Compiling an Application in Silverlight *or* WPF

Posted: March 31, 2010 in .NET, Architecture, C#, Quality, Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, WPF
Tags: , , , , ,

I like to build abstraction layers over Windows to insulate my applications from the low-level details of the operating system. For example, instead of writing code like

System.Windows.Window window = new System.Windows.Window();

I would instead make my own Window class, which for this example, I’ll call ZWindow. Now the code looks like this:

ZWindow window = new ZWindow();

The ZWindow class will in turn likely create a System.Windows.Window window, which is a WPF window. However, on Silverlight, it might instead create a System.Windows.Controls.Grid since Silverlight does not have a System.Windows.Window class. Thus, the ZWindow constructor might have code like this:

System.Windows.Controls.Grid grid =
new System.Windows.Controls.Grid();
System.Windows.Window window =
new System.Windows.Window();

If you write an application that uses a ZWindow class, you need not care about the difference between WPF and Silverlight.

After experimenting with various ways of organizing my abstraction layer’s projects and solutions in Visual Studio to accomplish this shared codebase between WPF and Silverlight, I have settled on the following approach:

  1. You cannot mix WPF and Silverlight within the same Visual Studio project. Thus, you need two projects that share the same source files.
  2. Do not think of one project as the primary and the other as the secondary. Treat them equally.
  3. Put your shared source files in a folder of their own—not in the same folder as any Visual Studio project files.
  4. In your two Visual Studio projects (one for WPF and one for Silverlight), link to all of the source files that need to be shared. Thus, you’ll have three folders total—one for the shared source files with no projects, one for the WPF project file with no source files, and one for the Silverlight project file with no source files. (NOTE: In Visual Studio, to link to source files without it automatically copying them to your project’s folder, select “Add Existing Item,” and then instead of clicking the Add button to dismiss the dialog, click the little down arrow on the right side of the Add button and choose Add as Link.)
  5. Create one Visual Studio solution for WPF and another for Silverlight. Do NOT try to cross compile within the same Visual Studio solution. While technically sound, I do not recommend it due to solution clutter. The projects in each solution will look the same, but will be specific to WPF or Silverlight.
  6. Create additional solutions for any applications that need to be compiled with the abstraction layer for either WPF or Silverlight. Do not combine application-specific projects with framework types of projects.

Thus, instead of this:

Folders with shared files:
Project 1 Shared Files
Project 2 Shared Files
Cluttered Solution:
Project 1 WPF
Project 1 Silverlight
Project 1 Smartphone
Project 2 WPF
Project 2 Silverlight
Project 2 Smartphone

Try this:

Folders with shared files:
Project 1 Shared Files
Project 2 Shared Files
WPF Solution:
Project 1 WPF
Project 2 WPF
Silverlight Solution:
Project 1 Silverlight
Project 2 Silverlight
Smartphone Solution:
Project 1 Smartphone
Project 2 Smartphone

In my experience, as projects get larger, the second approach scales more elegantly.

Please feel free to provide feedback for this blog entry and to share your own experiences with multi-platform development.



  1. Dale says:

    UPDATE: I am now so fond of this structure for applications that I support WPF, Silverlight, and Windows Phone from the same source base.

    Typically, I’ll be working one one of the three solutions for a while, which will break code in the others, but then it’s pretty easy to go repair the others when I get some spare time.

    Keeping all three solutions building all the time would probably be best done with automated builds (with cruise control or something).

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