Getting rid of the DSL model explorer

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Every DSL you create with DSL Tools has a model explorer. This model explorer is a tool window in Visual Studio displaying the elements of your model in a hierarchical way. This is often a nice feature but sometimes a hierarchical view of your data is not appropriate. So I came to the question: How to remove the explorer from the generated code?

I could not find any option in the DSL design to remove the model explorer, but if you look at some of the .tt files you will find somewhere a query for this.Dsl.Explorer != null. For example in the file that generates the package.cs which is responsible for registering the tool window for the model explorer:

    if(this.Dsl.Explorer != null)
    [VSShell::ProvideToolWindow(         typeof(<#= dslName #>ExplorerToolWindow),          MultiInstances = false,          Style = VSShell::VsDockStyle.Tabbed,          Orientation = VSShell::ToolWindowOrientation.Right,          Window = "{3AE79031-E1BC-11D0-8F78-00A0C9110057}")]
    [VSShell::ProvideToolWindowVisibility(         typeof(<#= dslName #>ExplorerToolWindow),          Constants.<#= dslName #>EditorFactoryId)]

Even if I did not find any option to set the Dsl.Explorer property of the model to null (you did not see the Explorer property anywhere in the DSL diagram) it seems that the developers of the DSL Tools had this use case in mind.

To remove the Dsl.Explorer from your DSL model open the .dsl file with a text editor and go to the end. There you will find some XML tags like the following:

<Explorer ExplorerGuid="6c276297-6acd-4e9a-8740-b61ba834004b"  Title="HardwareDescription Explorer">
    <ExplorerBehaviorMoniker      Name="HardwareDescription/HardwareDescriptionExplorer" />

Just delete these three lines and generate your code once again. Maybe you should reset your Experimental Hive, too.

I tested a DSL with a removed Model Explorer without any problems. It seems the developers of the DSL Tools did a very good job on the code generation templates . The generated ModelExplorer.cs file contains only a single line:

// This source file is empty because    this DSL does not define a model explorer.

That should be a good proof that a DSL can run without the model explorer even if it might be not supported by the DSL Tools. 🙂

The List<T>.ForEach() method

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We all know and love the foreach keyword in C# and use it for loops every day:

List<int> list = new List<int>();
/* fill the list */
foreach (int i in list)

But the generic List<T> class contains a useful method for small loops, too. The method is called ForEach() and has only one parameter: an Action<T>.

delegates: Action<>, Func<> and Predicate<>

The Framework 3.5 defines a few generic delegate types for actions and functions. In this case a function is something that returns a value (think back to your math class) and actions are something that do not return a value but do something (maybe think back to physics class). All these delegates are defined with zero, one, two, three and four parameters:

public delegate voidAction();
public delegate voidAction<T>(T obj);
public delegate voidAction<T1, T2>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2);
public delegate voidAction<T1, T2, T3>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3);
public delegate voidAction<T1, T2, T3, T4>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3, T4 arg4);

public delegateTResult Func<TResult>();
public delegateTResult Func<T, TResult>(T arg);
public delegateTResult Func<T1, T2, TResult>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2);
public delegateTResult Func<T1, T2, T3, TResult>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3);
public delegateTResult Func<T1, T2, T3, T4, TResult>(T1 arg1, T2 arg2, T3 arg3, T4 arg4);

And there is one more delegate. The Predicate<T> (philosophy class, you know). A predicate comes to a logical decision (true or false; bool return value) based on a single object:
public delegate bool Predicate<T>(T obj);

All these delegates are generic so you can use them in a type save way with the type parameters you need.

Back to the ForEach() method

As I explained above, the ForEach() method takes an Action<T> parameter. In my example this is an Action<int> delegate:

list.ForEach( delegate(int i) {Console.WriteLine(i);} );

This anonymous delegate declaration is not that nice, but we can use Lamda types here:

list.ForEach(i => Console.WriteLine(i));

But let’s take a look at the method we’re calling: void Console.WriteLine(int). That is exactly the definition of the needed Action here. So we can write the code line even shorter:

list.ForEach( Console.WriteLine );

I like this code. It is very short, elegant and readable. It says: “For each [entry of] the list: write it out”. Great.

Workaround for Known Issue with TypeDescriptors in DSL Tools for Visual Studio

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There is a known issue in the current version of the DSL Tools while dealing with custom TypeConverters or custom TypeDescriptors:

1.10 TypeConverters and TypeDescriptors are not picked up during the build process or during toolbox initialization.
When adding a custom TypeConverter or TypeDescriptor and then building the DSL, the TypeConvertor or TypeDescriptor is not picked up. The workaround is to rebuild the solution with a clean build.

[see Known Issues for Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 SDK 1.0]

Some time ago I posted a workaround for this problem with the TypeConverter, but today a realized that this workaround does not work with the same issue for TypeDescriptors.

Imagine some class with the following attribute:

public partial class MyClass : ModelElement

The corresponding TypeDescriptor (provided by the MyClassTypeDescriptionProvider class) is loaded only the first time you build or rebuild your solution. Every time you start Visual Studio after that, this attribute seems to be ignored.

