MEF Assembly Granularity

I’ve been contemplating how to organize MEF assemblies. I think the processing I did establishing the first cut at organization, and the shake down of that strategy, may be interesting to other people designing MEF systems.

As a quick review, MEF lets you throw parts into a MEF container and sort out how parts work together at runtime. Parts are recognized by a string identifier. I’m almost always using interfaces as the contract and the interface names as the identifiers. Parts reside within assemblies and in the common case assemblies are discovered because they are grouped into anticipated directories.

With this approach, only the part implementing the interface and the part that is using the interface need to understand the interface or explicitly reference the interface’s assembly. And since parts are discovered and loaded at an assembly level, the granularity of implementing assemblies also controls the granularity of the load. I care about the assembly granularity of contract/interface assemblies so excess stuff can be avoided and naming conflicts (resolved via namespaces) are minimized. I care about the granularity of implementation assemblies because until I attain a priority system with additional granularity, prioritization/defaults are only as granular as their containing assemblies.

At one extreme, all interfaces reside in one assembly and all implementations reside in another. It doesn’t make sense to put them into the same assembly as then hard coded references exist and ensuring isolation is difficult. At the other extreme, every interface and every implementation resides in its own assembly. I think both of these extremes are a terrible solution. That’s because this composable system (and I would think any composable system) have parts with very different roles and lineages/history. In the simplest sense for a generator – metadata providers and templates are fundamentally different and could easily be provided by different teams.

Initially I thought the primary consideration should be the implementation deployment, but Phil Spidey pointed out in the MEF discussions that the interface organization is more important, because once released to the wild it might be hard to fix.

I decided on six contract assemblies:


Interfaces referenced by the template harness itself


Interfaces sharing database structure


Interfaces sharing business object structure


Interfaces for a naming service


Interfaces for outputting data, including hashing


Miscellaneous interfaces that don’t fit elsewhere

I’ve used a few criteria for this design:

Interfaces that are used by the system and therefore can’t easily be changed reside together in CommonContracts. The template harness also references CommonOutputServiceContracts but this is in a separate assembly because it has a distinct purpose, may evolve on a different time frame and you are far more likely to provide alternate implementations for output than for the core interfaces.

The naming service is also a separate assembly because it is a distinct purpose and some people will certainly supply alternate implementations to manage human languages other than US English. Both the output service and naming service are a few distinct interfaces that work together. I also had a few odd ball interfaces and decided to go with a grab bag of miscellaneous interfaces rather than a separate assembly for each interface. Time will tell whether that is a good decision.

I initially put the two metadata interfaces into a single assembly, but I think it’s quite likely that these interfaces will evolve separately and almost certain that they will be implemented independently.

I’d like to note that the first version of the harness, which is almost, almost done (a separate blog post) will be a CTP /alpha level release. I will take feedback on the interfaces and I do expect them to change. A core part of the composable design is that you can spin off your interfaces/implementations so while these changes will be breaking, you can uptake them at your own pace.  

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