HNDR.ME

A nerd pretending to be a software engineer.

Some XAML Syntax to Remember

Written on

After developing for WPF/ Silverlight for a while, most people will be familiar with using XAML to declare UI elements, but even though I have been comfortable with XAML for quite a while, I don’t really know what is going on behind the stage. Reading Programming Windows by Charles Petzold shed some lights on it for me, so this post is here again so that I won’t forget.

One important thing I didn’t know before is that XAML file more or less is just another way to express the C# code, and the XAML elements in it are actually .NET objects, and anything that can be declared in XAML can be done in C# as well. Most page consists of two files, a .xaml file and a .xaml.cs file, as the partial keyword in the C# file suggest, the .xaml.cs file only consist a part of the class declaration. As we can guess, the rest are declared in the XAML file. If we look at the obj/Debug folder of the Project, we can see there are several files with the name of PageName.g.cs and PageName.g.i.cs. During compile time, the XAML file is parsed to get the elements and other information declared in it to generate the intermediate C# file, which will then be compiled together with our .xaml.cs file to generate the class declaration for a particular page. In the PageName.g.i.cs file, we can actually see the declaration for the InitializeComponent method that we always call in the constructor of our .xaml.cs file. The method basically initiates all objects declared in the XAML file, which is why if we try to get to access an element declared in the XAML before the method is called, we would get a NullReferenceException.

That’s enough for the backstage stuff, lets move on to the syntax. Most XAML pages looks similar to this:

<Page
    x:Class="App2.MainPage"
    IsTabStop="false"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:local="using:App2"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    mc:Ignorable="d">

    <Grid Background="{StaticResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
    </Grid>

</Page>

As mentioned before, a XAML declaration can be expressed in C#, since the elements in XAML file are .NET objects. The Page declaration above basically declare an instance of MainPage in the App2 namespace which is a subclass from the Page class. The xmlns statements are standard xml namespace inclusion which would allows us to use various elements. Similarly, with these declaration:

<Page
    x:Class="App2.MainPage"
    IsTabStop="false"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:local="using:App2"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    mc:Ignorable="d">
    <Grid Background="CadetBlue">
        <TextBlock Text="Hello"
            FontSize="96"
            Foreground="BlanchedAlmond"
            HorizontalAlignment="Center"
            VerticalAlignment="Center"/>
    </Grid>
</Page>

The same result can be produced with these C# code:

public sealed partial class MainPage : Page
{
    public MainPage()
    {
        this.InitializeComponent();
        Grid contentGrid = new Grid()
        {
            Background = new SolidColorBrush(Windows.UI.Colors.CadetBlue)
        };

        TextBlock txtBlk = new TextBlock()
        {
            Text = "Hello",
            FontSize = 96,
            Foreground = new SolidColorBrush(Windows.UI.Colors.BlanchedAlmond),
            HorizontalAlignment = HorizontalAlignment.Center,
            VerticalAlignment = VerticalAlignment.Center
        };
        contentGrid.Children.Add(txtBlk);
        this.Content = contentGrid;
    }
}

As we can see, the XAML element properties are just another way to set the values of the member variables of the objects. As we can see on the C# code above, the the Foreground property of a TextBlock is of type SolidColorBrush (or any subclass of the Brush class actually), but in the XAML syntax, it seems like we are assigning a string to it. This is because the compiler will parse and assign the appropriate attribute for us.

The XAML code above shows two ways of setting a property of an XAML element, namely the usual property attributes syntax, and the other one is one known as the Property Element syntax. The property-element syntax can be used to define some more complex attributes such as defining a gradient background that requires defining more than one colours and points. For example, the TextBlock above can be defined as such with the property-element syntax:

<TextBlock>
    <TextBlock.Foreground>
        <SolidColorBrush>
            Black
        </SolidColorBrush>
    </TextBlock.Foreground>
    <TextBlock.Text>
        Hello
    </TextBlock.Text>
    <TextBlock.FontSize>
        96
    </TextBlock.FontSize>
    <TextBlock.HorizontalAlignment>
        Center
    </TextBlock.HorizontalAlignment>
    <TextBlock.VerticalAlignment>
        Center
    </TextBlock.VerticalAlignment>
</TextBlock>

Here we see that we defined the properties of the TextBlock by creating another elements for each of them, and on for the Foreground property, we explicitly defined a SolidColorBrush as the value of the property. This is entirely optional, we can put the value inside the Foreground tag and it would still work, just like we did with the other properties. We don’t need to explicitly create a element of type Double for the FontSize, nor we need to create another elements for the enumeration of the alignment properties. We are still relying on the compiler to actually recognize that the Black inside the tag is actually referring to the colour enumeration, but there are times where would need to explicitly define the property with the usual property-attributes syntax.

In the previous example, we explicitly define what are the properties and its value, but as we see on most XAML we see, there are many cases where we don’t do that. For example, we didn’t explicitly define the rootGrid element of our page is the value for the Content property of the page, nor we need to explicitly define that our TextBlock is a member of the Children property of the Grid. This is because every classes referenced in XAML can have one and only one property that is defined as its ContentProperty, where for these properties, the property element tags are not required. So, instead of writing

<Page>
    <Page.Content>
        <Grid>
            <Grid.Children>
                <TextBlock/>
                <TextBlock/>
                <TextBlock/>
            </Grid.Children>
        </Grid>
    </Page.Content>
</Page>

We can simply write:

<Page>
    <Grid>
        <TextBlock/>
        <TextBlock/>
        <TextBlock/>
    </Grid>
</Page>

And it would produce the same result. For the same reason, we can use the same thing to define the Text property of a TextBlock without creating property element tag for it, So,

<TextBlock Text="Hello"/>

<!-- Is the same as: -->

<TextBlock>
    <TextBlock.Text>
        Hello
    </TextBlock.Text>
</TextBlock>

<!-- and -->

<TextBlock>
    Hello
</TextBlock>

I guess thats enough for now. Learning about all this made me realise that XAML is a very flexible and powerful language and can be used for many things that can be done with C#, so knowing it would hopefully be very useful in developing for the some of the latest Microsoft platforms (Win 8, WP 8, etc). But of course, it is still a markup language, and it has several limitations, such as lack of logic processing, and inability to create instances of objects that requires parameters in its contructor.

This entry is posted in 2012.

comments powered by Disqus