Tag Archives: .NET Framework

C# Code Guidelines

Coding Guidelines

Every development team or software development team need guidelines to follow to help them write consistent code that keeps maintenance costs low, and development productivity and code reuse high.

I recently updated the ones I use with my team, and though I’d share them to save others having to create their own.  Feel free to reuse in part or full for yourself or your team, and leave a comment with any general suggestions.  Style can be a very personal thing, so don’t be afraid to adapt them to meet your teams own preferences, the key is that all the team follow the same convention, and wherever possible that convention matches the underlying framework you are using.

Naming Conventions


Use PascalCasing for namespaces, types, and member names.

Use camalCasing for local variables, parameters, and user interface fields.

Use camalCasing with an “m_” prefix for private non-user interface fields.

In 3rd Party Templates or code that uses a “_” prefix within a class rather than a “m_” prefix then be consistant within the class and either rename all to “m_” or continue with the “_” prefix.

Type Notations in Variable Names

Hugarian Notion must not be used – When the type is an important part of the variable’s purpose include it in the name by prefixing or postfixing it to the name without abbreviation.

Do not use abbreviations – If an acronym is widely accepted and used in the framework or toolkit being referenced then it acronym may be used despite the rule to avoid abbreviations.

.NET Word Conventions

Following .NET conventions for the words:

  1. Indexes (not Indices)
  2. UserName (not Username)

Use the following symmetric words when defining pairs of functionality:

  1. Add / Remove
  2. Insert / Delete
  3. Create / Destroy
  4. Initialize / Finalize
  5. Get / Set
  6. LogOn / LogOff
  7. Begin / End
  8. Register / Unregister

Use the following American words rather than the British words for member names:

  1. Color
  2. Initialize

Use of Plural and Singular Words

Name all classes with a singular word or phrase.

Name all collections or with plural words or phrases.

Name all namespaces as plural words or phrases unless the namespace has a special meaning in the MVC framework.

Compatibility with COM and other CLR Languages

Do not name two public or protected members with names that are the same excluding character case.  This would prevent reuse of the classes in languages such as VB.NET.

When an argument for a class is passed in to a method or constructor with the purpose of setting the public member, then use of the same name in camelCase rather than PascalCase is recommend over prefixes or suffixes.


Name all static singletons that initialise themselves “Default” unless there is a specific reason to use another name.

Name all static singletons that do not self-initialise “Current” unless there is a specific reason to use another name.

Simple Names

The following simple names are allowed for the uses specified:

  1. obj – to store a generic object who’s type is unimportant.
  2. i, j, k – for control of loops.
  3. s – to store a string value of a variable already in scope in a different type.
  4. e, ea, ee – for subclasses of EventArgs.
  5. e, ex – for subclasses of Exception.
  6. item, it – for the control variable in LINQ query expressions.

Use of Types in Variable Declarations

Use the most specific type available in a variable declaration that is not initialised in-line.

Use var for types that are initialised in-line.

Do not use var for types that are initialised in-line to values of a standard type (e.g. int, string, decimal etc.).

Use var for variables that are initialised as the result of method calls that return collections.

Use var for variables that are storing anonymous types.

Use var when the exact type of a variables is unimportant to the method as more than a return value from an invocation.

Use object for types that are initialised as the result of method calls where the return type is going to be worked with only via reflection.

Use interfaces for variable types if the work being done is dependent only on the interface.

Use dynamic as a variable type only if the type could not be known at compile time, and the code is not going to reflect on the type.


Constructor Performance

Avoid use of database connections in constructors.

Avoid use of network calls in constructors.

User Interface Design Time Requirements

Constructors for User Interface classes must be design time compatible.

Member Initialisation

Do not add constructor overloads that perform member initialisation as part of its parameters, these should now be handled by the member initialisation syntax.

Factory and Dependency Injection

Provide a zero parameter constructor unless the class is entirely unusable without a parameter.

Ensure the zero parameter constructor is suitable for use in a class factory or service locator.

Ensure the zero parameter constructor is suitable for use in dependency injection.

Ensure constructors do not over initialise to prevent subclasses from changing implementation details.

Virtual Calls

Avoid calling virtual members from constructors as the behaviour is unpredictable.

Static Constructors


Avoid initialising static members within static constructors.

Wherever possible initialise static members on first use.

Asynchronous Code

Use the await and async keywords when creating asynchronous code.

Prefix “Async” onto all methods that need to be awaited.

Do not prefix “Async” onto any method that cannot be awaited, even if the method contains asynchronous code.

When blocking methods are part of a Portable Class Library and cannot use the await and async keywords, use extension methods with the “Async” prefix to provide asynchronous alternatives for platforms that support it.

When to use Properties, Methods, and Extension Methods


Use a property if:

  1. The functionality behaves like a field.
  2. Is a logical attribute of the type.
  3. Is unlikely to throw exceptions.
  4. The contained code has minimum value when debugging.
  5. Does not have a dependency on the order being set.

Never use a property if:

  1. A get implementation is not provided.


Use a method if:

  1. The operation is a conversion.
  2. There is an observable side-effect from the call.
  3. The order of execution is important.
  4. The method may not return.
  5. The method may run code asynchronously.
  6. The result should be cached for reuse within the calling method for performance.

