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Apr 30, 2009

Register Silverlight Controls with Visual Studio and Blend

 Introduction

This is part of the series on design time implementation changes in Silverlight Toolkit March 2009 Release. This post illustrates the integration of Silverlight Toolkit with Visual Studio and Blend 3 after running Silverlight 3 Toolkit March 2009 Installer, and explains how it is done, so you can register your own Silverlight controls with Visual Studio and Blend too.

Blend Integration

After installing Silverlight 3 Beta1 Tools, Blend 3 Preview, and Silverlight 3 Toolkit March 2009 (please see Silverlight Toolkit Design Time Features: March 2009 Release Update, Silverlight 3 Development with Visual Studio 2008 and Blend 3 section for more information), create a Silverlight 3 Application from Blend 3, we can see that Silverlight Toolkit controls show up automatically in Asset Library:

Toolkit Controls in Asset Library, Controls Tab

Toolkit Controls in Asset Library, Custom Controls Tab 

User can drag and drop Toolkit controls from Asset Library to design or xaml view, and Blend will automatically add assembly reference, xmlns prefix and xaml code, very convenient:

Drag and Drop Chart control from Asset Library

Visual Studio Integration

Open the project in Visual Studio, we can see that Toolkit controls show up automatically in Visual Studio Toolbox, and user can drag and drop controls from Toolbox to design or xaml view as well:

Toolkit Controls in Visual Studio Toolbox 

Besides Toolbox, Toolkit assemblies also show up in Add Reference Dialog:

Add Reference Dialog

and Choose Toolbox Items Dialog:

image

 Implementation

The integration with Visual Studio and Blend is done via registry. If you open “Silverlight 3 Toolkit March 2009.msi” in Orca, you can see the registration magic:

Silverlight 3 Toolkit March 2009.msi in Orca

Register with Visual Studio

AssemblyFoldersEx

Registering with Visual Studio is mostly done via [HKLM|HKCU]\Software\Microsoft\Microsoft SDKs\Silverlight\v3.0\AssemblyFoldersEx:

Visual Studio Registration

The References in Visual Studio page has very good explanation on AssemblyFoldersEx and reference resolution. It is a bit outdate, and is about .net instead of Silverlight, but it is mostly right for Silverlight too. I duplicated the registration schema section below, and modified it to fit Silverlight. Text in small italic fonts are purely hypothetical, meaning: it doesn’t work for Silverlight today; I have it here simply because it is in originally text, works for .NET, and seems making sense for Silverlight to duplicate or to be consistent with .Net.

Registration Schema

Assembly directories can be added to the registry so that the build process can resolve references to assemblies in those directories. Here’s an example of the registry schema.

[HKLM | HKCU]\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\Silverlight\

  v3.0

    AssemblyFoldersEx

      Silverlight Toolkit

        @Default = C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Silverlight\v3.0\Toolkit\March 2009\Libraries\

        @Description = Silverlight 3 Toolkit March 2009

        20090401

          @Default = C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Silverlight\v3.0\Toolkit\March 2009\20090401

          @Description = April Fool’s Updates

In the above example, there are several interesting fields.

(1) AssemblyFolderBase – The registry path "\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\Silverlight" indicates the target framework platform. Typical values for this property are:

\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\Silverlight(default) – for Silverlight

\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\.NetCompactFramework– for .NET Compact Framework

(2) FrameworkVersion – The version of the frameworks that this component is meant to work against.

(3) AssemblyFoldersSuffix – Describes the sub-target, examples include:

AssemblyFoldersEx (default) – for Silverlight

PocketPC\AssemblyFoldersEx – for the .NET Compact Framework for Pocket PC

SmartPhone\AssemblyFoldersEx – for the .NET Compact Framework for SmartPhone

WindowsCE\AssemblyFoldersEx – for the .NET Compact Framework for WindowsCE

(4) ControlName – The name of the control. In the example above, “Silverlight 3 Toolkit March 2009”. The control vendor chooses this name.

(5) ServicingCode – For service packs that update the same component. In the above example, “20090401”. The control vendor chooses this name.

Toolbox Controls Installer

Jim Nakashima blogged about Toolbox Controls Installer for WPF controls in his post Have you seen the Toolbox Controls Installer? in 2007. Toolbox Controls Installer package is now part of Visual Studio 2008, and kind of works, with a bug that will be fixed in Visual Studio 2010. It can be tweaked to work for Silverlight controls too: set string registry value SilverlightControls instead of WPFControls to 1.

I am working with various teams inside Microsoft to improve the Visual Studio registration story for Silverlight controls. All feedbacks and suggestions are welcome!

 Register with Blend

Registering with Blend is via HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Expression\Blend\v3.0\Toolbox\Silverlight\v3.0:

Blend Registration

Unni Ravindranathan’s blog post Blend 3 Extensibility has more information about this mechanism. One caveat: if the registered assemblies depend on other assemblies, those other assemblies need to be in the same directory as registered assemblies, or registered with AssemblyFoldersEx mentioned above. 

Conclusion

Registration with Visual Studio and Blend makes Silverlight Toolkit controls a lot easier to use for developers. We are constantly looking at improving the registration mechanism in hope to make it simple and consistent across designers (Visual Studio and Blend) and technologies (WPF and Silverlight). All feedbacks are welcome!