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Posted 1 Mar 2004


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Refly, makes the CodeDom'er life easier

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4.95/5 (33 votes)
1 Mar 20045 min read
A smart wrapper around CodeDom that speeds up code generation.

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With CodeDom, .NET has given us a flexible tool for generating source code in a variety of languages. Unfortunately, CodeDom has a major shortcoming, it is quite "verbose": Generating a little piece of code usually means writing dozens of CodeDom instructions.

This article presents Refly, a smart wrapper that should dramatically simplify code generation with CodeDom. The major features of Refly are:

  • Smart naming of the members, fields and properties,
  • Easy creation of namespace, classes, ...
  • Output to separate file for each class, with directories mapping the namespaces
  • Intuitive syntax for building expressions. For example,

    is generated by:

  • Static helpers for common statements:
    if (value==null)
        throw new ArgumentNullExpression("value");

    is generated by the static method:

  • Documentation writing helpers
  • Built-in templates: strongly typed collection, dictionary, data reader
  • ...

We will start with a comparative example on CodeDom and Refly and then, give a how-to on using Refly.

Comparative example: User class generation

Suppose that we want to create the following simple User class:

namespace Refly.Demo
public class User
    private string name;

    public User(string name)
    { = name;

    public String Name

CodeDom solution

Here comes a part of the CodeDom code to generate the above class (skip this if you know CodeDom):

// creating the Refly.Demo namespace
CodeNamespace demo = new CodeNamespace("Refly.Demo");

// create the User class
CodeTypeDeclaration user = new CodeTypeDeclaration("User");
user.IsClass = true;

// add name field
CodeMemberField name = new CodeMemberField(typeof(string),"name");

// add constructor
CodeConstructor cstr = new CodeConstructor();
CodeParameterDeclarationExpression pname = 
    new CodeParameterDeclarationExpression(typeof(string),"name");

// = name;
CodeFieldReferenceExpression thisName = new CodeFieldReferenceExpression(
    new CodeThisReferenceExpression(),
CodeAssignStatement assign = new CodeAssignStatement(

// add property
CodeMemberProperty p = new CodeMemberProperty();
p.Name = "Name";
p.HasGet = true;
    new CodeMethodReturnStatement(thisName)

Refly solution

Here comes the Refly version of the above. Although you do not know yet Refly, you will see that it is similar in many ways to CodeDom:

// creating the Refly namespace
NamespaceDeclaration demo= new NamespaceDeclaration("Refly.Demo");

// create the user class
ClassDeclaration user = demo.AddClass("User");

// add name field
FieldDeclaration name = user.AddField(typeof(string), "name");

// add constructor
ConstructorDeclaration cstr = user.AddConstructor();
// add name parameter
ParameterDeclaration pname = 
    cstr.Signature.AddParam(typeof(string), "name",true);

// = name;

// add property
user.AddProperty(name, true, false, false);


At first look, the two versions do not look very different, let me point out some interesting differences:

  • Add instances into their parents: in CodeDom, it is your job to add the new instance into their parents. In Refly, this is done by the framework. Therefore, you avoid forgetting to add the type into the parent.
  • Expression and Statement construction: = name;. Expression and statement building has been highly simplified in Refly as you can see it in this 1 line example. Imagine the economy of work when you need to generate methods with dozens of lines.
  • Smart helpers: wrapping a field by a property is a usual task. This is done automatically by Refly.
  • Output: (not shown in the example), Refly will create the directory structure mapping the namespaces and output a file for each class/enum.

This concludes the introductory comparison example. The full source of the example is available in the demo.

Refly Architecture

The Refly framework is organized in the following components:

  • Refly.CodeDom, root namespace for the CodeDom generator,
  • Refly.CodeDom.Collections, useful strongly typed collections,
  • Refly.CodeDom.Expressions, expression wrappers,
  • Refly.CodeDom.Statements, statement wrappers,
  • Refly.CodeDom.Doc, documentation writing helpers,
  • Refly.Templates, some generator classes,
  • Refly.Xsd, XSD refactoring tools

Refly acts as a wrapper around CodeDom: each class of the CodeDom namespace has its Refly counter part. When Refly is asked to generate the code, it creates the CodeDom code and lets CodeDom generate the code.

