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PACT - Private Assembly Creation Tool for DNN 3.x

, 1 Dec 2004
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PACT creates PA's for DNN v3.x

Sample Image - PACT.jpg

DotNetNuke, and who this article is for

DotNetNuke (DNN) is a portal application written in ASP.NET - completely open-source, free, and intelligently designed. Due to its modular design, skinning capability, third party support and open code, it is in use in thousands of web sites. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, I encourage you to do so.

That having been said, I want to make it clear that this article and tool are not for the DNN novice, nor it is aimed at the end user or casual web designer. The information provided here is for ASP.NET developers, particularly those who have some experience in creating modules for DNN 2.x. It could also be used by someone who is just getting started in DNN module development, however I strongly suggest that you also use developer resources such as the DNN forums.

About PACT

As of the writing of this article, DNN is at v3.0.5 (Beta 2). Several "breaking changes" were made from the previous versions of DNN, and some new features were added as well. As a result, developers are finding that they need to retool their current modules in order to be compatible with DNN 3.x, and to take advantage of the new capabilities, such as using resource files to populate their control text, and the new provider methods for accessing resources (for example, the FreeTextBox control). As well, DNN 3.x has been redesigned so that everything is a Private Assembly (PA). However, simply adding a new project to the solution won't properly add your module to DNN (more on this later). The core team has not yet released the DNN 3.x developers guide, which makes getting started in 3.x module development difficult.

I wrote PACT in order to assist developers in creating a new modules for DNN 3.x. Since DNN is in Beta, I can't insure that this tool will continue to work. Since it is open source however, it should be easy to update as needed.

What PACT Will Do:

  • Create the Module .ascx and .ascx.vb
  • Create the EditModule .ascx and ascx.vb
  • Create the ModuleInfo.vb
  • Create the ModuleController.vb
  • Create the DataProvider.vb
  • Create the SQLDataProvider.vb
  • Create the neccessary projects and AssemblyInfo.vb's for the module and Providers
  • Create the App_LocalResources folder and .resx files
  • Custom tailor all of the above with your Namespace and Module name
  • Add the required entries to the DotNetNuke .sln and BuildSolution

What PACT Will Not Do:

  • Create the Installation Folder, .dnn file and .zip file in order to distribute your custom PA
  • Register the new module with the database
  • Create the SQL scripts, tables, datat and stored procedures
  • Add any content or controls to the new module

Using PACT

PACT is easy to use. Simply run the executable, and enter the Namespace you wish to use, the name of the module you are creating, and the path to your DNN project. Both the Namespace and Module name should be one word, with no spaces. Underscores are allowed. PACT will base all of your namespaces and module controls on that info. For example, if you entered "MyCompany" as the namespace, and "MyModule" as the Module Name, then you'd see info like this in the module:

Namespace MyCompany.Modules.MyModule
Dim objMyModuleInfo as New MyModuleInfo

The project directory should always point to the ROOT of your project (i.e. C:\DotNetNuke). PACT will automatically add the paths it need to build the modules and access the files.

There are three checkboxes at the bottom of PACT. One checkbox is self explanatory - if any of the files it is creating already exist, it will simply overwrite them without stopping to ask you. The other two boxes give you the option of creating the necessary entries in your \<DNN Path>\DotNetNuke.sln file in order to add the new module to the solution, and adding entries to the \<DNN Path>\Solutions\DotNetNuke.All\BuildSupport\BuildSupport.vbproj file, which will make cause your module's *.dll file to appear in the main \bin folder when you compile the project.

Important Note: The options to add the new module entries automatically will alter critical DNN core files. A backup of these files will be created, but be careful nonetheless. You should make sure that the DNN solution isn't open in VS.NET or another editor at the time. On my machine, this process fails sometimes anyway. Follow the instructions below in order to make these changes by hand.

Adding The New Module To The DNN Solution By Hand

Once PACT has created the new module and provider project files, you must add the projects to the the DNN solution to compile them. The new projects will exist at:

<DNN Path>\DesktopModules\<Module Name>\
<DNN Path>\DesktopModules\<Module Name>\Providers\DataProviders\SqlDataProvider\

In order to add the projects to the solution by hand in VS.NET, do the following:

  • Open the DotNetNuke.sln file
  • From the menu, choose File | Add Project | Existing Project
  • Browse to the project(s) above and add them

If you are not using VS.NET, then open the DotNetNuke.sln in a text editor, and:

  • Browse to the last Project Section, just before the Global Section
  • Add two Project sections by copying a Project section, and then altering the info as required.

Here is an example:

Project("{F184B08F-C81C-45F6-A57F-5ABD9991F28F}") = "MyCompany.MyModule", 
 ProjectSection(ProjectDependencies) = postProject
 Project("{F184B08F-C81C-45F6-A57F-5ABD9991F28F}") = 
 ProjectSection(ProjectDependencies) = postProject

Adding The New Module To The BuildSolution By Hand

Since all the modules and components of DNN are now created as individual projects, a small problem arises. As you already know, when you compile a project, the output will (by default) be directed to the projects \bin directory. This is good - when you go to distribute your PA, you will want a copy of the dll in the \bin. However, in order for the DNN website to use the *.dll, it must be in the main DNN \bin folder. VS.NET does not allow you to specify two output paths, and thus, a problem arises.

