Under the hood of NServiceBus: SettingsHolder

In the last post I explained that EndpointConfiguration is really just a wrapper around a SettingsHolder and how to use the GetSettings() extension method in the AdvancedExtensibility namespace to get access to it.

So once you have access to a SettingsHolder, what can you do with it?

In simplest terms, a SettingsHolder is a key-value store or dictionary. You can put a value in with a key and then pull that value back out again by providing the same key. Like this:

var settings = new SettingsHolder();

settings.Set("My Name", "Mike");

var myName = (string)settings.Get("My Name");

There are many other methods that help to do this in different ways:

// Get a strongly typed value
var myName2 = settings.Get<string>("My Name");

// Check if a setting exists before retrieving it
if(settings.HasSetting("My Name"))
  // The key isn't case sensitive
  return settings.Get<string>("MY NAME");

// Or do it in one step
if(settings.TryGet<string>("my name", out var myName3))
  return myName3;

// Using a type name as the key
settings.Set<SqlPersistenceSettings>(new SqlPersistenceSettings());
var sqlSettings = settings.Get<SqlPersistenceSettings>();

// Creating it if it's not in there
var sqlSettings2 = settings.GetOrCreate<SqlPersistenceSettings>();


The thing that makes SettingsHolder special is the concept of defaults. A default is a value that is returned for a given key if no explicit value has been set.

settings.SetDefault("Greeting", "Hi there");
settings.Set("Greeting", "Howdy");

// Prints "Howdy"
var greeting = settings.Get<string>("Greeting");

The interesting thing about defaults is that they don’t overwrite a set value. If you reverse the first two lines above and set the default after setting the value, you will still get the same greeting printed out at the end.

settings.Set("Greeting", "Howdy");
settings.SetDefault("Greeting", "Hi there");

// Still prints "Howdy"
var greeting = settings.Get<string>("Greeting");

This is useful for letting different features configure defaults, even if the user has already specified a value.

You can check if a given key has an explicit value by using HasExplicitValue(key) or HasExplicitValue<T>().

Cleaning up

You can clear a settings collection1.


This will dispose any of the defaults and settings that have been added to the collection. In NServiceBus we only do this during a shutdown.

Nobody move

Although it’s not exposed publicly, a SettingsHolder can be locked to prevent further changes. In NServiceBus this happens during endpoint initialization, before the endpoint is started.

NServiceBus should never be hand you a SettingsHolder if you can’t make changes to it. Instead, you get get given an instance of the ReadOnlySettings interface. This has all of the methods for getting data out of a SettingsHolder but none of the ones for setting values or defaults. Even if you cast back to a SettingsHolder, any calls that modify the collection will throw an Exception.

If you had access to the API, it would look like this:


With great power

SettingsHolder is not overly complex but it’s important to understand if you are going to get under the hood with NServiceBus. Nearly every feature touches this class in some capacity.

There are a couple of rules of engagement if you are going to use it.

  1. Do your best to make sure your key is unique. There is one SettingsHolder per endpoint. If you set a value or a default with the same key as another feature, something unexpected could happen. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an error quickly. If you are unlucky, you’ll introduce a subtle bug that’s hard to pin down.
  2. Be wary of secret knowledge. I know that the endpoint name is stored in a key called NServiceBus.Routing.EndpointName. I can use code to go and grab that value (or even change it). It’s a dangerous thing to do. If the core NServiceBus library decides to store the endpoint name in a different place (or as a different type using the same key) then my code will break at runtime. In most cases, if you’re supposed to have access to it, NServiceBus will provide a way to get it. In the case of the endpoint name, there’s an extension method on ReadOnlySettings called EndpointName().

In use

This is what the simplest NServiceBus endpoint startup code looks like:

var config = new EndpointConfiguration("EndpointName");

var endpoint = await Endpoint.Start(config);

The call to UseTransport is a configuration extension method (so is the call to UsePersistence) and under the covers it’s putting an instance of LearningTransport into the settings as a TransportDefinition. You can even ask for it back:

var transportDefinition = config.GetSettings().Get<TransportDefinition>();

Next time

We’ve seen how to set settings and defaults but how do we use them? That’s what features are for.

  1. You shouldn’t clear up the one NServiceBus gives you ↩︎