Revisting Anonymous Type

While classes and structs are extremely powerful, there are times when you want to escape the cermonies they require even for simplest of design. This is where anonymous types comes handy and has been so frequent used by the developers.

So what are Anonymous types really ? Let’s consider an example first.

var point = new {X = 20, Y = 30}

Anonymous Types are compiler generated immutable reference type.

Though framed in few words, that definition probably describes a lot more than that meets the eye. From the point of definition of our anonymous type above, it means you are directing the compiler to generate an internal sealed class, which has two read-only properties namely X and Y. For example, the compiler might generate something similiar to following class for the anonymous type we just declared.

internal sealed class Point
{
private int _x;
private int _y;

public int X => _x;
public int Y => _y;

public Point(int x,int y)
{
_x = x;
_y = y;
}
}

Do notice this might not be exactly what compiler generates. There could be certain things which you cannot do yourself, but the above example kind of provides the gist.

The Anonymous Type syntax allows you to do all that declaration with very little need to type them yourself. This eliminates the chances of human error, in addition to saving your time as well as polluting the application namespace. The scope of the defined anonymous type is restricted to the method it is defined.

But, Anonymous Types has their drawbacks as well. As a developer, you do not know the Type. Imagine, you need to pass the anonymous type to a method, how would you do it ? Tricky, isn’t it.

If you do not have to individually process different properties of the Anonymous types, you can achieve this using Generic methods. For example, you can use following method to compare two anonymous types.

bool IsEqual<T>(T source, T itemToCompare)
{
return source.Equals(itemToCompare);
}
// Client Code
var point1 = new {X = 20, Y = 45};
var point2 = new {X = 20, Y = 45};

var comparisonResult = IsEqual(point1,point2);

But what if you need to process the individual properties of Anonymous types within the method ? For example, you want to increment the X and Y of Point by 1 (let’s ignore reflection for the moment)

One way to achieve this would be use Generic methods with Func parameters. For example,

T Execute<T>(T source, Func<T,T> incrementFunction)
{
return incrementFunction(source);
}

You can invoke the method as the following.

var result = Execute(point,(p)=> new {X=p.X + 1, Y=p.Y+1});

Let’s now explore another possibility. Consider a method that returns an anonymous type.

object GetPoint()
{
return new {X = 20, Y = 45};
}

How would one process the individual properties in the caller method ? Surely, following would fail to compile

// Following would fail to compile
var point = GetPoint();
var x= point.X;

Deconstruction won’t be a help either as anonymous types doesnt support it.

// Following would fail to compile
var (x,y) = GetPoint();

What we would require it to cast the returned object to anonymous type, that resembles the original. Let us write a quick extension method it.

public static class Extensions
{
public static T Cast<T>(this object source,T sampleType)
{
return (T)source;
}
}

Now you can use the return type by casting it to desired Anonymous Type and use it in your rest of code.

var point = GetPoint();
var result = point.Cast(new{X=default(int),Y=default(int)});
Console.WriteLine($"X={result.X},Y={result.Y}");

That’s it for now, Happy Coding.