Mark parameters as NOT nullable in C#/.NET?


Question

Is there a simple attribute or data contract that I can assign to a function parameter that prevents null from being passed in C#/.NET? Ideally this would also check at compile time to make sure the literal null isn't being used anywhere for it and at run-time throw ArgumentNullException.

Currently I write something like ...

if (null == arg)
  throw new ArgumentNullException("arg");

... for every argument that I expect to not be null.

On the same note, is there an opposite to Nullable<> whereby the following would fail:

NonNullable<string> s = null; // throw some kind of exception
1
87
11/14/2008 8:42:28 PM

Accepted Answer

There's nothing available at compile-time, unfortunately.

I have a bit of a hacky solution which I posted on my blog recently, which uses a new struct and conversions.

In .NET 4.0 with the Code Contracts stuff, life will be a lot nicer. It would still be quite nice to have actual language syntax and support around non-nullability, but the code contracts will help a lot.

I also have an extension method in MiscUtil called ThrowIfNull which makes it a bit simpler.

One final point - any reason for using "if (null == arg)" instead of "if (arg == null)"? I find the latter easier to read, and the problem the former solves in C doesn't apply to C#.

66
5/5/2016 3:21:06 PM

I know I'm incredibly late to this question, but I feel the answer will become relevant as the latest major iteration of C# comes closer to release, then released. In C# 8.0 a major change will occur, C# will assume all types are considered not null.

According to Mads Torgersen:

The problem is that null references are so useful. In C#, they are the default value of every reference type. What else would the default value be? What other value would a variable have, until you can decide what else to assign to it? What other value could we pave a freshly allocated array of references over with, until you get around to filling it in?

Also, sometimes null is a sensible value in and of itself. Sometimes you want to represent the fact that, say, a field doesn’t have a value. That it’s ok to pass “nothing” for a parameter. The emphasis is on sometimes, though. And herein lies another part of the problem: Languages like C# don’t let you express whether a null right here is a good idea or not.

So the resolution outlined by Mads, is:

  1. We believe that it is more common to want a reference not to be null. Nullable reference types would be the rarer kind (though we don’t have good data to tell us by how much), so they are the ones that should require a new annotation.

  2. The language already has a notion of – and a syntax for – nullable value types. The analogy between the two would make the language addition conceptually easier, and linguistically simpler.

  3. It seems right that you shouldn’t burden yourself or your consumer with cumbersome null values unless you’ve actively decided that you want them. Nulls, not the absence of them, should be the thing that you explicitly have to opt in to.

An example of the desired feature:

public class Person
{
     public string Name { get; set; } // Not Null
     public string? Address { get; set; } // May be Null
}

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