Source Generators

This article provides an overview of Source Generators that ships as part of the .NET Compiler Platform ("Roslyn") SDK. Source Generators let C# developers inspect user code as it is being compiled. The generator can create new C# source files on the fly that are added to the user's compilation. In this way, you have code that runs during compilation. It inspects your program to produce additional source files that are compiled together with the rest of your code.

A Source Generator is a new kind of component that C# developers can write that lets you do two major things:

  1. Retrieve a compilation object that represents all user code that is being compiled. This object can be inspected, and you can write code that works with the syntax and semantic models for the code being compiled, just like with analyzers today.

  2. Generate C# source files that can be added to a compilation object during compilation. In other words, you can provide additional source code as input to a compilation while the code is being compiled.

When combined, these two things are what make Source Generators so useful. You can inspect user code with all of the rich metadata that the compiler builds up during compilation. Your generator then emits C# code back into the same compilation that is based on the data you've analyzed. If you're familiar with Roslyn Analyzers, you can think of Source Generators as analyzers that can emit C# source code.

Source generators run as a phase of compilation visualized below:

Graphic describing the different parts of source generation

A Source Generator is a .NET Standard 2.0 assembly that is loaded by the compiler along with any analyzers. It's usable in environments where .NET Standard components can be loaded and run.

Important

Currently only .NET Standard 2.0 assemblies can be used as Source Generators.

Common scenarios

There are three general approaches to inspecting user code and generating information or code based on that analysis used by technologies today:

  • Runtime reflection.
  • Juggling MSBuild tasks.
  • Intermediate Language (IL) weaving (not discussed in this article).

Source Generators can be an improvement over each approach.

Runtime reflection

Runtime reflection is a powerful technology that was added to .NET a long time ago. There are countless scenarios for using it. A common scenario is to perform some analysis of user code when an app starts up and use that data to generate things.

For example, ASP.NET Core uses reflection when your web service first runs to discover constructs you've defined so that it can "wire up" things like controllers and razor pages. Although this enables you to write straightforward code with powerful abstractions, it comes with a performance penalty at run time: when your web service or app first starts up, it can’t accept any requests until all the runtime reflection code that discovers information about your code is finished running. Although this performance penalty isn't enormous, it's somewhat of a fixed cost that you can’t improve yourself in your own app.

With a Source Generator, the controller discovery phase of startup could instead happen at compile time. A generator can analyze your source code and emit the code it needs to "wire up" your app. Using source generators could result in some faster startup times, since an action happening at run time today could get pushed into compile time.

Juggling MSBuild tasks

Source Generators can improve performance in ways that aren't limited to reflection at run time to discover types as well. Some scenarios involve calling the MSBuild C# task (called CSC) multiple times so they can inspect data from a compilation. As you might imagine, calling the compiler more than once affects the total time it takes to build your app. We're investigating how Source Generators can be used to obviate the need for juggling MSBuild tasks like this, since Source generators don't just offer some performance benefits, but also allows tools to operate at the right level of abstraction.

Another capability Source Generators can offer is obviating the use of some "stringly typed" APIs, such as how ASP.NET Core routing between controllers and razor pages work. With a Source Generator, routing can be strongly typed with the necessary strings being generated as a compile-time detail. This would reduce the number of times a mistyped string literal leads to a request not hitting the correct controller.

Get started with source generators

In this guide, you'll explore the creation of a source generator using the ISourceGenerator API.

  1. Create a .NET console application. This example uses .NET 6.

  2. Replace the Program class with the following code. The following code doesn't use top level statements. The classic form is required because this first source generator writes a partial method in that Program class:

    namespace ConsoleApp;
    
    partial class Program
    {
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            HelloFrom("Generated Code");
        }
    
        static partial void HelloFrom(string name);
    }
    

    Note

    You can run this sample as-is, but nothing will happen yet.

  3. Next, we'll create a source generator project that will implement the partial void HelloFrom method counterpart.

  4. Create a .NET standard library project that targets the netstandard2.0 target framework moniker (TFM). Add the NuGet packages Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Analyzers and Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.CSharp:

    <Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">
    
      <PropertyGroup>
        <TargetFramework>netstandard2.0</TargetFramework>
      </PropertyGroup>
    
      <ItemGroup>
        <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.CSharp" Version="4.0.1" PrivateAssets="all" />
        <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Analyzers" Version="3.3.3">
          <PrivateAssets>all</PrivateAssets>
          <IncludeAssets>runtime; build; native; contentfiles; analyzers; buildtransitive</IncludeAssets>
        </PackageReference>
      </ItemGroup>
    
    </Project>
    

    Tip

    The source generator project needs to target the netstandard2.0 TFM, otherwise it will not work.

