Smart Configuration Management for C#
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nemec Merge pull request #8 from marshallmick007/patch-1
Made code easier to read in README
Latest commit c796c2e Oct 12, 2015


Smart Configuration Management for C#

Listed on NuGet!

See for a more complete explanation, but suffice to say that existing configuration systems (specifically in C#) are missing key functionality that I end up needing at one point or another.


  • I need a configuration file to store settings. This, alone, is easily covered by C#'s standard library ConfigurationManager.
  • I have a subset of settings that need to be configured per-host. This is accomplished with configSource, also a standard feature of the ConfigurationManager, but it only works for merging XML configurations into other XML configurations.
  • I'd like whatever configuration settings I deal with to be strongly typed since Visual Studio's refactoring tools are awesome.
  • I need to write settings back to a file. And it would be nice if it didn't automatically write out every setting in the configuration object or require me to manually track each and every setting I change.

This configuration manager allows multiple sources to be merged, in order, into a single, strongly typed configuration object that can be passed into a program.


  • By default, uses C#'s standard XML-object serialization, so defining a configuration class is no different than defining a standard class.
  • Custom IConfigurationSources may be defined to allow settings to be composed from alternate sources like AppConfig and the command line.
  • Automatically detects changes using reflection. No need to explicitly mark a property as modified.
  • Default constructors can also be used to set values not overridden by the base or local settings file (see note below about "dynamic" default values).
  • The configuration manager intelligently unmerges the config instance before saving, so only properties that differ from the default (constructor) value and base settings value are serialized to a file. This allows you to change default (constructor) values and reuse the same config files even if they rely on the default values.
  • The configuration object is separate from the configuration manager. There is no need to rewrite existing code to understand the config manager if all it needs are the settings themselves. So long as the same settings instance is passed to everything, the configuration manager is able to track changes to the object.
  • Since configuration objects are plain objects, you can define instance methods, custom getters/setters, and more.
  • Validation can be performed on the final configuration object to ensure that all of its values are valid.
  • The configuration manager can mark a property that should be always serialized or never serialized (ConfigManager.AlwaysSerialize and ConfigManager.NeverSerialize respectively). A property marked as AlwaysSerialize will be serialized regardless of whether or not it changed. A property marked as NeverSerialize will never be serialized, even if it's changed. The latter is useful for properties like passwords. The password may be stored in a protected configuration file that's only visible to the ConfigurationManager, but the source where changed properties are written may be world-readable. This way, changes to the password within the application are not persisted.

Existing Sources

Check out the wiki for a list.



    <Occupation>Web Developer</Occupation>



Config object:

public class Config
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public int Age { get; set; }
    public string Occupation { get; set; }

    public Config()
        Occupation = "Unemployed";

Test code:

public void SetAge(Config config)
    config.Age = 20;

var configManager = new ConfigurationManager<Config>(
    "BaseSettings.xml", "LocalSettings.xml");
Config config = configManager.Out;

//> Randall

Console.WriteLine(config.Age);  // Default int value is 0
//> 0

//> Web Developer

//> 20

config.Name = "Tim The Enchanter";
foreach(var prop in configManager.GetPropertyChangesByName())
    Console.WriteLine(prop.Key + ": " + prop.Value);
//> Name: Tim The Enchanter
//> Age: 20


Occasionally, it may be necessary to perform validation on the resulting configuration object. If an IValidator is passed to the ConfigurationManager constructor, the final configuration will be tested to ensure it validates. If validation fails, a ValidationException will be thrown.

To aid in simple validation, a RuleBasedValidator is built in. Boolean rules (functions that return True if valid and False if not) may be added and more complex delegates that throw ValidationExceptions to indicate failure may also be added prior to constructing the ConfigurationManager. If your needs are more complicated than this, custom IValidators may be created.

Note that each source will not be tested individually -- since a source is not required to fill in every single property, there is not much sense in testing them on their own.

Example code:

var validator = new Validation.RuleBasedValidator<Config>();

// Example of a BooleanRule
validator.AddRule(c => c.Name != null, "You must have a name!");

// Example of a ComplexRule
validator.AddRule(c => {
    if(c.Age < 16 && c.Occupation != "Unemployed")
        throw new ValidationException("Child labor is illegal.");

var configManager = new ConfigurationManager<Config>(
    validator, "BaseSettings.xml", "LocalSettings.xml");

// [...snip...]


  • Implement a way to disable tracking on-demand for short periods of time.
  • Implement a custom source for AppConfig/WebConfig files and the built-in ConfigurationManager.


  • Since the XmlSerializer automatically initializes the default constructor on serialization, constructors that use a "dynamic" default value such as DateTime.Now may not correctly track changes when relying on that default value (ie. if neither the base settings file nor the local settings file explicitly set a DateTime initialized with Now, the time difference between serialization will result in different "default" values in the two objects). This may inadvertently cause the "default" value to be written to the local settings file as the manager detects the values are different. It is recommended to set properties to a constant value in the constructor and provide a separate initialization method that overwrites the constant (if not already overwritten).
  • Only public properties are tracked by the manager, due in part to limitations with reflection.