Thursday, February 23, 2017

Generics, modules and typeinfo

The good

When working in a loosely coupled software architecture you might be using different modules: packages, dynamic link libraries and typically a host executable that loads them.

If you are using a DI Container it is very easy to extend functionality by just putting that into one module and once its loaded it feeds the container all the nice things it contains and another module might consume these. That all works fine and well.

The bad

The fun begins as so often when generic types join the game. Let's say we have a generic interface that we are using and this is contained in a runtime package that two other modules require. Everything is fine and both modules can use that interface. However IList<Integer> in one of the modules is not exactly the same as IList<Integer> in the other modules because when you use a generic type the Delphi compiler compiles it for every unit you are using it in and during the linking phase all duplicates are removed. So far so good. But if you have two different modules both now contain IList<Integer> and with that bring their own typeinfo which was compiled into them. When a module is being loaded and uses runtime packages which typically includes the rtl.bpl also they get registered there. Now you have two (or more) of identical types in your application (given you compiled them from the same source state of course).

Now the DI container comes into play which identifies types by their typeinfo pointer - which as I explained is different across multiple modules.

You can test this yourself by creating two small projects, an executable and a DLL with the following code:

library MyLibrary;


procedure RegisterStuff;
    function: IList<Integer>
      Result := TCollections.CreateList<Integer>([1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]);


program MyProgram;


  SysUtils, Windows,

  i: Integer;

    for i in GlobalContainer.Resolve<IList<Integer>> do
    on E: Exception do

If you execute MyProgram you will get a nice  EResolveException with message 'Cannot resolve type: IList<System.Integer>'. Now that we know what is going on this is no surprise. But how can we solve that?

The ugly

In our software I used an admittedly scary hack. If you know a bit about the DI container architecture you know that it is very extensible and that you can add so called sub dependency resolvers. These resolvers are being asked if they can resolve a requested type. There are a few builtin ones that are used to resolve dynamic arrays, lists or a TFunc of a registered type. But you can also add your own ones. I wrote a resolver that checks if the requested type could not be resolved by the container already and then looks through its known types to find one with the same full qualified name. Since we are using very explicit named units there is no chance that we accidentally have 2 different types that have the same full qualified name.

I will not post the code here to not scare you away but since others might also run into this problem (I know at least one person that was building a plugin system by using the DI container and also ran into that problem) this issue will be addressed during the development and refactoring for the DI container in version 1.3 of Spring4D.

Speaking of version 1.3 - the release of 1.2 is almost there! We are working hard to deliver it shortly after the next Delphi release which will happen ... soonish, I think. ;)

The release/1.2 branch has been around for a while - please take a look if you haven't already. It contains a lot of new features and bugfixes. I will tell you more about some of the amazing features next time which won't take as long as it took since the last blog post - promise. :)