Let your app talk about itself
Mar 18 2009 · Application Design
Fragment Sync has an automated update system called autobot. The system is used both for development and public releases (I should mentioned that automated updates to development copies of a networking app is a beautifully amazing thing). Updates are published to the autobot server using a simple publisher app, which puts the update package on the server and calls a server-side script to enter the patch details into a database. One annoyance with the publisher is that I would have to enter details (version, whether or not update is public, etc.) manually. This isn’t too bad, but on more than one occasion I’ve screwed things up by accidentally entering the wrong version or packaging an old executable.
I finally decided that the best way forward was to have the publisher automatically query the executable for information. You can embed this sort of information via. the application manifest, but using the manifest really didn’t cross my mind and I’m not a big fan of manifest files in general. In any case, what I did was have the executable take arguments and output the queried data to the console. This is a bit trickier than it sounds because, for whatever reason, a GUI app can’t send messages to a console without some hackery with the AttachConsole() Win32 function. (I’m dealing with C# and WinForms, but native Win32 GUI apps don’t have a default console either, so this isn’t a WinForms specific thing). The publisher redirected the standard output stream and read in the data that was pushed out.
This seems to have worked out nicely and has pushed me to think about other information an app can output about itself, lending to better communication between related apps.