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XAML designer extensibility migration

In Visual Studio 2019, the XAML designer supports two different architectures: the designer isolation architecture and the more recent surface isolation architecture. This architecture transition is required to support target runtimes that can't be hosted in a .NET Framework process. Moving to the surface isolation architecture introduces breaking changes to the third-party extensibility model. This article outlines these changes, which are available in Visual Studio 2019 starting with version 16.3.

Designer isolation is used by the WPF designer for projects that target the .NET Framework and supports .design.dll extensions. User code, control libraries, and third-party extensions are loaded in an external process (XDesProc.exe) along with the actual designer code and designer panels.

Surface isolation is used by the UWP designer. It's also used by the WPF designer for projects that target .NET Core. In surface isolation, only user code and control libraries are loaded in a separate process, while the designer and its panels are loaded in the Visual Studio process (DevEnv.exe). The runtime used for executing user code and control libraries is different from that used by the .NET Framework for the actual designer and third-party extensibility code.


Because of this architecture transition, third-party extensions are no longer loaded into the same process as the third-party control libraries. The extensions can no longer have direct dependencies on control libraries or directly access run-time objects. Extensions that were previously written for the designer isolation architecture using the Microsoft.Windows.Extensibility.dll API must be migrated to a new approach to work with the surface isolation architecture. In practice, an existing extension will need to be compiled against new extensibility API assemblies. Access to run-time control types via typeof or run-time instances must be replaced or removed because control libraries are now loaded in a different process.

New extensibility API assemblies

The new extensibility API assemblies are similar to the existing extensibility API assemblies but follow a different naming scheme in order to differentiate them. Similarly, the namespace names have changed to reflect the new assembly names.

Designer isolation API assembly Surface isolation API assembly
Microsoft.Windows.Design.Extensibility.dll Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.dll
Microsoft.Windows.Design.Interaction.dll Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Interaction.dll

New file extension and discovery

Instead of using the .design.dll file extension, new surface extensions will be discovered by using the .designtools.dll file extension. .design.dll and .designtools.dll extensions can exist in the same Design subfolder.

While third-party control libraries are compiled for the actual target runtime (.NET Core or UWP), the .designtools.dll extension should always be compiled as a .NET Framework assembly.

Decouple attribute tables from run-time types

The surface isolation extensibility model doesn't allow for extensions to depend on actual control libraries, and therefore, extensions can't reference types from the control library. For example, MyLibrary.designtools.dll should not have a dependency on MyLibrary.dll.

Such dependencies were most common when registering metadata for types via attribute tables. Extension code that references control library types directly via typeof or GetType is substituted in the new APIs by using string-based type names:

using Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Metadata;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Features;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Model;

[assembly: ProvideMetadata(typeof(AttributeTableProvider))]

public class AttributeTableProvider : IProvideAttributeTable
  public AttributeTable AttributeTable
      var builder = new AttributeTableBuilder();
      builder.AddCustomAttributes("MyLibrary.MyControl", new DescriptionAttribute(Strings.MyControlDescription);
      builder.AddCustomAttributes("MyLibrary.MyControl", new FeatureAttribute(typeof(MyControlDefaultInitializer));
      return builder.CreateTable();
Imports Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Metadata
Imports Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Features
Imports Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Model

<Assembly: ProvideMetadata(GetType(AttributeTableProvider))>

Public Class AttributeTableProvider
    Implements IProvideAttributeTable

    Public ReadOnly Property AttributeTable As AttributeTable Implements IProvideAttributeTable.AttributeTable
            Dim builder As New AttributeTableBuilder
            builder.AddCustomAttributes("MyLibrary.MyControl", New DescriptionAttribute(Strings.MyControlDescription))
            builder.AddCustomAttributes("MyLibrary.MyControl", New FeatureAttribute(GetType(MyControlDefaultInitializer)))
            Return builder.CreateTable()
        End Get
    End Property
End Class

Starting in Visual Studio 2019 16.4, the AttachedPropertyBrowsableForTypeAttribute is supported when added directly to a runtime control library. In a .designtools.dll extension AttachedPropertyBrowsableForTypeIdentifierAttribute should be used instead to reference the type using a string name.

