Razor Preprocessed Templates

When Miguel asked me to investigate making MonoDevelop support using Razor templates in MonoTouch and Mono for Android apps, I realized that it could be done simply and with very few dependencies by taking the same approach as T4 preprocessed templates, which I implemented for MonoDevelop a couple of years ago. Fortunately, this time the hard part was already done: I could use Microsoft's open-source Razor parser instead of writing my own parser. I also found a Visual Studio extension called Razor Generator that was very close in functionality to what I wanted, and was able to use this as a basis for my work. I was able to hook it it into the fantastic Razor editing and code completion support written by Piotr Dowgiallo in the Google Summer of Code this year.

After a few days work implementing, tweaking and tuning (and bouncing ideas off Bojan Rajković), I present Razor Preprocessed Templates in MonoDevelop.

As a basis for this demo, I created new a MonoTouch iPhone Single View application, added a UIWebView to the View's xib, and connected it to an outlet on the controller called webview. However, you can use these templates in any project type.

Just add a new Text Templating -> Preprocessed Razor Template file to the project:

Adding a new Preprocessed Razor Template

You will see that this adds a cshtml Razor C# file to the project, grouped with a C# file that contains the generated code. Like T4 files, this uses the "custom tool" extensibility mechanism. By setting the custom tool property on the cshtml file set to "RazorTemplatePreprocessor", it causes MonoDevelop to use this new custom tool to regenerate the cs file whenever the cshtml file is saved.

The files added by the Preprocessed Razor Template

I wrote a simple Razor page to demonstrate the power of Razor. It uses a simple Razor helper to demonstrate that Razor helpers work correctly. The page also demonstrates using the @model directive to specify the type for a Model property, which easily allows us to pass data into the template before running it. Since this demo is very simple, I just used an int as the model instead of defining a proper model class.

@model int
@helper boldtd (int i) {
		<title>Multiplication Table</title>
		<h1>Multiplication Table</h1>
			@* Header row *@
			@for (int i = 1; i <= Model; i++) {
			@* Main table *@
			@for (int i = 1; i <= Model; i++) {
				@for (int j = 1; j <= Model; j++) {
				<td>@(j * i)</td>

When writing this, the Razor code completion was very helpful. It has full C# completion, including locals, helpers and members from the generated class and base class, including the generated Model property:

Code completion for C# in Razor Templates

There's also HTML completion and on-the-fly underlining of HTML and Razor errors:

Code completion and error underlining for HTML in Razor Templates

After saving the cshtml file, you can look at the generated cs file. It's pretty messy, so I won't show it here, but note that it includes a well-commented generated base class. If you want, you can specify a base class using the @inherits directive, so you can pull that generated base class out and share it between multiple templates, or customize it. The template's only dependency is Action<System.IO.TextWriter>, and the default base class's dependencies are only System.Web.HttpUtility.HtmlEncode(string) and System.IO.StringWriter, so it can easily be made to run anywhere. If your target framework lacks the one potentially awkward dependency, HttpUtility.HtmlEncode(string), you can provide an alternative implementation via a custom base class.

More documentation on the generated class and the available directives can be found on the MonoDevelop website.

To use the template, I simply added two lines to my ViewDidLoad method to instantiate the template, generate a string using the Generate() method, and load it into the UIWebView:

public override void ViewDidLoad ()
    base.ViewDidLoad ();
    var template = new MultiplicationTable () { Model = 12 };
    webview.LoadHtmlString (template.GenerateString (), null);

Then run the app, and you can see it in action:

Razor Template running on iPhone

This is a fantastic way to generate HTML pages without pulling in the whole System.Web stack, and I hope you're as excited about it as I am. It isn't available today, unless you build MonoDevelop from source, however the code is committed to MonoDevelop master and should make it into the next 3.x release.


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