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Using the .NET File System Object Model : Page 4

The .NET file system object model supplies three groups of related functions—information about files and directories, ad hoc methods for manipulating paths, and tools to create and manage files of any type. The ability to manage files comes from the System.IO namespace.

I/O with Files
In the .NET Framework, the atomic element to read from, or write to, is the stream. A stream abstracts the contents of a variety of potential data stores, including local and network disk files, memory, and databases. You can read or write a Stream object using a couple of tailor-made tools—the reader and the writer.

A reader reads one chunk of information at a time. The structure of the data read depends on the particular reader and the underlying stream. For example, a text reader will read rows of text recognizing the carriage return/linefeed pair as the separator between chunks. Likewise, the binary reader will process every single byte in the stream as the XML reader moves from one node to the next. The reader operates in a read-only, forward-only way. You can't move back to an already processed, or skipped, chunk of data; nor can you edit the current data the pointer references.

In the .NET Framework, you find available quite a few specialized readers including TextReader, BinaryReader, XmlReader, and database-specific readers such as SqlDataReader and OracleDataReader. Although all of these reader classes have a common subset of functions, and an overall similar way of working, they don't derive from the same base class. Reader classes work on top of streams. Depending on the implementation of each individual class, the stream may be passed explicitly as a constructor argument or through its file name or URL.

The Stream class supports three basic operations: reading, writing, and seeking. Reading and writing operations entail transferring data from a stream into a data structure and vice versa. Seeking consists of querying and modifying the current position within the stream of data.

The .NET Framework provides a number of predefined Stream classes including FileStream, MemoryStream, and the fairly interesting CryptoStream, which automatically encrypts and decrypts data as you write or read. Each different storage implements its own stream by deriving from the base Stream class. The StreamReader class is a generic reader class for any type of stream. Finally, the StringReader class lets you read a string of text using the same programming interface as readers that operate on data stores.

You transform the contents of a file into a stream using the FileStream class. The following code shows how to open a file that you want to read:

FileStream fs = new FileStream(filename, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read);

Streams supply a rather low-level programming interface which, although functionally effective, is not always apt for classes that need to perform more high-level operations such as reading the whole content of a file or a single line.

To manipulate the contents of a file as a binary stream, you just pass the FileStream object down to a specialized reader object that knows how to handle it.

BinaryReader bin = new BinaryReader(fs);

If you want to process the file's contents in a text-based way, then you can use the StreamReader class, as shown below.

StreamReader reader; reader = new StreamReader(fileName); reader.BaseStream.Seek(0, SeekOrigin.Begin); string text = reader.ReadToEnd(); reader.Close();

To write files, you often use the StreamWriter class and access its underlying stream, which can also be an encrypted stream. The following code snippet shows how to create a file.

StreamWriter writer = new StreamWriter(file); writer.WriteLine(text); writer.Close();

Creating binary files that contain images or raw data doesn't happen along different guidelines. You just use BinaryWriter (or BinaryReader for reading) as the writer object and its ad hoc set of methods.

All reader classes have a writer counter class. So you have a StreamWriter class acting as a generic writer for streams and more specific classes such as TextWriter, XmlWriter, BinaryWriter, and StringWriter. Curiously, the .NET Framework does not have a sort of SqlDataWriter class which would configure a server cursor. Server cursors are not supported as of version 1.1 of the .NET Framework.

Although the substance of the underlying file system is not something that changed with .NET, the platform that determines the way in which you work with the constituent elements of a file system—files and directories, changed quite a bit.

The introduction of streams as programmable objects is a key step in the sense that it unifies the API necessary to perform similar operations on conceptually similar storage media. Another key enhancement is the introduction of reader and writer objects. They provide a kind of logical API by means of which you read and write any piece of information in nearly identical ways. The .NET Framework also provides a lot of facilities to perform the basic management operations with files and directories, including path functions and common-use methods. In just one slogan, with .NET way of working with the file system is easier and more effective. Just do it.&tm

Dino Esposito is Wintellect's ADO.NET and XML expert, and a trainer and consultant based in Rome, Italy. A speaker at many industry events including TechEd and DevConnections, Dino is the author of Building Web Solutions with ASP.NET and ADO.NET as well as Programming ASP.NET, both for Microsoft Press. dinoe@wintellect.com.
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