Generics

C# has two separate mechanisms for writing code that is reusable across different types: inheritance and generics. Whereas inheritance expresses reusability with a base type, generics express reusability with a “template” that contains “placeholder” types. Generics, when compared to inheritance, can increase type safety and reduce casting and boxing.

Generic Types

A generic type declares type parameters—placeholder types to be filled in by the consumer of the generic type, which supplies the type arguments. Here is a generic type, Stack<T>, designed to stack instances of type T. Stack<T> declares a single type parameter T:

public class Stack<T>
{
  int position;
  T[] data = new T[100];
  public void Push (T obj) { data[position++] = obj;  }
  public T Pop()           { return data[--position]; }
}

We can use Stack<T> as follows:

Stack<int> stack = new Stack<int>();
stack.Push(5);
stack.Push(10);
int x = stack.Pop();        // x is 10
int y = stack.Pop();        // y is 5

Note

Notice that no downcasts are required in the last two lines, avoiding the possibility of a runtime error and eliminating the overhead of boxing/unboxing. This makes our generic stack superior to a nongeneric stack that uses object in place of T (see The object Type for an example).

Stack<int> fills in the type parameter T with the type argument int, implicitly creating a type on the fly (the synthesis occurs at runtime). Stack<int> effectively has the following definition (substitutions appear in bold, with the class name hashed out to avoid ...

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