Isolating Metadata

In code generation, metadata is the information about your application, generally about your database and definitions to express your data as business objects. If you use Entity Framework, your metadata is the edmx file which is displayed via the designers. If you’re using CodeSmith, the metadata is more subtle. Metadata can also be about the process itself. CodeBreeze in particular has a very rich set and extensible set of information about your application.

Since metadata itself is data – information – we can store it many ways. I’ve used XML for years. CodeSmith has used a couple of mechanisms including XML. Entity Framework uses XML. Metadata can also come directly from a database, although I think this is a remarkably bad idea and one of my code generation principles is not to do that – you need a level of indirection and isolation surrounding your database.

What I haven’t talked about before how valuable it is to have another layer of indirection between your metadata storage structure – your XML schema – and your templates. In my XSLT templates I could provide this only through a common schema – you can morph your XML into my schema so that’s indirection – right?

No, that’s not really indirection. It’s great to be back in .NET classes with real tools for isolation and abstraction. Now I use a set of interfaces for common metadata constructs such as objects, properties and criteria. I can then offer any number of sets of metadata wrappers that implement these interfaces via a factory.

 

MetadataIsolation

 

The template programs only against the interfaces. The template could care less whether I am using entity framework, my own metadata tools, or something entirely different. I can write the same template and use it against Entity Framework’s edmx file or any other metadata format. That’s powerful stuff. Especially since you already heard that the template will run against C# or VB. That means in my world the only reason to have more than one set of templates against an architecture like CSLA is that they are pushing the boundaries and actually doing different things.

But if you don’t like this new templating style, you can use classes based on exactly the same interfaces in CodeSmtih (at least) and again free your framework and metadata extraction. You’ll still need VB/C# versions there, but you’re metadata input can use the same interfaces.

The interfaces is expressed in sets of classes that know how to load themselves from a data source. Each set uses a different metadata source – different XML structures or other format.

Isolated metadata removes your templates from caring what the metadata source is – beyond being something that could successfully fill a set of classes that implement the data interfaces. This is a very important step and one we need to work together to get right. What do you think I’ve left out of the current design?

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