Do not use a method if:

  1. The return value is a collection that remains linked to the instance.

Extension Methods

Use an extension method if:

  1. The operation needs extend a sealed type.
  2. The operation needs to apply to anonymous types.
  3. The operation needs to apply to general IEnumerable types.
  4. Base functionality is provided for an Interface.

Do not use extension methods if:

  1. The behaviour may want to be specialised by a base class.

Place extension methods that form part of a classes or interfaces core API, or platform specific extensions to the core API, in the same namespace as the class, even if it is provided by another assembly.

Always place extension methods that extend core .NET types outside of the System.Collections namespace in a namespace ending in “.Extensions” to avoid littering the namespace of these core objects.

Method Arguments

Name method arguments with names that inform the caller of the intended purpose, not of its internal use.

When a Boolean argument is used as a flag to change fundamental functionality of a method, always call it using the “name: true” style.

Use Boolean arguments called with the “name: true” instead of two member enumerators for all methods, unless the method extends an API where an existing enumerator is better suited.


Catching Exceptions

Only catch exceptions of specific types if the error message being returned will be specialised for the type.

Catch the generic Exception type to isolate calls from the calling code.

A user must be informed of an exception with an error or warning message.

An error or warning message can be omitted if an exception is caught and ignored to avoid a known framework or platform issue and the issue is commented within the catch block.

Do not catch the general Exception type and hide its value from the user.

Throwing Exceptions

Use the existing Exception types to throw your own exceptions.

Only create Exception subclasses when they are to be used multiple times within a library.

LINQ, for, and foreach.

Use LINQ for queries to external data sources.

Use LINQ for queries over in memory data that is designed for use as a dictionary or database.

Use foreach () for iterating over any IEnumerable.

Use var as the item type for the foreach() loop whenever the IEnumerable implements IEnumerable<T>.

Use for() when the iteration is controlled by a numeric block.

Use for() to walk hierarchies.

Use for() or while() when the iteration is controlled by a non-numeric exit condition.

Use do { } while () only where it reduces code compared to a for() or while().


Member Comments

Every public member or class must be commented with an XML comment.

Every protected method and property must be commented.

The comment must be written to explain why somebody would want to invoke the code.

The comment must not be a substitute for a bad member name.

The comment should not attempt to list all exceptions that could be thrown but should exceptions of special Exception subclasses thrown directly by the code.

Do not comment private or internal methods that have obvious use.

Do not comment event handlers unless their implementation is non-obvious.

Ensure member comments are suitable for extraction into API documentation.

Do not repeat the XML comment for overridden methods if the comment has nothing new to add to the base type comment.

Do not repeat the XML comment for the implementation of a member for an interface if the comment has nothing new to add to the interface member comment.

Code Block Comments

Comment code with headers within blocks that perform multiple tasks discrete as part of its implementation.

Comment code blocks that cannot be understood by the code alone.

Comment code wherever a special or magic value is used.

Comment code when a condition in a control block could be misunderstood.

Comment Styles

Use /// Comments when commenting members or classes.

Use // Comments when commenting code blocks or statements

Use /* */ comments only if the comment has to be placed in the middle of a line of code or within a Razor syntax document.

Special Developer Comments

Always mark comments that are reminders of code to fix with “TODO” in upper case followed by a message.  This allows all TODO items to be found and completed or before the release of any solution.

If the last statement of a non-void method is not a return statement, place the lint style comment “/* NOTREACHED */ at the bottom of the method so developers know to maintain this when editing the code.

Braces and Brackets

Brace Positioning

Place opening braces for classes, namespaces, and members on new lines.

Place opening braces for code blocks such as if, for, foreach, while, do, and switch on the same line as the code control statement.

Place all closing braces on new lines.

Place both the opening and closing braces for automatic properties on the same line as the property name e.g. public int MyProperty { get; set; }

Place both the opening and closing braces for anonymous types used as property bags on the same line e.g. Html.Link(“Test”, new { this = “that” })

Place else and else if statements on the same line as the closing brace and keep the next opening brace on the same line too.

Bracket Positioning

Place a space between keywords such as if, for, foreach, and while, and the opening bracket.

Do not place a space between a method name and its opening bracket.

Keep the closing bracket on the same line as the opening bracket in the argument list is small.

If the argument list for a method call is long: keep the opening bracket on the same line as the method name, place each argument on a separate line ending with a comma, and place the closing bracket on a new line.

17 Years of Porting Software… Finally Solved

A History of Porting Software

I’ve been involved in creating and maintaining commercial and open source software for as long as I can remember, reaching back to 1996 when the world wide web was in its infancy, and Java wasn’t even a year old.

I was attracted to the NetBSD project because of its focus on having its software run on as many hardware platforms as possible.  Its slogan was, and remains “Of course it runs NetBSD”.

Although the NetBSD team worked tirelessly for its operating system to work across every imaginable hardware platform; much of the new open-source software development was talking place in for the i386 focused GNU/Linux operating system, not to mention the huge volume of Windows-only software that Wine tried, and mostly failed, to make available to people on non-Windows operating systems.

Advocates of cross-platform software like me were then constantly choosing between recreating or porting this software depending on its licenses terms and source availability just so we can use it on our platform of choice.

