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CLR Version issues with CorBindRuntimeEx

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I’m working on an older FoxPro application that’s using .NET Interop and this app loads its own copy of the .NET runtime through some of our own tools (wwDotNetBridge). This all works fine and it’s fairly straightforward to load and host the runtime and then make calls against it. I’m writing this up for myself mostly because I’ve been bitten by these issues repeatedly and spend 15 minutes each

However, things get tricky when calling specific versions of the .NET runtime since .NET 4.0 has shipped. Basically we need to be able to support both .NET 2.0 and 4.0 and we’re currently doing it with the same assembly – a .NET 2.0 assembly that is the AppDomain entry point. This works as .NET 4.0 can easily host .NET 2.0 assemblies and the functionality in the 2.0 assembly provides all the features we need to call .NET 4.0 assemblies via Reflection.

In wwDotnetBridge we provide a load flag that allows specification of the runtime version to use. Something like this:

do wwDotNetBridge
LOCAL loBridge as wwDotNetBridge
loBridge = CreateObject("wwDotNetBridge","v4.0.30319")

and this works just fine in most cases.  If I specify V4 internally that gets fixed up to a whole version number like “v4.0.30319” which is then actually used to host the .NET runtime. Specifically the ClrVersion setting is handled in this Win32 DLL code that handles loading the runtime for me:

/// Starts up the CLR and creates a Default AppDomain
DWORD WINAPI ClrLoad(char *ErrorMessage, DWORD *dwErrorSize)
    if (spDefAppDomain)
        return 1;

    //Retrieve a pointer to the ICorRuntimeHost interface
    HRESULT hr = CorBindToRuntimeEx(
                    ClrVersion,    //Retrieve latest version by default
                    L"wks",    //Request a WorkStation build of the CLR

    if (FAILED(hr)) 
        *dwErrorSize = SetError(hr,ErrorMessage);    
        return hr;

    //Start the CLR
    hr = spRuntimeHost->Start();

    if (FAILED(hr))
        return hr;

    CComPtr<IUnknown> pUnk;

    WCHAR domainId[50];
    hr = spRuntimeHost->CreateDomain(domainId,NULL,&pUnk);

    hr = pUnk->QueryInterface(&spDefAppDomain.p);
    if (FAILED(hr)) 
        return hr;
    return 1;

CorBindToRuntimeEx allows for a specific .NET version string to be supplied which is what I’m doing via an API call from the FoxPro code.

The behavior of CorBindToRuntimeEx is a bit finicky however. The documentation states that NULL should load the latest version of the .NET runtime available on the machine – but it actually doesn’t. As far as I can see – regardless of runtime overrides even in the .config file – NULL will always load .NET 2.0 even if 4.0 is installed.

<supportedRuntime> .config File Settings

Things get even more unpredictable once you start adding runtime overrides into the application’s .config file. In my scenario working inside of Visual FoxPro this would be VFP9.exe.config in the FoxPro installation folder (not the current folder). If I have a specific runtime override in the .config file like this:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
    <supportedRuntime version="v2.0.50727" />

Not surprisingly with this I can load a .NET 2.0  runtime, but I will not be able to load Version 4.0 of the .NET runtime even if I explicitly specify it in my call to ClrLoad. Worse I don’t get an error – it will just go ahead and hand me a V2 version of the runtime and assume that’s what I wanted. Yuck!

However, if I set the supported runtime to V4 in the .config file:
<?xml version="1.0"?>
    <supportedRuntime version="v4.0.30319" />

Then I can load both V4 and V2 of the runtime. Specifying NULL however will STILL only give me V2 of the runtime. Again this seems pretty inconsistent.

If you’re hosting runtimes make sure you check which version of the runtime is actually loading first to ensure you get the one you’re looking for. If the wrong version loads – say 2.0 and you want 4.0 - and you then proceed to load 4.0 assemblies they will all fail to load due to version mismatches. This is how all of this started – I had a bunch of assemblies that weren’t loading and it took a while to figure out that the host was running the wrong version of the CLR and therefore caused the assemblies loading to fail. Arrggh!

<supportedRuntime> and Debugger Version

<supportedRuntime> also affects the use of the .NET debugger when attached to the target application. Whichever runtime is specified in the key is the version of the debugger that fires up. This can have some interesting side effects. If you load a .NET 2.0 assembly but <supportedRuntime> points at V4.0 (or vice versa) the debugger will never fire because it can only debug in the appropriate runtime version. This has bitten me on several occasions where code runs just fine but the debugger will just breeze by breakpoints without notice.

The default version for the debugger is the latest version installed on the system if <supportedRuntime> is not set.


Besides all the hassels, I’m thankful I can build a .NET 2.0 assembly and have it host .NET 4.0 and call .NET 4.0 code. This way we’re able to ship a single assembly that provides functionality that supports both .NET 2 and 4 without having to have separate DLLs for both which would be a deployment and update nightmare.

The MSDN documentation does point at newer hosting API’s specifically for .NET 4.0 which are way more complicated and even less documented but that doesn’t help here because the runtime needs to be able to host both .NET 4.0 and 2.0. Not pleased about that – the new APIs look way more complex and of course they’re not available with older versions of the runtime installed which in our case makes them useless to me in this scenario where I have to support .NET 2.0 hosting (to provide greater ‘built-in’ platform support).

Once you know the behavior above, it’s manageable. However, it’s quite easy to get tripped up here because there are multiple combinations that can really screw up behaviors.

Posted in .NET  FoxPro  

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