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Generating IDL and Manifest Files with TypeLibInfoTool

, 1 Nov 2011
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An application to inspect a COM TypeLib and generate IDL and .manifest files. The tool is made as an HTML application using JavaScript for the logic.

Introduction

A tool is presented to inspect the interface of any COM Type Library and generate its IDL file or a fragment of a .manifest file that can be used for deploying registration-free applications.

The functionality is similar to many of its predecessors, e.g., the Object Browser of the VB6 IDE, Microsoft OLE View, and many others. Compared to these, it adds the simplicity and openness of a scripting language and some extra functionality that helps writing .manifest files needed for Registration-Free COM (see [1]).

Background

Type Libraries are central to the COM technology. Each COM component itself is represented, in its interface, by a Type Library. These are implemented as files of several types.

  • Dynamic Link Libraries (*.dll). This is probably the most common form taken by COM components.
  • ActiveX Components (*.ocx). They are a special case of DLL with specific machinery to embed the objects it instantiates within a GUI.
  • Executables (*.exe). Stand-alone executables can also expose a COM interface. This is often done to give the ability to programmatically drive an application from another one.
  • Type Libraries (*.tlb). No code is contained within this kind of files, this is a binary form of IDL file and can be used to import interfaces or reference the objects in a Type Library when building new components.

This tool makes use of the TypeLib Information Object Library which presents an API for browsing type libraries. A sample usage of this library can be found in this article ([2]). The TLI component itself is implemented as a type library, an interesting exercise is inspecting it with the application presented here (the file is TlbInf32.dll and is usually located in %SystemRoot%\system32).

The other main technology this tool relies on is Microsoft HTML Applications (HTA). This gives flexibility to users who decide to dig into the source code as it is immediately available as HTML and JavaScript in the same file that gets executed.

Usage

The TLI component is not a standard part of a Windows install. It gets shipped with other pieces of software, such as Microsoft Visual Studio. First of all, make sure you have TlbInf32.dll registered on your system. If not, get a copy of it and register it in the usual way: go to the folder where you have it installed (again, usually it is C:\WINDOWS\system32) and type the following in the command line.

regsvr32 TlbInf32.dll

After this step, you are set to go. Double-click on the file TypeLibInfoTool.hta and the application will start. Here is a snapshot of it.

com_typelib_tool.png

From this point on, three operations are possible:

  • Generating an IDL file
  • Registration info for .manifest files
  • Summary of information

Generating an IDL file

The IDL file is an essential part when building a COM component. It defines the set of all interfaces, coclasses, enums, etc., that make up the interface of the type library. They are commonly used in C/C++ projects for this purpose. It is often necessary to inspect the IDL file that was originally used to make a COM component; while this is seldom available, it can be reconstructed. Moreover, VB6 projects that result in COM components do not make explicit use of IDL files, this is often a problem as some essential information is kept hidden. Again, the ability to reconstruct the IDL file is critical. An interesting web page on this topic can be found here [3].

TypeLibInfoTool allows this operation; by clicking on the Generate IDL button, the IDL file can be reconstructed out of a binary file (DLL, OCX, EXE, TLB).

Registration info for .manifest files

Applications traditionally use COM components by looking up in the Registry for the place where it is located (and other information). This is possible as every component goes through a registration phase where its information gets written to the Registry. This is usually accomplished when installing a piece of software. This has always been the model used by OLE/COM. While perfectly all right for many purposes, sometimes a one-click deployment is more desirable. More recently, starting from Windows XP, another approach can be taken (see [4]). A special file can be present in the same folder as the executable which contains all registration information, the file has the same name as the executable with a .manifest extension appended. The OS checks for the presence of this file and uses it before looking up the Windows Registry. This removes the need for the registration phase.

A manifest file is written as XML format and has a format which can be hard to manually compose. The proposed application generates the fragment of a manifest file that contains the required registration information for a specific component. For instance, consider the following fragment.