Some of the early of my open source contributions that are still available to download demonstrate this really well such as: adding NetBSD/OpenBSD support to Afterstep asmem in early 2000.  Or allowing CDs to be turned into MP3s on *BSD platforms with MP3c in the same year.

In 2002 when the large and ambitious KDE and GNOME desktops started to dominate the Linux desktop environments, I worked on changes to the 72 separate packages needed bring GNOME 2 and to NetBSD and became the primary package maintainer for a number of years.

As an early adopter of C# and the Microsoft .NET Framework I also worked through 2002 and 2003 to make early versions of the Mono project execute C# code to FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD too.

The #ifdef solution

How was software ported between platforms back in those days?  Well to be honest, we cheated.

We would find the parts of the code that were platform specific and add #ifdef and #ifndef statements around them with conditions instructing the compiler to compile, or omit, different sections of code depending on the target platform.

Here is an example of read_mem.c from asmem release 1.6:

 * Copyright (c) 1999  Albert Dorofeev <Albert@mail.dma.be>
 * For the updates see http://bewoner.dma.be/Albert/
 * This software is distributed under GPL. For details see LICENSE file.

/* kvm/uvm use (BSD port) code:
 * Copyright (c) 2000  Scott Aaron Bamford <sab@zeekuschris.com>
 * BSD additions for for this code are licensed BSD style.
 * All other code and the project as a whole is under the GPL.
 * For details see LICENSE.
 * BSD systems dont have /proc/meminfo. it is still posible to get the disired
 * information from the uvm/kvm functions. Linux machines shouldn't have
 * <uvm/vum_extern.h> so should use the /proc/meminfo way. BSD machines (NetBSD
 * i use, but maybe others?) dont have /proc/meminfo so we instead get our info
 * using kvm/uvm.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <errno.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <string.h>

#include "state.h"

#include "config.h"

/* sab - 2000/01/21
 * this should only happen on *BSD and will use the BSD kvm/uvm interface
 * instead of /proc/meminfo
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/param.h>
#include <sys/sysctl.h>

#include <uvm/uvm_extern.h>
#endif /* HAVE_UVM_UVM_EXTERN_H */

extern struct asmem_state state;

#define BUFFER_LENGTH 400
int fd;
char buf[BUFFER_LENGTH];
#endif /* !HAVE_UVM_UVM_EXTERN */

void error_handle( int place, const char * message )
	int error_num;
	error_num = errno;
	/* if that was an interrupt - quit quietly */
	if (error_num == EINTR) {
		printf("asmem: Interrupted.\n");
	switch ( place )
	case 1: /* opening the /proc/meminfo file */
		switch (error_num)
		case ENOENT :
			printf("asmem: The file %s does not exist. "
			"Weird system it is.\n", state.proc_mem_filename);
		case EACCES :
			printf("asmem: You do not have permissions "
			"to read %s\n", state.proc_mem_filename);
		default :
			printf("asmem: cannot open %s. Error %d: %s\n",
				state.proc_mem_filename, errno,
	default: /* catchall for the rest */
		printf("asmem: %s: Error %d: %s\n",
			message, errno, sys_errlist[errno]);

#ifdef DEBUG
/* sab - 2000/01/21
 * Moved there here so it can be used in both BSD style and /proc/meminfo style
 * without repeating code and alowing us to keep the two main functions seperate
#define verb_debug() { \
       printf("+- Total : %ld, used : %ld, free : %ld \n", \
                       state.fresh.total, \
       printf("|  Shared : %ld, buffers : %ld, cached : %ld \n",\
       printf("+- Swap total : %ld, used : %ld, free : %ld \n",\
#define verb_debug()
#endif /* DEBUG */

/* using kvm/uvm (BSD systems) ... */

#define pagetok(size) ((size) << pageshift)

int read_meminfo()
      int pagesize, pageshift;
      int mib[2];
      size_t usize;
      struct uvmexp uvm_exp;

      /* get the info */
      mib[0] = CTL_VM;
      mib[1] = VM_UVMEXP;
      usize = sizeof(uvm_exp);
      if (sysctl(mib, 2, &uvm_exp, &usize, NULL, 0) < 0) {
        fprintf(stderr, "asmem: sysctl uvm_exp failed: %s\n",
          return -1;

      /* setup pageshift */
      pagesize = uvm_exp.pagesize;
      pageshift = 0;
      while (pagesize > 1)
              pagesize >>= 1;

      /* update state */
      state.fresh.total =  pagetok(uvm_exp.npages);
      state.fresh.used = pagetok(uvm_exp.active);
      state.fresh.free = pagetok(uvm_exp.free);
      state.fresh.shared = 0;  /* dont know how to get these */
      state.fresh.buffers = 0;
      state.fresh.cached = 0;
      state.fresh.swap_total =  pagetok(uvm_exp.swpages);
      state.fresh.swap_used = pagetok(uvm_exp.swpginuse);
      state.fresh.swap_free = pagetok(uvm_exp.swpages-uvm_exp.swpginuse);
      return 0;

