__clrtype__ Metaclasses: Named Attribute Parameters

In my last post, I added support for custom attribute positional parameters . To finish things off, I need to add support for named parameters as well. Custom attributes support named parameters for public fields and settable properties. It works kind of like C# 3.0’s object initalizers. However, unlike object initalizers, the specific fields and properties to be set on a custom attribute as well as their values are passed to the CustomAttributeBuilder constructor. With six arguments – five of which are arrays – it’s kind of an ugly constructor. But luckily, we can hide it away in the make_cab function by using Python’s keyword arguments feature.

def make_cab(attrib_type, *args, **kwds):
  clrtype = clr.GetClrType(attrib_type)
  argtypes = tuple(map(lambda x:clr.GetClrType(type(x)), args))
  ci = clrtype.GetConstructor(argtypes)

  props = ([],[])
  fields = ([],[])

  for kwd in kwds:
    pi = clrtype.GetProperty(kwd)
    if pi is not None:
      fi = clrtype.GetField(kwd)
      if fi is not None:
        raise Exception, "No %s Member found on %s" % (kwd, clrtype.Name)

  return CustomAttributeBuilder(ci, args,
    tuple(props[0]), tuple(props[1]),
    tuple(fields[0]), tuple(fields[1]))

def cab_builder(attrib_type):
  return lambda *args, **kwds:make_cab(attrib_type, *args, **kwds)

You’ll notice that make_cab now takes a third parameter: the attribute type and the tuple of positional arguments we saw last post. This third parameter “**kwds” is a dictionary of named parameters. Python supports both positional and named parameter passing, like VB has for a while and C# will in 4.0. However, this **kwds parameter contains all the extra or leftover named parameters that were passed in but didn’t match any existing function arguments. Think of it like the params of named parameters.

As I wrote earlier, custom attributes support setting named values of both fields and properties. We don’t want the developer to have to know if given named parameter is a field or property, so make_cab iterates over all the named parameters, checking first to see if it’s a property then if it’s a field. It keeps a list of all the field / property infos as well as their associated values. Assuming all the named parameters are found, those lists are converted to tuples and passed into the CustomAttributeBuilder constructor.

In addition to the change to make_cab, I also updated cab_builder slightly in order to pass the **kwds parameter on thru to the make_cab function. No big deal. So now, I can add an attribute with named parameters to my IronPython class and it still looks a lot like a C# attribute specification.

from System.Xml.Serialization import XmlRootAttribute
from System import ObsoleteAttribute, CLSCompliantAttribute
Obsolete = cab_builder(ObsoleteAttribute)
CLSCompliant = cab_builder(CLSCompliantAttribute)
XmlRoot = cab_builder(XmlRootAttribute)

class Product(object):
  __metaclass__ = ClrTypeMetaclass
  _clrnamespace = "DevHawk.IronPython.ClrTypeSeries"
  _clrclassattribs = [
    Obsolete("Warning Lark's Vomit"),
    XmlRoot("product", Namespace="http://samples.devhawk.net")]

  # remainder of Product class omitted for clarity

As usual, sample code is up on my SkyDrive.

Now that I can support custom attributes on classes, it would be fairly straightforward to add them to methods, properties, etc as well. The hardest part at this point is coming up with a well designed API that works within the Python syntax. If you’ve got any opinions on that, feel free to share them in the comments, via email, or on the IronPython mailing list.

__clrtype__ Metaclasses: Positional Attribute Parameters

The basic infrastructure for custom attributes in IronPython is in place, but it’s woefully limited. Specifically, it only works for custom attributes that don’t have parameters. Of course, most of the custom attributes that you’d really want to use require additional parameters, both the positional or named variety. Since positional parameters are easier, let’s start with them.

Positional parameters get passed to the custom attribute’s constructor. As we saw in the previous post, you need a CustomAttributeBuilder to attach a custom attribute to an attribute target (like a class). Previously, I just needed to know the attribute type since I was hard coding the positional parameters. But now, I need to know both the attribute type as well as the desired positional parameters. I could have built a custom Python class to track this information, but it made much more sense just to use CustomAttributeBuilder instances. I built a utility function make_cab to construct the CustomAttributeBuilder instances.

