Resolve Multiple Dependency Versions in Sandcastle Help File Builder

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Anymore, if you want to generate documentation, you’re using Sandcastle along with, most likely, some community-generated wrapper for it so you’re not manually executing the bajillion steps Sandcastle requires to get things done. (Wow, that didn’t sound bitter at all.) I use Sandcastle Help File Builder for several projects and like it a lot.

When Sandcastle generates its reflection information (so it can properly resolve links in your docs), you need to tell it where it can find third-party dependencies so it can generate the information it needs. All of this has to happen on the command line (no, there’s not currently a config file option for this), which means when your project gets to be of a significant enough size, you start running into command line length limitations. Sandcastle Help File Builder addresses this by copying all of your dependencies locally into a temporary folder and passing a single dependency location (that folder) to Sandcastle.

That works great… until you run into an issue where you inadvertently rely on multiple versions of a single dependency.

For example - say you have a custom NAnt task project with a compile-time dependency on log4net and NAnt 0.85.2344.0. NAnt 0.85.2344.0 has a reference to log4net What that means is, unfortunately, that Sandcastle needs access to both versions of the log4net.dll. What it further means is that when Sandcastle Help File Builder tries to copy both versions locally to help you with the dependency thing, there can be only one and Sandcastle dies a miserable death telling you that it can’t find the reference.

How do you resolve that?

Luckily, Sandcastle Help File Builder has a plugin model that allows you to swap in your own behavior for various stages of execution, and that’s what I’ve done.

Since Sandcastle needs the assembly metadata and it doesn’t matter what the physical filename is, I’ve replaced the existing dependency copy routine so that it still copies all of your specified dependencies but it copies them with GUID filenames - so you can have more than one version of a dependency without having a filename clash. Sandcastle resolves the dependencies correctly (it literally just iterates through all of the copied dependencies and caches the metadata) and docs get generated. Peace on Earth is restored.

The plugin copies your dependencies with GUID

To use it, just drop it in the PlugIns folder in your Sandcastle Help File Builder installation location. More on using plugins with Sandcastle Help File Builder is included in the SHFB documentation. (Basically, put it in the folder and SHFB will pick it up automatically.)

Grab the compiled version, the source (with unit tests), or both. Free, as usual.

[Download Paraesthesia.SandcastleHelpFileBuilder.Plugin Compiled]

[Download Paraesthesia.SandcastleHelpFileBuilder.Plugin Source]

Version History: First release.