Sunday, October 23, 2005

CodeSmith CodeGeneration: Super XSLT

[This was originally posted at]

It's very common to have an XML data file, and then based on that to generate something else. Several years ago EXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) was developed to handle this. The intent is that given an initial file, XSLT lets you program a template to transform that file into something else. For example, you could store just the raw data in an Xml file, and then have an XSLT template transform that into an html file. This new file is usually bigger and more redundant because it's doing something with the data, like adding extra html to format and present it. Another example would be storing base data in an Xml config file, and then transforming it to a lengthy SQL script.

The problem is that XSLT requires a entirely new skillset, isn't as powerful as a full-fledged language (like C#), and lacks the supporting development tools and IDE that make writing and debugging easier. You could use C# and the System.Xml namespace to manually transform the file, but that's tedious.

Another solution is to use a code-generation tool like CodeSmith. CodeSmith can take an Xml document, and given its XSD Schema, create a strongly typed object (which includes intellisense and collection capabilities). You can program a template in the CodeSmith IDE using C#. It's essentially like Super XSLT. By letting you use a language that you already know (either C# or VB), creating the strongly typed object, and using a standard IDE with debugging, using CodeSmith for batch (i.e. compile time) xml transformations can be a real time saver. It's also probably much easier for other developers to read and maintain a C#-based template than an XSLT one.

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