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Creating a plugin architecture in .NET can be achieved in a few steps using the .NET framework. All it takes is a little time, a common interface and reflection. In this blog we’re going to look at how to make a simple plugin that performs basic integer calculations. As a disclaimer, this method is not CLS compliant. If that is necessary for you, then stick around and I hope to have a new version that maintains compliance posted.

The code in this blog is mostly illustrative, and the full code is available on CodePlex at the following link:

Setting up a common interface

Our main console application has to know just basic things about our plugin. It doesn’t need to know any more about it than that it complies to an expected interface. For this example, our plugins must:

  • Expose a class named Plugin
  • The class must implement our common interface: IPlugin.
  • The plugin must end in “Plugin.dll” and be present in the application directory.

If we get all of these done, we can connect to the plugin successfully. The first step is to define the IPlugin interface, which acts as the basic contract between any plugin and the console application. We’ll place this in its own project to compile into a separate DLL, so that we can easily reference it from our plugin projects.

Public Interface IPlugin
ReadOnly Property Name() As String
ReadOnly Property
ActionName() As String
Calculate(ByVal value1 As Integer, ByVal value2 As Integer)
End Interface

Consuming the interface according to our rules

So our calculation plugins will expose the name, what their action is and a calculate function that operates on two values. We can create an example plugin that performs addition:

Public Class Plugin
Implements IPlugin

ReadOnly Public Property Name() As String Implements IPlugin.Name
End Get
End Property

ReadOnly Public Property
ActionName() As String Implements IPlugin.ActionName
"Add Values"
End Get
End Property

Public Sub
Calculate (ByVal value1 As Integer, ByVal value2 As Integer) Implements IPlugin.Calculate
Dim result As Integer = value1 + value2
MessageBox.Show ("The result is " + result.ToString)
End Sub
End Class

See how we named the class that implements the plugin as just Plugin? This is because this is what the consol application expects. We can have other classes and whatnot in our plugin that do the meat of our work, but the application that consumes the plugin only cares that the possible plugin follow our rules stated earlier.

Checking and consuming the plugin

In our console application, all we’ve got to do is grab our possible plugins, then check their validity. Once we’re sure it is valid, we can consume it via the interface.

Dim asm As Assembly = Assembly.LoadFrom(possiblePlugin)
Dim myType As System.Type = asm.GetType(asm.GetName.Name + ".Plugin")
Dim implementsIPlugin As Boolean = GetType(IPlugin).IsAssignableFrom(myType)
If implementsIPlugin Then
Console.WriteLine(asm.GetName.Name + " is a valid plugin!")

Dim plugin As IPlugin = CType(Activator.CreateInstance(myType), IPlugin)
Console.WriteLine("{0}: {1}", plugin.Name, plugin.ActionName)
plugin.Calculate(5, 4)
End If

Wrapping things up

Well, this was a quick and dirty look at implementing your own plugin architecture into your application. Please leave feedback or questions. I’d be happy to hear both!


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Posted on Wednesday, May 6, 2009 1:19 PM VB .NET , How-To | Back to top

Comments on this post: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET

# re: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET
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Simple. Concise. Fanstastic. Thanks very much for the help.
Left by Tom Delaplain on Aug 06, 2009 6:01 PM

# re: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET
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Not so "fantastic", as long as this method with GetType is not CLS-compliant (according to VB help about those functions used here). The correct way is to simply create objects by their class name, not by an abstract interface type.
Left by Samsonov on Aug 17, 2009 5:06 AM

# re: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET
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I agree that CLS Compliance might be important to those considering this approach, assuming that the plugins would be developed in languages other than VB. Thank you for pointing that out. I'll add a disclaimer.

I hope to revisit this tutorial soon with attributes instead of the interface workaround. However, I'd argue that working with a class name detriments the point, unless we assume that we're using children to a class that has the interface we want, in which case we're using classes in a way meant for interfaces to begin with.
Left by Stacy Vicknair on Aug 18, 2009 9:17 AM

# re: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET
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Very good job!!! Thank you a lot for the help!!!
Left by Davide on Nov 29, 2010 11:28 AM

# How To: Create a plugin for firefox
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please tel me the tools to create a plugin for mozilla firefox.....
Left by zam on Dec 20, 2010 2:37 AM

# re: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET
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Lately I came to your website and have Been reading along. I thought I would leave my initial comment. Keep writing, cause your posts are impressive!Nauka Angielskiego W Anglii |
Left by Nauka Angielskiego W Anglii on Aug 20, 2011 2:18 PM

# re: How To: Create a plugin architecture in VB.NET
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Excellent work. My first venture into plugins with VB.Net and this helped tremendously.
Left by JB on Sep 25, 2011 5:52 AM

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