Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nutcracker

Welcome back my 'nog-froth mustachioed friends! I've returned with another helping of Refactor! Pro goodness for Visual Studio 2008. One scrooge commented that the last present was a little weak, so I've decided to give a bigger gift this time. However, I will be saving some of my bestest presents for the very end.

So, sit back, relax and take out your ear plugs as I serenade you with my third verse.

"On the third day of X-mas my true love (DevExpress) gave to me..."

Name Anonymous Type

Of all the new features in C# 3.0 and Visual Basic 9, Anonymous Types is one of the most convenient. This feature allows the user to create new objects "on the fly," without providing type definitions for them. For example:

var person = new { Name = "St. Nick", Age = "Really Old" };
Console.WriteLine(person.Name);

When the C# compiler encounters the code above, it generates a new type with two string properties: Name and Age.

This powerful new feature is not without limitations. Because anonymous types have no accessible type name (they're anonymous - duh!), they can only be referenced by variables that are implicitly-typed. This becomes very frustrating when using anonymous types in other natural ways.

public static ??? CreatePerson()
{
  return new { Name = "St. Nick", Age = "Really Old" };
}

What should I fill in for ??? in the code above? One possibility is to use object. However, if I do that, how do I access the properties from client code? Reflection? An awkward casting helper?

Recently, this very problem was hashed out on the MSDN forums. The general consensus was, when you want to expose an anonymous type in an API (e.g. return an anonymous type from a method), swap it out for a defined type. However, defining a new type that matches an anonymous type is cumbersome. Thankfully, Refactor! Pro can step in and do this work for you. When the Name Anonymous Type refactoring is applied to the anonymous type above, the following class is generated:

[DebuggerDisplay("\\{ Name = {Name}, Age = {Age} \\}")]
public sealed class Person: IEquatable<Person>
{
  private readonly string m_Name;
  private readonly string m_Age;

  public Person(string name, string age)
  {
    m_Name = name;
    m_Age = age;
  }

  public override bool Equals(object obj)
  {
    if (obj is Person)
      return Equals((Person)obj);
    return false;
  }
  public bool Equals(Person obj)
  {
    if (!EqualityComparer<string>.Default.Equals(m_Name, obj.m_Name))
      return false;
    if (!EqualityComparer<string>.Default.Equals(m_Age, obj.m_Age))
      return false;
    return true;
  }
  public override int GetHashCode()
  {
    int hash = 0;
    hash ^= EqualityComparer<string>.Default.GetHashCode(m_Name);
    hash ^= EqualityComparer<string>.Default.GetHashCode(m_Age);
    return hash;
  }
  public override string ToString()
  {
    return String.Format("{{ Name = {0}, Age = {1} }}", m_Name, m_Age);
  }

  public string Name
  {
    get
    {
      return m_Name;
    }
  }
  public string Age
  {
    get
    {
      return m_Age;
    }
  }
}

View Screencast of Name Anonymous Type in Action!

You might be thinking, "Wow! That's a lot of code! Is all of that really necessary?" The answer is, yes, all of that code is necessary to produce a type definition that is equivalent to the subtle features of an anonymous type. In C#, anonymous types are immutable so we must generate read-only fields and properties. In addition, the equality and identity of anonymous types are explicitly defined so they can be compared with one another. In other words, C# anonymous types have value-type semantics. The following code sample might clarify this:

var person1 = new
{
  Name = "Dustin Campbell",
  Age = "32"
};

var person2 = new
{
  Name = "Dustin Campbell",
  Age = "32"
};

var person3 = new
{
  Name = "Dustin's Trophy Wife",
  Age = "Undisclosed (but probably really, really young)"
};

Console.WriteLine(person1.Equals(person2));
Console.WriteLine(person2.Equals(person3));

Because of the value-type characteristics of anonymous types, the above code outputs the following to the console.

True
False

Of course, if Name Anonymous Type is applied, the same output is produced.

Traditionally, the Visual Basic team likes to make life hard for us, and anonymous types are no exception. Contrary to C#, the Visual Basic compiler generates mutable anonymous types. In addition, Visual Basic allows for partially-mutable anonymous types when the Key keyword is applied. (This is further proof that C# and Visual Basic have very different agendas and destinies.) Fortunately, Name Anonymous Type is intelligent enough to handle these differences.

Dim person = New With {.Name = "St. Nick", .Age = "Really Old"}

When applied to the above code, Name Anonymous Type generates a new Person class like so:

<DebuggerDisplay("\{ Name = {Name}, Age = {Age} \}")> _
Public NotInheritable Class Person
  Private m_Name As String
  Private m_Age As String

  Public Sub New(ByVal name As String, ByVal age As String)
    m_Name = name
    m_Age = age
  End Sub

  Public Overrides Function ToString() As String
    Return String.Format("{{ Name = {0}, Age = {1} }}", m_Name, m_Age)
  End Function

  Public Property Name() As String
    Get
      Return m_Name
    End Get
    Set(ByVal value As String)
      m_Name = value
    End Set
  End Property
  Public Property Age() As String
    Get
      Return m_Age
    End Get
    Set(ByVal value As String)
      m_Age = value
    End Set
  End Property
End Class

To be consistent with the reference-type semantics of Visual Basic anonymous types, Name Anonymous Type produces a mutable class. Gone are the overrides to Equals() and GetHashCode(). In addition, the properties are read-write. It's this sort of language independence that makes Refactor! Pro a choice tool for Visual Studio 2008 development.

And that wraps up another verse in my holiday sing-a-long! Remember that the features I am showing can be used right now. There's no need to wait for some forthcoming beta. You can use them today. Until next time...

posted on Saturday, December 22, 2007 8:35:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [1]

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