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Factory Provider Repository Builders

Yeah, naming is hard.

In Microsoft.Extensions.Logging, there are two types in particular that I kept conflating: ILoggerProvider and ILoggerFactory. Even though they both can create instances of ILogger, they are actually completely different!

In this post, I’m going to cover the main types of Microsoft.Extensions.Logging and describe their intended use.

LogLevel

Like all other logging frameworks, Microsoft.Extensions.Logging defines a sequence of levels for its logs. In increasing order of severity, they are Trace, Debug, Information, Warning, Error, and Critical. The meanings of these values are well documented, along with advice on when to use each.

There is another “log level” which is not really a log level: None. This is technically part of the enumeration, but is used during configuration to indicate that no logs for that part of the system should be logged. The None value is not used during logging.

ILogger

ILogger is a logger that your code can use to write log messages to. There are three core methods: IsEnabled tests whether a log level is enabled on that logger; Log is the core logging method that is used to write log messages; and BeginScope defines a logging scope.

We’ll cover logging scopes later in this series. That leaves IsEnabled and Log, which are the core logging methods. There’s a bunch of logging extension methods that build on that core; the common methods like LogInformation are just wrappers around Log, with the appropriate arguments.

Internally, an ILogger has a “name” (also called a “category”). The idea is that each ILogger instance is used by a different component of the application.

ILogger is a base interface that provides the core logging functionality, but it is seldom used directly. There are some exceptions (e.g., Azure Functions will pass you an ILogger), but most of the time your code will log to an ILogger<T>.

ILogger<T>

ILogger<T> is a logger that is named after a type T. All logs sent to an ILogger<T> (with the default implementation) will have a logger name/category of typeof(T).FullName. ILogger<T> is derived from ILogger and adds no new functionality.

If you’re using dependency injection, an instance of ILogger<T> is usually injected into your type T. So, each time you have a constructor that takes an ILogger<T>, you are defining a “component” for your application.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this style of getting a logger, but it works. In my applications, the concept of a “component” seldomly has a 1:1 relationship with “types that log”. It tends to work out best for ASP.NET Controllers, but less so for utility types used by services (where I usually want the utility type to use the service’s component name). Of course, you can just pass an ILogger<T> (or ILogger) to the utility type, and that’s the way this is generally resolved.

So, here’s a question that you may have: if ILogger<T> provides no benefit over ILogger (other than being named after a type T), why does this type exist at all? The answer is logging extension methods, which we’ll look at in more detail further in this series.

ILoggerProvider

The logger provider is a type that (drum roll…) provides ILogger instances. But not just that; it provides ILogger instances for a specific logging system. Microsoft publishes a few logger providers that support writing to debugger output, the Console, the Windows Event Log, Event Tracing for Windows (ETW), and others.

There are plenty of third-party logging providers, too. The primary purpose of a logging provider is to take log events and forward them to some logging backend. So there are logging providers for all kinds of logging backends: Serilog, Seq, log4net, etc. This allows you to write code that is independent of a logging framework (logging to an ILogger<T>), and the implementation at runtime hits a specific backend (or multiple ones!).

You can also create your own implementations of ILoggerProvider. In my DotNetApis project, I have one provider that stores logs in memory so they can be returned to the frontend as part of the HTTP response, another provider that streams JSON logs to a GZIP-compressed Azure blob, and several others.

Creating reusable implementations of ILoggerProvider is perhaps the most underdocumented part of Microsoft.Extensions.Logging. The providers in my DotNetApis project at this point are incomplete; there is no way I would put them in a NuGet package or anything. A proper, reusable ILoggerProvider is more involved; later in this series I’ll look specifically at implementing ILoggerProvider properly, and cover all the necessary details.

ILoggerProvider is a way to extend Microsoft.Extensions.Logging by implementation. However, you don’t ever want to consume a logger provider directly. Even though ILoggerProvider.CreateLogger creates ILogger instances, you never actually want to call that method to get a logger. To get loggers, you want to use dependency injection or ILoggerFactory.

ILoggerFactory

ILoggerFactory is the mastermind that brings together all the types above. Conceptually, an ILoggerFactory has a collection of ILoggerProviders, and the ILoggerFactory creates ILogger<T> instances for the application.

Registering ILoggerProviders with ILoggerFactory

This is where the official documentation starts to fall short. In the ASP.NET Core world, ASP.NET Core itself takes care of creating an ILoggerFactory instance, which it then passes to your application to configure. Your application can then call AddProvider or a higher-level provider-specific method such as AddDebug, AddConsole, etc.

Fortunately, even without ASP.NET Core, it’s not too difficult to do this yourself using the LoggerFactory type in Microsoft.Extensions.Logging:

var loggerFactory = new LoggerFactory()
    .AddDebug()
    .AddConsole();

Getting ILogger<T> Instances from ILoggerFactory

In the ASP.NET Core world, the ILoggerFactory is included in your Dependency Injection container, and it already knows how to get ILogger<T> values out of it, and everything is magical rainbows.

When you’re outside of the ASP.NET Core world, you can still use ILoggerFactory in this way. You just have to:

  1. Provide the ILoggerFactory instance to your DI container.
  2. Configure your DI container to resolve ILogger<T> instances by calling ILoggerFactory.GetLogger<T>().

The exact instructions on how to do this depends on your DI container of choice.

Of course, there’s another option, too. You can just provide the ILoggerFactory instance, and your consuming types can take the ILoggerFactory and create their own ILogger<T>.

What Are the ILoggerFactory’s ILoggers?

Before closing out this post, I just want to point out that the ILogger instances provided by ILoggerFactory are not the same as the ILogger instances provided by ILoggerProvider. An ILoggerProvider ILogger is a logger that logs to that specific provider. An ILoggerFactory ILogger is a logger that logs to all registered providers.

In other words, the ILoggerFactory ILogger/ILogger<T> loggers are composite loggers; they forward log messages to each provider’s ILogger.

Review

This post has described the various logging types from the component’s perspective (ILogger) and working out towards the application’s perspective (ILoggerFactory). Let’s briefly review, going the other way this time.

ILoggerFactory is a collection of ILoggerProviders that creates composite ILogger/ILogger<T> loggers.

ILoggerProvider ia a provider for a specific logging system. It provides ILogger loggers to the ILoggerFactory.

Each component gets an ILogger<T> (or ILogger) from the ILoggerFactory that it should use for logging.