C#7: Throw Expressions and More Expression-bodied Members

In this installment of my look at C#7, we will take a look at some nice syntactical enhancements, including the first ever community contribution to the C# language implementation. Before we get started, here is a summary of what I am covering in this series on C#7.

Throw Expressions

We have all written code like this1:

I have omitted the exception arguments for brevity, but you should hopefully recognise the sort of sanity checking to which I am referring within the highlighted lines.

With throw expressions, we can now combine assignment, the null-coalescing operator2, and throw to create succinct validation code. This means that the example above can be simplified to not even need the constructor.

The highlighted lines are equivalent to the code we had earlier, but now we are able to use throw as part of the expression. The introduction of throw expressions means that we can now throw exceptions in conditional and null-coalescing expressions, as well as some lambda methods where it was previously not possible to do so. Not only that, but when combined with expression-bodied members, we can write some very expressive yet terse code.

Expression-bodied Members

With C#6 we got expression-bodied members, which allowed us to express simple methods using lambda-like syntax. However, this new syntax was limited to methods and read-only properties. Via the first ever community contribution to C#3, C#7 expands this syntax to cover constructors, finalizers, and property accessors.

If we take the property example we had before, containing our throw expression as part of  property set accessor, we can now write it as:

I won't bother with examples for constructors or finalizers; the main documentation is pretty clear on those and I am not convinced the syntax will be used very often in those cases. Constructors are rarely so simple that the expression-bodied syntax makes sense, and finalizers are so rarely needed4 that most of us will not get an opportunity to write one at all, expression-bodied or otherwise.

In Conclusion

These simple additions to the C# syntax enable us to write terse code without losing clarity, which is always a good thing. Not only that, but we have reached a landmark event; community contributions to C#. This contribution may be a little tame when compared with some of the other features coming in C#7, but it bodes well for the future of the language in its new, open source home.

Next time, we will take a look at the highly anticipated pattern matching. Until then, feel free to leave a comment, or read more about C#7 on my blog and on the official documentation.


  1. Let's ignore the nastiness of throwing exceptions during construction 

  2. You remember Elvis, right?? 

  3. Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dotnet/articles/csharp/csharp-7#more-expression-bodied-members 

  4. If you find yourself writing a finalizer, I recommend you make sure you really need it; there is probably a better way 

Running XUnit Tests, Using Traits, and Leveraging Parallelism

We have arrived at the end of this little series on migrating unit tests from MSTest to XUnit (specifically, XUnit 2). While earlier posts concentrated on writing the tests and the XUnit counterparts to MSTest concepts, this post will briefly look at some non-code aspects to XUnit; most importantly, we will look at getting the tests to run.

Do not depend on test order
One thing to watch out for after migrating your tests is the order in which tests are run. MSTest allowed us to abuse testing by assuming that tests would run in a specific order. XUnit does away with this and will run tests in a random order. This can help to find some obscure bugs, but it can also make migration a little tougher, especially when tests share a data store or some other test fixture. Watch out for that.

Visual Studio

Running tests inside Visual Studio is really simple. Following in the footsteps of web development trends, rather than requiring an extension to the development environment, XUnit uses package management1. All you need to do is add the Visual Studio XUnit test runner package to your project and Visual Studio will be able to detect and run your XUnit tests just like your old MSTests.

Of course, if you're like me and absolutely loathe the built-in Visual Studio test explorer, you can use Resharper (or dotCover), which has built-in support for XUnit.

Command Line

More often than not, our continuous integration setups are scripted and we're unlikely to be running our unit tests via the development tool, such as Visual Studio. For situations like this, you can add the XUnit command line test runner package to your project. This provides a command line utility for running your tests with arguments to control exactly what tests and how2.

Once the package has been added, you can browse to where Nuget is storing packages for your particular project. In the tools folder of the console runner package folder, you will find xunit.console.exe. If you run this with the -? argument, you will get some helpful information.

The three options I use the most are -trait, -notrait, and -parallel.

Traits

The two trait options control what tests you are running based on metadata attached to those tests. This is really useful if you have some tests that are resource heavy and only used in certain circumstances, such as stress testing. In MSTest, you could attach arbitrary metadata onto test methods using the TestProperty attribute. XUnit provides a similar feature using Trait. For example, [Trait("Category", "ManualOnly")] could be used to put a method into the ManualOnly category. You could then use the following line to execute tests that lack this trait.

If you wanted to only run tests with a specific trait, you do the same thing but with -trait instead. Both of these options are very useful when combined with -parallel.

Parallelism

XUnit can run tests in parallel, but tests within the same collection are never run in parallel with each other. By default, each test class is its own collection. Test classes can be combined into collections using the Collection attribute. Tests within the same collection will be executed randomly, but never in parallel.

The -parallel option provides four options: no parallelism, running tests from different assemblies in parallel, running tests from different collections in parallel, or running tests from different assemblies and different collections in parallel.

The difference between assembly parallelism, collection parallelism, and both together

Let's assume you have two assemblies, A and B. Assembly A has three collections; 1, 2, and 3. Assembly B has three collections; 4, 5, and 6.

No Parallelism
-parallel none

XUnit will run each collection in one of the assemblies, one at a time, then run each collection in the other assembly one at a time.

Collections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 will never execute at the same time as each other.

Parallel Assemblies
-parallel assemblies

XUnit will run each collection in assembly A, one at a time, at the same time as running each collection in assembly B, one at a time.

