What is the difference between const and readonly?


Question

What is the difference between const and readonly and do you use one over the other?

1
1223
11/6/2013 11:56:06 AM

Accepted Answer

Apart from the apparent difference of

  • having to declare the value at the time of a definition for a const VS readonly values can be computed dynamically but need to be assigned before the constructor exits.. after that it is frozen.
  • 'const's are implicitly static. You use a ClassName.ConstantName notation to access them.

There is a subtle difference. Consider a class defined in AssemblyA.

public class Const_V_Readonly
{
  public const int I_CONST_VALUE = 2;
  public readonly int I_RO_VALUE;
  public Const_V_Readonly()
  {
     I_RO_VALUE = 3;
  }
}

AssemblyB references AssemblyA and uses these values in code. When this is compiled,

  • in the case of the const value, it is like a find-replace, the value 2 is 'baked into' the AssemblyB's IL. This means that if tomorrow I'll update I_CONST_VALUE to 20 in the future. AssemblyB would still have 2 till I recompile it.
  • in the case of the readonly value, it is like a ref to a memory location. The value is not baked into AssemblyB's IL. This means that if the memory location is updated, AssemblyB gets the new value without recompilation. So if I_RO_VALUE is updated to 30, you only need to build AssemblyA. All clients do not need to be recompiled.

So if you are confident that the value of the constant won't change use a const.

public const int CM_IN_A_METER = 100;

But if you have a constant that may change (e.g. w.r.t. precision).. or when in doubt, use a readonly.

public readonly float PI = 3.14;

Update: Aku needs to get a mention coz he pointed this out first. Also I need to plug where I learned this.. Effective C# - Bill Wagner

1173
9/22/2015 8:01:23 AM

There is a gotcha with consts! If you reference a constant from another assembly, its value will be compiled right into the calling assembly. That way when you update the constant in the referenced assembly it won't change in the calling assembly!


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