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Thursday
Feb022012

Never Underestimate the Awesomeness of .NET Reflector

I'm sure that anyone who's spent a significant amount of time developing .NET applications is well aware of .NET Reflector - a static analysis tool originally developed by Lutz Roeder, but now owned by Red Gate Software. I think that by now Reflector is so widely used and so fundamentally useful that we tend to take it for granted. A recent "Subversion malfunction", however, has renewed my appreciation for Reflector.

About six months ago I had thrown together a Visual Studio debugger visualizer for one of our more complicated domain objects. Not a great deal of code; about seven or eight classes, with a WPF (ElementHost-ed) view, view model and some serialization plumbing. I guess I had got it working, used it a couple of times for a specific debugging session, and then promptly forgot all about it and moved back onto deliverable features.

At some point since then, I think I may have been overly-aggressive in the use of my hand-rolled Powershell Cmdlet "Remove-SvnUncontrolled" on that working copy, because this week I found a need for that debugger visualizer again, and could not find the source code anywhere on my hard drive. However, I did have the old compiled assembly of the visualizer in my C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\Common7\Packages\Debugger\Visualizers folder, and opened it up in Reflector.

I had thought that maybe, at best, Reflector would be able to give me the gist of the code, and I could re-write the thing in about half a day's work. In fact, I was able to literally copy-paste entire classes from Reflector into a new project, add a couple of missing metadata attributes, add assembly references, and get the visualizer compiling again. The only things missing were the icons and the XAML markup of the view (which is, of course, the entire view if you’re doing MVVM properly). I figured I’d just have to craft that again from first principles.

Then, I remembered that Reflector can give you the resources from the compiled assembly, too, and that the XAML is just compiled to BAML and stored as an embedded resource.

Then, I found this cool Reflector addin, which decompiles the BAML resource back to usable XAML.

All in all, I resurrected my lost visualizer project in under thirty minutes.

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