Microsoft Bot Framework – Store LUIS credentials in web.config instead of hardcoding in LuisDialog

Recently, I have been working on a release management strategy for bots built with the Bot Framework, using the tools we have in house at Mando where I work as a Technical Strategist.  As part of this work I have setup various environments as part of the development lifecycle for our solutions. i.e. local development, CI, QA, UAT, Production etc.  One of the issues I hit pretty quickly was the need to point the bot within each environment to it’s own LUIS model (if yo are not familiar with LUIS then check out my intro post here), as by default you decorate your LuisDialog with a LuisModel attribute as shown below, which means you need to hardcode your subscription key and model ID.

Obviously this need to hardcode isn’t ideal and I really needed to be able to store my Luis key and ID in my web.config so I could then transform the config file for each environment.

Thankfully this is pretty easy to achieve in Bot Framework using the in built dependency injection.  Below are the steps I took to do this and at the end I will summarise what is happening.

  1. Add keys to your web.config for your Luis subscription key and model Id.
  2. Amend your dialog that inherits from LuisDialog to accept a parameter of type ILuisService.  This can then be passed into the base LuisDialog class. ILuisService itself uses a class, LuisModelAttribute which will contain our key and Id, more on that in a minute.
  3. Next we create an AutoFac module, within which we register 3 types. Our Luis dialog, the ILuisService and the LuisModelAttribute.  When we register the LuisModelAttribute we retrieve our key and Id from our web.config.
  4. Then, in Global.asax.cs we register our new module.
  5. Finally, in MessagesController, this is how you can create your Luis Dialog.

That’s it.  After those few steps you are good to go.

So, let’s summarise what is happening here.  When you application loads the ILuisService and your Luis dialog are registered with AutoFac.  Also registered is a LuisModelAttribute, into which we have passed our key and id from our web.config.  Once that module has been registered, we can then get the instance of our dialog using scope.Resolve<IDialog<IMessageActivity>>().  This dialog takes an ILuisService as a parameter, but because we have registered that with AutoFac as well this passed in for us automatically. Finally the ILuisService needs a LuisModelAttribute, which, again, because we have registered this in our module is handled for us.

Once you have completed the above you can alter your Luis subscription key and model id by simply amending your web.config.

Forwarding activities / messages to other dialogs in Microsoft Bot Framework

I have been asked a question a lot recently – is it possible to pass messages / activities between dialogs in Microsoft Bot Framework?  By doing this you could have a root dialog handling your conversation, but then hand off the message activity to another dialog.  One common example of this is using the LUIS service to recognise a user’s intent, but handing off to a dialog powered by the QnA Maker service if no intent is triggered.

Thankfully this is very simple to do.

Normally to add a new dialog to the stack we would use context.call which adds a dialog to the top of the stack. However, there is another method which was added some time ago but is not as widely known, context.forward, allowing us to not only call a child dialog and add it to the stack, but also let us pass an item to the dialog as well, just as if it was the root dialog receiving a message activity.

The example code below shows you how to forward to fallback to a dialog that uses the QnA Maker if no intent is identified within a LUIS dialog.

In the example above, a new instance of the FaqDialog class is created and the forward method takes the incoming message (which you can get as a parameter from the LUIS intent handler), passes it to the new dialog and also specifies a callback for when the new child dialog has completed, in this case AfterFAQDialog.

Once it has finished, the AfterFAQDialog will call context.Done and in the example will pass a Boolean to indicate if an FAQ answer was found – if the dialog returns false then we can provide an appropriate message to the user.

That’s it, it is super simple and unlocks the much asked for scenario of using LUIS and QnAMaker together, falling back from one to the other.

Video: How businesses can utilise the potential of chat bots today

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at Mando’s (the company where I work as a Technical Strategist) Provoke event.

During my session I gave an overview of what is possible with the Microsoft Bot Framework and showed a live demo of how a chat bot can be used to help a business in a customer support scenario. I also discussed how this bot can be made more intelligent using Microsoft Cognitive Services like LUIS, for language understanding and QnA Maker for smart FAQs.

TechDays Online 2017 Bot Framework / Cognitive Services now available

This February saw the return of TechDays Online here in the UK, along with other sessions from across the pond in the U.S.  I co-presented 2 sessions on bot framework development along with Simon Michael from Microsoft and fellow MVP James Mann.  The sessions covered some great advice about bot development and dug a little deeper into subjects including FormFlow and the QnA Maker / LUIS cognitive services.

Both sessions are now available to watch online, along with tons of other great content from the rest of the 3 days.

Conversational UI using the Microsoft Bot Framework

Microsoft Bot Framework and Cognitive Services: Make your bot smarter!

Another fellow MVP, Robin Osborne, also recorded some short videos about his experience in building a real world bot for a leading brand, JustEat, so check them out over on his blog too.

Making Amazon Alexa smarter with Microsoft Cognitive Services

Recently those of us who work at Mando were lucky enough to receive an Amazon Echo Dot for us to start to play with and to see if we could innovate with them in any interesting ways and as I have been doing a lot of work recently with the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Microsoft Cognitive Services, this was something I was keen to do.  The Echo Dot, hardware that sits on top of the Alexa service is a very nice piece of kit for sure, but I quickly found some limitations once I started extending it with some skills of my own.  In this post I will talk about my experience so far and how you might be able to use Microsoft services to make up for some of the current Alexa shortcomings. (more…)

Give your bot some ‘manners’ with the BestMatchDialog

As a follow up to my earlier post which introduced the new BestMatch Dialog, now available via NuGet. One of the best uses for the BestMatch Dialog, and the reason I created it in the first place, is adding ‘manners’ to a bot. i.e. being able to respond to those common things that people say that fall outside of the usual conversation you would handle with your bot. Therefore this post will focus on and show how to use a BestMatch Dialog as a child dialog to respond to general messages like “hello” and “thanks”.  It is amazing what a huge difference handling these sorts of messages can make and how much more natural talking to your bot will feel for your end users. (more…)

Integrating a LUIS natural language model with your bot using LUISDialog

The LUIS service, part of the Cognitive Services suite, aids you with the task of natural language processing.  In my last post I created a natural language model using Microsoft’s LUIS service and in this post I am going to show you how to hook up the model I created, into a bot created using the Bot Framework and a special type of dialog class, the LUIS Dialog.  If you haven’t got a LUIS model already, go back and work through the last post, it really doesn’t take long.

Update: I have now published a quick video overview of LUIS including how to create your first model.

(more…)

Using the Microsoft LUIS service to build a model to understand natural language input

LUIS, the Language Understanding Intelligence Service, is a part of Microsoft’s Cognitive Services suite.  If you are reading this and you don’t yet have a clear understanding of what Cognitive Services are, head over and read my introduction to Cognitive Services before you continue.

During this post I will introduce you to what the LUIS service is and show you how to build a model to aid in natural language understanding in your applications.

Update: I have now published a quick video overview of LUIS including how to create your first model.  (more…)