/* default /proc/meminfo (Linux) method ... */

int read_meminfo()
	int result;
	result = lseek(fd, 0, SEEK_SET);
	if ( result < 0 ) {
		error_handle(2, "seek");
		return -1;
	result = read(fd, buf, sizeof buf);
	case 0 : /* Huh? End of file? Pretend this did not happen... */
	case -1 :
		error_handle(2, "read");
		return -1;
	default :
	buf[result-1] = 0;
	result = sscanf(buf, "%*[^\n]%*s %ld %ld %ld %ld %ld %ld\n%*s %ld %ld %ld",
	case 0 :
	case -1 :
		printf("asmem: invalid input character while "
			"reading %s\n", state.proc_mem_filename);
		return -1;
	return 0;

#endif /* (else) HAVE_UVM_UVM_EXTERN_H */

int open_meminfo()
	int result;
	if ((fd = open(state.proc_mem_filename, O_RDONLY)) == -1) {
		error_handle(1, "");
		return -1;
#endif /* !HAVE_UVM_UVM_EXTERN_H */
	return 0;

int close_meminfo()
#endif /* !HAVE_UVM_UVM_EXTERN_H */
	return 0;

It wasn’t neat.  It increased code complexity and maintenance costs, but it worked.  And we all accepted it as the best we had for now.

Hopes of a Brave New World

Like many cross-platform advocates, I had big hopes for Java and C# with the Microsoft .NET Platform.  But sadly we never saw the fulfilment of their “platform independent” coding promises.  Too many times we have to choose between a GUI toolkit for a platform and looking out of place.  Other times we had to P/Invoke to native APIs to get at functionality not exposed or reproduced by the frameworks.  Even now the GUI toolkit Gtk# is recommended over standard Windows’ System.Windows.Forms on Mono when creating C# programs for Linux or *BSD.

Cross Platform Toolkits such as SWING for Java and Qt for C++ sprung up to abstract the user from the platform they were working with.  But they were primarily GUI toolkits and their APIs only went so far, and eventually, like it or not, all but the most simple applications ended up with a native API call or two wrapped in an #ifdef style condition.

How Web Development Made it Worse

With the rapid increase in Web Development many saw this as finally the way to deliver software across multiple platforms.  Users accessed software via a web browser such as Netscape Navigator and didn’t need the code to work on their own PC or operating system.

Of course behind the scenes the CGI programs were still platform specific or littered with #ifdef statements if they needed to work on more than one server OS.  But the experience of the end user was protected from this, and it looked like a solution may be in the pipeline.

But then the Netscape vs Internet Explorer browser wars happened.  Browsers competed for market share by exposing incompatible features and having sites marked as “recommended for Netscape” or “works best in IE”.  People wanting to support multiple browsers started having to litter their code with the JavaScript equivalents of #ifdef statements.  The same happened again CSS as it became popular.  Nothing really changed.

Enter the Mobile

Then along came the iPhone, and made a bad situation even worse.

Those who went for a native implementation had to learn the rarely used Object-C language.  This helped Apple to avoid competition as developers scrambled to be part of the mobile revolution, but deliberately made portability harder rather than easier.  That still remains part of their strategy today.

People turning again to the web for solutions found that accessing web sites carefully formatted to look great on 1024×768 screens, now being viewed on a tiny mobile phone screen in portrait orientation – was ugly at best, but more often unusable!  And it wasn’t just about text size.  Touch and other mobile specific service meant users expected a different way of interacting with their applications, and browser based software felt more out of place than ever. Yes Responsive Web design and HTML 5 go a long way towards solving some of these web specific mobile issues, but it doesn’t take us away from the #ifdef style logic that has become an accepted part of web application development as it did C and C++ development before it.

So What is to be Done?

Most of this article has been about a history of failures to tackle cross-platform software head on.  Each attempt did bring us a little closer to a solution, but throughout we resigned ourselves to the fact that #ifdef style code was still ultimately necessary.

As application designers and developers we had to choose between how native our applications felt and limiting users from using our software in situations we didn’t plan for.

For almost two decades I’ve been involved in trying to overcome this cross-platform problem.  Now the landscape is more complicated than ever.  Can the same software really run without compromise both inside and outside the browser?  Can we really have a native look and feel to an application on a mobile, tablet, and as desktop PC, is wearable computing going to be the next spanner in the works?

All this is why to move forward, we went back to basics.  We thought first about how software was designed, rather than the libraries and languages that we used.  We first made the Mvpc design pattern, and only then did we make there reference libraries and the commercial Ambidect Technology (soon to be known as Ambicore).  Its fair to say that our many years of experience led us to be able to finally learn from the past we had been so involved with, rather than allowing ourselves to repeat our mistakes again and again.

Because Ambicore provides access to the whole .NET Framework gives a complete cross-platform API that’s developers already know.  Use of C# as our first reference language gives us access to the great thinking that went into creating the Java JVM and Microsofts IL environments that really can abstract us from the operating system and help us avoide #ifdef statements.

Providing native GUI interfaces for each platform means applications using the platforms own recommended toolkit helps applications look and feel native everywhere – simply because they are native to each platform.

Providing a design pattern that works equally well in request-response stateless environments and in rich state-full environments allows us from day one to provide a browser based experience for those who want or need it, as well as a native rich client experience for those wanting to get more from their Windows PCs, phones, tablets, Macs, Linux, *BSD, or…

Its taken 17 years of personal involvement, and recognising and listening to visionaries in the industry.  But by standing on the shoulders of others we re-thought the problem, knowing #ifdef statements were as much part of problem as they were a solution.  We redesigned the development pattern to be portable by default, not as an after thought.  And we based our reference libraries on trusted platforms from market leaders such as Microsoft to make our technology available to the largest pool of developers possible in a language, framework, and IDE they already know.

