This morning Julian Voelcker came to me with an interesting issue that I’ve looked into before but I’ve never really looked into a re-useable solution. Seeing as it’s fun Friday I thought why not ;)
The scenario: I would like to offer my users a custom mail merge facility where by they can insert values stored in the database such as their name. The selection of columns is unlikely to be changed and if it does then I’ll be the one to do it. There are about 20 fields to choose from.
Easy enough, in the past I’ve kept it to a minimum and then just done a simple find and replace on the body i.e.:
The issue I see with this however is (among others) having 20 fields is a lot to be doing with a find/replace statement as it wouldn’t be very elegant and a nightmare to manage. Sticking with this method of using a dataset I suggested we use a regular expression to match the field delimiters and do a replace that way:
This is alright and in many ways very scaleable. I’m not a fan of DataSets but in this instance it works nicely and does mean expanding the available fields at a later date would just be a matter of adding columns to the query.
How does this relate to accessing a property of an object using a string value instead? Well there was a catch, Julian wasn’t using a DataSet and didn’t want to, he had a collection of custom objects all ready and waiting. As he uses a code generator to generate his Data Access Layer and Business Logic Layer there was a method already exposed allowing you to search for a property by string but it's not a standard .Net method so I decided to work out how it was done.
The solution it turned out was a really rather elegant solution IMHO. Using reflection you can use the same concept as above but with custom objects and Robert is your father’s wife’s sister:
I’ve thrown up a quick demo if you want to test it out. I think in the longer run I’m going to look into having it generate some form of reporting system as that’d be seriously nice, but the suns out and I need to go for a paddle so that’ll have to wait for another day! So that's my first delve into reflection and so far I love it!
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