Fortunately there is another way to glue TypeDescriptors to your classes using a static method of the TypeDescriptor class at runtime:

   new MyClassTypeDescriptionProvider(), typeof(MyClass));

I think a good place for this code is the static constructor of the MyClass type:

partial class MyClass
    static MyClass()
            new MyClassTypeDescriptionProvider(),

Another interesting point is: Not only custom TypeDescriptors you write yourself are affected by this problem, also the TypeDescriptors that are generated by the DSL-Tools from your DslDefintion have to struggle with it:

In the DSL Explorer you can define custom TypeDescriptors for each Domain Class and each Shape. Even these TypeDescriptors will not be loaded after the first run. In other words: the definition of TypeDescriptors in the DSL Explorer is pretty useless as long as you do not add the three lines of code to each class. Of course this is something one can automate! 🙂 I stole some code from and added a few lines to create the Just add this file to your Dsl Project in the GeneratedCode folder and all TypeDescriptors defined in the DSL Explorer will be loaded every time you start your project.

Even CodeVeil has bugs

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I love CodeVeil. From my point of view CodeVeil is simply the best tool to protect .NET assemblies from being reflectored, decompiled or whatever. It is very powerful, offers a wide range of protection aspects and still comes with a handy gui. So far I haven’t seen a method to crack veiled assemblies and that’s why I really rely on it for my commercial products.

You don’t find bugs in CodeVeil when you try to find them, but half a year ago we found this one by chance. CodeVeil veils well, but the resulting code throws a mighty exception.

You don’t need spectacular code to lure the bug out of it’s hole – here is the prelude:

private static void Main(string[] args)
    // Get list and fill it with values
    List<Capsule<int>> l = new List<Capsule<int>>();
    l.Add(new Capsule<int>(23));
    l.Add(new Capsule<int>(42));

    // Have it sorted
    List<Capsule<int>> l2 = GetSortedReturnList(l);

    // Show result
    foreach (Capsule<int> ci in l2)


A simple list of two ints that are encapsulated in a generic type. The generic type just makes sure that two items can be compared:

internal class Capsule<T> : IComparable<Capsule<T>>
    public T Item;

    public Capsule(T i)
        Item = i;

    public int CompareTo(Capsule<T> other)
        return Item.ToString().CompareTo(other.Item.ToString());

And this code causes the exception when being executed by the veiled assembly:

private static List<Capsule<T>> 
    GetSortedReturnList<T>(List<Capsule<T>> list)
    int sortOrder = 1;
        delegate(Capsule<T> a, Capsule<T> b) 
          { return sortOrder * a.CompareTo(b); });

    return (list);

The sore point is the sortOrder variable being multiplied with the result of a.CompareTo(b) used in an anonymous method. Okay, you wouldn’t expect this code from a beginner, but it’s not rocket-science either. So we were very astonished and it took us quite some time to track this down and to believe our eyes. Maybe the problem with CodeVeil is related to the internal representation of anonymous method. When you use a constant instead of a variable

const int sortOrder = 1;

the problem disappears. I guess the compiler eliminates the constant and CodeVeil will not see it. But it remains, when you use a Linq-notation here:

list.Sort((a, b) => a.CompareTo(b)*sortOrder);

As said before we found this bug half a year ago. We contacted Xheo and received a very quick and friendly reply, but no solution. Seasons went by and several new versions of CodeVeil were released; but this bug is still present. At least in the stand-alone version.

But there is hope: The new beta preview of the DeployLX suite contains an obviously new version of CodeVeil and the bug is finally gone. And – by the way – this new version seems to offer a nice package of new feature and improved power! So, please, Mr. Xheo, release a new stand-alone-version of CodeVeil based on the new beta preview!

Where can I find the model filename in a text template (tt)?

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As you know I was working with the DSL Tools in the past months. For some weeks I am writing the code generation for my project and I am struggling with new problems.

For some reason I want to know the filename of the model used in the tt-file. The default implementation provides you only with a reference to the model but with no chance to get its filename.

In your tt-file you will find something similar to

<#@ Language15 processor="Language15DirectiveProcessor"
     requires="fileName='Sample.mydsl1'" #>

This will use the Language15DirectiveProcessor to load the given file and provide your template with a global ExampleModel variable (of cause the name depends on your DSL and you can change it with the provides attribute in the tt-file).

To change the Language15DirectiveProcessor you can create a partial class in your DSL and add some code to it:

partial class Language15DirectiveProcessor
    protected override void GenerateTransformCode
     (string directiveName,
      StringBuilder codeBuffer,
      System.CodeDom.Compiler.CodeDomProvider languageProvider,
      IDictionary<string, string> requiresArguments,
      IDictionary<string, string> providesArguments)
                    codeBuffer, languageProvider,
                    requiresArguments, providesArguments);           

           "public string {1} = @\"{0}\";",

    protected override void InitializeProvidesDictionary
    (string directiveName,
      IDictionary<string, string> providesDictionary)


This adds a new global variable FileName to the tt and initializes it with the model file name.

Attention: You see the variable in this example is generated by writing a line of C# code to the codeBuffer. This may be a bad idea if you want to use this DirectiveProcessor for templates where the template language is set to VB. The better way is to create the code using the Emit and CodeDom API, but I was to lazy to do it that way.

If anybody ports this code to work with VB templates by using the CodeDom or plain VB code, please post a comment here.

Further reading: The process of creating your own DirectiveProcessor and everything you need to understand the code above can be found in the msdn: Creating Custom Text Template Directive Processors.

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