Two Parallel Entities - Metadata and Info
One of the confusing things about templating is that you are writing two programs simultaneously and there is no way around it. My brilliant son may write a templating language for a class project, and this is exactly what he wants to address – that and the issue of escaping. You can’t avoid it, he just thinks they should look different – I’m hoping he doesn’t write one in Magyar.
One of the programs you’re writing (or maintaining) is the template program. There is logic in any non-trivial template, regardless of the template style. The other program is the one you’re outputting that will eventually run on your clients computer. In ASP.NET style templates, the output program is the overall template, and the logic is inserted. In XSLT and XML literal generation, the logic of the template program is the overall code and the output template is nested inside.
You are also working with two sets of data – the metadata you’re using as source and what you’re currently outputting. I call the elements in the XML I use as source metadata for .NET templates Object and Property for clarity in the XML. If I called them that in the templates, I’d encounter great confusion between the object definition in metadata and the class I am outputting. That’s particularly painful when it comes to properties.
I solve this by calling suffixing all metadata with the word “Data”. Thus I have ObjectData, PropertyData, CriteriaData, etc. Each of these classes contains the metadata on the corresponding item. I might have an ObjectData for a Customer that had a PropertyData for FirstName. The PropertyData would include things like the maximum length of the field and its caption.
I also need to describe the output – at least the way I’m building templates. I need information about the file I’m creating, the type I’m creating, and in certain locations in the template, the property, function, constructor, etc I’m creating. I identify these by suffixing them with the word “Info”. Thus I have a ClassInfo, PropertyInfo, FunctionInfo, etc. I do not have a CriteriaInfo because I am never outputting a .NET thing called a Criteria. It’s strictly metadata for .NET features.
In the template design I’m describing in this series, the DotNetBase class contains information on the file being output. To be picky, the namespace can actually be associated with part of a file, and I may add this flexibility, but I don’t do that very often in business code, so I have included namespaces at the file level.
Regardless of the template mechanism you use, you need to maintain a clear separation between the template logic and the output logic, and between the input metadata and state about what you’re creating.
Next post: CurrentTypeInfo and the Context Stack