Can WCF service transmit type (client doesn't know this type) information?

I'm working on a simple plug-in framework. WCF client need to create an instance of 'ISubject' and then send back to service side. The 'ISubject' can be extended by the user. The only thing client knows at runtime is ID of a subclass of 'ISubject'.

Firstly, client need to get type information of a specific subclass of 'ISubject'. Secondly, client using reflection to enumerate all members to create a custom property editor so that each member can be asigned with proper value. Lastly, client create an instance of that subclass and send back to service.

The problem is how does client get the type information through WCF communication?

I don't want client to load that assembly where the subclass (of 'ISubject') exists.



First, you need to be aware that there is no magic way that WCF will provide any type information to your client in the scenario you have descibed. If you are going to do it, you will have to provide a mechanism yourself.

Next, understand that WCF does not really pass objects from server to client or vice versa. All it passes are XML infosets. Often, the XML infoset passed includes a serialized representation of some object which existed on the sender's side; in this case, if the client knows about that type (i.e. can load the type's metadata from its assembly), it can deserialize the XML to instantiate an identical object on the client side. If the client doesn't have the type metadata, it can't: this is the normal case with WCF unless data contract types are in assemblies shared by both server and client implementations (generally not a good idea).

The way WCF is normally used (for example if the client is implemented using a "Service Reference" in Visual Studio), what happens is that the service publishes WSDL metadata describing its operations and the XML schemas for the operation parameters and return values, and from these a set of types is generated for use in the client implementation. These are NOT the same .NET types as the data contract types used by the service implementation, but they are "equivalent" in the sense that they can be serialized to the same XML data passed over the network. Normally this type generation is done at design time in Visual Studio.

In order to do what you are trying to do, which is essentially to do this type generation at runtime, you will need some mechanism by which the client can get sufficient knowledge of the structure of the XML representing the various types of object implementing ISubject so that it can understand the XML received from the service and generate the appropriate XML the service is expecting back (either working with the XML directly, or deserializing/serializing it in some fashion). If you really, really want to do this, possible ways might be:

  • some out-of-band mechanism whereby the client is preconfigured with the relevant type information corresponding to each subclass of ISubject that it might see. The link provided in blindmeis's answer is one way to do that.

  • provide a separate service operation by which the client can translate the ID of the subclass to type metadata for the subclass (perhaps as an XSD schema from which the client could generate a suitable serializable .NET type to round trip the XML).

  • it would also be feasible in principle for the service to pass type metadata in some format within the headers of the response containing the serialized object. The client would need to read, interpret and act on the type infomation in an appropriate fashion.

Whichever way, it would be a lot of effort and is not the standard way of using WCF. You will have to decide if it's worth it.

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