Serializing and Deserializing inherited types in xml, simple objects

Hi there, I’m back. I’ll try to post much often now :)

The problem

Deserializing a derived class in Xml forces you to know the real type. This can be a big problem if you are trying to use polymorphism to solve a problem. If you need to know the concrete type then the value of polymorphism is completly lost.

Consider this example, you have the Resource class with an Update method. In the case of a video, it will create transcodings for múltiple browsers. In other cases, for example an image, it will optimize it for the web, and perhaps create a thumbnail. A simple class diagram might look like this:

The solution

Theory (really short)

The deserializer needs to now the real type in order to deserialize it. I propose to save this information or “discriminator” in the serialization in order to use it later.

Client code

Let me show you first the client code, It’s superb easy. The class name is InheritanceSerializer

 var originalVideo = new Video() { Name = "Sample", PendingTranscoding = true;
// First we seralize the video
 var xml = InheritanceSerializer.Serialize(originalVideo);

// then we deserialize it, no problem. It WILL have the video information
var deserializedVideo = InheritanceSerializer.Deserialize(xml) as Resource;

// Then we can perform any operation

// we COULD cast it if we want!!!
var deserializedVideo2 = deserializedVideo as Video

Solution code (finally!)

So here it is, actually really simple

    /// Allows to serialize / deserialize  objetcs and inheritance hierarchies
    /// WITHOUT knowing the type to serialize
    /// When serializing adds a "discriminator" based on the real type
    /// When deserializing "infers" the real type based on the discriminator saved during the serialization
    public class InheritanceSerializer
        private const string DISCRIMINATOR = "discriminator";

        public static string Serialize(object info)
            var serializer = new XmlSerializer(info.GetType());
            using (var stream = new MemoryStream())
                // Serialize
                serializer.Serialize(stream, info);
                stream.Position = 0;

                // Open serialization output
                var xmlDocument = new XmlDocument();
                // Add a "discriminador" based on the real type, to use it during deserialization
                var node = xmlDocument.CreateAttribute("", DISCRIMINATOR, "");
                node.InnerText = GetTypeFullName_With_AssemblyName_WihoutVersion(info.GetType());

                // return the xml with the discriminator
                return xmlDocument.OuterXml;

        public static object Deserialize(string xml)
            var xmlDocument = new XmlDocument();

            // read "discriminator"
            var discriminator = xmlDocument.DocumentElement.Attributes[DISCRIMINATOR];
            var typeName = discriminator.InnerText;

            // now we know the real type based on the discriminator to deserialize
            var serializer = new XmlSerializer(Type.GetType(typeName));

            using (var stream = new MemoryStream(Encoding.ASCII.GetBytes(xml)))
                return serializer.Deserialize(stream);

        public static string GetTypeFullName_With_AssemblyName_WihoutVersion(Type type)
            return string.Format("{0},{1}", type.FullName, type.Assembly.GetName().Name);

When to use

This solution it’s quite simple and extremelly easy to use. You can use it for simple cases. Just copy & paste the code above and that’s it. If you want the discriminator to be serialized as a node you can edit the code or check out my Github repository. In the repository I have applied TDD and some patterns like Strategy and Factory to avoid duplication and keep the code simple and elegant, but is it’s just for practicing bit.

But again I warn you, use this solution for simple cases. It won’t work if you have nested objects with inheritance nor if you have a collection


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