I have a .NET 2.0 application. What I want to do is create a plugin that has access to the main application in some way.
My reason is that I want to be able to add things like buttons and menu items to a form dynamically instead of having a menu item called "Plugins" that I update. This is so that I can add things to the application GUI without releasing the entire application again.
Right now I can think of two ways. One, I can create the plugin in such a way that it always expects a reference to the entire application, all forms included. I can give it access to whatever items I chose in the forms and it can add controls or whatever at will. This makes me a little uneasy, but if this is acceptable let me know.
The other way I can think of is to have some sort of Interface for each form in the main app such that I can use that interface to access the current forms in the app. I am not sure how to implement this, though.
All help, suggestions, website references and comments are appreciated.
Partly this comes down to who will write your plug-ins, do you trust them, and what happens to the user's experience or data when a plug-in goes bad?
Fiddler http://www.fiddler2.com/fiddler2/ is a Web Debugging Proxy that has a plug-in model very much like your first choice - expose everything to the plug-in writer and hope they don't screw up. This makes writing extensions to Fiddler very simple, but it does mean you need to be careful.
If you're unhappy about this approach I would suggest you take a close look at 2 .NET technologies that might help.
The first is the System.AddIn namespace http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg145020.aspx. The types in this namespace are designed to help you create applications that support AddIns.
The second is MEF http://mef.codeplex.com/. The Managed Extensibility Framework is a very powerful API for describing an applications requirements, and allows you to build highly extensible applications.
With regard to MEF and WinForms check out this SO question:
Winforms with MEF
The second approach would be preferible, you could create an interface
IApplication with all of the modifyable / pluggable parts of your appilcations and require that all plugins implement and
IModifyApp interface with some method like
IModifyApp.Modify(IApplication) that takes an instance of the IApplication and returns a modified instance for the application to process.
You should also check out MEF The Microsoft managed extensibility framework.
What I have done before for this kinda scenario is used AppDomain. Which is like a process inside your main process. You can load and unload assemblies in the AppDomain w.o having to stop the main process and as long as your main process knows about interfaces loaded from the "updates" dll inside the AppDomain, it can consume it no problem. If not, then there are always reflections :)
You may want to give a look to something like CAB/Prism to address your needs. A lot of the UI-y-ness (technical term) is built in to that through a series of abstractions.