Top 15 Underutilized Features of .NET

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Top 15 Underutilized Features of .NET

I have been keen on the elegance and beauty of the C# language since I wrote my first lines of C# code. I read different articles and books about it, always when I have free time. Here I am going to share with you dozens of my favorite underutilized features of C# (oft-forgotten/interesting/arcane/hidden).
After so many comments about the previous title of the article –  “Top 15 Hidden Features of C#”, I decided to change it to the current one. Thank you all for the suggestions. My initial intent was not to mislead you. The original idea about the article came up from a Stack Overflow discussion with a similar title, so I decided not to change it because people were already familiar with the topic. But for the sake of all past and future critics I am changing the title.
You could share your most preferred but not so well known features of the framework in the comments. I will include them in the future second part of the series. Also, you can vote in the poll that can be found at the end of the article for your most favorite underutilized feature of .NET.

Contents

1. ObsoleteAttribute
2. Setting a default value for C# Auto-implemented properties via DefaultValueAttribute
3. DebuggerBrowsableAttribute
4. ?? Operator
5. Curry and Partial methods
6. WeakReference
7. Lazy
8. BigInteger
9. __arglist __reftype __makeref __refvalue
10. Environment.NewLine
11. ExceptionDispatchInfo
12. Environment.FailFast
13. Debug.Assert, Debug.WriteIf and Debug.Indent
14. Parallel.For and Parallel.Foreach
15. IsInfinity

Underutilized Features of .NET

1. ObsoleteAttribute

ObsoleteAttribute applies to all program elements except assemblies, modules, parameters, and return values. Marking an element as obsolete informs users that the element will be removed in future versions of the product.
Message property contains a string that will be displayed when the attribute assignee is used. It is recommended a workaround to be provided in this description.
IsError– If set to true the compiler will indicate an error if the attribute target is used in the code.

public static class ObsoleteExample
{
// Mark OrderDetailTotal As Obsolete.
[ObsoleteAttribute(This property (DepricatedOrderDetailTotal) is obsolete. Use InvoiceTotal instead., false)]
public static decimal OrderDetailTotal
{
get
{
return 12m;
}
}
public static decimal InvoiceTotal
{
get
{
return 25m;
}
}
// Mark CalculateOrderDetailTotal As Obsolete.
[ObsoleteAttribute(This method is obsolete. Call CalculateInvoiceTotal instead., true)]
public static decimal CalculateOrderDetailTotal()
{
return 0m;
}
public static decimal CalculateInvoiceTotal()
{
return 1m;
}
}

If we use the above class in our code, an error, and a warning are going to be displayed.

Console.WriteLine(ObsoleteExample.OrderDetailTotal);
Console.WriteLine();
Console.WriteLine(ObsoleteExample.CalculateOrderDetailTotal());

ObsoleteAttribute Hidden Features of C#
Official documentation– https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.obsoleteattribute.aspx

2. Setting a default value for C# Auto-implemented properties via DefaultValueAttribute

DefaultValueAttribute specifies the default value for a property. You can create a DefaultValueAttribute with any value. A member’s default value is typically its initial value.
The attribute won’t cause a member to be automatically initialized with the specified value. Hence, you must set the initial value in your code.

public class DefaultValueAttributeTest
{
public DefaultValueAttributeTest()
{
// Use the DefaultValue propety of each property to actually set it, via reflection.
foreach (PropertyDescriptor prop in TypeDescriptor.GetProperties(this))
{
DefaultValueAttribute attr = (DefaultValueAttribute)prop.Attributes[typeof(DefaultValueAttribute)];
if (attr != null)
{
prop.SetValue(this, attr.Value);
}
}
}
[DefaultValue(25)]
public int Age { get; set; }
[DefaultValue(Anton)]
public string FirstName { get; set; }
[DefaultValue(Angelov)]
public string LastName { get; set; }
public override string ToString()
{
return string.Format({0} {1} is {2}., this.FirstName, this.LastName, this.Age);
}
}

