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Writing Your Own LINQ Provider- Part 3

Published Mar 15, 2014  |  Comments/Questions?

This is the third in a short series of posts on writing your own LINQ provider. A quick outline of the series:

  1. A primer
  2. Provider basics
  3. A simple, pointless solution (this post)
  4. A tiny ORM of our own

A simple, pointless solution

In the previous post, we took a look at what happens when you call LINQ methods on IQueryable<T>, and how you can use that to build your own provider. We take that a step further this time by building an actual provider - albeit a somewhat pointless one, in that it adds LINQ support to something that doesn't really need it. The point, though, is to keep it simple and try to understand how the process works.

The best way to understand is to take a look at the source code first:

Now, a quick summary of what this is.

We have an interface, INextProvider. It has one method, GetNext that is supposed to get the next one in a sequence of items. An example implementation that uses a simple array as the underlying store is also included. Once you have an instance of INextProvider<T>, say, called nextProvider, you can then extract an IQueryable<T> out of it with this call:

var query = nextProvider.AsQueryable();

You can then use standard LINQ on top of it. Now, I know what you're thinking: this INextProvider seems uncomfortably similar to IEnumerator - why would we need a query provider for this? We don't, hence the "pointless" part, but again - the idea is to examine how building a provider works.

The entry point is NextProviderQueryable which implements IQueryable<T> and uses NextProviderQueryProvider as its Provider and returns a NextProviderEnumerator from its GetEnumerator() call. This means that whenever one of the LINQ methods are called on an instance of NextProviderQueryable, one of the following happens:

  • If the method is something that creates another queryable out of the existing one (e.g. Where, Select, SelectMany, Cast, etc.), NextProviderQueryProvider.CreateQuery() is called. That, in turn, creates a new instance of NextProviderQueryable, but with the Expression set to what has been passed in. Thus, every call to CreateQuery ends up creating a new queryable with the Expression property representing the complete call.

  • If the method is something that enumerates a queryable (e.g. ToList, ToArray, etc. or a foreach loop), the GetEnumerator() method is called and enumeration starts. This means that NextProviderEnumerator takes place. This object is initialized with the current value of Expression as of the time of enumeration, thus it has complete information to parse it, figure out what needs to be done, and then do it using the INextProvider that it is assigned. The class ExpressionParser is used to convert the expression into a series of "nodes" that act on each item in the underlying INextProvider and do the appropriate thing based on what it is (e.g. if it's a WhereNode, it will have a predicate that it will run on each item).

  • If the method is something that returns a scalar (e.g. Any, All, First, etc.), NextProviderQueryProvider.Execute is called. In our case, we simply pass control to NextProviderEnumerator to enumerate as mentioned in the previous point, and then perform the appropriate action. We do this by getting an IEnumerable<T> that uses NextProviderEnumerator as its enumerator (and that is the NextProviderEnumerable class), and then calling the appropriate IEnumerable version of the IQueryable method that has been called. All of this is handled by the ExpressionExecutor class.

As of now, only the following methods are supported: All, Any, Cast, Count, Distinct, ElementAt, ElementAtOrDefault, First, FirstOrDefault, Last, LastOrDefault, LongCount, OfType, Select, SelectMany, Single, SingleOrDefault, Skip, Take and Where. If you try to use any other methods, you will get an exception. Even within these methods, if you try to use a variant that is not supported, you will get an exception.

Next time, we'll try our hands at a more real world implementation, i.e. a tiny, tiny ORM.

Tagged as  csharp dotnet linq