What do two question marks together mean in C#?


Question

Ran across this line of code:

FormsAuth = formsAuth ?? new FormsAuthenticationWrapper();

What do the two question marks mean, is it some kind of ternary operator? It's hard to look up in Google.

1
1492
4/3/2014 11:10:38 AM

Accepted Answer

It's the null coalescing operator, and quite like the ternary (immediate-if) operator. See also ?? Operator - MSDN.

FormsAuth = formsAuth ?? new FormsAuthenticationWrapper();

expands to:

FormsAuth = formsAuth != null ? formsAuth : new FormsAuthenticationWrapper();

which further expands to:

if(formsAuth != null)
    FormsAuth = formsAuth;
else
    FormsAuth = new FormsAuthenticationWrapper();

In English, it means "If whatever is to the left is not null, use that, otherwise use what's to the right."

Note that you can use any number of these in sequence. The following statement will assign the first non-null Answer# to Answer (if all Answers are null then the Answer is null):

string Answer = Answer1 ?? Answer2 ?? Answer3 ?? Answer4;

Also it's worth mentioning while the expansion above is conceptually equivalent, the result of each expression is only evaluated once. This is important if for example an expression is a method call with side effects. (Credit to @Joey for pointing this out.)

1993
1/11/2019 11:19:08 AM

Just because no-one else has said the magic words yet: it's the null coalescing operator. It's defined in section 7.12 of the C# 3.0 language specification.

It's very handy, particularly because of the way it works when it's used multiple times in an expression. An expression of the form:

a ?? b ?? c ?? d

will give the result of expression a if it's non-null, otherwise try b, otherwise try c, otherwise try d. It short-circuits at every point.

Also, if the type of d is non-nullable, the type of the whole expression is non-nullable too.


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