Managed Extensibility Framework


Key concepts before diving into code


Instead of this explicit registration of available components, MEF provides a way to discover them implicitly, via composition. A MEF component, called a part, declaratively specifies both its dependencies (known as imports) and what capabilities (known as exports) it makes available. When a part is created, the MEF composition engine satisfies its imports with what is available from other parts.


This approach solves the problems discussed in the previous section. Because MEF parts declaratively specify their capabilities, they are discoverable at runtime, which means an application can make use of parts without either hard-coded references or fragile configuration files. MEF allows applications to discover and examine parts by their metadata, without instantiating them or even loading their assemblies. As a result, there is no need to carefully specify when and how extensions should be loaded.


In addition to its provided exports, a part can specify its imports, which will be filled by other parts. This makes communication among parts not only possible, but easy, and allows for good factoring of code. For example, services common to many components can be factored into a separate part and easily modified or replaced.


Because the MEF model requires no hard dependency on a particular application assembly, it allows extensions to be reused from application to application. This also makes it easy to develop a test harness, independent of the application, to test extension components.


An extensible application written by using MEF declares an import that can be filled by extension components, and may also declare exports in order to expose application services to extensions. Each extension component declares an export, and may also declare imports. In this way, extension components themselves are automatically extensible.


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