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Writing a T4 Text Template

A text template contains the text that will be generated from it. For example, a template that creates a web page will contain "<html>…" and all the other standard parts of an HTML page. Inserted into the template are control blocks, which are fragments of program code. Control blocks provide varying values and allow parts of the text to be conditional and repeated.

This structure makes a template easy to develop, because you can start with a prototype of the generated file, and incrementally insert control blocks that vary the result.

Text templates are composed of the following parts:

  • Directives - elements that control how the template is processed.

  • Text blocks - content that is copied directly to the output.

  • Control blocks - program code that inserts variable values into the text, and controls conditional or repeated parts of the text.

To try the examples in this topic, copy them into a template file as described in Design-Time Code Generation by using T4 Text Templates. After editing the template file, save it, and then inspect the output .txt file.

Text template directives provide general instructions to the text templating engine about how to generate the transformation code and the output file.

For example, the following directive specifies that the output file should have a .txt extension:

<#@ output extension=".txt" #>

For more information about directives, see T4 Text Template Directives.

A text block inserts text directly into the output file. There is no special formatting for text blocks. For example, the following text template will produce a text file that contains the word "Hello":

<#@ output extension=".txt" #>
Hello

Control blocks are sections of program code that are used to transform the templates. The default language is C#, but to use Visual Basic, you can write this directive at the beginning of the file:

<#@ template language="VB" #>

The language in which you write the code in the control blocks is unrelated to the language of the text that is generated.

A standard control block is a section of program code that generates part of the output file.

You can mix any number of text blocks and standard control blocks in a template file. However, you cannot place one control block inside another. Each standard control block is delimited by the symbols <# ... #>.

For example, the following control block and text block cause the output file to contain the line "0, 1, 2, 3, 4 Hello!":

<#
    for(int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
    {
        Write(i + ", ");
    }
    Write("4");
#> Hello!

Instead of using explicit Write() statements, you can interleave text and code. The following example prints "Hello!" four times:

<#
    for(int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
    {
#>
Hello!
<#
    } 
#>

You can insert a text block wherever a Write(); statement would be allowed in the code.

NoteNote

When you embed a text block within a compound statement such as a loop or conditional, always use braces {...} to contain the text block.

An expression control block evaluates an expression and converts it to a string. This is inserted into the output file.

Expression control blocks are delimited by the symbols <#= ... #>

For example, the following control block causes the output file to contain "5":

<#= 2 + 3 #>

Notice that the opening symbol has three characters "<#=".

The expression can include any variable that is in scope. For example, this block prints lines with numbers:

<#@ output extension=".txt" #>
<#
    for(int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
    {
#>
This is hello number <#= i+1 #>: Hello!
<#
    } 
#>

A class feature control block defines properties, methods, or any other code that should not be included in the main transform. Class feature blocks are frequently used for helper functions. Typically, class feature blocks are placed in separate files so that they can be included by more than one text template.

Class feature control blocks are delimited by the symbols <#+ ... #>

For example, the following template file declares and uses a method:

<#@ output extension=".txt" #>
Squares:
<#
    for(int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
    {
#>
    The square of <#= i #> is <#= Square(i+1) #>.
<#
    } 
#>
That is the end of the list.
<#+   // Start of class feature block
private int Square(int i)
{
    return i*i;
}
#>

Class features must be placed at the end of the file in which they are written. However, you can <#@include#> a file that contains a class feature, even if the include directive is followed by standard blocks and text.

For more information about control blocks, see Text Template Control Blocks.

You can write a method that generates text. For example:

List of Squares:
<#
   for(int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
   {  WriteSquareLine(i); }
#>
End of list.
<#+   // Class feature block
private void WriteSquareLine(int i)
{
#>
   The square of <#= i #> is <#= i*i #>.
<#   
}
#>

It is particularly useful to place a method that generates text in a separate file that can be included by more than one template.

