Developer .NET UPDATE, February 18, 2003

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February 18, 2003--In this issue:


  • Application Configuration Settings


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(contributed by Robin Sanner, [email protected])


  • Nearly every application has configuration settings associated with its installation. Developers store these application settings in several locations. Back in the days of Windows 3.1, developers typically stored application settings in a text-based .ini file. More recently, some developers have started placing application settings in either the system registry or a database.

    When you create an application, you typically get to specify where to store its configuration settings. Whether you store them in an .ini file, the registry, or a database is a matter of preference.

    Developers still commonly use traditional .ini files for applications because they can configure the files in Notepad. In addition, .ini files don't require any special code to install.

    The registry is a common choice because it has the necessary APIs to support realtime detection of changes to the configuration data at the individual setting level and provides security of this data through the typical Windows ACL mechanism. Because the registry is part of the OS, you never have to worry about whether the registry is available when the application is initializing. However, you must consider the experience level of the people who will be using the application and hence changing their own registry parameters. Editing the registry improperly can have serious consequences.

    Another location for application settings is a database. Using a database is convenient for applications that have many settings. However, you usually need to include registry settings so that the application can locate and connect to the database. In addition, when you place configuration settings in a database, you must make sure the database is available to all the application's users, which can be challenging if they're running the application on remote machines.

    In many ways, the Windows .NET Framework is bringing developers full circle--developers started with storing settings in a local application-specific file, then began storing them centrally in the registry and databases, and are now going back to local application-specific storage. The Framework encourages developers to use a .config file for storing application settings. The .config file is similar to the traditional .ini file in that the .config file is application-specific and is stored locally. However, the .config file is more powerful than an .ini file. Unlike an .ini file, the .config file is written in XML, is highly structured, and is a configuration tool.

    The major advantages of using .config files are that all the application's configuration settings are in one location and you don't need to write any code to install the settings. You simply need to place the file in the appropriate location. In addition, because the .config file is written in XML, you can use powerful APIs to search and configure the file's data.

    Every type of application in the Framework can have a .config file, but not all applications will have one. The name of an application .config file depends on the type of application. Web applications and Web services have the filename web.config. In Visual Studio .NET 2002, the web.config file is the only application configuration file that Visual Studio .NET automatically generates and prepopulates with information. The prepopulated information in the web.config file deals with the operation of the Web site and is outside the scope of this column.

    Windows applications have a .config file named APP.exe.config, where "APP" is the executable's name. Visual Studio .NET has the interesting feature that if you have a file named "app.config" (in this case, the filename is literal) in a Windows application project, it will copy and rename the file to APP.exe.config when you compile the project.

    To create a .config file for an application, you simply add a new XML file to your Visual Studio .NET project. You can name the file either app.config or APP.exe.config, where "APP" is the executable's name.

    A .config file consists of various configuration sections. The default configuration sections are specified in the <configSections> section of the machine.config file. (The machine.config file is used for machine-level configuration of the Framework and is automatically created when you install the Framework.) The configuration section that's used for custom application settings in the application .config file is named <appSettings>. You can also configure the <appSettings> section to be in a different .config file that has a custom name, which is useful for making sure that custom application settings are preserved, even if the software is reinstalled.

    An example of an <appSettings> configuration section follows. This sample section contains two custom application settings named "connectionString" and "timeout":


    <add key="connectionString" value=
    "server=MyServer;trusted_connection=yes;database=TestDB" />
    <add key="timeout" value="60" />

    Note that the <appSettings> section consists of two <add> nodes, each of which has two attributes. The attribute named "key" is the name of the setting and the attribute named "value" is the value of the setting.

    Next week, I'll continue looking at .config files. I'll examine how to retrieve the settings as well as detect configuration-setting changes while the application is running.


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    (contributed by Sue Cooper, [email protected])


  • Fujitsu Software released NetCOBOL for .NET 1.1, a compiler that lets you bring existing COBOL code into the Windows .NET Framework, mix it with other languages' code, create new code to take advantage of all the Framework classes, and use Visual Studio .NET tools. New features include IntelliSense support, code outlining, class-view and object-browser support, improved performance of generated code, pointer-item support, support for sequential files that are larger than 4GB, and an external file-handler interface. For more information about NetCOBOL for .NET 1.1, go to

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