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Category Archives: ActiveX

VBScript in VB.Net

Filed under .NET, ActiveX, Languages, VB Feng Shui

A long (long) time ago, if you wanted your users to be able to enhance your product by add coding logic, you pretty much had two choices:

  • Dig into Lex and Yacc or….
  • Roll your own parser and scripting execution engine.

Then, around the time VB 6 was released, Microsoft introduced VBA. It worked, but it was expensive and a god awful complicated mess to integrate with your app, so outside of Microsoft Office (which even as of Office 2010, still supports it!), very few applications actually made use of it.

Around the same time, the Microsoft Scripting Control was released. This was an ActiveX control you could use from any COM compatible language to embed VBScript. Now, of course, this is VBScript, not a “real” language like C or even VB. But, it was free, easy to obtain, and very easy to use.

As the years have rolled by, .NET has steadily grown in capability and while the Windows Scripting Host exe is still shipped with Windows, the old VBScript and JScript scripting has largely been supplanted by either:

  • ASP and more recently ASP.NET
  • Powershell
  • Dynamically compiled .NET code
  • and likely lots more options I’m not familiar with

Now, all these options are good, and each definitely has it’s place, but, for many purposes, good ol’ VBscript still fits the bit quite nicely.

But can you use it from .NET? And if so, how?

The Tempest in the Teapot

Before I continue, I should point out that any time you start talking about allowing users to add their own code into your application, you’re opening up a huge can of worms that you’ll need to deal with. Things like properly catching exceptions from badly written user code (yeah, that never happens), adding watchdog timers to deal with hung and infinitely looping user code, security concerns, and the like all will have to factor into the decision. You have been warned <g>.

So Simple It Hurts

I had a plugin project recently where I wanted to give the user the ability to write some very simple logic to expand the functionality of the application.

Of course, I wanted to build a full plugin API, but I also wanted to provide a lighter-weight option for those users that didn’t want to dive head-first into a full on .NET project. VBScript seemed like the obvious choice.

A few Google searches later and most everything I found was talking about how to dynamically compile .NET code, which is cool indeed, but not what I was really after. Other articles and posts insisted that users should convert their VBScript code to .NET (ok, yeah, but that’s not really the point now is it?).

Then I did a Google Desktop search of my own system and turned up some VB6 code I’d written ages ago to experiment with the Microsoft Scripting Control.

Now, I know that .NET languages support accessing ActiveX Controls and COM objects in general, but this was pretty old stuff. Would it actually still work?

I cobbled up a dirt simple VB.net project:

Public Sub Main()
    Dim Script = New MSScriptControl.ScriptControl
    Script.Language = "VBScript"
    Script.AddCode("sub Main" & vbCrLf & "MsgBox ""This is a Test"" " & vbCrLf & "End Sub")
End Sub

Be sure to add a reference in the VB.net project to the COM object “Microsoft Scripting Control”.

Run it, and lo and behold, I get the “This is a Test” message box, straight from VBScript!

Obviously, there’s lots more to making use of the Scripting Control than just this, but, clearly, VBScript is still very much a choice for adding limited programmable logic to your application.

.NET Interoperability with COM Office Apps, a Hidden Gotcha

Filed under .NET, ActiveX, Office, Troubleshooting, VB Feng Shui

image I’ve been working with .NET and Office interoperability for some time now, and, other than a few minor hiccups here and there, things have generally been very smooth.

But a colleague recently ran into a problem that required a good deal of hunting to resolve. Long story short, even though .NET interoperability with Office objects is virtually foolproof, releasing your references has some hidden dangers lurking amongst the weeds.

As a general rule, it’s safe to let the .NET garbage collector (GC) do it’s thing while your application is running.

BUT, when you’re app shuts down, you need to take a few extra steps to make sure everything’s cleaned up before quitting.

The details are laid on in this article on MSDN. It’s from 2005, but, from what I can tell, it’s just as applicable now as it was then.

Essentially, the trick boils down to this:

When you’re preparing to shut your application down, you need to make SURE you’ve released all your references to any Office objects. This means setting all your various references to Nothing, or, more typically, letting the GC do its thing.

Unfortunately, the GC doesn’t necessarily do its thing during a shutdown, so you have to force the issue. And that requires code essentially like this:

WordApp = Nothing

The article noted above doesn’t really go into why it’s necessary to call Collect and WaitForPendingFinalizers twice, but it does appear to be required. I’m guessing it’s due to the way the Finalizer sweeps object references; it could be possible for it to release objects in a certain order, causing it to skip some objects. But that’s just a guess.

And as a final note, if your .NET code uses any COM interoperability, it might be a good idea to do some final cleanup along these lines as well.

Zip Library

Filed under ActiveX

I know, there’s a ton of zip libraries out there. And some are actually free, though, typically, those come with some pretty onerous licensing if you intend to use it in a commercial product.

.NET has some built in zip support I believe, but if you’re still playing in ActiveX land, one library to check out is FathZIP.

It’s 79$, is fast, seems very stable, and, the kicker, supports completely in-memory zipping and unzipping, so you don’t actually have to save a file as a temp file just to uncompress it.

Oh, and did I mention it’s 79$!