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Using Properties (C# Programming Guide)

Properties combine aspects of both fields and methods. To the user of an object, a property appears to be a field, accessing the property requires the same syntax. To the implementer of a class, a property is one or two code blocks, representing a get accessor and/or a set accessor. The code block for the get accessor is executed when the property is read; the code block for the set accessor is executed when the property is assigned a new value. A property without a set accessor is considered read-only. A property without a get accessor is considered write-only. A property that has both accessors is read-write.

Unlike fields, properties are not classified as variables. Therefore, you cannot pass a property as a ref (C# Reference) or out (C# Reference) parameter.

Properties have many uses: they can validate data before allowing a change; they can transparently expose data on a class where that data is actually retrieved from some other source, such as a database; they can take an action when data is changed, such as raising an event, or changing the value of other fields.

Properties are declared in the class block by specifying the access level of the field, followed by the type of the property, followed by the name of the property, and followed by a code block that declares a get-accessor and/or a set accessor. For example:

public class Date
{
    private int month = 7;  // Backing store 

    public int Month
    {
        get
        {
            return month;
        }
        set
        {
            if ((value > 0) && (value < 13))
            {
                month = value;
            }
        }
    }
}

In this example, Month is declared as a property so that the set accessor can make sure that the Month value is set between 1 and 12. The Month property uses a private field to track the actual value. The real location of a property's data is often referred to as the property's "backing store." It is common for properties to use private fields as a backing store. The field is marked private in order to make sure that it can only be changed by calling the property. For more information about public and private access restrictions, see Access Modifiers (C# Programming Guide).

Auto-implemented properties provide simplified syntax for simple property declarations. For more information, see Auto-Implemented Properties (C# Programming Guide).

The body of the get accessor resembles that of a method. It must return a value of the property type. The execution of the get accessor is equivalent to reading the value of the field. For example, when you are returning the private variable from the get accessor and optimizations are enabled, the call to the get accessor method is inlined by the compiler so there is no method-call overhead. However, a virtual get accessor method cannot be inlined because the compiler does not know at compile-time which method may actually be called at run time. The following is a get accessor that returns the value of a private field name:

class Person
{
    private string name;  // the name field 
    public string Name    // the Name property
    {
        get
        {
            return name;
        }
    }
}

When you reference the property, except as the target of an assignment, the get accessor is invoked to read the value of the property. For example:

Person person = new Person();
//...

System.Console.Write(person.Name);  // the get accessor is invoked here

The get accessor must end in a return or throw statement, and control cannot flow off the accessor body.

It is a bad programming style to change the state of the object by using the get accessor. For example, the following accessor produces the side effect of changing the state of the object every time that the number field is accessed.

private int number;
public int Number
{
    get
    {
        return number++;   // Don't do this
    }
}

The get accessor can be used to return the field value or to compute it and return it. For example:

class Employee
{
    private string name;
    public string Name
    {
        get
        {
            return name != null ? name : "NA";
        }
    }
}

In the previous code segment, if you do not assign a value to the Name property, it will return the value NA.

The set accessor resembles a method whose return type is void. It uses an implicit parameter called value, whose type is the type of the property. In the following example, a set accessor is added to the Name property:

class Person
{
    private string name;  // the name field 
    public string Name    // the Name property
    {
        get
        {
            return name;
        }
        set
        {
            name = value;
        }
    }
}

When you assign a value to the property, the set accessor is invoked by using an argument that provides the new value. For example:

Person person = new Person();
person.Name = "Joe";  // the set accessor is invoked here                

System.Console.Write(person.Name);  // the get accessor is invoked here

It is an error to use the implicit parameter name, value, for a local variable declaration in a set accessor.

Properties can be marked as public, private, protected, internal, or protected internal. These access modifiers define how users of the class can access the property. The get and set accessors for the same property may have different access modifiers. For example, the get may be public to allow read-only access from outside the type, and the set may be private or protected. For more information, see Access Modifiers (C# Programming Guide).

A property may be declared as a static property by using the static keyword. This makes the property available to callers at any time, even if no instance of the class exists. For more information, see Static Classes and Static Class Members (C# Programming Guide).

A property may be marked as a virtual property by using the virtual keyword. This enables derived classes to override the property behavior by using the override keyword. For more information about these options, see Inheritance (C# Programming Guide).

