.

var channel = new Channel("127.0.0.1", 5000, ChannelCredentials.Insecure);  
var invoker = new DefaultCallInvoker(channel);  
using (var call = invoker.AsyncDuplexStreamingCall(CustomMethod, null, new CallOptions  
{
}))
{
    var responseCompleted = call.ResponseStream
        .ForEachAsync(async response => /* handle response*/));
    for (int i = 0; i < Iterations; i++)
    {
        await call.RequestStream.WriteAsync(new CustomRequest {Payload = i});
    }

    await call.RequestStream.CompleteAsync();
    await responseCompleted;
}

EDIT (2017.03.29): if you want to try it, you may check a simple hello world example, available now in this Github repository.