Feature providers and Model API

Feature providers are implemented in extension assemblies and loaded in the Visual Studio process. FeatureAttribute will continue to reference feature provider types directly using typeof.

Currently, the following feature providers are supported:

  • DefaultInitializer
  • AdornerProvider
  • ContextMenuProvider
  • ParentAdapter
  • PlacementAdapter
  • DesignModeValueProvider is supported with the limitation that TranslatePropertyValue will be called via InvalidateProperty or when modified in the designer. It will not be called when modified in run-time code.

Because feature providers are now loaded in a process different from the actual run-time code and control libraries, they are no longer able to access run-time objects directly. Instead, all such interactions must be converted to use the corresponding Model-based APIs. The Model API has been updated, and access to Type or Object is either no longer available or has been replaced with TypeIdentifier and TypeDefinition.

TypeIdentifier represents a string without an assembly name identifying a type. A TypeIdenfifier can be resolved to a TypeDefinition to query additional information about the type. TypeDefinition instances can't be cached in extension code.

TypeDefinition type = ModelFactory.ResolveType(
    item.Context, new TypeIdentifier("MyLibrary.MyControl"));
TypeDefinition buttonType = ModelFactory.ResolveType(
    item.Context, new TypeIdentifier("System.Windows.Controls.Button"));
if (type?.IsSubclassOf(buttonType) == true)
Dim type As TypeDefinition = ModelFactory.ResolveType(
    item.Context, New TypeIdentifier("MyLibrary.MyControl"))
Dim buttonType As TypeDefinition = ModelFactory.ResolveType(
    item.Context, New TypeIdentifier("System.Windows.Controls.Button"))
If type?.IsSubclassOf(buttonType) Then

End If

APIs removed from the surface isolation extensibility API set:

  • ModelFactory.CreateItem(EditingContext context, object item)
  • ViewItem.PlatformObject
  • ModelProperty.DefaultValue
  • AssemblyReferences.GetTypes(Type baseType)

APIs that use TypeIdentifier instead of Type:

  • ModelFactory.CreateItem(EditingContext context, Type itemType, params object[] arguments)
  • ModelFactory.CreateItem(EditingContext context, Type itemType, CreateOptions options, params object[] arguments)
  • ModelFactory.CreateStaticMemberItem(EditingContext context, Type type, string memberName)
  • ModelFactory.ResolveType(EditingContext context, Type) changed to MetadataFactory.ResolveType(EditingContext context, TypeIdentifier typeIdentifier)
  • ModelService.ResolveType(TypeIdentifier typeIdentifier) changed to MetadataService.ResolveType(TypeIdentifier typeIdentifier)
  • ViewItem.ItemType
  • ModelEvent.EventType
  • ModelEvent.IsEventOfType(Type type)
  • ModeItem.IsItemOfType(Type type)
  • ModelParent.CanParent(EditingContext context, ModelItem parent, Type childType)
  • ModelParent.FindParent(EditingContext context, Type childType, ModelItem startingItem)
  • ModelParent.FindParent(Type childType, GestureData gestureData)
  • ModelProperty.IsPropertyOfType(Type type)
  • ParentAdpater.CanParent(ModelItem parent, Type childType)
  • ParentAdapter.RedirectParent(ModelItem parent, Type childType)

APIs that use TypeIdentifier instead of Type and no longer support constructor arguments:

  • ModelFactory.CreateItem(EditingContext context, TypeIdentifier typeIdentifier, params object[] arguments)
  • ModelFactory.CreateItem(EditingContext context, TypeIdentifier typeIdentifier, CreateOptions options, params object[] arguments)

