CR_Documentor and XSLT May Be Harder Than I Thought

GeekSpeak, dotnet, vs comments edit

I started working on converting CR_Documentor over to use XSLT for its documentation transformations this morning and soon realized that it may not be that easy.  The goal was to be able to just take the XSLT from the various documentation generation engines (NDoc, Sandcastle) and as fixes or changes happened, “plug in” the new XSLT and have the preview ready to go.

Not so much.

I tried a simple test using the NDoc XSLT and it turns out that I have a few stumbling blocks.

  • The input XML is complex.  The format NDoc expects the XML to be in prior to executing the transformation is pretty complex.  That’s not really a problem in a post-build timeframe where you’re not looking for real-time changes, but just creating the correct XML hierarchy is a pretty big task, let alone then getting it through the transform engine.
  • Everything is relational.  There are a lot of things in the NDoc XSLT that assume, for example, that you’ve got everything you need to document all in one file, so there are relational things going on.  For example, when you generate the documentation for a method, any cross-reference links you have are also generated… which runs through connecting actual URLs to HTML files and setting up links and everything.  To avoid setting up bad links, the XML that’s generated gets heavily pre-processed.  Again, not something that can readily happen real-time.
  • Much is assumed to be in the filesystem.  Temporary files, the XSLT, images, script… there’s a lot that the XSLT assumes is in specific spots in the filesystem, which means that I couldn’t use the stylesheets as-is anyway; I’d have to heavily massage it to get it where I want it to be.

Unfortunately, a lot of this sort of means using XSLT directly is a non-starter.  Even if I could get past the fact that I’d be doing almost as much work creating the input XML as I’m doing right now to generate the whole preview, the requirement for all the relational things and the fact there’s so much in the filesystem anyway means I’m probably better off just hard-coding the transformation the way I’ve been doing, as lame as that is.

I won’t lie; it doesn’t increase my desire to work on the project.  I like it, and I really wish I could just release it to the community open-source style, but since I can’t, I’m sort of stuck.  Motivationally challenged, shall we say.

Well, I guess my next step is to look for opportunities to refactor it and make the code at least a little easier to maintain and update. Maybe that will make it easier to implement new rendering views.