We are stepping into a new chapter of software development where the platform and device is there to enable, not restrict, the end user from the software they want.  And just as we stood on the shoulders of giants to get here – we want you to join us in the new world too.

Flexible API Documentation with ApiDoc (http://apidoc.codeplex.com)

What is ApiDoc

ApiDoc is a tool for creating a set of technical API documents to help developers using your libraries or classes.

As a .NET developer you’ve probably used the MSDN references for various .NET classes on a regular basis.  But how do you make the same style of documentation available to your team or users of your libraries from other companies?

This article shows you how to use ApiDoc to generate MSDN style API documentation for your own classes, in a way that is easy to customise, integrate with existing websites, and can have your own branding applied.

Getting ApiDoc

To get started you need to download ApiDoc.  You can do this from codeplex: apidoc.codeplex.com.

Codeplex Download ApiDoc

The download includes full source code for ApiDoc and a fully functional demo website you can use and customise.  We’ll use this demo website in this article so be sure to download and extract the .zip file to a location you can edit it.

In the future if you want to you could add ApiDoc to your existing ASP.NET site or application via NuGet instead (see ApiDoc and ApiDoc.Mvc4).

NuGet ApiDoc

Getting Started

Once you’ve downloaded and extracted the .zip file open the “ApiDoc.sln” in Visual Studio.

ApiDoc - open solution

To run the demo site make sure the ApiMvcApplication is set as the start-up application and press F5.

Demo Site

By default the site is configured to show the documentation for the ApiDoc library itself.  Have a browse around and you will be able to browse through around the documentation jumping from class to class as easy as you can with the MSDN.

Documenting your own Code

The next step is to get the demo site working with your own code.  Close the web browser and stop debugging the program so you return to Visual Studio.

Under the ApiMvcApplication expand the Content folder and you will find an “AssembliesToDocument” folder:


Using explorer to find the .dll files and associated .xml files for your application and drag and drop them into AssembliesToDocument so they show in the list.

Now open HomeController.cs under Controllers and you’ll see the following:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Web;
using System.Web.Mvc;

namespace ApiMvcApplication.Controllers
    public class HomeController : Controller
        public ActionResult Index()
            return RedirectToAction("Namespace", "ApiDocumentation", new { id = "ApiDoc" });

The important part here is line 13. You can modify it to match the namespace you want to be your start page by changing id = “ApiDoc” to your own namespace e.g.:

            return RedirectToAction("Namespace", "ApiDocumentation", new { id = "MyApplication" });

You may prefer to open to the index of an assembly:

            return RedirectToAction("Assembly", "ApiDocumentation", new { id = "MyClassLibrary1" });

or directly to your main class:

            return RedirectToAction("Type", "ApiDocumentation", new { id = "MyApplication.MyMainClass" });

Hit F5 again and this time you will see the documentation for your own code rather than for ApiDoc itself.  You can navigate this code exactly as you could before.

Customising the Web Pages

The demo site is a standard ASP.NET MVC 4 site using C# and the razor syntax.  This means if you know how to create standard web applications in this environment customising the site to meet your needs will be very easy.

The views can be found in the default place under Views/ApiDocumentation.  Here you can change the order of documented items, apply custom scripts, or apply your own logic to the API or documentation as you display it.

To customise the style of the site you can edit “Content/Site.css”.  The site uses the standard classes from the MVC project templates, but you can customise specific divs in the views using their member names e.g. “description”, “classes”, or “properties”.

The ApiDocumentation controller can be found under “Controllers/ApiDocumentation.cs” and has a separate action for each member type making it easy to customise or extend.

To make the demo site look nice I’ve used the SyntaxHighlighter scripts to format the code syntax examples in the same way code samples are highlighted on this blog.  If you are customising the demo site for your own purposes you just need to reference the code within a pre block as follows to have the syntax highlighting take place:

    <pre class="brush: csharp">

You should now know everything you need to know to document your own libraries in your own style. If you’d like a link to your library documentation added to the ApiDoc project on Codeplex drop me an email with the link and brief description so I can add it to the site.

Getting Involved

ApiDoc is available under a BSD style license for everyone who needs to generate custom Api Documentation. Its currently Beta software and may contain a few issues which should be pretty easy to sort out and will be fixed as new versions of the library are released. If you want to get involved with the project itself please visit the Codeplex page where all feedback, bug reports, and suggestions are welcome through the discussion pages, and anyone wanting to contribute directly to the project will be invited to do so.


If like me you’ve worked with C# and the .NET framework for years then you will probably have written variations on following code hundreds of time when trying to display values on screen or save values into text based files or SQL statements:

object rawValue = SomeMethodCall();
string displayValue = String.Empty;
if (rawValue != null) {
    displayValue = rawValue.ToString();

The code itself is simple enough to get right first time, and easy to read and understand, but after you’ve written it a few dozen times it starts to appear like unwelcome rash across your code. A programmers next natural instinct is to see if there is a way to shorten the code.