The auto-implemented properties are initialized in the constructor of the class via reflection. The code iterates through all properties of the class and set them their default value if the DefaultValueAttribute is present.
Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.componentmodel.defaultvalueattribute.aspx

3. DebuggerBrowsableAttribute

Determines if and how a member is displayed in the debugger variable windows.

public static class DebuggerBrowsableTest
{
private static string squirrelFirstNameName;
private static string squirrelLastNameName;
// The following DebuggerBrowsableAttribute prevents the property following it
// from appearing in the debug window for the class.
[DebuggerBrowsable(DebuggerBrowsableState.Never)]
public static string SquirrelFirstNameName
{
get
{
return squirrelFirstNameName;
}
set
{
squirrelFirstNameName = value;
}
}
[DebuggerBrowsable(DebuggerBrowsableState.Collapsed)]
public static string SquirrelLastNameName
{
get
{
return squirrelLastNameName;
}
set
{
squirrelLastNameName = value;
}
}
}

If you use the sample class in your code and try to step through it via the debugger (F11), you will notice that the code is just executing.

DebuggerBrowsableTest.SquirrelFirstNameName = Hammy;
DebuggerBrowsableTest.SquirrelLastNameName = Ammy;

Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.diagnostics.debuggerbrowsableattribute.aspx

4. ?? Operator

One of my favorite “hidden features of C#” is the ?? operator. I’m using it heavily in my code.
The ?? operator returns the left-hand operand if it is not null, or else it returns the right operand. A nullable type can contain a value, or it can be undefined. The ?? operator defines the default value to be returned when a nullable type is assigned to a non-nullable type.

int? x = null;
int y = x ?? –1;
Console.WriteLine(y now equals -1 because x was null => {0}, y);
int i = DefaultValueOperatorTest.GetNullableInt() ?? default(int);
Console.WriteLine(i equals now 0 because GetNullableInt() returned null => {0}, i);
string s = DefaultValueOperatorTest.GetStringValue();
Console.WriteLine(Returns ‘Unspecified’ because s is null => {0}, s ?? Unspecified);

Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms173224(v=vs.80).aspx

5. Curry and Partial methods

Curry– In mathematics and computer science, currying is the technique of translating the evaluation of a function that takes multiple arguments (or a tuple of arguments) into evaluating a sequence of functions, each with a single argument.
In order to be implemented via C#, the power of the extension methods is used.

public static class CurryMethodExtensions
{
public static Func<A, Func<B, Func<C, R>>> Curry<A, B, C, R>(this Func<A, B, C, R> f)
{
return a => b => c => f(a, b, c);
}
}

The curry extension method usage is a little bit overwhelming at first.

Func<int, int, int, int> addNumbers = (x, y, z) => x + y + z;
var f1 = addNumbers.Curry();
Func<int, Func<int, int>> f2 = f1(3);
Func<int, int> f3 = f2(4);
Console.WriteLine(f3(5));

The types returned by the different methods can be exchanged with the var keyword.
Official documentationhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currying#/Contrast_with_partial_function_application
Partial – in computer science, partial application (or partial function application) refers to the process of fixing a number of arguments to a function, producing another function of smaller arity.

public static class CurryMethodExtensions
{
public static Func<C, R> Partial<A, B, C, R>(this Func<A, B, C, R> f, A a, B b)
{
return c => f(a, b, c);
}
}

The partial extension method usage is more straightforward than the curry one.

Func<int, int, int, int> sumNumbers = (x, y, z) => x + y + z;
Func<int, int> f4 = sumNumbers.Partial(3, 4);
Console.WriteLine(f4(5));

Again the types of the delegates can be declared with the var keyword.
Official documentation– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_application
Weakreference Hidden Features of C#

6. WeakReference

A weak reference allows the garbage collector to collect an object while still allowing an application to access the object. If you need the object, you can still obtain a strong reference to it and prevent it from being collected.

