Custom XML Serialization

Another advantage of storing properties of entities into a state object based on a Dictionary, is the ability to easily serialize objects in custom formats. As an example I create an XML serializer that is capable to serialize an entity in a custom XML format.

I used this simple serializer to create a NHibernate User Type that permits me to save a child entity in a single XML column of SQL Server, a feature useful when you need to save objects which schema changes quite often and you do not want to keep database schema updated, or you need to store dynamic data into the DB. I now that all of you are screaming “USE NO SQL DB”, like Raven, but it is not simple to introduce new technologies into existing projects, and only to justify the need to save the 2% of objects.

Thanks to the custom serializer and the ability to do DeepCloning, writing such a User Type is really simple. First of all, I’ve implemented a method called EquivalentTo that permits me to compare two entities based on their state, this makes trivial writing the Equals Method of the UserType

bool IUserType.Equals(object x, object y)


    if (ReferenceEquals(x, y)) return true;

    if (x == null || y == null) return false;


    if (x is BaseEntity)

        return ((BaseEntity)x).IsEquivalentTo(y as BaseEntity);


    return x.Equals(y);


Same consideration for the IUserType.DeepCopy method, based on the Clone method of the base class. Saving and loading the object is just a matter of using the BaseEntity serialization methods.

public object NullSafeGet(System.Data.IDataReader rs, string[] names, object owner)


    Int32 index = rs.GetOrdinal(names[0]);

    if (rs.IsDBNull(index))


        return null;


    String databaseContent = (String)rs[index];

    return Deserialize(databaseContent);




internal Object Deserialize(String content)


    XElement element =  XElement.Parse(content);

    return element.DeserializeToBaseEntity();



public void NullSafeSet(System.Data.IDbCommand cmd, object value, int index)


    if (value == null || value == DBNull.Value)


        NHibernateUtil.String.NullSafeSet(cmd, null, index);




        NHibernateUtil.String.Set(cmd, Serialize(value), index);





internal String Serialize(Object obj)


    if (!(obj is BaseEntity))

        throw new ArgumentException("Only BaseEntity based entities could be serialized with this usertype", "obj");

    return (obj as BaseEntity).SerializeToXml().ToString();


The advantage of this approach, is that I have another base entity class called BaseExpandoEntity that permits to store into state object property by name, it is like a dynamic object, but I used it in .NET 3.5 where dynamics still does not exists. This kind of entity is clearly not really OOP, it is not well encapsulated, because you can set property of any name from external code and it is used mainly as a DataClass, just to store information in database without the need to be schema or class bounded. Now suppose to have a class called Father that has a property of type SpecificNotes, based on this BaseExpandoEntity and saved in database with the above User Type, you can write this code.

Father d1 = new Father () {...};

d1.SpecificNotes.SetProperty("Ciao", "mondo");

d1.SpecificNotes.SetProperty("Age", 80);


In the above code, the Father class has a property called SpecificNotes mapped as XML in database, I can store two new properties with the SetProperty and this is what is saved to database.






VALUES      (1,



             <SpecificNotes fname="Myproject.Entities.SpecificNotes, Myproject.Entities" ><Ciao>mondo</Ciao>

  <Age type="System.Int32">80</Age></SpecificNotes>' )

Now suppose you want to retrieve from the database all Father objects that have a SpecificNote with a  property named Ciao with value ‘mondo’, how could you issue the query since the object is stored as XML? The solution is creating a custom Criteria Operator. I do not want to bother you with the details, but the key method is something like this

public override NHibernate.SqlCommand.SqlString ToSqlString(

    NHibernate.ICriteria criteria, 

    ICriteriaQuery criteriaQuery, 

    IDictionary<string, NHibernate.IFilter> enabledFilters)


    string objectPropertyColumnName = criteriaQuery

        .GetColumnsUsingProjection(criteria, PropertyName)[0];


    StringBuilder criteriaText = new StringBuilder();




    criteriaText.Append(")[1]', 'nvarchar(max)')");

    switch (XmlCriterionParameters.CriteriaOperator)


        case CriteriaOperator.Equal:



        case CriteriaOperator.Like:

            criteriaText.Append(" like ");


        default :

            throw new NotSupportedException("Still not supported operator");



    criteriaText.AppendFormat("'{0}'", Value);

    return new SqlString(criteriaText.ToString());



In this example I’ve implemented only “=” and “like” operators, but it is enough for this sample. Now I can issue the following query.

Query query = Query.CreateXml("SpecificNotes", "Ciao", CriteriaOperator.Equal, "mondo");

var result = Repository.Father.GetByCriteria(query);

This snippet used a Query Model to specify the query, but as you can see the important aspect is that I’m able to create an XML criterion on the “SpecificNotes” sub object, where the expando property “Ciao” is Equal to the value “mondo”. Here is the query that was issued to the DB


FROM   Father this_

WHERE  this_.SpecificNotes.value('(/*/Ciao)[1]', 'nvarchar(max)') = 'mondo'

This is quite a primitive query, because of the /*/ that basically mean I’m searching for a property Ciao contained in any subobject, but you can modify your Custom Criterion to adapt the XPath to your need; the important aspect is that I’m now able to store and retrieve transparently my expando objects from a standard SQL server thanks to the great flexibility of NHibernate.

Gian Maria.

Published by

Ricci Gian Maria

.Net programmer, User group and community enthusiast, programmer - aspiring architect - and guitar player :). Visual Studio ALM MVP

3 thoughts on “Custom XML Serialization”

  1. I AM going to scream use a NoSql DB here. It’s the exact scenario they are designed for. Having worked on a system previous that used internal state objects and XML serialization to SQL, I’m going to guess that you are/will be having horrendous performance issues.

  2. We have a couple of problems, First of all it worth introducing another db Engine for 2% of the data, where we have absolutely no problem in performance, because they are not used frequently?

    Secondary problem, customers trust SQL Server or Oracle, it is difficult to make them like other, not so much used technique, like mongo.

    Clearly No-SQL in real OOP project are indeed the right choice.

    Thanks for the feedback.

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