The SDK for creating F# type providers
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README.md

The F# Type Provider SDK

The F# Type Provider SDK is two things:

  1. The ProvidedTypes.fs API files you need to author type providers

  2. Documentation and samples on type provider creation

Build status (Windows) Build Status (MacOS, mono)

Getting Started

To create a type provider use:

dotnet new -i FSharp.TypeProviders.Templates
dotnet new typeprovider -n LemonadeProvider -lang F#

The template uses paket to acquire the files of the latest published type provider SDK.

cd LemonadeProvider

.paket\paket.exe update

dotnet build -c release

dotnet test -c release

The type provider also contains the logic necessary to package the type provider:

.paket\paket.exe pack src\LemonadeProvider.Runtime\paket.template --version 0.0.1

If you want you can remove the use of paket for the last stage and switch to dotnet pack though you'll have to work out how to do that yourself at the moment (it shouldn't be too hard).

The ProvidedTypes API - A Basic Type Provider

When you instantiate the template above you get basic erasing and geneative type providers.

Some unit testing helpers

The SDK includes a file

  • ProvidedTypesTesting.fs

which is sometimes incorporated into a type provider to help enable unit testing. For examples of how this is used, see uses of the helpers in the FSharp.Data library such as

Sometimes unit test DLLs incorporate the entire type provider implementation, and sometimes they use InternalsVisibleTo.

The unit testing helpers aren't really an official, documented part of the DK - caveat emptor.

Examples

See examples the examples directory.

  • ComboProvider: the TPDTC and TPRTC are combined together in one assembly which is a single netstandard2.0 component
  • BasicProvider: the TPDTC and TPRTC are each available as both netstandard2.0 and .NET 4.x components

Type Provider Naming Conventions

A type provider is simultaneously a tool and a library. The existing guidance is as follows, from https://fsharp.github.io/2014/09/19/fsharp-libraries.html.

Likewise, a type provider for a data source or schema format XYZ should normally be placed in “FSharp.Data”, e.g. “FSharp.Data.XYZ”.

Good type provider naming examples:

  • FSharp.Text.RegexProvider

  • FSharp.Azure.StorageTypeProvider

Existing type providers that don't quite follow the guidelines but which are ok:

  • FSharp.Data

Here are some examples of existing type providers that aren't too bad (they are clear) but could be renamed to follow the guidelines:

  • ExcelProvider (better would be FSharp.Interop.ExcelProvider)

  • RProvider (better would be FSharp.Interop.RProvider)

  • ApiaryProvider (better would be FSharp.Data.ApiaryProvider)

  • SQLProvider (better would be FSharp.Data.SQLProvider)

  • DynamicsNAVProvider (better would be FSharp.Interop.DynamicsNAVProvider)

  • DynamicsCRMProvider (better would be FSharp.Interop.DynamicsCRMProvider)

Technical Notes

Using Type Providers with dotnet build

Correctly updated type providers can be used with either the dotnet toolchain (.NET SDK tools which executes using .NET Core) or msbuild (traditional .NET Framework/Mono) toolchain.

Updating a Type Provider to be suitable for use with the .NET SDK

This short guide assumes

  1. You have a type provider with separate TPDTC and TPRTC components (see below if you don't know what those are)
  2. Some of your code might have dependencies on .NET Framework functionality
  3. You want your type provider to be usable with both the dotnet toolchain (.NET SDK tools which executes using .NET Core) or msbuild (traditional .NET Framework/Mono) toolchain.
  4. You want your type provider to be usable for all of .NET Standard, .NET Core and .NET Framework programming (if possible)

Here is a guide to the steps to perform:

  1. Use .NET SDK 2.1.100-preview-007363 or above. Forget .NET SDK 2.1.4 and before.

  2. If using Visual Studio, then use Visual Studio 2017 15.6 and above. Your type provider will still be usable with previous versionss, we'll get to that, but for now assume 15.6

  3. First switch to use .NET SDK project files, compiling them with msbuild

  4. Update to the latest ProvidedTypes.fs/fsi from this project

    • If making a generative type provider, check your isErased flags and use of ProvidedAssembly fragments, see this example

    • If your TPDTC contains a copy of your TPRTC implementation then use assemblyReplacementMap

  5. Work out how much your TPRTC (runtime component) depends on .NET Framework by trying to target netstandard2.0. You may need to use different package references to try this.

    • If your TPRTC fundamentally depends on .NET Framework, then you will not be able to use your type provider within projects targeting .NET Core or .NET Standard. Keep targeting your TPRTC at .NET Framework.

