Note: Originally published five months before the official release of C# 9, I’ve updated this post after the release to capture the latest updates.

A few weeks ago, we took a quick tour of some upcoming C# 9 features that will make your development life easier. We dipped our toes in the water. But now it’s time to dig a little deeper.

I’m starting a new series over the next several weeks, that will showcase all of the announced features incrementally. Then, we will tie it all together with an all-in-one app. As for the features we are showing off, we could always dig deeper by what we see in the Language Feature Status in GitHub, but the publicly-announced-at-Build features will most likely make it when .NET 5.0 launches in November 2020.

Here’s what we’ll be walking through:

A focus on immutability

A big focus on C# 9 is enabling features that empower you to make immutability easy. The rise of functional programming has showed us how error-prone mutating objects can often be. While we can have immutability in previous versions of C#, it was a little hacky.

With C# 9, the team is shipping a bunch of features that help with immutability.

Doing immutability before C# 9

So how would I do immutability before C# 9? For virtually all of your C# life, you’ve done something like the following:

public class Person
{
    public string FirstName { get; set; }
    public string LastName { get; set; }
    public string Address { get; set; }
    public string City { get; set; }
    public string FavoriteColor { get; set; }
    // and so on...
}

This gets and sets properties of my Person with no restrictions. To achieve immutability I’d modify my class to only include a get accessor:

public class Person
{
    public string FirstName { get; }
    public string LastName { get; }
    public string Address { get; }
    public string City { get; }
    public string FavoriteColor { get; }
    // and so on...
}

With that in place, I would use constructors to enforce this behavior:

public class Person
{
    public Person(string firstName, string lastName, string address, string city, string favoriteColor)
    {
        FirstName = firstName;
        LastName = lastName;
        Address = address;
        City = city;
        FavoriteColor = favoriteColor;
    }

    public string FirstName { get; }
    public string LastName { get; }
    public string Address { get; }
    public string City { get; }
    public string FavoriteColor { get; }
}

That’s great, but I can’t do this with object initializers. If I wanted to initialize an object like this…

var person = new Person
{
    FirstName = "Tony",
    LastName = "Stark",
    Address = "10880 Malibu Point",
    City = "Malibu",
    FavoriteColor = "Red"
};

…there’s nothing that prevents me from mutating after the fact:

Console.WriteLine(person.FirstName); // Tony
person.FirstName = "Howard";
Console.WriteLine(person.FirstName); // Howard

Previously, for object initialization to work, the properties must be mutable. To set values in a new Person in an immutable way, you’ll need to call the object’s constructor (in this case, as in most cases, a parameterless constructor) and then perform assignment from the setters.

Introducing the init accessor

With C# 9, we can change this with an init accessor. This means you can only create and set a property when you initialize the object. If we modify our Person model like this, we can prevent the FirstName from being changed:

public class Person
{
    public string FirstName { get; init; }
    public string LastName { get; set; }
    public string Address { get; set; }
    public string City { get; set; }
    public string FavoriteColor { get; set; }
    // and so on...
}

With this, that means this code will work:

var person = new Person
{
    FirstName = "Tony",
    LastName = "Stark",
    Address = "10880 Malibu Point",
    City = "Malibu",
    FavoriteColor = "Red"
};

However, when you try to execute this code:

person.FirstName = "Howard";

The compiler will not be happy.

Warning: init-only properties aren’t mandatory

The beauty of object initializers is the ability to set whatever you want, wherever you want, like so:

var person = new Person
{
    FirstName = "Tony",
    City = "Malibu",
};

If you want to come in and set an Address that has an init property on it, thinking you can do so because you haven’t set its value yet, you’re wrong. For example, I can’t come in and do this…

person.FavoriteColor = "Red";

…because the object has already been initialized.

Init accessors and read-only fields

As we just saw, init accessors can only be called when you initialize. If you wish to work with readonly fields, the mutability only applies during initialization, just as with non-read-only ones.

With this in mind, using private fields will set a value during initialization - otherwise, we will have an ArgumentNullException thrown:

public class Person
{
    private readonly string _firstName;
    private readonly string _lastName;
    private readonly string _address;
    private readonly string _city;
    private readonly string _favoriteColor;

    public string FirstName
    {
        get => _firstName;
        init => _firstName = (value ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(FirstName)));
    }
    public string LastName
    {
        get => _lastName;
        init => _lastName = (value ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(LastName)));
    }
    public string Address
    {
        get => _address;
        init => _address = (value ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(Address)));
    }
    public string City
    {
        get => _city;
        init => _city = (value ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(City)));
    }
    public string FavoriteColor
    {
        get => _favoriteColor;
        init => _favoriteColor = (value ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(FavoriteColor)));
    }
}

What’s next

In this post, we learned how to make individual properties become immutable. If you want this behavior for your entire object, you’ll want to work with records - one of the best new features in C# 9, in my opinion. Stay tuned for my next post to discuss this.

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