def make_cab(attrib_type, *args):
  argtypes = tuple(map(lambda x:clr.GetClrType(type(x)), args))
  ci = clr.GetClrType(attrib_type).GetConstructor(argtypes)
  return CustomAttributeBuilder(ci, args)

from System import ObsoleteAttribute

class Product(object):
  __metaclass__ = ClrTypeMetaclass
  _clrnamespace = "DevHawk.IronPython.ClrTypeSeries"
  _clrclassattribs = [make_cab(ObsoleteAttribute , "Warning Lark's Vomit")]

  # remaining Product class definition omited for clarity

In make_cab, I build a tuple of CLR types from the list of positional arguments that was passed in. If you haven’t seed the *args syntax before, it works like C#’s params keyword – any extra arguments are passed into the function as a tuple names args. I use Python’s built in map function (FP FTW!) to build a tuple of CLR types of the provided arguments, which I then pass to GetConstructor. Previously, I passed an empty tuple to GetConstructor because I wanted the default constructor. If you don’t pass any positional arguments, you still get the default constructor. Once I’ve found the right constructor, I pass it and the original tuple of arguments to the CustomAttributeBuilder constructor.

One major benefit of this approach is that it simplifies the metaclass code. Since _clrclassattribs is now a list of CustomAttributeBuilders, now I just need to iterate over that list and call SetCustomAttribute for each.

if hasattr(cls, '_clrclassattribs'):
      for cab in cls._clrclassattribs:

The only problem with this approach is that specifying the list of custom attributes is now extremely verbose. Not only am I specifying the full attribute class name as well as the positional arguments, I’m also having to insert a call to make_cab. Previously, it kinda looked like a C# custom attribute, albeit in the wrong place. Not anymore. So I decided to write a function called cab_builder to generates less verbose calls to make_cab:

def cab_builder(attrib_type):
  return lambda *args:make_cab(attrib_type, *args)

from System import ObsoleteAttribute
Obsolete = cab_builder(ObsoleteAttribute)

class Product(object):
  __metaclass__ = ClrTypeMetaclass
  _clrnamespace = "DevHawk.IronPython.ClrTypeSeries"
  _clrclassattribs = [Obsolete("Warning Lark's Vomit")]

  # remaining Product class definition omited for clarity

The cab_builder function returns an anonymous lambda function that closes over the attrib_type variable. Python lambdas are just like C# lambdas, except that they only support expressions 1. The results of calling the lambda returned from cab_builder is exactly the same as calling make_cab directly, but less verbose. And since I named the function returned from cab_builder Obsolete, now my list of class custom attributes looks exactly like it does in C# (though still in a different place). As usual, the code is up on my SkyDrive.

If you’re only using the attribute once like this, it is kind of annoying to first declare the cab_builder function. If you wanted to you could iterate over the types in a given assembly, looking for ones that inherit from Attribute and generate the cab_builder call dynamically. However, I’m not sure how performant that would be. Another possibility would be to iterate over the types in a given assembly and generate a Python module on disk with the calls to cab_builder. Then, you’d just have to import this module of common attributes but still be able to include additional calls to cab_builder as needed.

  1. The lack of statement lambdas in Python is one of my few issues with the language.

__clrtype__ Metaclasses: Simple Custom Attributes

I know it’s been a while since my last __clrtype__ post, but I was blocked on some bug fixes that shipped as part of IronPython 2.6 Beta 1. So now let’s start looking at one of the most requested IronPython features – custom attributes!

Over the course of the next three blog posts, I’m going to build out a mechanism for specifying custom attributes on the CLR type we’re generating via __clrtype__. All the various Builder classes in System.Reflection.Emit support a SetCustomAttribute method that works basically the same way. There are two overloads – the one I’m going to use takes a single CustomAttributeBuilder as a parameter.

For this first post, I’m going to focus on the basic custom attribute infrastructure, so we’re going to use the extremely simple ObsoleteAttribute. While you can pass some arguments to the constructor, for this first post I’m going to use the parameterless constructor. To keep things less confusing, I’m going back to the original version of the Product class, before I introduced CLR fields and properties. The one change I’m making is that I’m adding a list of attributes I want to add to the class.

from System import ObsoleteAttribute

class Product(object):
  __metaclass__ = ClrTypeMetaclass
  _clrnamespace = "DevHawk.IronPython.ClrTypeSeries"
  _clrclassattribs = [ObsoleteAttribute]

  # remainder of class omitted for clarity

Python list comprehensions use the same square bracket syntax as C# properties, so it kinda looks right to someone with a C# eye – though having the attribute specifications inside the class, rather than above it, is totally different. I wish I could use Python’s class decorators for custom class attributes, but class decorators run after metaclasses so unfortunately that doesn’t work. Also, I can’t leave off the “Attribute” suffix like you can in C#. If I really wanted to, I could provide a new type name in the import statement (“from System import ObsoleteAttribute as Obsolete”) but I thought spelling it out was clearer for this post.

