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Extension Methods (C# Programming Guide)

Extension methods enable you to "add" methods to existing types without creating a new derived type, recompiling, or otherwise modifying the original type. Extension methods are a special kind of static method, but they are called as if they were instance methods on the extended type. For client code written in C# and Visual Basic, there is no apparent difference between calling an extension method and the methods that are actually defined in a type.

The most common extension methods are the LINQ standard query operators that add query functionality to the existing System.Collections.IEnumerable and System.Collections.Generic.IEnumerable<T> types. To use the standard query operators, first bring them into scope with a using System.Linq directive. Then any type that implements IEnumerable<T> appears to have instance methods such as GroupBy, OrderBy, Average, and so on. You can see these additional methods in IntelliSense statement completion when you type "dot" after an instance of an IEnumerable<T> type such as List<T> or Array

The following example shows how to call the standard query operator OrderBy method on an array of integers. The expression in parentheses is a lambda expression. Many standard query operators take lambda expressions as parameters, but this is not a requirement for extension methods. For more information, see Lambda Expressions (C# Programming Guide).

class ExtensionMethods2    
{

    static void Main()
    {            
        int[] ints = { 10, 45, 15, 39, 21, 26 };
        var result = ints.OrderBy(g => g);
        foreach (var i in result)
        {
            System.Console.Write(i + " ");
        }           
    }        
}
//Output: 10 15 21 26 39 45

Extension methods are defined as static methods but are called by using instance method syntax. Their first parameter specifies which type the method operates on, and the parameter is preceded by the this modifier. Extension methods are only in scope when you explicitly import the namespace into your source code with a using directive.

The following example shows an extension method defined for the System.String class. Note that it is defined inside a non-nested, non-generic static class:

namespace ExtensionMethods
{
    public static class MyExtensions
    {
        public static int WordCount(this String str)
        {
            return str.Split(new char[] { ' ', '.', '?' }, StringSplitOptions.RemoveEmptyEntries).Length;
        }
    }   
}

The WordCount extension method can be brought into scope with this using directive:

using ExtensionMethods;

And it can be called from an application by using this syntax:

string s = "Hello Extension Methods";
int i = s.WordCount();

In your code you invoke the extension method with instance method syntax. However, the intermediate language (IL) generated by the compiler translates your code into a call on the static method. Therefore, the principle of encapsulation is not really being violated. In fact, extension methods cannot access private variables in the type they are extending.

For more information, see How to: Implement and Call a Custom Extension Method (C# Programming Guide).

In general, you will probably be calling extension methods far more often than implementing your own. Because extension methods are called by using instance method syntax, no special knowledge is required to use them from client code. To enable extension methods for a particular type, just add a using directive for the namespace in which the methods are defined. For example, to use the standard query operators, add this using directive to your code:

using System.Linq;

(You may also have to add a reference to System.Core.dll.) You will notice that the standard query operators now appear in IntelliSense as additional methods available for most IEnumerable<T> types.

NoteNote:

Although standard query operators do not appear in IntelliSense for String, they are still available.

You can use extension methods to extend a class or interface, but not to override them. An extension method with the same name and signature as an interface or class method will never be called. At compile time, extension methods always have lower priority than instance methods defined in the type itself. In other words, if a type has a method named Process(int i), and you have an extension method with the same signature, the compiler will always bind to the instance method. When the compiler encounters a method invocation, it first looks for a match in the type's instance methods. If no match is found, it will search for any extension methods that are defined for the type, and bind to the first extension method that it finds. The following example demonstrates how the compiler determines which extension method or instance method to bind to.

The following example demonstrates the rules that the C# compiler follows in determining whether to bind a method call to an instance method on the type, or to an extension method. The static class Extensions contains extension methods defined for any type that implements IMyInterface. Classes A, B, and C all implement the interface.

The MethodB method is never called because its name and signature exactly match methods already implemented by the classes.

When the compiler cannot find an instance method with a matching signature, it will bind to a matching extension method if one exists.

namespace Extensions
{
  using System;
  using ExtensionMethodsDemo1;

     // Define extension methods for any type that implements IMyInterface. 
     public static class Extension
     {
        public static void MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, int i)
        {
            Console.WriteLine("Extension.MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, int i)");
        }

        public static void MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, string s) 
        {
            Console.WriteLine("Extension.MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, string s)");
        }

        // This method is never called, because the three classes implement MethodB. 
        public static void MethodB(this IMyInterface myInterface) 
        {
            Console.WriteLine("Extension.MethodB(this IMyInterface myInterface)");
        }
    }
}
namespace ExtensionMethodsDemo1
{
    using System;
    using Extensions;

    public interface IMyInterface
    {
        void MethodB();
    }

    class A : IMyInterface 
    {
        public void MethodB(){Console.WriteLine("A.MethodB()");}
    } 

    class B : IMyInterface
    {
        public void MethodB() { Console.WriteLine("B.MethodB()"); }
        public void MethodA(int i) { Console.WriteLine("B.MethodA(int i)"); }
    }

    class C : IMyInterface
    {
        public void MethodB() { Console.WriteLine("C.MethodB()"); }
        public void MethodA(object obj) { Console.WriteLine("C.MethodA(object obj)"); }
    }

    class ExtMethodDemo
    {
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            A a = new A();
            B b = new B();
            C c = new C();
            TestMethodBinding(a,b,c);
        }

        static void TestMethodBinding(A a, B b, C c)
        {
            // A has no methods, so each call resolves to  
            // the extension methods whose signatures match.
            a.MethodA(1);           // Extension.MethodA(object, int)
            a.MethodA("hello");     // Extension.MethodA(object, string)
            a.MethodB();            // A.MethodB() 

            // B itself has a method with this signature.
            b.MethodA(1);           // B.MethodA(int)
            b.MethodB();            // B.MethodB() 

            // B has no matching method, but Extension does.
            b.MethodA("hello");     // Extension.MethodA(object, string) 

            // In each case C has a matching instance method.
            c.MethodA(1);           // C.MethodA(object)
            c.MethodA("hello");     // C.MethodA(object)
            c.MethodB();            // C.MethodB()
        }
    }
}
/* Output:
    Extension.MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, int i)
    Extension.MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, string s)
    A.MethodB()
    B.MethodA(int i)
    B.MethodB()
    Extension.MethodA(this IMyInterface myInterface, string s)
    C.MethodA(object obj)
    C.MethodA(object obj)
    C.MethodB()
 */

In general, we recommend that you implement extension methods sparingly and only when you have to. Whenever possible, client code that must extend an existing type should do so by creating a new type derived from the existing type. For more information, see Inheritance (C# Programming Guide).

When using an extension method to extend a type whose source code you cannot change, you run the risk that a change in the implementation of the type will cause your extension method to break.

If you do implement extension methods for a given type, remember the following two points:

  • An extension method will never be called if it has the same signature as a method defined in the type.

  • Extension methods are brought into scope at the namespace level. For example, if you have multiple static classes that contain extension methods in a single namespace named Extensions, they will all be brought into scope by the using Extensions; directive.

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