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Delegate Class

Updated: June 2010

Represents a delegate, which is a data structure that refers to a static method or to a class instance and an instance method of that class.

Namespace:  System
Assembly:  mscorlib (in mscorlib.dll)

<SerializableAttribute> _
<ClassInterfaceAttribute(ClassInterfaceType.AutoDual)> _
<ComVisibleAttribute(True)> _
Public MustInherit Class Delegate _
	Implements ICloneable, ISerializable
Dim instance As [Delegate]

The Delegate class is the base class for delegate types. However, only the system and compilers can derive explicitly from the Delegate class or from the MulticastDelegate class. It is also not permissible to derive a new type from a delegate type. The Delegate class is not considered a delegate type; it is a class used to derive delegate types.

Most languages implement a delegate keyword, and compilers for those languages are able to derive from the MulticastDelegate class; therefore, users should use the delegate keyword provided by the language.


The common language runtime provides an Invoke method for each delegate type, with the same signature as the delegate. You do not have to call this method explicitly from C#, Visual Basic, or Visual C++, because the compilers call it automatically. The Invoke method is useful in reflection when you want to find the signature of the delegate type.

The common language runtime provides each delegate type with BeginInvoke and EndInvoke methods, to enable asynchronous invocation of the delegate. For more information about these methods, see Calling Synchronous Methods Asynchronously.

The declaration of a delegate type establishes a contract that specifies the signature of one or more methods. A delegate is an instance of a delegate type that has references to:

  • An instance method of a type and a target object assignable to that type.

  • An instance method of a type, with the hidden this parameter exposed in the formal parameter list. The delegate is said to be an open instance delegate.

  • A static method.

  • A static method and a target object assignable to the first parameter of the method. The delegate is said to be closed over its first argument.

For more information on delegate binding, see Delegates in the Common Type System and CreateDelegate(Type, Object, MethodInfo, Boolean).


In the .NET Framework versions 1.0 and 1.1, a delegate can represent a method only if the signature of the method exactly matches the signature specified by the delegate type. Thus, only the first and third bullets in the preceding list are supported, and the first bullet requires an exact type match.

When a delegate represents an instance method closed over its first argument (the most common case), the delegate stores a reference to the method's entry point and a reference to an object, called the target, which is of a type assignable to the type that defined the method. When a delegate represents an open instance method, it stores a reference to the method's entry point. The delegate signature must include the hidden this parameter in its formal parameter list; in this case, the delegate does not have a reference to a target object, and a target object must be supplied when the delegate is invoked.

When a delegate represents a static method, the delegate stores a reference to the method's entry point. When a delegate represents a static method closed over its first argument, the delegate stores a reference to the method's entry point and a reference to a target object assignable to the type of the method's first argument. When the delegate is invoked, the first argument of the static method receives the target object.

The invocation list of a delegate is an ordered set of delegates in which each element of the list invokes exactly one of the methods represented by the delegate. An invocation list can contain duplicate methods. During an invocation, methods are invoked in the order in which they appear in the invocation list. A delegate attempts to invoke every method in its invocation list; duplicates are invoked once for each time they appear in the invocation list. Delegates are immutable; once created, the invocation list of a delegate does not change.

Delegates are referred to as multicast, or combinable, because a delegate can invoke one or more methods and can be used in combining operations.

Combining operations, such as Combine and Remove, do not alter existing delegates. Instead, such an operation returns a new delegate that contains the results of the operation, an unchanged delegate, or Nothing. A combining operation returns Nothing when the result of the operation is a delegate that does not reference at least one method. A combining operation returns an unchanged delegate when the requested operation has no effect.

If an invoked method throws an exception, the method stops executing, the exception is passed back to the caller of the delegate, and remaining methods in the invocation list are not invoked. Catching the exception in the caller does not alter this behavior.

When the signature of the methods invoked by a delegate includes a return value, the delegate returns the return value of the last element in the invocation list. When the signature includes a parameter that is passed by reference, the final value of the parameter is the result of every method in the invocation list executing sequentially and updating the parameter's value.

The closest equivalent of a delegate in C or C++ is a function pointer. A delegate can represent a static method or an instance method. When the delegate represents an instance method, the delegate stores not only a reference to the method's entry point, but also a reference to the class instance. Unlike function pointers, delegates are object oriented and type safe.

The following example shows how to define a delegate named myMethodDelegate. Instances of this delegate are created for an instance method and a static method of the nested mySampleClass class. The delegate for the instance method requires an instance of mySampleClass. The mySampleClass instance is saved in a variable named mySC.

Imports System

Public Class SamplesDelegate

   ' Declares a delegate for a method that takes in an int and returns a String. 
   Delegate Function myMethodDelegate(myInt As Integer) As [String]

   ' Defines some methods to which the delegate can point. 
   Public Class mySampleClass

      ' Defines an instance method. 
      Public Function myStringMethod(myInt As Integer) As [String]
         If myInt > 0 Then 
            Return "positive" 
         End If 
         If myInt < 0 Then 
            Return "negative" 
         End If 
         Return "zero" 
      End Function 'myStringMethod

      ' Defines a static method. 
      Public Shared Function mySignMethod(myInt As Integer) As [String]
         If myInt > 0 Then 
            Return "+" 
         End If 
         If myInt < 0 Then 
            Return "-" 
         End If 
         Return "" 
      End Function 'mySignMethod
   End Class 'mySampleClass

   Public Shared Sub Main()

      ' Creates one delegate for each method. For the instance method, an 
      ' instance (mySC) must be supplied. For the Shared method, the 
      ' method name is qualified by the class name. 
      Dim mySC As New mySampleClass()
      Dim myD1 As New myMethodDelegate(AddressOf mySC.myStringMethod)
      Dim myD2 As New myMethodDelegate(AddressOf mySampleClass.mySignMethod)

      ' Invokes the delegates.
      Console.WriteLine("{0} is {1}; use the sign ""{2}"".", 5, myD1(5), myD2(5))
      Console.WriteLine("{0} is {1}; use the sign ""{2}"".", - 3, myD1(- 3), myD2(- 3))
      Console.WriteLine("{0} is {1}; use the sign ""{2}"".", 0, myD1(0), myD2(0))

   End Sub 'Main

End Class 'SamplesDelegate 

'This code produces the following output: 
'5 is positive; use the sign "+". 
'-3 is negative; use the sign "-". 
'0 is zero; use the sign "".

Any public static (Shared in Visual Basic) members of this type are thread safe. Any instance members are not guaranteed to be thread safe.

Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP SP2, Windows XP Media Center Edition, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Windows XP Starter Edition, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2000 SP4, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 98, Windows CE, Windows Mobile for Smartphone, Windows Mobile for Pocket PC, Xbox 360, Zune

The .NET Framework and .NET Compact Framework do not support all versions of every platform. For a list of the supported versions, see .NET Framework System Requirements.

.NET Framework

Supported in: 3.5, 3.0, 2.0, 1.1, 1.0

.NET Compact Framework

Supported in: 3.5, 2.0, 1.0

XNA Framework

Supported in: 3.0, 2.0, 1.0




June 2010

Added information about the Invoke method.

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