Unfortunately the ?? operator can’t help us here unless we are exclusively dealing with strings for rawValue (in which case why are you calling ToString()?). We can however shorten things substantially with the ? operator:

object rawValue = SomeMethodCall();
string displayValue = (rawValue == null? String.Empty: rawValue.ToString());

This has helped and taken our code from five lines to two, and hasn’t noticeably affected readability. But if we are only interested in the displayValue woundn’t it be nicer if we were able to just do:

string displayValue = SomeMethodCall().ToString();

This code will execute fine, but as soon as a null object is returned from SomeMethodCall() we’ll get a NullReferenceException raised and if we didn’t see it in testing, our end users will see an unhandled exception we should never have introduced.

If we try to use the ? operator directly with the method call and the best you can get is:

string displayValue = SomeMethodCall() == null? String.Empty: SomeMethodCall();

You can tell immediately from the code that this would be at best wasteful if not potentially damaging depending on the side effects of SomeMethodCall(). Under normal circumstances, where SomeMethodCall() doesn’t return null, we end up executing SomeMethodCall() twice. If the method accesses a web service or database we will have potentially doubled the impact of the code on the server, and slowed down the user experience.

What can be done then? Should we just put up with the two line of code where one would work? Until recently I would have said yes, but with LINQ usage on the rise I’ve started to see this particular problem causing ugly code to be written for lambda statements, or worse developers knowingly being lazy with their handling of potential null values when calling .ToString()!

We can actually use a little used feature of extension methods to help us with this problem. As you will know extension methods allow us to invoke static utility methods in a syntax that mirrors invoking a member of a class. The compiler understands the code that calls an extension method and effectively re-writes the syntax from a member call to a static method call for us. To get an idea of how this works take a look at my previous post.

Because the member-like syntax is converted into a static method call, it is possible to call the member on a null reference.  Therefore the first line of the following code would throw a NullReferenceException, but if MyExtensionMethod() was an extension method that handled a null specially, the second will not.


Using this technique we are able to create extension methods that special case null values, but maintain the readable member-style syntax.

I’m going to throw a strong word of warning in here now. When you add an extension method that does not behave like a member method call, particularly ones that don’t raise a NullReferenceException when called on a null variable you are moving away from basics that programmers take for granted when reading code. Used incorrectly this can make code harder to understand and therefore harder to understand. You should be sure about what you are doing before you add extension methods that expose this non-standard behaviour. Its been my experience that methods that should follow this behaviour are almost always involved with displaying values as strings, or converting values between types to pass to an ORM or similar module.

My personal convention to make sure I can identify where the technique has been used is to suffix the method name with “Safe”, so the call above would be MyExtensionMethodSafe(). If everybody in the team follows this convention when they feel there is a genuine need for the extension method to treat nulls differently to a member method call then the code remains easy to read. Don’t forget however that even if you’ve adopted this convention throughout your team, you will still have to train new people joining the team on the convention.

Now with that warning having been strongly stated, lets return to looking at the problem at hand. In this case I believe it makes very good sense to provide a “Safe” extension method companion to ToString(). Here is the code for the ToStringSafe() extension method in full:

namespace Mvpc.Extensions
    public static class ObjectExtensions_ToStringSafe
        public static string ToStringSafe(this object value)
            // Nulls just return empty strings.
            if (value == null) {
                return String.Empty;

            return value.ToString();

If you read my post on async extension methods you will already know that I recommend placing any extension method that works on string, object, int, or any of the core types of the .NET Framework under a namespace ending in “Extensions” so they don’t litter the initilisense when the user doesn’t need them. This rule applies here too as the majority of code will not want to use the ToStringSafe() method.

After adding a using for the Mvpc.Extensions namespace it finally becomes simple to write:

string displayValue = SomeMethodCall().ToStringSafe();

We finally get our five lines of oft-duplicated code down to a single readable line.

Since introducing this new method I’ve completely stopped seeing programmers being lazy with their .ToString() handling of nulls inside lambda statements. Hopefully you will see the same too as well as being able to produce more readable null-safe code.

Async extension method wrappers

Asynchronous APIs are becoming more popular thanks in part to the focus on asynchronous user interface design requirements on platforms such as Windows Store Applications for Windows 8 and Windows RT.

This attempt to change the way developers think about long or unpredictable operations is welcome and necessary as databases and files slowly migrate into the cloud.

Unfortunately System.Threading.Tasks and the async and await keywords are not available inside portable class libraries or some of the platforms we target with the Ambidect technology.  We could choose to use an alternative style of asynchronous API, such as call backs, but these are starting to look dated, and require the developer to do a lot more boilerplate work to use.

At this point you may be tempted to give up and provide only an blocking synchronous API and require the developer to manage their own threads on each platform that insists on asynchronous calls; but as I touched on in my previous post about the repository API, we felt it was a much better idea to provide an async API and did so using extension methods.

This technique can be used to wrap almost any synchronous API; but I have to stress at this stage it should only be used if the platform or platforms you are working on do not have a usable native asynchronous API.

For our example we’ll work with the Find method of the IRepository<> interface, but the principles here will work with any synchronous call that needs to be wrapped.

The first thing we need to do is create class to host our extension methods:

using System;
using System.Threading.Tasks;

namespace Mvpc
    public static class IRepositoryExensions_Async
        // TODO this is where to put your extension method code.