    • If your TPRTC partially depends on .NET Framework, then multi-target the TPRTC to net45;netstandard2.0 and use #if NETSTANDARD2_0

    • If your TPRTC doesn't depend on .NET Framework, then target the TPRTC to netstandard2.0

  6. Work out how much of a dependency your TPDTC has on .NET Framework:

    • If the compile-time computations performed by your TPDTC fundamentally depend on .NET Framework, then your type provider will not be usable with the .NET SDK toolchain without using the workaround)

    • If the TPDTC partially depends on .NET Framework, then multi-target the TPDTC to net45;netcoreapp2.0 and use #if NETCOREAPP2_0

    • If the TPDTC doesn't depend on .NET Framework, then target the TPDTC to netstandard2.0

    Beware that your TPDTC might have a false dependency induced by including a copy of the TPRTC source code into the TPDTC (which is generally a good technique). It is likely such a dependency can be removed by selectively stubbing out runtime code using a IS_DESIGNTIME define. The TPDTC only needs access to an "API" that has the same logical shape as the TPRTC in order to generate code and types. That "API" is then translated to match the target references assemblies in an actual compilation.

  7. Modify your project to copy the design-time DLLs into the right place, e.g. see this example

  8. Have your test projects multi-target to netcoreapp2.0; net471

  9. Use dotnet build to build instead of msbuild

    • If any of your projects targeting .NET 4.x so they will compile with dotnet on Linux/OSX when Mono is installed, then include netfx.props in the project and project file
  10. Modify your nuget package layout as described below.

Nuget package layouts you should use

The typical nuget package layout for a provider that has combined design-time and runtime components is:

lib/netstandard2.0
    MyProvider.dll // TPRTC and TPDTC
    netstandard.dll // Extra facade, see below
    System.Runtime.dll // Extra facade, see below
    System.Reflection.dll // Extra facade, see below

The typical nuget package layout for a provider that has separate design-time and runtime components is:

lib/net45/
    MyProvider.dll // TPRTC
    MyProvider.DesignTime.dll // .NET 4.x TPDTC alongside TPRTC (only needed for legacy loading: VS2015, Mono 5.12, VS2017 before 15.6)

lib/typeproviders/fsharp41/
    net45/
        MyProvider.DesignTime.dll // .NET 4.x TPDTC

    netcoreapp2.0/
        MyProvider.DesignTime.dll // .NET Core App 2.0 TPDTC

It is important that the design-time assemblies you use (if any) are not loaded at runtime. To ensure this does not happen, when you distribute a Nuget package for your Type Provider you must provide an explicit list of project references for consumers to include. If you do not, every assembly you publish in the package will be included, which can lead to design-type only references being loaded at runtime. To reference only a subset of assemblies, see the Nuget documetation or the Paket documentation.

That is, an explicit .nuspec file will be needed with an explicit <references> node (so that only the TPRTC gets added as a reference), see this example.

FAQ

How do I debug execution of a type provider when using .NET Framework tools on Windows?

  1. Capture output of msbuild -v:n in args.txt and trim out the rubbish leaving just the command line arguments to the F# compiler, usually starting with -o:...

  2. Run an explicit invocation of the compiler using this, checking that your failures still happen

    fsc.exe @args.txt
    

    Then debug that invocation using

    devenv /debugexe fsc.exe @args.txt
    

    If your failures only happen in the IDE then use devenv /debugexe devenv.exe MyProj.fsproj, set debug type to ".NET Framework 4.0" and launch F5. Likewise if your failures only happen in F# Interactive then use devenv /debugexe fsi.exe MyProj.fsproj.

    Set first-catch exception handling (Ctrl-Alt-E, select all CLR exceptions) and set Just My Code off

How do I debug execution of a type provider when using .NET Core tools on Windows?

One approach:

  1. Capture output of dotnet build -v:n in args.txt and trim out the rubbish leaving just the command line arguments to the F# compiler, usually starting with -o:...

  2. Run an explicit invocation of the compiler using:

    "c:\Program Files\dotnet\dotnet.exe" "C:\Program Files\dotnet\sdk\2.1.401\FSharp\fsc.exe" @args.txt
    

    Then debug that invocation using

    devenv /debugexe "c:\Program Files\dotnet\dotnet.exe" "C:\Program Files\dotnet\sdk\2.1.401\FSharp\fsc.exe" @args.txt
    

    Be careful to make sure Visual Studio debugging type is set to ".NET Core" (right click properties on dotnet and set debug type)

    Set first-catch exception handling (Ctrl-Alt-E, select all CLR exceptions) and set Just My Code off.

Some Type Provider terminology

  • TPRTC - Type Provider Referenced Component, e.g. FSharp.Data.dll.

    • This is the component referenced by #r or -r: on the command line or other configration of a host tool

    • May be the same physical file as the TPDTC.

    • Contains either a TypeProviderAssembly() attribute indicating that this component is also a TPDTC, or TypeProviderAssembly("MyDesignTime.dll") attribute indicating that the name of the design time component.