The core team gets around this limitation by creating a project called BuildSupport. BuildSupport has no code of its own, and serves no purpose other than to get the .dll files in the main \bin directory. It is an empty project, with references to each module and component required by DNN, and its output is set to the \bin folder. In order to be able to use your new module, you should add a reference to your module in the BuildSupport project.

In order to add the projects to the BuildSolution by hand in VS.NET, do the following:

  • Open the \<DNN Path>\DotNetNuke.sln file
  • In the Project Explorer, expand the BuildSupport project (typically the first project in the list)
  • Right-click on References, and select "Add reference"
  • Click on the Projects Tab
  • Select both the module project, and the module provider project

If you are not using VS.NET, then open the \<DNN Path>\Solutions\DotNetNuke.All\BuildSupport\BuildSupport.vbproj in a text editor, and:

Browse to the last Reference Section, just before the Imports section

Copy the previous Reference section and alter the info as required

Here is an example:

Name = "MyCompany.Modules.MyModule"
AssemblyName = "MyCompany.Modules.MyModule"
HintPath = "..\..\..\DesktopModules\MyModule\bin\
Name = "MyCompany.Modules.MyModule.SqlDataProvider"
AssemblyName = "MyCompany.Modules.MyModule.SqlDataProvider"
HintPath = "..\..\..\DesktopModules\MyModule\Providers\

Adding The New Module To The DNN Portal

There are probably better guides on how to do this, but let me give you the nutshell version of adding a custom module by hand.

  • Open up your DNN website
  • Login as Host
  • From the menu, select Host | Module Definitions
  • Select Add New Module Definition from the dropdown menu
  • Add a module name and description, and click "Update"
  • In the New Definition field, type a name (such as the name of your module) and click "Add definition". (It should now appear in the definitions dropdown)
  • Click "Add Control"
  • Select your Module.ascx file in the Source dropdown
  • Select "View" from the Type dropdown
  • Click "Update"
  • Click "Add Control" again
  • This time, select your EditModule.ascx from the Source dropdown
  • Select "Edit" from the Type Dropdown
  • Type the word "Edit" in the Key field
  • Put something in the Title field - I suggest you call it the module with the word edit before (i.e. EditMyModule)
  • Click "Update"

You should now be able to add the module to any DNN page as you would normally.

About The New Module

What pact leaves you with is a workable shell that you can build your module from. If you add the module to the website, you will see little more than a label, and the option to add a new entry to the module (which doesn't really do anything, since there is not database, data or stored procs to do anything yet). If you examine the module code, you will see several 'TODO: entrys listed. These are good places to start looking for what needs to be done. (If you are using VS.NET, you can open up the task list at the bottom of the editor, right-click and select Show|Comments, and it will locate all these for you.)

What you will need to do is:

  • Add content to your module (labels, data controls, images - it's your module!)
  • If required, create tables, stored procs, and perhaps other providers
  • Edit the resource files if you plan to use them
  • And so on

It is far beyond the scope of this article to tell you how to build a module, and how to use the Data Access Layer. The skeleton for this info is in the modules, and can act as a template or guide for you to start building your own module. Again, check the resources on the DNN website, and DNN forums from more info on creating modules.

About App_LocalResources

Since there isn't much info about this topic yet, I figured I'd include this information for your reference. In DNN 3.x, all the text for labels and such is stored in resource files. This makes it possible for your website to automatically provide information in the appropriate language for a given visitor. The DNN beta has resources for English and German by default. I will give you two examples of how to use this feature. These examples are already built into the new module.

If you open up the Module.ascx file, you will see a label control, like this:

<asp:Label id="Label1" runat="server">Label</asp:Label>

In the Module.ascx.vb file, in the Page_Load event, there is this line:

label1.Text = DotNetNuke.Services.Localization.Localization.GetString(
   "label1.text", Me.LocalResourceFile)

Here is what will happen - at runtime, the code will look in the App_LocalResources folder for a resource file matching the name of the module, in the format of ModuleName.ascx.resx. This is simply an XML file - most of the information at the top you can ignore, as it won't change. But if you look towrds the bottom of the file, you will see <data> sections. This is where DNN will pull its resources from. In the case above, it will look for a data section name value of label1.text, and then pull the value from that section and apply it to the label. Here the data section as created by PACT.

<data name="AddContent.Action">
     <value>Add New MyModule</value>
<data name="ModuleHelp.Text">
 <value>The MyModule Module does this... 
   description is in App_LocalResources.</value>
<data name="label1.text">
 <value>MyModule Data</value>

You'll notice that the label1.text value is "MyModule Data". When you run the module in the website, that is the text that appears in the label. You should also notice that the "Add New MyModule" text comes from here too, as does the help info. This is a good example of how to use the resource file to populate the text in your controls. PACT only creates one resource file for you. However, if you look under the other modules, you will see more resource files. For example, look in the App_LocalResources folder of the FAQs module. In addition to the FAQs.ascx.resx, there is also an file. That is the German resource file. Any users logging in who registered their country as Germany will see the resources from that file instead.