Collections 1, 2, and 3 will not execute at the same time as each other; Collections 4, 5, and 6 will not execute at the same time as each other; but collections 1, 2, and 3 will execute in parallel with 4, 5, and 6, as the 1, 2, and 3 are in a different assembly to 4, 5, and 6.

Parallel Collections
-parallel collections

XUnit will run each collection within an assembly in parallel, but only one assembly at a time.

Collections 1, 2 and 3 will execute parallel; collections 4, 5, and 6 will execute in parallel; but, 1, 2, and 3 will not run at the same time as 4, 5, and 6.

Parallel Everything
-parallel all

XUnit will run each collection in parallel, regardless of its assembly.

Collections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 will run in parallel, each potentially running at the same time as any other.

Beware running tests in parallel when first migrating from MSTest. It is a surefire way of finding some heinous test fixture dependencies and you risk thinks like deadlocking on resources. Usually, running assemblies in parallel is a lot safer than running collections in parallel, assuming that tests are collocated in assemblies based on their purpose and the resources they interact with.

In Conclusion…

That brings us to the end of the series. I have focused primarily on migrating from MSTest, leaving out a lot of the nuances to XUnit. I highly recommend continuing your education with the XUnit documentation and through experimentation; having personally migrated several projects, I know you won't regret it.

 


  1. I love this approach to augmenting the development environment. It requires no additional tooling setup to get your dev environment working. The source itself controls the tooling versions and installation. Wonderful 

  2. You can control how tests run under MSBuild too by using various properties. This is discussed more on the XUnit site 

C#6: Auto-property Initializers and Expression-Bodied Properties

Last week, I discussed the new null-conditional operators added in C#6. This week, I would like to discuss two features that are awesome but could lead to some confusion: auto-property initializers and expression-bodied properties1.

Auto-initialized Properties

Before C#6, if we wanted to properly define an immutable property that had some expensive initialization, we had to do the following2:

Some people often use the shortcut of an auto-implemented property using the following syntax:

However, defining properties like this means they are still mutable within the class (and its derivations). Using a backing field with the readonly keyword not only ensures that the property cannot be changed anywhere outside of the class construction, it also expresses exactly what you intended. Being as clear as possible is helpful for anyone who has to maintain the code in the future, including your future self.

From what I have read and heard, the main driver for using auto-implemented properties was writing less code. It somewhat saddens me when clarity of intent is replaced by speed of coding as we often pay for it later. Thankfully, both can now be achieved using initializers. Using this new feature, we can condense all that code down to just this:

It is a thing of beauty3. Behind the scenes, the compiler produces equivalent code to the first example with the readonly backing field.

Of course, this doesn't help much if you need to base your initialization on a value that is passed in via the constructor. Though a proposed feature for C#6, primary constructors, would have helped with this, it was pulled from the final release. Therefore, if you want to use construction parameters, you will still need a backing field of some kind. However, there is another feature that can help with this. That feature is expression-bodied properties4.

Expression-bodied Properties

An expression-bodied property looks like this:

This is equivalent to:

Using this lambda-esque syntax, we can provide more succinct implementations of our read-only properties. Consider this code:

Using expression-body syntax, we can write it as:

But for the additional backing field declaration, this is almost as succinct as using an auto-implemented property. Hopefully, this new syntax will encourage people to make their intent clear rather than using the auto-implemented property shortcut when implementing immutable types.

Caveat Emptor

These new syntactical enhancements make property declaration not only easier to write, but in many common cases, easier to read. However, the similarities in these approaches can lead to some confusing, hard-to-spot bugs. Take this code as an example:

Here we have two properties: CurrentDirectory1 and CurrentDirectory2. Both seem to return the same thing, the current directory. However, a closer look reveals a subtle difference.

Imagine if the current directory is C:\Stuff at class instantiation but gets changed to C:\Windows some time afterward; CurrentDirectory1 will return C:\Stuff, but CurrentDirectory2 will return C:\Windows. The reason for this difference is the syntax used. The first property uses auto-initialization; it captures the value of Environment.CurrentDirectory on construction and always returns that captured value, even if Environment.CurrentDirectory changes. The second property uses an expression-body; it will always return the current value of Environment.CurrentDirectory, not the value of Environment.CurrentDirectory on construction of the MyClass instance.

I am sure you can imagine more serious scenarios where such a mix-up could be a problem. Do you think this difference in behavior will be obvious enough during code review or when a bug is reported? I certainly don't and I'm writing this as a way of reinforcing it in my own mind. Perhaps you have already dealt with a bug relating to this; if so, share your tale of woe in the comments.

In Conclusion..

I am by no means intending to discourage the use of these two additions to the C# language; they are brilliant and you should definitely add them to your coding arsenal, but like many things in software development, there is a dark side. Understanding the pros and cons of any such feature is important as it enables us to spot errors, fix bugs, and write good tests. This new confusion in the C# world is just another encouragement to code clearly, test sensibly, and be aware of the power in the tools and languages we use.


  1. No one else seems to by hyphenating "expression-bodied" but it doesn't make sense to me otherwise; what is a "bodied property"? 

  2. Yes, I know that System.Enviroment.CurrentDirectory isn't really expensive; this is for illustrative purposes 

  3. especially if you are keen on making sure your code expresses exactly what you mean 

  4. expression-bodied methods are also possible, but I'm not touching on that in this post