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An XMLSerializer input/output utility

, 13 May 2009 MIT
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An article about serializing and deserializing with XMLSeriaizier.

Introduction

Back when I started using XML documents in C++, parsing and getting data out of the document was not what I would have called friendly, nor was generating a new document from scratch. Around that time, I also started playing with this new language called C#. At some point, I was doing XML parsing with C# and discovered the XML serialization features (XMLSerializer). Needless to say, this was a great answer to my problems because I was often working with in-memory object relationships and would spend quite a bit of code translating between the two.

Over time, I found myself writing a set of utility functions to load and save the XML documents to and from different formats (files, string, memory streams, etc.). One day it occurred to me that I could use Generics to make this much easier for me over copying, pasting, and modifying the same method form a different class over and over.

Background on XML Serialization

This article is not going to explain in detail how XML serialization works (these are ideas for possible future articles). I will, however, introduce a very simple Hello World class that will be used in this example. The basic XML document looks like:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<hello>
  <message>Hello World</message>
</hello>

The C# class we use for serialization looks like this:

namespace BackgroundCode
{
    public class Hello
    {
        public string Message { get; set; }
    }
}

This is pretty straightforward and, in fact, looks just like a normal C# object. Here is where the magic comes in; say, we want to read in the XML document from above, you could use the following code:

public static Hello ReadDocument(string fileName)
{
    XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Hello));
    using (Stream stream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
    {
        return xs.Deserialize(stream) as Hello;
    }
}

Now, you may notice that there are a number of places where things can fail here, and anyone calling this function should expect that you may get exceptions from File.OpenRead and xs.Deserialize. You can also write a similar function for writing out to a file:

public static void WriteDocument(Hello xml, string fileName)
{
    XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Hello));
    using (Stream stream = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
    {
        xs.Serialize(stream, xml);
    }
}

Iteration 1

The actual work done in reading and writing a document seems pretty easy, but as a proponent of DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself), it seems that the most logical place for this functionality to live is with the data definition class itself. My updated class looks like this:

using System.IO;
using System.Xml.Serialization;

namespace Iteration1
{
    public class Hello
    {
        public string Message { get; set; }

        public static Hello ReadDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Hello));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
            {
                return xs.Deserialize(stream) as Hello;
            }
        }

        public void WriteDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Hello));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
            {
                xs.Serialize(stream, this);
            }
        }
    }
}

There are some minor changes from what we had in the background, and a few things to note. The first thing to note is that ReadDocument is a static function. This allows you to use a nice trick to load your document:

Hello read = Hello.ReadDocument(fname);

The next thing of note is WriteDocument, it now only takes a file name and not an instance of a Hello object. This is because we can just use the keyword “this” to write out the document. A call to save this out would look something like this:

Hello data = new Hello { Message = "Hello World" };
data.WriteDocument(fname);

Now, for the longest time, this is where I would end my work. After all, when I needed to do this for a new class, I could just copy and paste these functions and modify them. Now, let me show you the fallacy of that statement. Say, we have a new class (this one is a goodbye world class). So, we start off with something like:

namespace Iteration1
{
    public class Goodbye
    {
        public string Reason { get; set; }
    }
}

Now, we copy in our utility functions and modify them:

using System.IO;
using System.Xml.Serialization;

namespace Iteration1
{
    public class Goodbye
    {
        public string Reason { get; set; }

        public static Goodbye ReadDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Goodbye));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
            {
                return xs.Deserialize(stream) as Goodbye;
            }
        }

        public void WriteDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Hello));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
            {
                xs.Serialize(stream, this);
            }
        }
    }
}

Do you see the error? It won't cause a compile error, and as long as all you do is read from files, you may not notice this error for a long time, until you finally go to do a save and get an exception like this one:

"There was an error generating the XML document."

Iteration 2

Refactor is the word here, and now we introduce Generics to help us. As a logical extension to our second example, let's look at the next iteration of this solution with our first XMLSupport class. First of all, we revert back to the initial implementation of Hello.cs:

Now, we introduce the utility class:

using System.IO;
using System.Xml.Serialization;

namespace Iteration2
{
    public sealed class XMLUtility
    {
        public static T ReadDocument<t>(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
            {
                return (T) xs.Deserialize(stream);
            }
        }

        public static void WriteDocument<t>(T xmlObject, string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
            {
                xs.Serialize(stream, xmlObject);
            }
        }
    }
}

You can now read from a file using a statement like:

Hello read = XMLUtility.ReadDocument<hello>(fname);

