Potential const issue in a plugin-based system

cosnt vs readonly

Posted by Carl-Hugo Marcotte on April 10, 2024
Potential const issue in a plugin-based system

In this article, I’m following up on my comment on Dave Callan’s post about the difference between const and readonly in C# (embedded at the end). By simplifying my thoughts for a LinkedIn comment, I realized I was not clear enough, so I took the time to write this blog and showcase a complete working scenario, which is more complex and real-life-like than what I initially wrote.

Consider this setup:

  • We have the Shared assembly, which defines a constant (const).
  • We have a Plugin assembly that utilizes a constant from the Shared assembly. We could reference the Shared assembly using a NuGet package, which is not the case in the code sample we explore here to keep it simple.
  • A Host Program dynamically loads plugins at runtime, including the Plugin Assembly. It also uses the same constant as the Plugin assembly from the Shared assembly, which we could also load through a NuGet package (not the case to keep it simple).

Here lies the issue: if the constant in the Shared assembly changes and the dependent assemblies are not recompiled, there will be a mismatch between the new value and what the assemblies will use. For example, if the Host Program is recompiled but not the Plugin assembly, then there will be a mismatch when the Host Program utilizes it.

Code sample

To illustrate the scenario with minimal code, we must create three separate projects: Shared class library, Plugin class library, and the HostProgram ASP.NET Core application. Each is as straightforward as possible while retaining a real-life-like structure.

Here are a few technical details:

  • The HostProgram loads plugins from the Plugins directory.
  • A plugin must implement the IPlugin interface from the Shared library.
  • Two solutions are in the directory: one for the plugin and one for the host.
  • The HostProgram and the Plugin use the MY_CONST constant.
  • When compiling the plugin using the INITIAL_VALUE build configuration, the INITIAL_VALUE symbol is used to simulate an old Shared assembly compilation.
  • The HostProgram/Plugins/Plugin.dll file was compiled using the INITIAL_VALUE build configuration.

Here’s a diagram that represents this setup:

A C4 component diagram representing the relationship between the projects.

The source code is available on GitHub: https://github.com/Carl-Hugo/LinkedIn-Code/tree/main/2024-Q2/ConstantPlugin.

Shared Assembly

The Shared project contains the plugin interface:

using Microsoft.Extensions.Logging;

namespace Shared;

public interface IPlugin
    void Execute(ILogger logger);

It also contains the Constants class:

namespace Shared;

public static class Constants
    public const string MY_CONST = "InitialValue";
    public const string MY_CONST = "UpdatedValue";

The preceding code defines a constant. The INITIAL_VALUE symbol is used to simulate the compilation of multiple DLLs. Unless defined, the INITIAL_VALUE symbol is equal to false.

Plugin Assembly

The Plugin project references the Shared Assembly to implement the IPlugin interface. It contains only the MyPlugin class:

using Microsoft.Extensions.Logging;
using Shared;

namespace Plugin;

public class MyPlugin : IPlugin
    public void Execute(ILogger logger)
        logger.LogInformation("Plugin using const: {const}", Constants.MY_CONST);
        logger.LogInformation("Plugin using readonly: {readonly}", Constants.MY_READONLY);

The preceding code implements the IPlugin interface from the Shared assembly and uses the MY_CONST constant and the MY_READONLY member. We leverage this to test the issue later.

Host Program

The Host Program is an ASP.NET Core minimal API project that dynamically loads plugins that implement the IPlugin interface from the Plugins folder. It simulates a real-life scenario where plugins could be loaded from assemblies at runtime.

The host only contains the following Program.cs file:

using Shared;
using System.Reflection;

var builder = WebApplication.CreateBuilder(args);

var app = builder.Build();
app.MapGet("/load-plugins", (IWebHostEnvironment hostingEnvironment, ILoggerFactory loggerFactory) =>
    var pluginsDirectory = Path.Combine(hostingEnvironment.ContentRootPath, "Plugins");
    var pluginAssemblies = Directory.GetFiles(pluginsDirectory, "*.dll");
    var pluginType = typeof(IPlugin);
    foreach (var pluginPath in pluginAssemblies)
        var pluginTypes = Assembly.LoadFrom(pluginPath)
            .Where(type => pluginType.IsAssignableFrom(type) && !type.IsInterface)
        foreach (var type in pluginTypes)
            var logger = loggerFactory.CreateLogger(type);
            var plugin = Activator.CreateInstance(type) as IPlugin;
    var programLogger = loggerFactory.CreateLogger("Program");
    programLogger.LogInformation("Program using const: {const}", Constants.MY_CONST);
    programLogger.LogInformation("Program using readonly: {readonly}", Constants.MY_READONLY);
    return Results.Ok($"Plugins loaded and executed. Current constant value: {Constants.MY_CONST}");


The preceding code sets up a minimal ASP.NET Core application that listens for requests on the /load-plugins route. Upon receiving a request, it dynamically loads assemblies from the Plugins directory, searches for types that implement the IPlugin interface, and executes their Execute method. Remember the Execute method of the MyPlugin class logs the value of MY_CONST and MY_READONLY in the console. The endpoint also logs the value of MY_CONST and MY_READONLY in the console—as we can see above.

Now, if we execute the program and call the /load-plugins endpoint, the console will output something similar to the following:

info: Plugin.MyPlugin[0]
      Plugin using const: InitialValue
info: Plugin.MyPlugin[0]
      Plugin using readonly: UpdatedValue
info: Program[0]
      Program using const: UpdatedValue
info: Program[0]
      Program using readonly: UpdatedValue

The preceding console outputs showcase that both loggers recorded their own version of the const—based on the time we compiled the assembly—but ended up using the same version of the readonly member:

  • The Plugin.MyPlugin logger wrote InitialValue for the constant (old compilation) and UpdatedValue for the readonly member (reference on the Shared assembly).
  • The Program logger wrote UpdatedValue for the constant (new compilation) and UpdatedValue for the readonly member (reference on the Shared assembly).

This example is a simplified setup showcasing a potential issue of using a const versus a readonly member.


This example illustrates why it’s crucial to understand the implications of using const in a distributed or modular application architecture. The compile-time nature of const means that any change requires all dependent assemblies to be recompiled to use the updated value. This is effortless within a single solution where everything is compiled and deployed together but can become challenging when assemblies are distributed separately, such as through NuGet packages or as part of a plugin system.

In conclusion, I want to bolster my original point: choosing between const and readonly requires understanding their technical differences and their impact on application architecture and deployment strategies.

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