A property overriding a virtual property can also be sealed, specifying that for derived classes it is no longer virtual. Lastly, a property can be declared abstract. This means that there is no implementation in the class, and derived classes must write their own implementation. For more information about these options, see Abstract and Sealed Classes and Class Members (C# Programming Guide).

NoteNote:

It is an error to use a virtual (C# Reference), abstract (C# Reference), or override (C# Reference) modifier on an accessor of a static property.

This example demonstrates instance, static, and read-only properties. It accepts the name of the employee from the keyboard, increments NumberOfEmployees by 1, and displays the Employee name and number.

public class Employee
{
    public static int NumberOfEmployees;
    private static int counter;
    private string name;

    // A read-write instance property: 
    public string Name
    {
        get { return name; }
        set { name = value; }
    }

    // A read-only static property: 
    public static int Counter
    {
        get { return counter; }
    }

    // A Constructor: 
    public Employee()
    {
        // Calculate the employee's number:
        counter = ++counter + NumberOfEmployees;
    }
}

class TestEmployee
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Employee.NumberOfEmployees = 107;
        Employee e1 = new Employee();
        e1.Name = "Claude Vige";

        System.Console.WriteLine("Employee number: {0}", Employee.Counter);
        System.Console.WriteLine("Employee name: {0}", e1.Name);
    }
}
/* Output:
    Employee number: 108
    Employee name: Claude Vige
*/

This example demonstrates how to access a property in a base class that is hidden by another property that has the same name in a derived class.

public class Employee
{
    private string name;
    public string Name
    {
        get { return name; }
        set { name = value; }
    }
}

public class Manager : Employee
{
    private string name;

    // Notice the use of the new modifier: 
    public new string Name
    {
        get { return name; }
        set { name = value + ", Manager"; }
    }
}

class TestHiding
{
    static void Main()
    {
        Manager m1 = new Manager();

        // Derived class property.
        m1.Name = "John";

        // Base class property.
        ((Employee)m1).Name = "Mary";

        System.Console.WriteLine("Name in the derived class is: {0}", m1.Name);
        System.Console.WriteLine("Name in the base class is: {0}", ((Employee)m1).Name);
    }
}
/* Output:
    Name in the derived class is: John, Manager
    Name in the base class is: Mary
*/

The following are important points in the previous example:

  • The property Name in the derived class hides the property Name in the base class. In such a case, the new modifier is used in the declaration of the property in the derived class:

    public new string Name
    
  • The cast (Employee) is used to access the hidden property in the base class:

    ((Employee)m1).Name = "Mary";
    

    For more information about hiding members, see the new Modifier (C# Reference).

In this example, two classes, Cube and Square, implement an abstract class, Shape, and override its abstract Area property. Note the use of the override modifier on the properties. The program accepts the side as an input and calculates the areas for the square and cube. It also accepts the area as an input and calculates the corresponding side for the square and cube.

abstract class Shape
{
    public abstract double Area
    {
        get;
        set;
    }
}

class Square : Shape
{
    public double side;

    public Square(double s)  //constructor
    {
        side = s;
    }

    public override double Area
    {
        get
        {
            return side * side;
        }
        set
        {
            side = System.Math.Sqrt(value);
        }
    }
}

class Cube : Shape
{
    public double side;

    public Cube(double s)
    {
        side = s;
    }

    public override double Area
    {
        get
        {
            return 6 * side * side;
        }
        set
        {
            side = System.Math.Sqrt(value / 6);
        }
    }
}

class TestShapes
{
    static void Main()
    {
        // Input the side:
        System.Console.Write("Enter the side: ");
        double side = double.Parse(System.Console.ReadLine());

        // Compute the areas:
        Square s = new Square(side);
        Cube c = new Cube(side);

        // Display the results:
        System.Console.WriteLine("Area of the square = {0:F2}", s.Area);
        System.Console.WriteLine("Area of the cube = {0:F2}", c.Area);
        System.Console.WriteLine();

        // Input the area:
        System.Console.Write("Enter the area: ");
        double area = double.Parse(System.Console.ReadLine());

        // Compute the sides:
        s.Area = area;
        c.Area = area;

        // Display the results:
        System.Console.WriteLine("Side of the square = {0:F2}", s.side);
        System.Console.WriteLine("Side of the cube = {0:F2}", c.side);
    }
}
/* Example Output:
    Enter the side: 4
    Area of the square = 16.00
    Area of the cube = 96.00

    Enter the area: 24
    Side of the square = 4.90
    Side of the cube = 2.00
*/

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