You can write out to a file using a statement like:

Hello data = new Hello { Message = "Hello World" };
XMLUtility.WriteDocument<hello>(data, fname);

Iteration 3

While the previous solution (with a little augmentation) is a good step forward (and possibly the correct solution in a number of scenarios), I think there is still more we can do with it. As opposed to using a class with generic functions, we introduce a generic class:

using System.IO;
using System.Xml.Serialization;

namespace Iteration3
{
    public sealed class XMLUtility<t>
    {
        public static T ReadDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
            {
                return (T)xs.Deserialize(stream);
            }
        }

        public static void WriteDocument(T xmlObject, string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
            {
                xs.Serialize(stream, xmlObject);
            }
        }
    }
}

Now honestly, this doesn't make things much better yet, since the calls still look like:

Hello data = new Hello { Message = "Hello World" };
XMLUtility<hello>.WriteDocument(data, fname);

and:

Hello read = XMLUtility<hello>.ReadDocument(fname);

Iteration 4

Now that we have abstracted out to a generic class, let's introduce some inheritance to the mix. First, the utility class:

using System;
using System.IO;
using System.Xml.Serialization;

namespace Iteration4
{
    public abstract class XMLSupport<t>
    {
        public static T ReadDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
            {
                return (T)xs.Deserialize(stream);
            }
        }

        public void WriteDocument(string fileName)
        {
            XmlSerializer xs = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));
            using (Stream stream = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
            {
                xs.Serialize(stream, this);
            }
        }
    }
}

Now, let's take a look at our data class:

namespace Iteration4
{
    public class Hello : XMLSupport<hello>
    {
        public string Message { get; set; }
    }
}

So this makes a call to read look like:

Hello read = Hello.ReadDocument(fname);

And the call to write look like:

Hello data = new Hello { Message = "Hello World" };
data.WriteDocument(fname);

Which is considerably easier to read and use over previous iterations.

Other Functionality

The final version of XMLSupport adds new pieces of functionality, and also entails some name changes. Because there are times when you want to read and write to strings and generic streams (as opposed to files), there are now three read and three write operations:

Read Write
FromXmlString ToXmlString
FromStream ToStream
FromFile ToFile

For other advanced reasons, two events have been added: BeforeSave and AfterLoad. They are generic event handlers (EventHandler<eventargs>) that you can add your own events to.

Using the Code

Making use of this library is pretty simple. Take a look at the included test code, and you can see a Hello class:

public class Hello : XMLSupport<hello>
{
    public Hello()
    {
        BeforeSave += BeforeSaveEvent;
        AfterLoad += AfterLoadEvent;
    }

    public string Message { get; set; }

    [XmlIgnore]
    public bool beforeSaveCalled = false;

    [XmlIgnore]
    public bool afterLoadCalled = false;

    protected void BeforeSaveEvent(object sender, EventArgs args)
    {
        beforeSaveCalled = true;
    }

    protected void AfterLoadEvent(object sender, EventArgs args)
    {
        afterLoadCalled = true;
    }
}

This class makes use of the BeforeSave and AfterLoad events for testing purposes, but gives an example of how to use it.

Here is a simple example of reading in from a string using the above class:

Hello ret = Hello.FromXmlString("<hello><message>Hello World</message></hello>");

The functions, for the most part, work just like iteration 4 described above, with just slightly different method names.

Conclusion

The Microsoft XmlSerializer is an extremely useful utility when working with XML files. Using some of the advanced features of C# and Generics, it is possible to make adding load and save support a very simple operation. Using the XMLSupport library can make this a very simple process.

History

  • First revision.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The MIT License

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About the Author

Shawn Dempsay
Other Pavlov Media
United States United States
Shawn started to program when he was 6 on a Timex Sinclair 1000 in Basic. After graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan Shawn worked 12 years at Cisco Systems and is now the Vice President of Research and Development at Pavlov Media working on network access and management products.
 
While C# is his favorite language, he also dabbles in a number of others including Ruby and Java.

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralPerfect for what I need PinmemberMember 1019387912-Sep-13 20:19 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmember[MD]Valkyrie-MT18-Sep-10 17:33 
Generalgood read PinmemberDonsw13-Jun-09 7:43 
GeneralMy vote of 2 Pinmembersteuer.j14-May-09 2:14 
QuestionRe: My vote of 2 PinmemberShawn Dempsay14-May-09 5:02 
GeneralGreat!! PinmemberAnt210013-May-09 23:47 

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