<file name='C:\WINDOWS\system32\msscript.ocx'>
    <typelib tlbid='{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' version='1.0' flags='' helpdir=''/>
    <comClass progid='MSScriptControl.Procedure' 
      clsid='{0E59F1DA-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' 
      threadingModel='Apartment'/>
    <comClass progid='MSScriptControl.Procedures' 
      clsid='{0E59F1DB-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' 
      threadingModel='Apartment'/>
    <comClass progid='MSScriptControl.Module' 
      clsid='{0E59F1DC-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' 
      threadingModel='Apartment'/>
    <comClass progid='MSScriptControl.Modules' 
      clsid='{0E59F1DD-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' 
      threadingModel='Apartment'/>
    <comClass progid='MSScriptControl.Error' 
      clsid='{0E59F1DE-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' 
      threadingModel='Apartment'/>
    <comClass progid='MSScriptControl.ScriptControl' 
      clsid='{0E59F1D5-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}' 
      threadingModel='Apartment'/>
</file>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='IScriptProcedure'
    iid='{70841C73-067D-11D0-95D8-00A02463AB28}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='IScriptProcedureCollection'
    iid='{70841C71-067D-11D0-95D8-00A02463AB28}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='IScriptModule'
    iid='{70841C70-067D-11D0-95D8-00A02463AB28}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='IScriptModuleCollection'
    iid='{70841C6F-067D-11D0-95D8-00A02463AB28}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='IScriptError'
    iid='{70841C78-067D-11D0-95D8-00A02463AB28}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='IScriptControl'
    iid='{0E59F1D3-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>
<comInterfaceExternalProxyStub
    name='DScriptControlSource'
    iid='{8B167D60-8605-11D0-ABCB-00A0C90FFFC0}'
    proxyStubClsid32='{00020424-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    baseInterface='{00000000-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}'
    tlbid = '{0E59F1D2-1FBE-11D0-8FF2-00A0D10038BC}'/>

This is the output of the TypeLibInfoTool for the component msscript.ocx (used to execute scripts within an application). Such a fragment can be inserted within a manifest file with a structure such as the following (the file in this example can be called all_needed_components.manifest).

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8' standalone='yes'?>
<assembly xmlns='urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1' manifestVersion='1.0'>
  <assemblyIdentity name='all_needed_components' type='win32' version='1.0'/>
  <description>All the needed COM components by our application</description>
  <file name='...'>
  </file>
  ...
</assembly>

When all the components used by the application are inserted in this manifest file, it can be used for our click-once application. Actually, another manifest file with the same name as the application (e.g., MyRegistrationFreeApp.exe.manifest for an executable called MyRegistrationFreeApp.exe) is still needed. It is this file that references the manifest file with all the registration info. Here is a sample:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8' standalone='yes'?>
<assembly xmlns='urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1' manifestVersion='1.0'>
  <assemblyIdentity name='MyRegistrationFreeApp' 
         processorArchitecture='X86' type='win32' version='1.0' />
  <description>My Registration-Free Application</description>
  <dependency>
    <dependentAssembly>
      <assemblyIdentity name='all_needed_components' 
              type='win32' version='1.0.0.0' />
    </dependentAssembly>
  </dependency>
</assembly>

One last caveat on registration-free COM: when a component is implemented as an executable, this mechanism does not work. For some reason, Microsoft engineers decided to leave executables out, therefore they still need registration. Remember also that Windows OSs before XP need all components to be registered in the traditional way.

Summary of information

The third operation available with the TypeLibInfoTool is generating a summary of the information of the Type Library interface. This simply operates by enumerating each interface with its methods and properties, each coclass with the interfaces it derives from, etc. The tool is quite rudimental, but can be used for a quick inspection of a COM component before running one of the operations above.

Design

The application is written as an HTML application. This means it is a special kind of web page that gets displayed within an application frame instead of a web browser and is not subject to the usual restrictions when accessing system resource or executing code in COM components. All the logic is implemented as a JavaScript function within the web page.

The bulk of this code uses the TypeLib Information Object Library (TLI) to enumerate the information in a component and process it according to the task required (i.e., generating an IDL or a manifest file). As indicated in the to-do's section, this leaves room for extending the application for other operations such as automating documentation.

To do

A number of desirable features have been left out, work on these will depend on the interest this article can raise.

  • Not all information contained in a Type Library are processed. For instance, the importlib(...) directives are still missing in the IDL generation.
  • Copy-and-paste is the only way to get information out of the tool. A Save button could be added.
  • The function that enumerates all interfaces, coclasses, enums, etc., for generating the IDL file could easily be modified to automatically produce a documentation for a Type Library. The best approach could be generating an XML version of the IDL file and relying on an external XML stylesheet.
  • This application is designed around the concept of retrieving information out of a single COM component. This poses a limitation when one needs to generate a manifest file for an application, which in general requires gathering information from several files. For this reason, some manual copy-and-paste work is required. It would be nice to have the TypeLibInfoTool help in automate this task to a greater degree.

References

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Federico Aponte
Software Developer
Italy Italy
Federico has gone through the experience of developing software for different applications, including medical imaging and 3d cad modeling.
Fond of C++ as the Programming Language to know, he likes to dive into other ones. He is interested in computer graphics since the early days of his career, image compression and all the new web technologies.

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmemberalwybadawy29-Jul-12 16:22 

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