Template generation is all the rage these days, especially amongst developers who frequently code similar blocks and functions with only minor differences between them. There are lots of good template based programs out there, but sometimes you need to code something specific for your own internal process.
The Basics of Coding for Templates
Template based code generation goes something like this - first, you create a template. A typical template is a text file, with the fields you need to replace marked in some special way. For example:
Private Function <functionname> As String
Return "This is Function <functionname>!"
OK, yes - it is admittedly a stupid example. Anyway, you would typically read the template into a string variable, and then perform a simple
Replace() as required, like this:
Dim MyTemplate As String = GetTemplate(filename)
Dim FinishedProduct as String = MyTemplate.Replace("<functionname>","HelloWorld")
which would return:
Private Function HelloWorld As String
Return "This is Function HelloWorld!"
The Problems with Templates
There are two ways of "getting" templates. The first is read in a text file from somewhere that has already had the "fields" added by hand. This is the most common method of dealing with templates, as the end user can simply edit the templates with any given text editor if they need to change them.
The problem is, sometimes you don't want to allow the end user to change the templates. For example, you might have a program that generates legal forms or corporate documents, that need to remain unchanged except for the fields you designate. In such a case, reading in the text files would be bad, as a malicious end user could alter the template and render the results invalid or unwanted. Or, you wish to offer the option to regenerate the templates to their original status as a program feature.
The answer to this is to use the second method of "getting" templates - generating them internally from code. Using the above example, this would look something like this:
Function GetTemplate() As String
Dim sb As New StringBuilder
sb.Append ("Private Function <functionname> As String")
sb.Append ("Return ""This is Function <functionname>!""")
sb.Append ("End Function")
Now, you can guarantee that the template you want will be exactly what you intended it to be.
The Problem Expands
Let's take this one step further. Let's say that your program needs to generate not just one legal document, but hundreds, and they are lengthy technical documents. Writing all the
sb.Append() statements to accomplish this would take weeks or even months. Plus, the process can be made more difficult when encountering things such as double quotes - see the special notation that was required above?
This is where File2SB steps in. File2SB will read in a given text document, and convert that document into a
Function that returns the template as a string. It writes all the required lines for the
StringBuilder, and corrects for things like the double quotes. File2SB can write the function in either VB.NET or C# notation as well. Simply click File | Open to read in the template and convert it. From there, you can either cut and paste the converted file into your application, or save it to a text file. At that point, a simple Search and Replace can usually assist you in adding "fields" to your templates.
If you would like to see how File2SB was used to create another tool, please see my other project, PACT.
I'm a VB.NET developer by trade, so the C# coding is really untested. If you have any problems with it, please let me know so that I can fix the problem and re-release the code. I hope you enjoy File2SB.
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 (www.SeaburyDesign.com) 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.