The code blocks of your template can use types that are defined the most frequently used .NET assemblies such as System.dll. In addition, you can reference other .NET assemblies or your own assemblies. You can provide a pathname, or the strong name of an assembly:

<#@ assembly name="System.Xml" #>

You should use absolute path names, or use standard macro names in the path name. For example:

<#@ assembly name="$(SolutionDir)library\MyAssembly.dll" #>

For a list of macros, see Macros for Build Commands and Properties.

The assembly directive has no effect in a preprocessed text template.

For more information, see T4 Assembly Directive.

The import directive is the same as the using clause in C# or the imports clause in Visual Basic. It allows you to refer to types in your code without using a fully qualified name:

<#@ import namespace="System.Xml" #>

You can use as many assembly and import directives as you want. You must place them before text and control blocks.

For more information, see T4 Import Directive.

The include directive inserts text from another template file. For example, this directive inserts the content of test.txt.

<#@ include file="c:\test.txt" #>

The included content is processed almost as if it were part of the including text template. However, you can include a file that contains a class feature block <#+...#> even if the include directive is followed by ordinary text and standard control blocks.

For more information, see T4 Include Directive.

There are several methods such as Write() that are always available to you in a control block. They include methods for helping you indent the output, and for reporting errors.

You can also write your own set of utility methods.

For more information, see Text Template Utility Methods.

The most useful application for a text template is to generate material based on the content of a source such as a model, database, or data file. Your template extracts and reformats the data. A collection of templates can transform such a source into multiple files.

There are several approaches to reading the source file.

Read a file in the text template. This is simplest way to get data into the template:

<#@ import namespace="System.IO" #>
<# string fileContent = File.ReadAllText(@"C:\myData.txt"); ...

Load a file as a navigable model. A more powerful method is to read the data as a model, which your text template code can navigate. For example, you can load an XML file and navigate it with XPath expressions. You could also use xsd.exe to create a set of classes with which you can read the XML data.

Edit the model file in a diagram or form. Domain-Specific Language Tools provides tools that let you edit a model as a diagram or Windows form. This makes it easier to discuss the model with users of the generated application. Domain-Specific Language Tools also creates a set of strongly-typed classes that reflect the structure of the model. For more information, see Generating Code from a Domain-Specific Language.

Use a UML model. You can generate code from a UML model. This has the advantage that the model can be edited as a diagram in a familiar notation. Also, you do not have to design the diagram. For more information, see How to: Generate Files from a UML Model.

In a design-time text template, if you want to reference a file in a location relative to the text template, use this.Host.ResolvePath(). You must also set hostspecific="true" in the template directive:

<#@ template hostspecific="true" language="C#" #>
<#@ output extension=".txt" #>
<#@ import namespace="System.IO" #>
<#
 // Find a path within the same project as the text template:
 string myFile = File.ReadAllText(this.Host.ResolvePath("MyFile.txt"));
#>
Content of MyFile.txt is:
<#= myFile #>

You can also obtain other services that are provided by the host. For more information, see Accessing Visual Studio or other Hosts from a Template.

You should be aware that a design-time text template runs in an AppDomain that is separate from the main application. In most cases this is not important, but you might discover restrictions in certain complex cases. For example, if you want to pass data in or out of the template from a separate service, then the service must provide a serializable API.

(This isn’t true of a run-time text template, which provides code that is compiled along with the rest of your code.)

Specialized text template editors can be downloaded from the Extension Manager Online Gallery. On the Tools menu, click Extension Manager. Click Online Gallery, and then use the search tool.

Task

Topic

Writing a template.

Guidelines for Writing T4 Text Templates

Generate text by using program code.

Writing a T4 Text Template

Generate files in a Visual Studio solution.

Design-Time Code Generation by using T4 Text Templates

Run text generation outside Visual Studio.

Generating Files with the TextTransform Utility

Transform your data in the form of a domain-specific language.

Generating Code from a Domain-Specific Language

Write directive processors to transform your own data sources.

Customizing T4 Text Transformation

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