As a second example, take a look at the EditModule.ascx file, which has this code:

<%@ Register TagPrefix="dnn" TagName="Label" 
  Src="~/controls/LabelControl.ascx" %>
 <td class="SubHead" width="125"><dnn:label id="plModuleNameValue" 
   runat="server" controlname="ModuleNameValue" suffix=":"></dnn:label></td>
 <asp:TextBox id="ModuleNameValue" cssclass="NormalTextBox" width="405"
   runat="server" />
 <asp:RequiredFieldValidator ID="valModuleNameValue" 
 CssClass="NormalRed" Display="Dynamic" 
   ErrorMessage="<br>A value is required" Runat="server" />

This code takes a little more explanation. You'll notice that the TextBox control listed here does not have a Label control next to it. However, when you run the module and pull up the EditModule page, you'll see both a label, and a picture of a question mark that offers some help on the field. Here is how this this works.

The secret is the <dnn:label> control. First, you set the controlname parameter the ID if the control that should get the label. In this case, I chose the TextBox control. Then, set the ID of the <dnn:label> to a unique value. The ID value can be anything, but it will need to match the <data> tags in the EditModule.ascx.resx file in App_Localresources. Open up the EditModule.ascx.resx file, and check the <data> sections:

<data name="plModuleNameValue.Text">
<value>ModuleName Value</value>
<data name="plModuleNameValue.Help">
<value>Enter a value for ModuleNameValue</value>

Note that there are two <data> sections here that refer to the <dnn:label> - a text value, and a help value. The text value is the Text that the label displays. The help value is the text that the help icon displays. The <dnn:label> control gives all the edit screen a similar look and feel, so you should use it whenever possible in edit modules.

Final Thoughts

Once again, I can't stress enough that you will still need to do quite a bit of work before you have working module of any sort here. PACT only builds the framework for you, and puts the right module and namespace in for you. You need to do the rest.

You can learn more about module creation, and fast creation techniques by using the excellent templates produced by DNNJungle. These have not yet been updated for DNN 3.x, but to be honest, they will still work for the most part with only minor alterations.

If you are creating parts for the Data Access Layer (DAL), Business layer or stored procedures, then I suggest you use CodeSmith along with the templates produced by Scott McCulloch.

If I Had Lawyers They Would Make Me Say This

Finally, understand that PACT is pretty much untested on any machine other than mine (at this point in time). I expect bugs will crop up. I will try to fix them as they appear, but you should still be careful. In essence, you are using a poorly tested beta stage tool in order to create modules for a poorly tested beta stage application. Use at your own risk. Backup your data before doing anything. I guarantee nothing.

A Blatant Plug For My Other Free Tools

You'll notice that PACT works by using hundreds of StringBuilder lines. No, I didn't code all this by hand. I wrote a small tool called File2SB that will take pretty much any text based file and convert it into usable StringBuilder functions in either VB.NET or C#. Also, it uses the excellent BrowseField control, which saves a ton of coding and control placement for such a common function.


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here


About the Author

Todd Davis
Systems Engineer Virtual RadioLogic
United States United States
Todd Davis has been working in web and application development for several years, using Silverlight, ASP.NET, VB.NET, C#, C++ and Javascript, as well as a great deal of work with SQL server and IIS.

He currently works for Virtual Radiologic in Eden Prairie, MN, however he is better known for his varied work in the open source community, especially the DotNetNuke project for which he provided several world-renowned training videos and modules. A huge advocate of open source and open knowledge sharing, everything on his website ( is always offered for free.

Whenever he is not actively coding at his laptop (a rarity to be sure), he can be found woodworking, walking with his wife and kids, or motoring along the back roads of MN on his Harley Davidson Fatboy.

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Comments and Discussions

Questionproblem for adding a new function Pin
soh_sid27-Jul-06 4:44
membersoh_sid27-Jul-06 4:44 
GeneralC# Pin
Eric Schmidt6-Jan-05 7:34
memberEric Schmidt6-Jan-05 7:34 
GeneralRe: C# Pin
Todd Davis6-Jan-05 7:46
memberTodd Davis6-Jan-05 7:46 
I'll give you an honest answer - no. Smile | :)

I've been working on a v2.0 of PACT in my spare time. v2 is so much more extensive than this it's almost scary. It has a whole development environment, and looks and functions a lot more like CodeSmith or Visual Studio itself.

v2 is a LONG way off however, and I can't even suggest that you "wait for it".

My suggestion to you is this - first, start off by using the DNN Project Templates located at:

Frankly, it does a much better job than PACT at this point.

Once you have you module framework, then use the CodeSmith templates at:

To help generate all your data provider stuff.

I KNOW there are C# templates for CodeSmith. What I'm not sure of is whether the Project Templates offered a C# option or not, I can't remember off the top of my head. Sorry.

Best of luck to you! When PACT v2 is released, it'll show up on CodeProject and also be announced in the ASP.NET DNN forums.

-Todd Davis (
GeneralRe: C# Pin
hp@schelian.de9-Jan-05 9:36
memberhp@schelian.de9-Jan-05 9:36 

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