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XML-based Code Generation with CodeSmith

  • August 8, 2005
  • By Mike Gunderloy
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Generating the Report

The template may look like a step backwards in our quest to simplify things for human consumption, but this is the programming part of the job. Ideally, you only develop a code template once, and then you use it over and over again. But if you tease apart the HTML code (which CodeSmith copies to the output) from the scripting code (which CodeSmith runs) it's really not that complex. <%= %> token pairs hold variables that CodeSmith evaluates at runtime; the result of the evaluation is what gets written to the output. <% %> token pairs contain scripting code (in C# in this particular template) that the CodeSmith engine runs. Everything else just gets copied over intact.

At run time, the TestReport property will display a builder button in the CodeSmith user interface. Clicking this button opens a file open dialog box which allows the user to browse for an appropriate XML file to use as a metadata source:

Click here for a larger image.

CodeSmith will display all the XML files in the folder and let the user choose any one of them to use as the source for the template's metadata, but an attempt to use a file that doesn't match the specified schema will result in an error. Selecting an appropriate XML file lets you proceed with code generation. For example, using the XML file that you saw earlier in the article yields this output:

<title>Test Report</title>
<h1>Inventory Project</h1>
<h2>Test Date: 8/5/2005 12:00:00 AM</h2>
<table border="1" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1">
<td>Basic data entry</td>
<td>Advanced data entry</td>
<td>Basic reporting</td>
<td>Advanced reporting</td>
<td>Inventory reconciliation</td>
<p>Passed 3 out of 5 Tests 

Of course, it looks better in a browser:

The generated test report

Working Smarter is the Key

The key to using XML effectively is to remember that it's a tool. Putting your data into XML files should not be an end in itself - a fact which some developers seem to lose sight of in their drive to become checklist-compliant. Tools such as CodeSmith can help you unlock the data in XML files and make it a useful part of your development process. If your organization has standardized on XML files as a place to store data, you can use CodeSmith to get that data back out and build useful files, tools, and artifacts with it. What more could anyone ask of a developer?

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy is the author of over 20 books and numerous articles on development topics, and the lead developer for Larkware. Check out his latest books, Coder to Developer and Developer to Designer, both from Sybex. When he's not writing code, Mike putters in the garden on his farm in eastern Washington state.

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