Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scripting Your .Net Applications with IronPython

One of the major use cases for IronPython is embedding in .NET applications to provide user scripting. The hosting APIs make it easy to experiment with embedding IronPython.

Chris Umbel has written up a blog entry demonstrating the IronPython 2.6 hosting API and giving an example of exposing an API to Python scripts from a C# applications.

At several points in my .Net development career I've had the need to make an application I wrote scriptable. Sometimes it was to provide easy product extension to customers or lower level information workers. Sometimes it was to ease maintenance of very fine grained logic that has the capacity to change frequently or unpredictably. But every time I found it to be one of the more interesting facets of the project at hand.
Early in .Net's history this was made easy by using Visual Studio for Applications (VSA) which allowed you to host arbitrary C# or VB.Net code within the executing AppDomain. Unfortunately VSA was plagued with resource leak problems and was therefore impractical in most enterprise situations. VSA was eventually deprecated.

One of the many alternatives is to perform dynamic, on-the-fly code compilation. While certainly quite manageable it was a bit more complex and much akin to cutting down a sapling with a chainsaw.

Another option that came along later is Visual Studio Tools for Applications which brought the Visual Studio IDE to the scripter.

My favorite avenue, however, is to host a Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) and use a language like IronPython. Not only is it disgustingly simple to implement from a plumbing point of view but Python itself seems like a natural fit due to it's simplicity. IronRuby's another wonderful choice but I'll stick to IronPython for the scope of this post.

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