    • A type provider package may have multiple such DLLs for different target platforms, e.g.

      lib\net45\FSharp.Data.dll
      lib\netstandard2.0\FSharp.Data.dll
      
    • TPRTCs are normally .NET Framework 4.x, .NET Standard 2.0 or some portable profile component.

  • TPDTC - Type Provider Design Time Component, e.g. FSharp.Data.DesignTime.dll.

    • The DLL that gets loaded into host tools.

    • May be the same physical file as the TPRTC.

    • This component includes the ProvidedTypes.fs/fsi files from the type provider SDK.

    • TPDTCs are currently .NET Framework 4.x. They can also be .NET Standard 2.0 components, see below

  • Host tool - Either fsc.exe, fsi.exe or some tool hosting FSharp.Compiler.Service.dll such as devenv.exe or FsAutoComplete.exe

How the TPDTC is found and loaded

Currently, host tools look for TPDTC DLLs alongside the TPRTC DLL. For simple type providers, these DLLs are the same. When executing using .NET Framework, the host tool uses Assembly.LoadFrom to load this component.

See Type provider design-time DLLs should be chosen more appropriately for a proposal to change the rules to allow TPDTC components to be found more usefully, and in particular for different TPDTC components to be loaded depending on the execution environment of the host tooling.

Making a .NET Standard 2.0 TPDTC

It will be increasingly common to make type providers where the TPDTC is a .NET Standard 2.0 component. In the very simplest case, there will just be one happy .NET Standard 2.0 component MyTypeProvider.dll acting as both the TPDTC and TPRTC. Such a type provider will eventually be loadable into all F# tooling.

However, today, for a TPDTC to be .NET Standard 2.0, it must be loadable into host tools using .NET Framework 4.6.1 or Mono 5.x, the most common platforms for execution of F# tooling. Because .NET Framework 4.6.1 doesn't fully support .NET Standard 2.0, this can only be done if the TPDTC ships alongside some facade DLLs. Currently the following facade DLLs are needed alongside the TPDTC:

    <!-- These files are the facades necessary to run .NET Standard 2.0 components on .NET Framework 4.6.1 (.NET Framework 4.7 will -->
    <!-- come with these facades included). Because the type provider is a .NET Standard 2.0 component, the deployment of the type -->
    <!--  provider must include these facade DLLs if it is to run hosted inside an F# compiler executing using  .NET Framework 4.6.1 or Mono 5.0. -->
    <None Include="..\..\packages\NETStandard.Library.NETFramework\build\net461\lib\netstandard.dll">
        <CopyToOutputDirectory>PreserveNewest</CopyToOutputDirectory>
    </None>
    <None Include="..\..\packages\NETStandard.Library.NETFramework\build\net461\lib\System.Reflection.dll">
        <CopyToOutputDirectory>PreserveNewest</CopyToOutputDirectory>
    </None>
    <None Include="..\..\packages\NETStandard.Library.NETFramework\build\net461\lib\System.Runtime.dll">
        <CopyToOutputDirectory>PreserveNewest</CopyToOutputDirectory>
    </None>

Explicit construction of code: MakeGenericType, MakeGenericMethod and UncheckedQuotations

Some type providers need to build code via explicit calls to FSharp.Quotations.Expr.* rather than via quotation literals. Frequently, this is needed when code must instantiate generic methods or types. However, in some cases limitations of the F# quotations API are reached.

In these cases, follow these rules

  1. Always use ProvidedTypeBuilder.MakeGenericType(type, typeArguments) rather than type.MakeGenericType(typeArguments)
  2. Always use ProvidedTypeBuilder.MakeGenericMethod(methInfo, methTypeArguments) rather than methInfo.MakeGenericType(methTypeArguments)
  3. Where necessary open open ProviderImplementation.ProvidedTypes.UncheckedQuotations and make quotation nodes representing calls and other operations using Expr.CallUnchecked.

If you don't do this you may get errors like

The type provider 'FSharp.Configuration.ConfigTypeProvider+FSharpConfigurationProvider' reported an error: Type mismatch when building 'args': invalid parameter for a method or indexer property. Expected 'System.Collections.Generic.IEnumerable`1[System.String]', but received type 'System.Collections.Generic.IEnumerable`1[System.String]'.�Parameter name: receivedType

or

System.InvalidOperationException: the operation is not valid due to the current state of the object. at System.Reflection.MemberInfo.get_MetadataToken() in f:\dd\ndp\clr\src\BCL\system\reflection\memberinfo.cs:line 65

Resources

For advice on how to get started building a type provider, check out:

Support and community

Building

Use

build.sh RunTests

or

build.cmd RunTests

Library license

The library is available under the MIT License. For more information see the License file in the GitHub repository.

Maintainer(s)

The default maintainer account for projects under "fsprojects" is @fsprojectsgit - F# Community Project Incubation Space (repo management)