Now that I have specified the class attributes, I can update the metaclass __clrtype__ method to set the attribute on the generated CLR class:

if hasattr(cls, '_clrclassattribs'):
      for attribtype in cls._clrclassattribs:
        ci = clr.GetClrType(attribtype).GetConstructor(())
        cab = CustomAttributeBuilder(ci, ())

I’m simply iterating over the list of _clrclassattribs (if it exists), getting the default parameterless constructor for each attribute type, creating a CustomAttributeBuilder instance from that constructor and then calling SetCustomAttribute. Of course, this is very simple because we’re not supporting any custom arguments or setting of named properties. We’ll get to that in the next post. In the mean time, you can get the full code for this post from my SkyDrive.

There is one significant issue with this custom attribute code. Attributes are typically marked with the AttributeUsage attribute that specifies a set of constraints, such as the kind of targets a given attribute can be attached to and if it can be specified multiple times. For example, the MTAThread attribute can’t be specified multiple times and it can only be attached to methods. However, those attribute constraints are validated by the compiler, not the runtime. I haven’t written any code yet to validate those constraints, so you can specify invalid combinations like multiple MTAThread attributes on a class. For now, I’m just going to leave it to the developer not to specify invalid attribute combinations. Custom attributes are passive anyway so I’m figure no one will come looking for a MTAThread attribute on a class or other such scenarios.

However, I’m interested in your opinion: When we get to actually productizing a higher-level API for __clrtype__, what kinds of attribute validation should we do, if any?

__clrtype__ Metaclasses Demo: Silverlight Databinding

I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually demo something interesting with __clrtype__ metaclasses: Silverlight Databinding. This is a trivial sample, data binding a list of Products (aka the sample class I’ve been using all week) to a list box. But according to Jimmy, this is something he gets asked about on a regular basis and there’s a AgDLR bug open for this. The __clrtype__ feature is specific to IronPython but I bet the IronRuby guys could implement something similar if they wanted to.

When you install IronPython 2.6 (or 2.0.1 for that matter), it comes with the AgDLR bits in the Silverlight subfolder. This includes Silverlight compatible versions of the DLR and IronPython as well as the Silverlight DLR host and the development web server Chiron in the Silverlightbin directory. There is also a script in the Silverlightscript directory that will generate a dynamic Silverlight application from a template. I ran “sl.bat python sldemo” in order to build the skeleton project.

In the generated app.xaml file, I removed the default text box and replaced it with this XAML code that I stole nearly-verbatim from my blog post on data binding in WPF with IronPython. The only thing I changed was the binding path for the text block (title became name).

<ListBox x:Name="listbox1" >
      <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=name}" />

Then in the App class, I set the ItemsSource of the ListBox to a hand-built a list of Products.

class App:
  def __init__(self):
    root = Application.Current.LoadRootVisual(UserControl(), "app.xaml")
    root.listbox1.ItemsSource = [
      Product("Crunchy Frog", 10, 12),
      Product("Rams Bladder Cup", 10, 12),
      Product("Cockroach Cluster", 10, 12),
      Product("Anthrax Ripple", 10, 12),
      Product("Spring Suprise", 10, 12)]

And that’s pretty much it. I used Chiron’s /z command to create a Silverlight XAP file, uploaded it to Silverlight Streaming and embedded it right here in this post. Code is up on my skydrive as well. Uusing Silverlight Streaming for this app was very easy – basically upload the XAP file to their server and embed some iframe code in this post via the source view and that was it. I’m not sure I would use it for a production app, but it rocked for hosting this demo.

The XAP is a big download for such a trivial app – about 1.3MB. The vast majority of that is the DLR and IronPython assemblies. The XAP would only be 2.9kB if it was just the Python, XAML and manifest files. This kinda stinks, but there’s a new transparent platform extensions feature in Silverlight 3 so we can at least break the DLR and IronPython DLLs out into their own separate XAPs. That way they only get downloaded once and cached in the browser instead of being included in every single IronPython Silverlight application anyone creates.

