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extern (C# Reference)

The extern modifier is used to declare a method that is implemented externally. A common use of the extern modifier is with the DllImport attribute when using Interop services to call into unmanaged code; in this case, the method must also be declared as static, as shown in the following example:

private static extern void AVIFileInit();

The extern keyword also can define an external assembly alias, making it possible to reference different versions of the same component from within a single assembly. For more information, see extern alias (C# Reference).

It is an error to use the abstract (C# Reference) and extern modifiers together to modify the same member. Using the extern modifier means that the method is implemented outside the C# code, while using the abstract modifier means that the method implementation is not provided in the class.


The extern keyword is more limited in use than in C++. To compare with the C++ keyword, see Using extern to Specify Linkage in the C++ Language Reference.

In this example, the program receives a string from the user and displays it inside a message box. The program uses the MessageBox method imported from the User32.dll library.

using System;
using System.Runtime.InteropServices;
class MainClass 
   public static extern int MessageBox(int h, string m, string c, int type);

   static int Main() 
      string myString; 
      Console.Write("Enter your message: ");
      myString = Console.ReadLine();
      return MessageBox(0, myString, "My Message Box", 0);

This example creates a DLL from a C program that is invoked from within the C# program in the next example.

// cmdll.c
// compile with: /LD
int __declspec(dllexport) SampleMethod(int i)
   return i*10;

This example uses two files, CM.cs and Cmdll.c, to demonstrate extern. The C file is the external DLL created in Example 2 that is invoked from within the C# program.

// cm.cs
using System;
using System.Runtime.InteropServices;
public class MainClass 
   public static extern int SampleMethod(int x);

   static void Main() 
      Console.WriteLine("SampleMethod() returns {0}.", SampleMethod(5));


SampleMethod() returns 50.

To build the project:

  • Compile Cmdll.c to a DLL using the Visual C++ command line:

    cl /LD Cmdll.c

  • Compile CM.cs using the command line:

    csc CM.cs

This will create the executable file CM.exe. When you run this program, SampleMethod will pass the value 5 to the DLL file, which returns the value multiplied by 10.

For more information, see the following sections in the C# Language Specification:

  • 10.5.7 External methods