APIs that use TypeDefinition instead of Type:

  • ValueTranslationService.GetProperties(Type itemType)
  • ValueTranslationService.HasValueTranslation(Type itemType, PropertyIdentifier identifier)
  • ValueTranslationService.TranslatePropertyValue(Type itemType, ModelItem item, PropertyIdentifier identifier, object value)
  • ModelService.Find(ModelItem startingItem, Type type)
  • ModelService.Find(ModelItem startingItem, Predicate<Type> match)
  • ModelItem.ItemType
  • ModelProperty.AttachedOwnerType
  • ModelProperty.PropertyType
  • FeatureManager.CreateFeatureProviders(Type featureProviderType, Type type)
  • FeatureManager.CreateFeatureProviders(Type featureProviderType, Type type, Predicate<Type> match)
  • FeatureManager.InitializeFeatures(Type type)
  • FeatureManager.GetCustomAttributes(Type type, Type attributeType)
  • AdapterService.GetAdapter<TAdapterType>(Type itemType)
  • AdapterService.GetAdapter(Type adapterType, Type itemType)
  • PropertyEntry.PropertyType

APIs that use AssemblyIdentifier instead of <xref:System.Reflection.AssemblyName?displayProperty=fullName>:

  • AssemblyReferences.ReferencedAssemblies
  • AssemblyReferences.LocalAssemblyName changed to AssemblyReferences.LocalAssemblyIdentifier

Furthermore, ModelItem APIs like SetValue will only support instances of primitive types or built-in .NET Framework types which can be converted for the target runtime. Currently these types are supported:

  • Primitive .NET Framework types: Boolean, Byte, Char, DateTime, Double, Enum, Guid, Int16, Int32, Int64, Nullable, SByte, Single, String, Type, UInt16, UInt32, UInt64, Uri
  • Known WPF .NET Framework types (and derived types): Brush, Color, CompositeTransform, CornerRadius, Duration, EasingFunctionBase, EasingMode, EllipseGeometry, FontFamily, GeneralTransform, Geometry, GradientStopCollection, GradientStop, GridLength, ImageSource, InlineCollection, Inline, KeySpline, Material, Matrix, PathFigureCollection, PathFigure, PathSegmentCollection, PathSegment, Path, PointCollection, Point, PropertyPath, Rect, RepeatBehavior, Setter, Size, StaticResource, TextAlignment, TextDecorationCollection, ThemeResourceExtension, Thickness, TimeSpan, Transform3D, TransformCollection
  • Starting in Visual Studio 2019 16.4, Proxy Objects can be defined to map custom types.

For example:

using Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Features;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Model;

public class MyControlDefaultInitializer : DefaultInitializer
  public override void InitializeDefaults(ModelItem item)
Imports Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Features
Imports Microsoft.VisualStudio.DesignTools.Extensibility.Model

Public Class MyControlDefaultInitializer
    Inherits DefaultInitializer

    Public Overrides Sub InitializeDefaults(item As ModelItem)
    End Sub
End Class

More code samples are available in the samples folder.

Proxy Objects

Starting in Visual Studio 2019 16.4, a design-time proxy type can be defined as part of an extension along with a TypeConverter to map to and from a serialized represenation. When using PropertyValueEditor, ModelItem.GetCurrentValue or ModelProperty.ComputedValue, the designer will serialize the object in the runtime process and deserialize into a proxy instance in the process the extension is running in.

Limited support for .design.dll extensions

If any .designtools.dll extension is discovered for a control library, it is loaded first and discovery for .design.dll extensions is skipped.

If no .designtools.dll extensions are present but a .design.dll extension is found, the XAML Language Service attempts to load this assembly to extract the attribute table information to support basic editor and property inspector scenarios. This mechanism is limited in scope. It doesn't allow loading of designer isolation extensions to execute feature providers but might provide basic support for existing WPF control libraries.

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