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First impression of EF Core is very poor

Using Entity Framework Core is far more difficult than it should be. Thankfully I found a Visual Studio Extension that made life much better!

Based on my experience with prior Framework versions of Entity Framework I set off to implement the new EF Core version using Database First. What I ended up finding is nothing like the experience I expected. This was the most frustrating experience I’ve had with Microsoft development tools in quite a long while.

TLDR: If you’re trying to do Database First with EF Core go get the EFCorePowerTools extension. This is what Microsoft should have provided and it will save you a lot of time and grief.

The .NET Framework versions of EF were both powerful and user friendly. Plus they gave the developer lots of options and capabilities so that they could use it the way that best made sense for the project. Tasks like generating or updating the data classes were very easy to accomplish using GUI windows. Sure the EDMX file could (rarely) get corrupted, but you are using version control, right? Just pull a known good version.

My goals for this project:

  • Use Database First because Code First doesn’t generate quality (DBA approved) schema unless you put in a lot of effort to hand code SQL DDL statements in the C# code. That’s a nightmare, so no.
  • Put the POCO classes in a .NET Standard library with minimal dependances so that they can be reused if ever needed (plus this keeps things clean)
  • Create a separate .NET Core library to contain all the Entity Framework specific code for implementing the data repository including the DbContext.
  • Reference both of those libraries from an ASP.NET Core MVC project to verify it works.

Seemed simple enough. I’ve done this numerous times with the old non-core versions of Entity Framework and it was easy. To get started I searched the Internet for instructions on how to do Database First with EF Core and I found quite a few walkthroughs. Unfortunately, none of them worked.

First problem I found is some of the walkthroughs assumed you were targeting an ASP.NET Core MVC project so they skipped steps. Found others that targeted a library but the first couple I tried failed because the list of EF Core packages has changed someone in the recent past. Finally got the library ready which included adding design and tool packages to the library because the POCO generator requires them. This library will end up getting used in production, it should not have dependencies on developer tooling and aids. Sloppy.

To generate the POCOs you have to execute a Scaffold-DbContext command in the Package Manager Console. This is not obvious and not user friendly. It also doesn’t work. I spent at least an hour and a half trying it with different arguemnts or even via the Command Prompt along with more Internet searching. It seems lots of developers have trouble with this because there are lots of pages dealing with various errors. Oh and there were multiple errors, every time I thought I fixed one thing a different error came up. It simply refused to work.

Then I got very lucky! Buried down in the comments on one of the many web pages was a link to the EFCorePowerTools Visual Studio extension. It adds GUI support for doing common tasks related to EF Core. One of those tasks is generating POCOs. Plus since its part of the GUI it doesn’t care what packages are added to the target library, so no need to add design and tooling to production libraries! Installed the extension, restarted Visual Studio and within 2 minutes I had the POCOs generated no problem.

Its worth mentioning that EFCorePowerTools is not from Microsoft! We have Erik Ejlskov Jensen to thank. Why in the world Microsoft didn’t do this themselves is beyond me. Very poor.

Before finding that extension I was keeping notes so I could write up my own web page on how to try and deal with Scaffold-DbContext. But after finding the extension I realized who cares and tossed them. Time will tell if it has any maintenance shortcomings, but for now it makes life so much better.

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