Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Maintainable XSLT

Doing a search on Google for 'maintainable XSLT' doesn't throw up a great deal but it seems like something that is really needed. There seem to be lots of resources out there telling me how to code in XSLT, but I haven't found any telling me how to do it elegantly or testably (is that even a word?). I've been working on and off on a project that takes an XML file and spits out a HTML representation of it. When I started off I decided to go with XSLT, rather than generating the output in C# using an XmlWriter. I still think that was the right decision. Even though XSLT is pretty verbose, generating HTML any other way isn't too concise or pretty either.

It's not a big XSLT file by any means (about 1500 lines), but I'm already finding it hard to manage and the tool support just isn't there. Visual Studio 2005 is a step up from 2003, but there are still plenty of things missing. There doesn't seem to be a way to get an overview of an XSLT file by showing what templates are in it. This means some of the possible advantages of splitting it out into separate templates are lost. But even if I was to split it out into separate templates, the markup required to call a template means the XSLT file might actually get bigger due to the calls to the templates!

Another thing I'd like to see is the ability to go to the definition of a template from a call-template call, but that doesn't seem to be available. How about regions, like in C#? OK, I want all the features of the C# editor in XSLT, am I barking up the wrong tree? XSLT is fairly different to C# and I'm coming at this with the mindset of a C# programmer but are there different ways of handling this complexity? Where should I be looking for this information?

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