WeakReferenceTest hugeObject = new WeakReferenceTest();
hugeObject.SharkFirstName = Sharky;
WeakReference w = new WeakReference(hugeObject);
hugeObject = null;
GC.Collect();
Console.WriteLine((w.Target as WeakReferenceTest).SharkFirstName);

If the garbage collector is not called explicitly, there will be significant chance the weak reference to be still assigned.
Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.weakreference.aspx

7. Lazy<T>

Use lazy initialization to defer the creation of a large or resource-intensive object, or the execution of a resource-intensive task, particularly when such creation or execution might not occur during the lifetime of the program.

public abstract class ThreadSafeLazyBaseSingleton<T>
where T : new()
{
private static readonly Lazy<T> lazy = new Lazy<T>(() => new T());
public static T Instance
{
get
{
return lazy.Value;
}
}
}
public abstract class ThreadSafeLazyBaseSingleton<T>
where T : new()
{
private static readonly Lazy<T> lazy = new Lazy<T>(() => new T());
public static T Instance
{
get
{
return lazy.Value;
}
}
}

Official documentation– https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd642331(v=vs.110).aspx
BigInteger Hidden Features of C#

8. BigInteger

The BigInteger type is an immutable type that represents an arbitrarily large integer whose value, in theory, has no upper or lower bounds. This type differs from the other integral types in the .NET Framework, which have a range indicated by their MinValue and MaxValue properties.
Note: Because the BigInteger type is immutable and because it has no upper or lower bounds, an OutOfMemoryException can be thrown for any operation that causes a BigInteger value to grow too large.

string positiveString = 91389681247993671255432112000000;
string negativeString = -90315837410896312071002088037140000;
BigInteger posBigInt = 0;
BigInteger negBigInt = 0;
posBigInt = BigInteger.Parse(positiveString);
Console.WriteLine(posBigInt);
negBigInt = BigInteger.Parse(negativeString);
Console.WriteLine(negBigInt);

Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.numerics.biginteger(v=vs.110).aspx

9. Undocumented C# Keywords __arglist __reftype __makeref __refvalue

I’m not sure that these can be treated as underutilized features of .NET because they are undocumented, and you should be careful with them. Probably there isn’t a documentation for a reason. Maybe they are not adequately tested. However, they are colored by the Visual Studio editor and recognized as official keywords.
You can create a typed reference from a variable by using the __makeref keyword. The original type of the variable represented by the typed reference can be extracted using the __reftype keyword. Lastly, the value can be obtained from the TypedReference using the __refvalue keyword. The __arglist has similar behavior to the keyword params- you can access parameters lists.

int i = 21;
TypedReference tr = __makeref(i);
Type t = __reftype(tr);
Console.WriteLine(t.ToString());
int rv = __refvalue( tr,int);
Console.WriteLine(rv);
ArglistTest.DisplayNumbersOnConsole(__arglist(1, 2, 3, 5, 6));

In order to be able to use __arglist you need the ArglistTest class.

public static class ArglistTest
{
public static void DisplayNumbersOnConsole(__arglist)
{
ArgIterator ai = new ArgIterator(__arglist);
while (ai.GetRemainingCount() > 0)
{
TypedReference tr = ai.GetNextArg();
Console.WriteLine(TypedReference.ToObject(tr));
}
}
}

Remarks the ArgIterator object enumerates the argument list starting from the first optional argument, this constructor is provided specifically for use with the C/C++ programming language.
Referencehttp://www.nullskull.com/articles/20030114.asp and  http://community.bartdesmet.net/blogs/bart/archive/2006/09/28/4473.aspx

10. Environment.NewLine

Gets the newline string defined for this environment.

Console.WriteLine(NewLine: {0} first line{0} second line{0} third line, Environment.NewLine);

Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.environment.newline(v=vs.110).aspx

11. ExceptionDispatchInfo

Represents an exception whose state is captured at a certain point in code. You can use the ExceptionDispatchInfo.Throw method, which can be found in the System.Runtime.ExceptionServices namespace. This method can be used to throw an exception and preserve the original stack trace.