  5. Create a new C# file named HelloSourceGenerator.cs that specifies your own Source Generator like so:

    using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis;
    
    namespace SourceGenerator
    {
        [Generator]
        public class HelloSourceGenerator : ISourceGenerator
        {
            public void Execute(GeneratorExecutionContext context)
            {
                // Code generation goes here
            }
    
            public void Initialize(GeneratorInitializationContext context)
            {
                // No initialization required for this one
            }
        }
    }
    

    A source generator needs to both implement the Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.ISourceGenerator interface, and have the Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.GeneratorAttribute. Not all source generators require initialization, and that is the case with this example implementation—where ISourceGenerator.Initialize is empty.

  6. Replace the contents of the ISourceGenerator.Execute method, with the following implementation:

    using Microsoft.CodeAnalysis;
    
    namespace SourceGenerator
    {
        [Generator]
        public class HelloSourceGenerator : ISourceGenerator
        {
            public void Execute(GeneratorExecutionContext context)
            {
                // Find the main method
                var mainMethod = context.Compilation.GetEntryPoint(context.CancellationToken);
    
                // Build up the source code
                string source = $@"// <auto-generated/>
    using System;
    
    namespace {mainMethod.ContainingNamespace.ToDisplayString()}
    {{
        public static partial class {mainMethod.ContainingType.Name}
        {{
            static partial void HelloFrom(string name) =>
                Console.WriteLine($""Generator says: Hi from '{{name}}'"");
        }}
    }}
    ";
                var typeName = mainMethod.ContainingType.Name;
    
                // Add the source code to the compilation
                context.AddSource($"{typeName}.g.cs", source);
            }
    
            public void Initialize(GeneratorInitializationContext context)
            {
                // No initialization required for this one
            }
        }
    }
    

    From the context object we can access the compilations' entry point, or Main method. The mainMethod instance is an IMethodSymbol, and it represents a method or method-like symbol (including constructor, destructor, operator, or property/event accessor). The Microsoft.CodeAnalysis.Compilation.GetEntryPoint method returns the IMethodSymbol for the program's entry point. Other methods enable you to find any method symbol in a project. From this object, we can reason about the containing namespace (if one is present) and the type. The source in this example is an interpolated string that templates the source code to be generated, where the interpolated holes are filled with the containing namespace and type information. The source is added to the context with a hint name. For this example, the generator creates a new generated source file that contains an implementation of the partial method in the console application. You can write source generators to add any source you'd like.

    Tip

    The hintName parameter from the GeneratorExecutionContext.AddSource method can be any unique name. It's common to provide an explicit C# file extension such as ".g.cs" or ".generated.cs" for the name. The file name helps identify the file as being source generated.

  7. We now have a functioning generator, but need to connect it to our console application. Edit the original console application project and add the following, replacing the project path with the one from the .NET Standard project you created above:

    <!-- Add this as a new ItemGroup, replacing paths and names appropriately -->
    <ItemGroup>
        <ProjectReference Include="..\PathTo\SourceGenerator.csproj"
                          OutputItemType="Analyzer"
                          ReferenceOutputAssembly="false" />
    </ItemGroup>
    

    This new reference isn't a traditional project reference, and has to be manually edited to include the OutputItemType and ReferenceOutputAssembly attributes. For more information on the OutputItemType and ReferenceOutputAssembly attributes of ProjectReference, see Common MSBuild project items: ProjectReference.

  8. Now, when you run the console application, you should see that the generated code gets run and prints to the screen. The console application itself doesn't implement the HelloFrom method, instead it's source generated during compilation from the Source Generator project. The following text is an example output from the application:

    Generator says: Hi from 'Generated Code'
    

    Note

    You might need to restart Visual Studio to see IntelliSense and get rid of errors as the tooling experience is actively being improved.

  9. If you're using Visual Studio, you can see the source generated files. From the Solution Explorer window, expand the Dependencies > Analyzers > SourceGenerator > SourceGenerator.HelloSourceGenerator, and double-click the Program.g.cs file.

    Visual Studio: Solution Explorer source generated files.

    When you open this generated file, Visual Studio will indicate that the file is auto-generated and that it can't be edited.

    Visual Studio: Auto-generated Program.g.cs file.

  10. You can also set build properties to save the generated file and control where the generated files are stored. In the console application's project file, add the <EmitCompilerGeneratedFiles> element to a <PropertyGroup>, and set its value to true. Build your project again. Now, the generated files are created under obj/Debug/net6.0/generated/SourceGenerator/SourceGenerator.HelloSourceGenerator. The components of the path map to the build configuration, target framework, source generator project name, and fully qualified type name of the generator. You can choose a more convenient output folder by adding the <CompilerGeneratedFilesOutputPath> element to the application's project file.

Next steps

The Source Generators Cookbook goes over some of these examples with some recommended approaches to solving them. Additionally, we have a set of samples available on GitHub that you can try on your own.

You can learn more about Source Generators in these articles: