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3.5.2 Accessibility domains

Visual Studio .NET 2003

The accessibility domain of a member consists of the (possibly disjoint) sections of program text in which access to the member is permitted. For purposes of defining the accessibility domain of a member, a member is said to be top-level if it is not declared within a type, and a member is said to be nested if it is declared within another type. Furthermore, the program text of a program is defined as all program text contained in all source files of the program, and the program text of a type is defined as all program text contained between the opening and closing "{" and "}" tokens in the class-body, struct-body, interface-body, or enum-body of the type (including, possibly, types that are nested within the type).

The accessibility domain of a predefined type (such as object, int, or double) is unlimited.

The accessibility domain of a top-level type T that is declared in a program P is defined as follows:

  • If the declared accessibility of T is public, the accessibility domain of T is the program text of P and any program that references P.
  • If the declared accessibility of T is internal, the accessibility domain of T is the program text of P.

From these definitions it follows that the accessibility domain of a top-level type is always at least the program text of the program in which that type is declared.

The accessibility domain of a nested member M declared in a type T within a program P is defined as follows (noting that M itself may possibly be a type):

  • If the declared accessibility of M is public, the accessibility domain of M is the accessibility domain of T.
  • If the declared accessibility of M is protected internal, let D be the union of the program text of P and the program text of any type derived from T, which is declared outside P. The accessibility domain of M is the intersection of the accessibility domain of T with D.
  • If the declared accessibility of M is protected, let D be the union of the program text of T and the program text of any type derived from T. The accessibility domain of M is the intersection of the accessibility domain of T with D.
  • If the declared accessibility of M is internal, the accessibility domain of M is the intersection of the accessibility domain of T with the program text of P.
  • If the declared accessibility of M is private, the accessibility domain of M is the program text of T.

From these definitions it follows that the accessibility domain of a nested member is always at least the program text of the type in which the member is declared. Furthermore, it follows that the accessibility domain of a member is never more inclusive than the accessibility domain of the type in which the member is declared.

In intuitive terms, when a type or member M is accessed, the following steps are evaluated to ensure that the access is permitted:

  • First, if M is declared within a type (as opposed to a compilation unit or a namespace), a compile-time error occurs if that type is not accessible.
  • Then, if M is public, the access is permitted.
  • Otherwise, if M is protected internal, the access is permitted if it occurs within the program in which M is declared, or if it occurs within a class derived from the class in which M is declared and takes place through the derived class type (Section 3.5.3).
  • Otherwise, if M is protected, the access is permitted if it occurs within the class in which M is declared, or if it occurs within a class derived from the class in which M is declared and takes place through the derived class type (Section 3.5.3).
  • Otherwise, if M is internal, the access is permitted if it occurs within the program in which M is declared.
  • Otherwise, if M is private, the access is permitted if it occurs within the type in which M is declared.
  • Otherwise, the type or member is inaccessible, and a compile-time error occurs.

In the example

public class A
{
   public static int X;
   internal static int Y;
   private static int Z;
}
internal class B
{
   public static int X;
   internal static int Y;
   private static int Z;
   public class C
   {
      public static int X;
      internal static int Y;
      private static int Z;
   }
   private class D
   {
      public static int X;
      internal static int Y;
      private static int Z;
   }
}

the classes and members have the following accessibility domains:

  • The accessibility domain of A and A.X is unlimited.
  • The accessibility domain of A.Y, B, B.X, B.Y, B.C, B.C.X, and B.C.Y is the program text of the containing program.
  • The accessibility domain of A.Z is the program text of A.
  • The accessibility domain of B.Z and B.D is the program text of B, including the program text of B.C and B.D.
  • The accessibility domain of B.D.X and B.D.Y is the program text of B, including the program text of B.C and B.D.
  • The accessibility domain of B.D.Z is the program text of B.D.

As the example illustrates, the accessibility domain of a member is never larger than that of a containing type. For example, even though all X members have public declared accessibility, all but A.X have accessibility domains that are constrained by a containing type.

As described in Section 3.4, all members of a base class, except for instance constructors, destructors and static constructors, are inherited by derived types. This includes even private members of a base class. However, the accessibility domain of a private member includes only the program text of the type in which the member is declared. In the example

class A
{
   int x;
   static void F(B b) {
      b.x = 1;      // Ok
   }
}
class B: A
{
   static void F(B b) {
      b.x = 1;      // Error, x not accessible
   }
}

the B class inherits the private member x from the A class. Because the member is private, it is only accessible within the class-body of A. Thus, the access to b.x succeeds in the A.F method, but fails in the B.F method.

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