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Aformatter is an object that knows how to write arbitrary objects to a stream A formatter exposes this functionality by implementing the IFormatter information from the SystemRuntimeSerialization namespace: interface IFormatter { // Properties SerializationBinder Binder { get; set; } StreamingContext Context { get; set; } ISurrogateSelector SurrogateSelector { get; set; } // Methods object Deserialize(Stream serializationStream); void Serialize(Stream serializationStream, object graph); } A formatter has two jobs The first is to serialize arbitrary objects, specifically their fields, including nested objects[1] The formatter knows which fields to serialize using Reflection,[2] which is the NET API for finding out type information about a type at run time An object is written to a stream via the Serialize method and is read from a stream via the Deserialize method
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Formatters even make sure that cyclic data structures are handled properly, allowing you to serialize entire object graphs
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For a thorough explanation of NET Reflection, see Essential NET (Addison-Wesley, 2003), by Don Box, with Chris Sells
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The second job of a formatter is to translate the data into some format at the byte level The NET Framework provides two formatters: BinaryFormatter and the SoapFormatter Just like BinaryWriter, the BinaryFormatter class, from the System RuntimeSerializationFormattersBinary namespace, writes the data in a binary format SoapFormatter, from the SystemRuntimeSerialization FormattersSoap namespace,[3] writes data in XML according to the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) specification Although SOAP is the core protocol of Web services, using the SOAP formatter for the purposes of serializing settings or document data has nothing to do with Web services or even the Web However, it is a handy format for a human to read
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To access this namespace you must add a reference to the SystemRuntimeSerializationFormattersSoap assembly
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There is one stipulation on any type that a formatter is to serialize: It must be marked with SerializableAttribute, or else the formatter will throw a run-time exception After the type (and the type of any contained field) is marked as serializable, serializing an object is a matter of creating a formatter and asking it to serialize the object: using SystemRuntimeSerialization; using SystemRuntimeSerializationFormatters; using SystemRuntimeSerializationFormattersSoap; [SerializableAttribute] class MyData { // NOTE: Public fields should be avoided in general, // but are useful to simplify the code in this case
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public string s = "Wahoo!"; public int n = 452; } static void DoSerialize() { MyData data = new MyData(); using( Stream stream = new FileStream(@"c:\temp\mydataxml", FileModeCreate) ) { // Write to the stream IFormatter formatter = new SoapFormatter(); formatterSerialize(stream, data); // Reset the stream to the beginning streamSeek(0, SeekOriginBegin); // Read from the stream MyData data2 = (MyData)formatterDeserialize(stream); // Do something with the data MessageBoxShow(data2s + " " + data2n); } } After creating the formatter, the code makes a call to Serialize, which writes the type information for the MyData object and then recursively writes all the data for the fields of the object To read the object, we call Deserialize and make a cast to the top-level object, which reads all fields recursively Because we chose the text-based SOAP formatter and a FileStream, we can examine the data that the formatter wrote: <SOAP-ENV:Envelope > <SOAP-ENV:Body> <a1:Form1_x002B_MyData id="ref-1" > <s id="ref-3">Wahoo!</s> <n>452</n> </a1:Form1_x002B_MyData> </SOAP-ENV:Body> </SOAP-ENV:Envelope> Here we can see that an instance of Form1MyData was written and that it contains two fields: one (called s) with the value "Wahoo!", and a second one (called n) with the value "452" This was just what the code meant to write
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Skipping a Nonserialized Field
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We have some control over what the formatter writes, although probably not in the way you'd expect For example, if we decide that we want to serialize the MyData class but not the n field, we can't stop the formatter by marking the field as protected or private To be consistent at deserialization, an object will need the protected and private fields just as much as it needs the public ones (in fact, fields shouldn't be public at all!) However, if we apply NonSerializedAttribute to a field, it will be skipped by the formatter: [SerializableAttribute] class MyData { public string s = "Wahoo!"; [NonSerializedAttribute] public int n = 452; }
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Serializing an instance of this type shows that the formatter is skipping the nonserialized field: <SOAP-ENV:Envelope > <SOAP-ENV:Body> <a1:Form1_x002B_MyData id="ref-1" > <s id="ref-3">Wahoo!</s> </a1:Form1_x002B_MyData> </SOAP-ENV:Body> </SOAP-ENV:Envelope>
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