Generic config section handlers

It’s been a while since I had to create a config section handler and my god did I forget how cumbersome a process it is!

Instead of doing all these work to make a bespoke config section handler every time you want to parse some data out of the app.config file, wouldn’t it be nice to have a more generic, reusable component to do all the work for you? Well, turns out it wasn’t all that hard to make one either!

Broadly speaking, you usually want to parse either an object, or a collection of objects out of the config file, and they required slightly different handling so I ended up writing one for each.

Single Object

The single object case is fairly easy, all you need is an XmlSerializer for deserializing the XML node:

   1: public sealed class GenericConfigSectionHandler<T> : IConfigurationSectionHandler

   2: {

   3:     public object Create(object parent, object configContext, XmlNode section)

   4:     {

   5:         var xmlSerializer = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));

   6:         var xmlNodeReader = new XmlNodeReader(section);

   7:         return xmlSerializer.Deserialize(xmlNodeReader);

   8:     }

   9: }

Assuming you have a simple class like this:

   1: [XmlRoot("MyClass")]

   2: public class MyClass

   3: {

   4:     public string Name { get; set; }


   6:     public int Age { get; set; }

   7: }

To parse it out of your app.config file, you need something like this in the config file:

   1: <configuration>

   2:   <configSections>

   3:     <section name="MyClass"

   4:              type="ConsoleApplication.GenericConfigSectionHandler`1[[ConsoleApplication.MyClass, ConsoleApplication]], ConsoleApplication"/>

   5:   </configSections>


   7:   <MyClass>

   8:     <Name>Yan</Name>

   9:     <Age>29</Age>

  10:   </MyClass>

  11: <configuration>

And your code will be the same as before:

   1: var myObj = (MyClass)ConfigurationManager.GetSection("MyClass");


Collections usually represent a whole new level of pain because to get an array of objects out of the config file you have to first create a wrapper object to hold the array. You then need to set up your config section to parse the wrapper object instead of the array itself, just an additional hoop you have to jump through to get something simple done…

Well, with this GenericCollectionConfigSectionHandler class hopefully you won’t ever have to do that again!

   1: public sealed class GenericCollectionConfigSectionHandler<T> : IConfigurationSectionHandler

   2: {

   3:     static GenericCollectionConfigSectionHandler()

   4:     {

   5:         // get the XmlRootAttribute element on the type

   6:         var type = typeof(T);

   7:         var xmlRootAttributes =

   8:             type.GetCustomAttributes(typeof(XmlRootAttribute), false)

   9:                 .OfType<XmlRootAttribute>();


  11:         // if an XmlRootAttribute is found then use its ElementName property as the

  12:         // root element name for the type T, otherwise, use the name of the type T

  13:         // as the default root element name

  14:         RootElementName =

  15:             !xmlRootAttributes.Any()

  16:                 ? type.Name

  17:                 : xmlRootAttributes.First().ElementName;

  18:     }


  20:     private static string RootElementName { get; set; }


  22:     public object Create(object parent, object configContext, XmlNode section)

  23:     {

  24:         var xmlSerializer = new XmlSerializer(typeof(T));

  25:         var xmlNodeReader = new XmlNodeReader(section);

  26:         var xdoc = XDocument.Load(xmlNodeReader);

  27:         var items =

  28:             xdoc.Descendants(RootElementName)

  29:                 .Select(e => (T)xmlSerializer.Deserialize(e.CreateReader()));

  30:         return items.ToArray();

  31:     }

  32: }

As you can see, this class is pretty simple, to use it your config file ought to look a little like this:

   1: <configuration>

   2:   <configSections>

   3:     <section name="MyClasses"

   4:              type="ConsoleApplication.GenericCollectionConfigSectionHandler`1[[ConsoleApplication.MyClass, ConsoleApplication]], ConsoleApplication"/>

   5:   </configSections>


   7:   <MyClasses>

   8:     <MyClass>

   9:       <Name>Yan</Name>

  10:       <Age>29</Age>

  11:     </MyClass>

  12:     <MyClass>

  13:       <Name>Yinan</Name>

  14:       <Age>29</Age>

  15:     </MyClass>

  16:   </MyClasses>

  17: </configuration>

So you see, no wrapper class required and you get an array of MyClass instances back:

   1: var myObjs = (MyClass[])ConfigurationManager.GetSection("MyClasses");

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Yan Cui

I’m an AWS Serverless Hero and the author of Production-Ready Serverless. I have run production workload at scale in AWS for nearly 10 years and I have been an architect or principal engineer with a variety of industries ranging from banking, e-commerce, sports streaming to mobile gaming. I currently work as an independent consultant focused on AWS and serverless.

You can contact me via Email, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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