Saturday, 15 August 2009

Using reflector to understand anonymous methods and captured variables

C# 2.0’s ability to magically hoist “captured variables” into classes is often misunderstood, and there are a lot of tricky edge cases (especially when combined with the notorious “foreach” glitch).

So; how can we understand what is going on? Usually, the first tool to look at is reflector; so lets try with a simple example:

int div;
do { Console.WriteLine("Find numbers divisible by..."); }
while (!int.TryParse(Console.ReadLine(), out div));

int[] data = { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 };

var filtered = data.Where(num => num % div == 0);
foreach (var i in filtered) Console.WriteLine(i);

So what is really happening here? Load it into Red Gate’s .NET Reflector, and by default it doesn’t actually seem to help us much, ironically because it does such a good job of interpreting the code:


I’ll forgive it for interpreting “Where” as LINQ query syntax, since the two are 100% interchangeable. What we don’t want to have to do is look at the IL – it is, lets be honest, not fun – here’s a small fragment of it:


But if you look at the options in reflector:

image image

you can choose the level of magic it applies. Lets try scaling it back to .NET 2.0 (a trick I use often to investigate the lambda Expression API):


Here, it has got rid of the query syntax (and would remove lambdas, too), and now uses the anonymous method approach (“delegate” etc), but it hasn’t really changed much (since C# 2.0 still allows captured variables in anonymous methods).

As an aside, it is very curious that it has left “data.Where” (rather than “Enumerable.Where(data)”) – I have left feedback with Red Gate ;-p

So lets try .NET 1.0:


Now we’re talking! Here we can clearly see the class (<>c__DisplayClass1) and local variable / instance (CS$<>8__locals2) that is used to do the hoisting, the hoisted field (CS$<>8__locals2.div) and the anonymous method (CS$<>8__locals2.<Main>b__0) that provides the logic implementation. All hyperlinked up for easy navigation - to the compiler-generated class; this is invaluable for anything non-trivial:

private sealed class <>c__DisplayClass1
// Fields
public int div;

// Methods
public bool
b__0(int num)
return ((num % this.div) == 0);

Interestingly, we can also scale it back a level further to “None”; which shows compatible C# without candy like “foreach”. This is verbose for C#, but terse compared to the IL version; here’s the “foreach”:


The declaration isn’t in the above grab (it is at the top of the method), but this also highlights how the iteration variable (“i”) is declared outside of the loop, hence the “foreach”/”capture” issue.

Again, I find it quite fun that in this level of optimisation it doesn’t show “foreach”, but knows about extension methods; but I’m not complaining – it seems ungrateful to criticise such a minor glitch in such a wonderful (and free) tool. But for people using non-standard LINQ implementations (or just to be true to the optimisation level), it would be nice if it showed this appropriately.

So there you go; yet another way to use reflector.

Who says you can’t instantiate an interface?

(update update: the question has been raised: "should we use this in our code?" - and in answer: heck no! this is just a fun diversion around the edges of the C# spec; leave well alone...)

(update: I just realised that Jon Skeet mentioned this in passing here, too; I'll keep this here, as I think it is intriguing enough to warrant a more targeted post)

If I said that the following is valid C# (all the way back to v1), you might think I’ve been overdoing things:

interface IFoo
string Message {get;}
IFoo obj = new IFoo("abc");

But the funny thing is… this is actually legal! Or at least, it compiles and runs ;-p As you might expect, I’ve missed out some magic in the above ;-p

It turns out that there is a subtlety relating to how COM imports work… and it is possible to define against the interface a default concrete type. The C# compiler then interprets “new {InterfaceType}” as “new {DesignatedConcreteType}”.

Here’s the missing magic (including a concrete type):

class Foo : IFoo
readonly string name;
public Foo(string name)
{ = name;
string IFoo.Message
return "Hello from " + name;
// these attributes make it work
// (the guid is purely random)
[ComImport, CoClass(typeof(Foo))]
interface IFoo
string Message {get;}

(see footnote) I'm struggling to find a mention of it in the C# specification (3.0), though... indeed § says:

"The type of an object-creation-expression must be a class-type, a value-type or a type-parameter. The type cannot be an abstract class-type.
The optional argument-list (§7.4.1) is permitted only if the type is a class-type or a struct-type."

So a non-legal feature? I'll let you be the judge...

Footnote: Mehrdad has clarified that the fact that it is omitted from the specification is OK because §17.5 allows any of of attributes in the System.Runtime.InteropServices namespace to break all the rules ;-p

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Expression as a Compiler

It is no secret that I like playing with the Expression API. Well, I've finally spent some time collating some of my thoughts into a semi-coherent discussion on InfoQ. I hope it is useful to somebody.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Thieving rail

Not programming related…

Holy spaghetti monster! This morning I made the mistake of asking how much it will be to renew my annual rail ticket. I really wish I hadn’t asked… from GBP3117 to GBP3672 – which is very nearly 18% – yikes!

This isn’t a very original complaint, but have these people not seen the state of the economy! And when you consider that I have to pay this out what the state deigns to leave me after income tax (@40% on any new income) and state deductions (NI etc) – and by my crude reckoning, in order to pay this extra GPB555 I’d have to achieve extra income in excess of GBP1000 – just to break even on travel (i.e. before any other increases are paid for, you know, like inflation on everything else…).

If it wasn’t for my employer offering an interest free loan on travel costs, I’d have to add interest to the above bill (either interest lost on savings, or interest accrued on a credit facility).

So, my options:

  • accept that any annual pay review that isn’t pretty extraordinary (unlikely in the current climate) is going to represent a pay cut
  • drive instead and somehow convince my employer to let me work 2 (or more) days per week at home (otherwise it becomes even more expensive) – and sacrifice the time I spend reading / working /etc on the train
  • look for a job with lower commute costs

I’ve been regularly commuting by train for nearly 4 years; renewing long-established travel arrangements should not be this stressful.