How XAML works - Creating Objects With XAML
How XAML works - Creating Objects With XAML
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
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How XAML works - Creating Objects With XAML
Properties

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Reference Type Properties

A second problem arises if we are trying to initialise a property that takes a reference type.

This is mostly solved by the use of a different property initialisation syntax.

For example, instead of using an attribute to set MyProperty we use:

<m:MyClass x:Name="MyObject1">
 <m:MyClass.MyProperty>
  20
 </m:MyClass.MyProperty>
</m:MyClass>

The result is the same but this syntax is more general because we can include a new object between the property tags.

A demonstration of an object property is a little messy but if we add a new class:

public class MyDataClass
{
 private int m_MyProperty2;
 public MyDataClass() { }
 public int MyProperty2
 {
  get { return m_MyProperty2; }
  set { m_MyProperty2 = value; }
 }
}

This class has a single int property but in principle it could be as complicated as required.

Now we can add a new class-valued property to our original class:

private MyDataClass m_MyDataClass;
public MyDataClass MyClassProp
{
 get { return m_MyDataClass; }
 set { m_MyDataClass = value; }
}

This is just a standard get/set property but it takes an object of type MyDataClass.

Clearly this cannot be set to a new value using a string. The way to do it is:

<m:MyClass x:Name="MyObject1">
 <m:MyClass.MyClassProp>
  <m:MyDataClass MyProperty2="35">
  </m:MyDataClass>
 </m:MyClass.MyClassProp>
</m:MyClass>

This creates a new, nameless, instance of the DataClass class and then sets its MyProperty2 to 35. Notice that Attribute setting can be used for MyProperty2 because it is a supported value property however there would be no problem if MyProperty was another reference property – the nesting might get a little deep however!

Implementing a type converter

As an alternative to using nested property syntax to set reference properties, we can opt to handle the conversion from the initializer string to the object properties ourselves.

Surprisingly this isn’t difficult.

For example, suppose we want to allow MyProperty2 to be set by a string. All we have to do is tag the type that the type converter will apply to with:

[TypeConverter(typeof(MyDataClassTypeConverter))]
public class MyDataClass
{

The rest of the class is unaltered. Now we have to implement the MyDataClassTypeConverter and to do this we need to add:

using System.ComponentModel;

The type converter class has to inherit from TypeConverter and it first implements CanConvertFrom which simply returns true or false depending on whether or not the type converter can do the requested conversion: 

public class
MyDataClassTypeConverter:TypeConverter
{
 public override bool
 CanConvertFrom(ITypeDescriptorContext
                           context, Type t)
 {
  if (t == typeof(String)) return true;
  return false;
 }

The second method we need actually does the type conversion:

 public override object ConvertFrom(
              ITypeDescriptorContext context,
              System.Globalization.CultureInfo
              culture,object val)
 {
  MyDataClass temp=new MyDataClass();
  temp.MyProperty2=
              Convert.ToInt32((string)val);
  return temp;
 }
}

Notice that it creates a new instance of the class that it performs type conversion for and then processes the string to initialise the properties of the MyDataClass instance. Notice also that the Type converter creates and then initialises the object to be stored in the property using the information supplied by the initialisation string.

Clearly a real example would be more complex and would parse the string to extract multiple items of initialisation information.

With the type converter in place we can create an instance of MyClass using:

<m:MyClass x:Name="MyObject"
 MyProperty="23" MyClassProp="35" >
</m:MyClass>

You will also discover that this approach puts both properties into the Property Windows so that they can be changed interactively.

Beyond initialisation

Suppose you want to make use of the objects created by the XAML in your code. The attribute:

x:Class="WpfApplication1.Window1"

defines the partial class that provides the “code behind” support for the XAML. Within this class all of the objects you have created are within the namespace and accessible.

For example you can write, without any other modifications:

private void Window_Loaded(
           object sender,RoutedEventArgs e)
{
 MessageBox.Show(
           MyObject1.MyProperty.ToString());
}

You can similarly write code that manipulates any object or property initialised by XAML.

XAML

Where next?

It is clear that XAML is a very general and extensible object instantiation language. If you follow the example in this article I can promise you lots of difficulties caused by synchronisation – the project organisation used in this article was adopted to make the example simple and thus falls over in the real world.

The problem is that XAML doesn’t expect the assemblies that contain the classes it is instantiating to change during development. This is easily cured by splitting out the class definitions into another assembly. 

In the final analysis you have to ask yourself if XAML is worth it. Is it really so much better to instantiate objects declarative with all of the type conversion and namespace problems this brings about?

For some situations the declarative approach to object creation makes sense - UIs for example. In other case you need to think carefully and if you decide to create a declarative system using XAML you will almost certainly have to create a custom editor for the objects. 

Knowing how XAML works, for WPF or WinRT apps is well worth the effort however. 

 

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