If you are not familiar with extension methods, the reason we mark the class as static is because its a requirement of the extension method support of the compiler.  The name of the class can be anything you want, but you can see that I use a simple convention that makes it clear to anybody using the library that the class contains extension methods, so is of no interest to be used directly.

You will note that the class here has been put into the Mvpc namespace to go alongside the class we are wrapping.  When using extension methods that extend the API with asynchronous members this is my recommended approach.  It stops the developer of the class worrying about how the async methods are provided, and intilisense will include them in the list of available class members when working on a platform that supports our asynchronous API.

In cases where the extension methods provide utility functions rather than a core API for a class, it is good practice to keep your extension methods in a separate namespace, e.g. Mvpc.Extensions.  This stops the intilisense list being over-populated with extension methods that are not relevant to the code at hand.  When extending one of the CLRs core types such as object or string I always insist that the extension method goes into a namespace ending in “Extensions” such as Mvpc.Extensions that the developer has to explicitly opt into.  This not only helps keeps the intilisense clean, but also stops accidental dependencies on the specific extension methods creaping into code blocks where they don’t belong.

Now we have a class setup and have decided the right namespace for the class lets add an extension method.  An extension method is exactly the same as a normal static method, except its first parameter is prefixed with the “this” keyword.  This instruction tells the compiler that it can effectively rewrite the extension method call into a static method call, while allowing the developer using the extension method to use a more natural calling convention.  For example instead of having to call:

var repository = ...;
var key = Guid.NewGuid();
IRepositoryBaseExtensions_Async.FindAsync(repository, key);

We can use the much more readable:

var repository = ...;
var key = Guid.NewGuid();

Lets have a look at the code for the FindAsync() extension method itself now:

        public async static Task FindAsync(this IRepository repository, params Guid[] keys)
            var task = System.Threading.Tasks.Task.Factory.StartNew(() =>
                var ret = repository.Find(keys);
                return ret;

            return await task;

The first thing you will note is that we suffix the name of the method with “Async” I find this a very good convention to follow for any method that provides an async API that can have “await” applied to it. It helps the person using the method remember that at some point they will likely want to await on the result.

If you are unfamiliar with the async and await keywords I suggest you have a look at them in the MSDN documentation sufficient to say here that you use async to mark a method as containing asynchronous code, and await to safely wait for the result of an async method before continuing.

As well as the async keyword you will notice the method is also marked as static as it will operate without a class instance and the first parameter is prefixed with “this” keyword to enable the extension method style shorthand call to the method.  We can still call the static method directly if we want, but without the “this” keyword the extension method syntax would not be available when calling the method.

Inside the method we create a new Task with the right return type and use an lambda expression to perform a call to the synchronous API we are wrapping.  This code will be executed in a separate thread before returning its result.  Exactly when the code pauses to wait for the result depends on how we use await when calling the extension method.

More often that not when we will want the code to wait for the value before continuing so we will use await directly on the async call as follows:

var repository = ...;
var key = Guid.NewGuid();
var item = await repository.FindAsync(key);

In this post we’ve wrapped a synchronous call to a repository function with an async extension method, but you can use the technique whenever you find you need to make regular asynchronous calls to a class that couldn’t be built with an asynchronous API, or to which you do not have access to the source to extend with a native asynchronous API yourself.

Increase readability with the var keyword and DRY in C#

When the var keyword was first added to the C# language many developers shyed away from it believing it to be a “Variant” type like found in VB.NET or the equivalent of declaring an variable as an object.  Both of these are wrong, but despite this I’ve come across plenty of companies that still ban the use of var in their coding standards stating that it is not type safe.

The var keyword is completely type safe and is actually the equivalent of you typing the name of the type yourself but deciding it was easier to let the compier type the whole name for you.  I find it better simply to look at the var keyword as a timesaver that instructs thecompiler that there is no reason for you to specify the type because: 1. anybody reading it can see the type immediately.  2. The exact type is unimportant as long as it meets the requirements of the code.

Its also worth pointing out at this stage that with modern IDEs I also consider the use of embedding type names into variable names using Hungarian notation or other similar approaches is also not only bad practice, but dangerous compared to proper use of DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principles.

I use the var keyword all the time and find it makes code more readable, not less readable, especially when working with long type names.

For example line one here is much easier to read than line two. In fact in line two you have to search just to find the name of the variable.

Example 1

MyType hello = new MyType();
System.Collection.Generic.Dictionary<string, MyLibrary.Namespace.MyType2> goodbye = new System.Collection.Generic.Dictionary<string, MyLibrary.Namespace.MyType2>();

Using var both lines are equally easy to understand, and the name of both becomes the primary focus of the line rather than the type:

Example 2

var hello = new MyType();
var goodbye = new System.Collection.Generic.Dictionary<string, MyLibrary.Namespace.MyType2>();

Not to mention that you now have one less place to change if you decide to use MyType3 instead of MyType or MyType2 in this code block.

Using var on lines that already perform a cast can give similar readable and time saving advantages.

Example 3

var world = (Button)sender;
var universe = sender as System.Windows.Form;

I also recommend using var for variables that are used to store results from methods where the type is unimportant either because we simply returning it or passing it to another method, or in the of enumerables, we have to specify the type name when we use it anyway.

