C# Short Takes – 1 – XML Comments syntax for the cref attribute to a Generic Type Method


For the last couple of blog posts I have been using the XML Documentation feature of C# and Sandcastle to generate chm help files. This has resulted in help for methods I have been developing being available in many parts of the Visual Studio environment. Enabling Intelescensecontext sensitive help have proved to quite useful, and is a good thing to include with the source code I have been posting on the blog.

Things have been going quite well with this approach, until I ran into a problem with the <see/> tag and the cref attribute. This tag generates a hyperlink within the output files, after Sandcastle has processed them. These generated hyperlinks to methods in the documentation were a feature I wanted to enable in a couple of places within the generated documentation.

The Problem

The situation which caused me a headache was trying to make pair of <see/> tag elements in the XML Documentation which referenced each of a pair of generic methods. The method signatures were:

public static IEnumerable<TSource> ToIEnumerable(TSource val)
public static IEnumerable<TSource> ToIEnumerable(TSource val1, TSource val2)

The Solution

After trying a number of things and searching on the net, I discovered the following on stackoverflowC#, XML-Doc: Refering to a generic type of a generic type in C# XML documentation?. The last answer in to the question is the one that gave me the way to solve the problem.

Simply, what is required is the xml escaping of the <>I n the function name. For a full (I would expect) list of the xml escape sequences see: List of XML and HTML character entity references.

The resulting references in the <see/> tag end up as:

        /// <see cref="ToIEnumerable&lt;TSource&gt;(TSource)"/> 
 /// <see cref="ToIEnumerable&lt;TSource&gt;(TSource, TSource)"/> 

Reasoning Why It Works

This makes a degree of logical sense when you consider the resulting context of this attribute. The C# compiler translates the XML Documentation into a XML file. Within an XML file an attribute, or element, which contains a < or > character needs to have those characters translated into XML escape equivalents. Thus, the target of the link will be in an XML escaped form, so also the reference to the target should comply with the same XML escape sequences.

A Visual Studio Handy Hint

There is a built-in paste function, Edit.PasteAlterernate. The following blog post ‘What is Paste Alternate?’ describes what this function does. If you use this to paste a function signature from a C# file into a html file, you get the prototype with xml escapes included, plus a bunch of html. Using this paste variant may prove useful when you need a quick way of generating xml escapes .

In my version of Visual Studio, this function was unbound to a keystroke combination. Yu can use the Tools -> Options menu items to get up the dialogue box that allows setting the keystroke combination. The keystroke combinations are set in the Environment -> Keyboard section of this dialogue box.


I trust that reading to here, you have found blog post useful, or that it has helped solves you XML Documentation problems.


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  1. #1 by Faustino Hardge on February 28, 2012 - 6:13 am

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more attention. I’ll be back again to read more. Thanks for that info.

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