Tutorial on Understanding Transactions and Creating Transaction Enabled WCF Services

In this article we will discuss about creating transaction enabled WCF service. We will see what needs to be done on the WCF service end so that it support transactions. We will also see how a client application can work with these transaction enabled services using a sample application. 


When we talk about transactions in database operations, we need to perform some operation(database operations) in such a way that either all the operations are successful or all of them fail. This would result in the amount information being same once the transaction is successful or it fails.

Properties of Transaction

By definition a transaction must be Atomic, Consistent, Isolated and Durable. What does we mean by all these terms

  • Atomic: Atomic means that all the statements (SQL statement or operations) that are a part of the transaction should work as atomic operation i.e. either all are successful or all should fail.
  • Consistent: This means that in case the atomic transaction success, the database should be in a state that reflect changes. If the transaction fails then database should be exactly like it was when the transaction started.
  • Isolated: If more than one transactions are in process then each of these transactions should work independently and should not effect the other transactions.
  • Durable: Durability means that once the transaction is committed, the changes should be permanent i.e. these changes will get saved in database and should persist no matter what(like power failure or something).

Now having transactions from a simple class library’s perspective ot from a simple .Net applications, it is just a matter of calling the operations within a transaction, checking whether all the operations are successful or not and deciding whether to commit or rollback the transaction. Refer this article to know about transactions in normal application: A Beginner’s Tutorial for Understanding Transactions and TransactionScope in ADO.NET[^]

But from a WCF service perspective, since the service itself may be running on a remote server and all the communication between the service and the client is in form of messages, the service itself need some configuration so that it can be made transaction enabled.

Now in rest of the article we will see how we can configure a WCF service to support transactions and how we can call a WCF operation within transactions.

Using the code

Understanding Two Phase Commit

The WCF transactions happen using two phase commit protocol. Two phase commit protocol is the protocol that is used to enable transactions in a distributed environment. This protocol mainly consist of two phases:

  • Prepare phase: In this phase the client application performs the operations of a WCF service. WCF service determines whether the requested operation will be successful or not and notify the client about the same.
  • Commit Phase: In the commit phase the client checks for the responses it got from the prepare phase and if all the responses are indicating that the operation can be carried out successfully the transaction is committed. If the response from any one of the operations indicates failure then the transaction will be rolled back. The actual operation on the service end will happen in the commit phase.

Now from the protocol, it is pretty clear that the WCF service will have to send the notification of whether the operation will succeed or fail to the client application. It would mean that the One way operations can never support transactions. The operations that support transactions have to follow the Request-Response Model(refer this for details on message exchange modes: Tutorial on Message Exchange Patterns and Asynchronous Operations in WCF[^])

A note on binding

Since services communicate in form of messages the underlying message specifications play a very important role in supporting transactions. To have the possibility of transactions, the WS-AT(WS-AtomicTransaction)protocol need to be used. The binding that supports this is wsHttpBinding. So we will be using this binding to create our transaction enabled service.

Description of the Test Application

To illustrate the above process, let say I have two account holders, one person is trying to transfer some money to other person. From the database perspective this operation consist of two sub-operations i.e.

  • Debiting the first account by specified amount.
  • Secondly, crediting the second account with required amount.

Now from a technical perspective, if the first operation is successful but second one fails the result would be that the first persons account will be debited but second one will not be credited i.e. we loose the amount of information. The other way round will in fact increase the amount ion second account without even debiting the first amount.

So the bottom-line here is that we need either both of them to be successful to both of them should fail. Success of any one operation will result in inconsistent results and thus even if one operation fails we need to rollback what we did in the other operation. This is precisely where transaction are useful.

Let us say that the operations for credit and debit are exposed separately from a service. What we need to do is that, we need to transaction enable this service and then call these two methods within a transaction. The transaction will be committed only when both the operation indicate success. In case any one operation indicates failure or throws an exception, the transaction will not be committed.

Creating the Service

Let us create a simple service with a ServiceContractthat exposes operations to debit an account, credit an account and get the account balance information for any account.

Now we want the operations PerformCreditTransactionand PerformDebitTransactionto work within a transaction. To do this we need to make some configuration in the service. The very first thing that is required with the OperationContractis to set the TransactionFlow property with the desired TransactionFlowOption. There are 3 possible values for TransactionFlowOption:

  • Mandatory: This specifies that this function can only be called within a transaction.
  • Allowed: This specifies that this operation can be called within a transaction but its not mandatory.
  • NotAllowed: This specifies that this operation can not be called within a transaction.

Now for both our operations, we want the operations to be called mandatory within a transaction so we will specify them with this option.

Now to illustrate the implementation part, We will work on a small application that contains a single table database. This table contains the account id and the amount present in the account.

The sample DB table looks like:


The UI will look like:


And now to perform these operations, we will write simple ADO.NET code in our service implementation. The important thing from the service implementation perspective is that the service implementation also needs to be decorated/adorned with OperationBehaviorattribute with TransactionScopeRequired property set to true. So now let us look at the sample implementation of the service operations.

Note: The code is written to elaborate the transaction enabled services only, it is not as per the coding standards i.e it is vulnerable to SQL injection. It should not be taken as code that could go in production. It is just the sample code and has a lot of scope for improvement.

Now we have our ServiceContractready and service implementation ready. Let us now use the appropriate binding i.e. wsHttpBindingto use this service. Also, in the service configuration we need to specify that this service is transaction enabled. This can be done by setting the transactionFlowproperty of the binding configuration of wsHttpBidingto true

Note: Please refer the web.config of the sample code to see how this is done.

Test Application

From our test application, we will simply call the functions within a transaction(using TransactionScope). We will check both the operations’ return value, if both of the indicates success, we will commit the transaction(by calling Complete method on TransactionScopeobject). If any operation fails we will rollback the transaction by not calling Complete function and simply letting the TransactionScopeobject go out of scope).

The code currently will work fine i.e. both the methods will return true and the transaction will get committed. To check the rollback action, we have a simple return false; statement commented in our service’s PerformCreditTransactionoperation, un-comment this statement to check that the transaction will not get committed.

Note: The code snippets shows the relevant code in the context. Please look at the sample code to get the full understanding.

So now we have a service that supports transactions. Before wrapping up let is look at the main operations we need in order to make a service transaction enabled.

  1. Decorate the OperationContractwith required TransactionFlowOption.
  2. Decorate the operation implementation with OperationBehaviorwith TransactionScopeRequired as true.
  3. Use wsHttpBindingto utilize the underlying WS-AtomicTransaction protocol.
  4. Specify the transactionFlow property of the binding configuration of wsHttpBindingas true.

Point of interest

In this article we have discussed how we can create WCF services that supports transactions. To fully understand this article knowledge of creating a WCF service, Contracts and Bindings and knowledge of transactions and TransactionScopeis required. I hope this has been informative.

Download sample code for this article: TransactionalSampleService