Usually, importing the Refly.CodeDom is sufficient to have all the functionalities of Refly.

Generating code

This section gives step-by-step instructions to get you code generator running.

Creating a namespace

First of all, we need a namespace, that is an instance of NamespaceDeclaration:

NamespaceDeclaration ns = new NamespaceDeclaration("MyNs");

Classes and enums can be added to this namespace. Sub-namespaces can also be added to namespaces.

Adding a class

The NamespaceDeclaration class provides a method AddClass to create a new class:

ClassDeclaration user = ns.AddClass("user");

You do not need to worry about the naming case, Refly will "recase" the name you provided. Now that we have an empty type, we can test the generator.

Generating code

Refly provides the CodeGenerator class that takes care of creating the directories, calling CodeDom generator for each type in the namespace:

CodeGenerator gen = new CodeGenerator();

By default, CodeGenerator will create C# code, but of course, you can change the output language by providing another provider:

// changin output to VB

Adding members

Back to our user class, you can add fields, methods, etc... by using the proper methods of ClassDeclaration:

// add field name
FieldDeclaration name = user.AddField(typeof(string),name);
// add Check
MethodDeclaration check = user.AddMethod("Check");

The signature of members (when it applies) is controlled by a MethodSignature through the Signature property. This object lets you add parameters and set the return type of the method.

// adding age to the check method
ParameterDeclaration age = check.Signature.AddParam(typeof(int),"age");

Adding comments

Each declaration type has a Documentation instance that can be used to create comments:

age.Doc.Summary.AddText("user age");

Building Expressions

The class Expr contains a number of static helper classes that will generate all the expression objects for you. Here are some code samples, with their Refly counter part:

  • -> Expr.This.Field(name); where
    • Expr.This returns the this instance
    • .Field retrieves the field from an expression
  • this.Check(10) -> Expr.This.Method(check).Invoke(Expr.Prim(10)); where
    • .Method retrieves the method,
    • .Invoke invokes the method with the arguments,
    • Expr.Prim creates an expression from a primitive value (int, string, double, etc...)
  • ...

The Expr contains other methods to map typeof, new, cast, ...

Building Statements

As for expressions, the Stm class contains a lot of static helper classes to simplify your work. For example, simple statements such assign, return:

  • left = right; -> Stm.Assign( left, right);
  • return value; -> Stm.Return( value );
  • if (value==null) throw new ArgumentNullException("value"); -> Stm.ThrowIfNull(value);
  • Throw new Exception(); -> Stm.Throw(typeof(Exception));

More complex statements like if, for, try/catch/finally are also created with Stm. Refly also emulates foreach, which is not supported by CodeDom, by expanding the foreach as the C# compiler would be (using an enumerator, etc...).

More built-in examples

The Refly.Templates contains various generators for strongly-typed collection, dictionary and IDataReader wrapper. They are good starting point to get a grip on Refly. As a final example, this method generates a strongly typed dictionary (KeyType is the key type, ValueType is the value type):

NamespaceDeclaration ns = ...;
ClassDeclaration col = ns.AddClass(this.Name);

// set base class as CollectionBase
col.Parent = new TypeTypeDeclaration(typeof(DictionaryBase));

// default constructor

// add indexer
IndexerDeclaration index = col.AddIndexer(
ParameterDeclaration pindex = index.Signature.AddParam(KeyType,"key",false);
// get body

// set body
// add method
MethodDeclaration add = col.AddMethod("Add");
ParameterDeclaration pKey = add.Signature.AddParam(this.KeyType,"key",true);
ParameterDeclaration pValue = add.Signature.AddParam(this.ValueType,"value",true);

// contains method
MethodDeclaration contains = col.AddMethod("Contains");
contains.Signature.ReturnType = new TypeTypeDeclaration(typeof(bool));
ParameterDeclaration pKey = contains.Signature.AddParam(this.KeyType,"key",true);

// remove method
MethodDeclaration remove = col.AddMethod("Remove");
ParameterDeclaration pKey = remove.Signature.AddParam(this.KeyType,"key",true);

The last bonus

Refly contains a last bonus, XsdTidy, that refactors the output of the Xsd.exe tool to nicer and easier to use classes.