So that’s one scenario down, one to go. In order to be able to build WCF services in IronPython, I have to add a lot more infrastructure – notably emitting CLR methods that can invoke dynamic methods as well as emitting custom attributes. Invoking dynamic methods means understanding DLR binders, so look for more posts on __clrtype__ next week.

__clrtype__ Metaclasses: Adding CLR Properties

When I was first experimenting with __clrtype__, I got to the point of making CLR fields work and then immediately tried to do some data binding with Silverlight. Didn’t work. Turns out Silverlight can only data bind against properties – fields aren’t supported. So now let’s add basic property support to ClrTypeMetaclass. Python has a rich mechanism for defining properties, but hooking that up requires DLR binders so for now I’m going to generate properties that are simple wrappers around the associated fields.

There’s enough code involved in defining a property to break it out into it’s own method:

def define_prop(typebld, name, fieldtype, fieldbld):
    attribs = ( MethodAttributes.Public
              | MethodAttributes.SpecialName
              | MethodAttributes.HideBySig)
    clrtype = clr.GetClrType(fieldtype)

    getbld = typebld.DefineMethod("get_" + name, attribs, clrtype, None)
    getilgen = getbld.GetILGenerator()
    getilgen.Emit(OpCodes.Ldfld, fieldbld)

    setbld = typebld.DefineMethod("set_" + name, attribs, None, (clrtype,))
    setilgen = setbld.GetILGenerator()
    setilgen.Emit(OpCodes.Stfld, fieldbld)

    prpbld = typebld.DefineProperty(name,
      PropertyAttributes.None, clrtype, None)

You provide define_prop the TypeBuilder for the Type being constructed, the name and type of the property as well as the FieldBuilder that gets returned from the call to DefineField. In the previous installment, I wasn’t bothering to save the FieldBuilder to a variable since I never used it again. Now, I’m stashing it away for the call to define_prop as I’ll show below.

For each field, we define a get method, a set method and a property. The get function first executes ldarg_0 to load the current object reference onto the execution stack, then it executes ldfld to load the specified field from the object onto the stack, then it returns. The set function executes ldarg_0 to load the current object reference and ldarg_1 to load the value passed as the first argument onto the execution stack, then it executes stfld to store the value in the specified field of the object. Once I have the two methods, I call DefineProperty to create the PropertyBuilder and then associate the get and set methods with that property.

As I said before, Reflection.Emit is straightforward though tedious. Honestly, I didn’t go thru the Emit docs to figure out what the methods should look like. Instead, I wrote a basic wrapper property in C# and looked at the generated IL in Reflector.

The only other change here is adding the call to define_prop on our first iteration thru list of _clrfields. Since the rest of __clrtype__ is the same, here’s just that code snippet:

if hasattr(cls, "_clrfields"):
    for fldname in cls._clrfields:
        fieldtype = clr.GetClrType(cls._clrfields[fldname])
        fieldbld = typebld.DefineField(fldname, fieldtype, FieldAttributes.Public)
        ClrTypeMetaclass.define_prop(typebld, fldname, fieldtype, fieldbld)

As I said above, I simply save off the result of calling DefineField so I can pass it to define_prop. I also save off the field type in a variable since I use it more than once. Avoids the second dictionary lookup and is clearer to understand what the function does.

Accessing the CLR properties via reflection is pretty straightforward – not very different than reflecting over CLR fields. The only significant difference between them is that CLR properties can be indexable and fields can’t, so you have to pass an index parameter to GetValue and SetValue. These aren’t indexed properties, so I pass in None for the index parameter.

>>> p = Product("Crunchy Frog", 10, 12)
>>> pi = p.GetType().GetProperty("name")
>>> pi.GetValue(p, None)
'Crunchy Frog'
>>> pi.SetValue(p, "Spring Surprise", None)
>>> pi.GetValue(p, None)
'Spring Surprise'
>>> p.name
'Spring Surprise'

One quick aside about the CLR type I’m generating here. I’m fairly certain this reflected object wouldn’t pass muster with the C# compiler. I’m defining a field and a property with the same name. It clearly works at the IL level, but I’m not sure what the C# compiler would do if you tried to refer to a CLR type like this. I should probably be prepending an underscore or something on the field name, but then I wonder if the field should also be private. There’s a whole API design discussion down that road, but I’m not quite ready to have that yet so I’m just leaving the fields public and having fields and properties with the same name. Luckily, I’m never generating a CLR type on disk so you can’t build a C# project that refers to it anyway.