ExceptionDispatchInfo possibleException = null;
try
{
int.Parse(a);
}
catch (FormatException ex)
{
possibleException = ExceptionDispatchInfo.Capture(ex);
}
if (possibleException != null)
{
possibleException.Throw();
}

The caught exception can be thrown again in another method or even in another thread.
Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.runtime.exceptionservices.exceptiondispatchinfo(v=vs.110).aspx
Environment.FailFast Hidden Features of C#

12. Environment.FailFast()

If you want to exit your program without calling any finally blocks or finalizers use FailFast.

string s = Console.ReadLine();
try
{
int i = int.Parse(s);
if (i == 42) Environment.FailFast(Special number entered);
}
finally
{
Console.WriteLine(Program complete.);
}

If i equals 42 the finally block won’t be executed.
Official documentationhttps://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms131100(v=vs.110).aspx

13. Debug.Assert & Debug.WriteIf & Debug.Indent

Debug.Assert– checks for a condition; if the condition is false, outputs messages and displays a message box that shows the call stack.

Debug.Assert(1 == 0, The numbers are not equal! Oh my god!);

If the assert fails in Debug mode, the below alert is displayed, containing the specified message.
Debug Assert Fail Alert
Debug.WriteIf– writes information about the debug to the trace listeners in the Listeners collection if a condition is true.

Debug.WriteLineIf(1 == 1, This message is going to be displayed in the Debug output! =));

Debug.Indent/Debug.Unindent– increases the current IndentLevel by one.

Debug.WriteLine(What are ingredients to bake a cake?);
Debug.Indent();
Debug.WriteLine(1. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature.);
Debug.WriteLine(2 cups sugar);
Debug.WriteLine(3 cups sifted self-rising flour);
Debug.WriteLine(4 eggs);
Debug.WriteLine(1 cup milk);
Debug.WriteLine(1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract);
Debug.Unindent();
Debug.WriteLine(End of list);

If we want to display the ingredients for a cake in the Debug Output Window, we can use the code above.
Debug Indent Example
Official documentation: Debug.AssertDebug.WriteIfDebug.Indent/Debug.Unindent

14. Parallel.For & Parallel.Foreach

I’m not sure if we can add these to the underutilized features of .NET list because they are heavily used in the TPL (Task Parallel Library). However, I’m listing them here because I like them a lot and utilize their power in my multithreaded applications.
Parallel.For– executes a for loop in which iterations may run in parallel.

int[] nums = Enumerable.Range(0, 1000000).ToArray();
long total = 0;
// Use type parameter to make subtotal a long, not an int
Parallel.For<long>(0, nums.Length, () => 0, (j, loop, subtotal) =>
{
subtotal += nums[j];
return subtotal;
},
(x) => Interlocked.Add(ref total, x)
);
Console.WriteLine(The total is {0:N0}, total);

Interlocked.Add method adds two integers and replaces the first integer with the sum, as an atomic operation.
Parallel.Foreach– executes a foreach (For Each in Visual Basic) operation in which iterations may run in parallel.

int[] nums = Enumerable.Range(0, 1000000).ToArray();
long total = 0;
Parallel.ForEach<int, long>(nums, // source collection
() => 0, // method to initialize the local variable
(j, loop, subtotal) => // method invoked by the loop on each iteration
{
subtotal += j; //modify local variable
return subtotal; // value to be passed to next iteration
},
// Method to be executed when each partition has completed.
// finalResult is the final value of subtotal for a particular partition.
(finalResult) => Interlocked.Add(ref total, finalResult));
Console.WriteLine(The total from Parallel.ForEach is {0:N0}, total);

Official documentation: Parallel.For and Parallel.Foreach
IsInfinity Hidden Features of C#

15. IsInfinity

Returns a value indicating whether the specified number evaluates to negative or positive infinity.

Console.WriteLine(IsInfinity(3.0 / 0) == {0}., Double.IsInfinity(3.0 / 0) ? true : false);

Official documentation– https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.double.isinfinity(v=vs.110).aspx

.NET Series

  • Hi friend, really a good article, thanks for share it!

  • Elizabeth Berk

    Yeah, this is such a good post. I got knowledge from this post regarding this Underutilized Features of .NET.


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