  1. 2-03-2004, First release.


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

Written By
United States United States
Jonathan de Halleux is Civil Engineer in Applied Mathematics. He finished his PhD in 2004 in the rainy country of Belgium. After 2 years in the Common Language Runtime (i.e. .net), he is now working at Microsoft Research on Pex (

Comments and Discussions

GeneralMy vote of 1 Pin
[CC]22-Oct-12 22:42
Member[CC]22-Oct-12 22:42 
Questionhow to user AttributeDeclaration Pin
wuhuacong22-Mar-12 5:12
Memberwuhuacong22-Mar-12 5:12 
GeneralExtension Methods Pin
slifer1226-Jan-11 17:36
Memberslifer1226-Jan-11 17:36 
QuestionLatest version? Pin
Michael P Butler26-Aug-06 9:49
MemberMichael P Butler26-Aug-06 9:49 
AnswerThis version seems newer Pin
Michael P Butler28-Aug-06 8:29
MemberMichael P Butler28-Aug-06 8:29 
GeneralRe: This version seems newer Pin
Brisingr Aerowing6-Mar-12 5:54
professionalBrisingr Aerowing6-Mar-12 5:54 
GeneralHelp Pin
Hayseeds12-Jul-06 13:49
MemberHayseeds12-Jul-06 13:49 
QuestionEnums and Namespaces Pin
Manuel Salvatore18-May-06 6:56
MemberManuel Salvatore18-May-06 6:56 
GeneralBase args for constructor Pin
dj peregrine19-Feb-06 12:27
Memberdj peregrine19-Feb-06 12:27 
GeneralRe: Base args for constructor Pin
jscote3-Mar-06 2:36
Memberjscote3-Mar-06 2:36 
GeneralRe: Base args for constructor Pin
dj peregrine3-Mar-06 14:53
Memberdj peregrine3-Mar-06 14:53 
GeneralProject cannot be built Pin
dirc15-Nov-05 4:31
Memberdirc15-Nov-05 4:31 
AnswerRe: Project cannot be built Pin
Demeter3-Apr-08 0:41
MemberDemeter3-Apr-08 0:41 
QuestionHow to add a region block? Pin
wolfsecond24-Jun-05 20:31
Memberwolfsecond24-Jun-05 20:31 
AnswerRe: How to add a region block? Pin
Jonathan de Halleux24-Jun-05 20:33
MemberJonathan de Halleux24-Jun-05 20:33 
GeneralCode quotations Pin
Kamil Skalski19-Dec-04 23:37
MemberKamil Skalski19-Dec-04 23:37 
GeneralRe: Code quotations Pin
Jonathan de Halleux24-Jun-05 20:36
MemberJonathan de Halleux24-Jun-05 20:36 
GeneralGreat but still struggling to make use of refly Pin
vbinfo6-Dec-04 2:32
Membervbinfo6-Dec-04 2:32 
GeneralHelp on Object Arrays Pin
Terence Wallace8-Oct-04 18:51
MemberTerence Wallace8-Oct-04 18:51 
GeneralRe: Help on Object Arrays Pin
Jonathan de Halleux24-Oct-04 9:54
MemberJonathan de Halleux24-Oct-04 9:54 
GeneralRe: Help on Object Arrays Pin
Terence Wallace25-Oct-04 7:32
MemberTerence Wallace25-Oct-04 7:32 
GeneralRe: Help on Object Arrays Pin
Jonathan de Halleux25-Oct-04 19:09
MemberJonathan de Halleux25-Oct-04 19:09 
GeneralDownloading latest version. Pin
MotoMan04516-Aug-04 19:00
MemberMotoMan04516-Aug-04 19:00 
GeneralRe: Downloading latest version. Pin
Jonathan de Halleux16-Aug-04 21:24
MemberJonathan de Halleux16-Aug-04 21:24 
GeneralRe: Downloading latest version. Pin
vbinfo3-Dec-04 4:04
Membervbinfo3-Dec-04 4:04 

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