Lets have another couple of real world examples:

Example 4

var value1 = GetValueFromDatabase(1);
var value2 = GetValueFromDatabase(2);

var value3 = Combine(value1, value2);
return value3;

Reading the example alone you have no idea what type var is. This can upset some people, but if you are using Visual Studio its easy enough to mouse-over each “var” keyword to see the type that’s being used. But if you stop and think for a moment the reason you don’t know each type is because the current code doesn’t need to know. By practicing DRY here you’ve actually created code that’s much easier to maintain and is completely type safe. If in the future GetValueFromDatabase() was changed to return a decimal instead of an int it wouldn’t matter as long as Combine() had an overload that accepted decimals as parameters, or was changed at the same time. If we don’t use var then we would have to edit the code ourselves to switch value1, value2, and value3 from int to decimal, even though the changes has had no real affect on the current code block.

There are of course times when specifying the type explicitly over using var gives important extra information to the user then it should be used instead of var, but you will find these situations are few and far between. I might choose to use “int” for example if I was getting an int defined and returned from a method call in one line, but only if the fact I was performing some integer rather than floating point maths is important within the current code block. Otherwise I’m just making it hard to change the methods definition to work with double or decimal in the future.

Example 5

var form = new Form1();
var res = form1.ShowDialog();
if (res == DialogResult.Cancel) {
    // ...

We’ve already talked here about why line 1 is good practice, but we’ve been “lazy” on line two and used “var” even though we have full knowledge that the return type will be System.Windows.Forms.DialogResult, and whats more that return type will never change as its part of the core .NET framework. Why is var useful in this context then? The better question is why actually would you “repeat” what you already know and specify later here anyway?

You and everybody else who is used to the System.Windows.Forms namespace knows the DialogResult type inside out. But what about people new to the toolkit, is the code still readable to them? I would argue that because we always specify the enumerable name on use, and the only purpose of the variable res is to be checked, specifying the type explicitly gains us nothing in readability, but does cost us more key presses.

I guess we can’t really say line 2 would “repeat yourself” in the same way as declaring a variable with both an explicit variable type and the new keyword on the same line, but we can say if we explicitly put the type on line 2 then we know we are planning to repeat ourselves on line 3, so here we are practicing Don’t Plan to Repeat Yourself to help us keep the DRY pricinple and keeping our code shorter by result.

If you’ve shed away from the var keyword yourself until now hopefully you are now inspired to give it a try and not just when your forced to using anon types and LINQ. You will find that when you follow the suggestions in this post your code will not only start to practice DRY but will actually increase in readability as the code you write become much more focused on the true dependencies and functionality of the method, and not the types your working with.

OfType() and Cast() with System.Type instead of Generics

We all know that whenever possible we code should be written to be type safe. But there are times when its simply not possible. Once such time we came across when putting together the Mvpc libraries behind the Ambidect Technology involved working with Cast<>() and OfType<>() with IEnumerables of unknown types.

Working with collections of known types is as simple:

var myCollection = collection.Cast();
var myCollection2 = collection.OfType();

But what do you do when all you have is a System.Type?  Sure you can try and avoid the situation but sometimes it really is bad design for the code to know the element when all it cares about is the fact we have an IEnumerable.  Yet other times the type may not even exist until it is emitted at runtime either by ourselves, or by a Json or similar library wrapping a web service.

Thanks to reflection it is possible to implement Cast(Type type) and OfType(Type type) in a cross platform way and cope with these cases when they arise.

The first thing we need is a normal generic method we can call. For Cast<>() we can define it as follows:

        private static IEnumerable CastInternal(System.Collections.IEnumerable source)
            return source.Cast();

Nothing noteworthy in that code. Now we just need a method we can pass a System.Type to. First the code then we’ll take it line by line:

        public static System.Collections.IEnumerable Cast(this System.Collections.IEnumerable source, Type elementType)
            var methodTemplate = typeof(IEnumerableExtensions_UntypedCasts).GetMethod("CastInternal", System.Reflection.BindingFlags.NonPublic | System.Reflection.BindingFlags.Static);
            var genericMethod = methodTemplate.MakeGenericMethod(elementType);
            return (System.Collections.IEnumerable)genericMethod.Invoke(null, new[] { source });

This code can look very confusing if you haven’t used the System.Reflection namespace before but its actually very simple.

Line 2 uses reflection on the current type and gets the CastInternal() method we defined in the previous code block. (In the example code we’ve wrapped the extension method in a static class called IEnumerableExtensions_UntypedCasts. You will need to change the type name if you add the code to a class with a different name). At this point the MethodInfo doesn’t point to a method we can call, but a generic definition.

Line 3 uses that generic definition to create a method that can actually be called. No use of the System.Reflection.Emit namespace here so the code will run on all platforms, even those that don’t support dynamic code execution. It also means we can keep it contained in a Portable Class Library.

Line 4 invokes the newly generated method and simply returns its value.

If you add these extension methods to a static class in your own code you can then call Cast() on an IEnumerable when all you have is a System.Type of the target element type:

var type = typeof(MyType);
var collection = originalCollection.Cast(type);

The definition of OfType(System.Type) is exactly the same with the Cast<>() method swapped for OfType<>().

Hope you find them useful for those situations where you simply can’t or shouldn’t know the element type until runtime.