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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Delphi in-proc server registration/unregistration code has incomplete coverage

I have just discovered the DllRegisterServer() and DllUnregisterServer() code located in Delphi's ComServ.pas file for the ComServ unit lacks complete coverage of COM usage. It is not entirely a bug in a sense. It only means that it does not cater for all situations permitted by their language framework and supported by their IDE and COM.

However, if you are in that situation, you will not be shown any visible sign other than to discover the interfaces you are publishing are not registered. OleView.exe can show you the lack of result.

Description of the problem

When you create an ActiveX project in D2006, the IDE basically generates a plain old DLL and in Delphi's parlance, a library. What it does is to export the 4 required COM In-Proc server functions, DllRegisterServer(), DllUnreqisterServer(), DllCanUnloadNow and DllGetClassObject(). The implementations of these functions are found in ComServ.pas file.

Now if you then include a type library, you can begin to define interfaces in this library. This DLL, while devoid of any implementation, is of great significance to a COM-base solution as other in-proc or local servers can implement interfaces published in this registered type library. There is no common tool, definitely not from Microsoft, to register type library (tlb) and hence it is customarily to embed this interface only type library in an in-proc server that can be registered with DllRegisterServer() and unregistered with DllUnregisterServer().

When you do this, the D2006 produced interface only COM in-proc server will not register the type library and its interfaces as well performing the unregistration process.

RegSvr32, the Microsoft standard in-proc COM registration program, dutifully reports the information reported by DllRegisterServer() and DllUnregisterServer() supplied by CodeGear's code.

Where is the problem

It has been identified that this is caused by a crack in the design and implementation code in ComServ.pas. The implementation is based on a very narrow usage scenario, perhaps in quest of efficiency.

CodeGear assumes an in-proc server always has implementation code, known as coclass, that implements interfaces described in the type library. However, this scenario is not enforced in the IDE. You can describe as many interfaces as you like in the type library without one single coclass and the IDE nor compiler complaints.

In the CodeGear narrow usage scenario, the code in ComServ.pas expects the IClassFactory implementation in the coclass, found in the unit's initialization section generally in the form of the TAutoObjectFactory.Create(), responsible for loading the type library. This then has the flow-on effect of setting ComServer.FTypeLib in ComServ.pas.

Since the unit initialization sections are executed prior to any user code, by the time TComServer.UpdateRegistry() is called, TComServer.FTypeLib is not nil and the type library registration (unregistration) function will then be called.

However, in an ActiveX, whose sole existence is to publish interfaces, the above scenario is not realized and hence by the time TComServer.UpdateRegistry() called from DllRegisterServer() or DllUnregisterServer(), the TComServer.FTypeLib remains nil.

This situation is not considered as a bug in the UpdateRegistry() and dutifully returns S_OK resulting in fooling the user.

Incidentally, code review of Delphi 3's source code shows the same incompleteness and thus expecting the same malfunction.

Work arounds

The work arounds are listed from the most preferred method to the least.
Correct the code and embedded ComServ.pas in your project
The best way is to take a copy of ComServ.pas from CodeGear's source directory and include that into your project. It is worth removing the declaration of using ComServ in your uses statement in the DPK prior to adding the customised ComServ.pas. Failure to include this file will not bring in the fixed code.

You only need to fix the DllRegisterServer() and DllUnregisterServer() as follows:
function DllRegisterServer: HResult;
Result := S_OK;
ComServer.GetTypeLib; // **** Added
Result := E_FAIL;

function DllUnregisterServer: HResult;
Result := S_OK;
ComServer.GetTypeLib; // **** Added
Result := E_FAIL;
You only have to ensure that the type library is loaded prior to the calling of TComServer.UpdateRegistry() and hence simple addition as marked above is sufficient to rectify this problem. It only introduces slight inefficient if the CodeGear anticipated scenario is realized. As a word of optimisation, one could move the call of TComServer.GetTypeLib into the TComServer.UpdateRegistry(). But these functions are hardly frequently called functions, such operation is not really warranted.
Add a dummy coclass into project
The next best solution for those not wanting to tamper with CodeGear's code is to create a dummy coclass in a unit. This unit will then include the TAutoObjectFactory.Create call in the initialization to support the scenario expected by CodeGear. At this moment, I have not explore whether or not this coclass can be made as ole non-createable to prevent code from outside this DLL from creating it via COM API, such as CoCreateInstance().

The presence of this coclass can confuse users as that coclass will show up in tools like OleView and you then need to document its reason for existence.

This represents a compromise to a clean design.
Only good for development - use the Component Install facility
This is not really a solution as such but rather a desperate move to get them registered so that you can begin to develop with those interfaces.

This technique requires one to use the "Component | Install Component ... |Import a type library" facility available in the IDE to register the type library. Since this technique does not call DllRegisterServer() and hence it can register the type library.

However, in a deployment situation, installer relies on the invocation of DllRegisterServer() and hence this technique offers no solution in deployment scenario. Furthermore, if DllUnregisterServer() fails to unregister the type library and the interfaces, this technique does not have its complementary operation.

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