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Posted 16 Oct 2014

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Covariance and Contravariance in C# 4.0

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16 Oct 2014CPOL2 min read
Covariance and contravariance in C# 4.0


In this whole article, we will learn all about Covariance and Contravariance, what were the issues with development before these two.


These two Covariance and Contravariance have been introduced in C#4.0. As per MSDN, we simply define:

“Covariance and contravariance enable implicit reference conversion for array types, delegate types, and generic type arguments. Covariance preserves assignment compatibility and contravariance reverses it.

In simple words, we can say Covariance and Contravariance are the polymorphism extensions to array types, delegate types, and generic type (we will see in the coming sections).

Issue Before These Two

What were the issues before the invention of these two. Let's consider the following example:

class GrandFather

class Son : GrandFather

class GrandSon : GrandFather

You can see that we are using inheritance, GrandFather is a parent class to Son and GrandSon. As per polymorphism, we can do this:

GrandFather father = new Son();
father   = new GrandSon();

If the above statement is correct, then the following statement should also be correct:

//will throw exception prior to version 4.0
IEnumerable<GrandFather> fathers = new List<Son>();

doesn’t it somehow violate polymorphism? :)

Now, try this in C# 4.0:

//will work fine with version 4.0
IEnumerable<GrandFather> fathers = new List<Son>();

In the above IEnumerable<out t="">, an out parameter of type T.

Consider the following method is in the class:

static void ParentalObject(object o)
	//method signature
Action<Object> actionObj = ParentalObject;

and we can assign this instantiated object to:

Action<Object> actionObj1 = actionObj;

instantiated object with more derived type arguments.

Array Covariance

This is nothing but implicit conversion of an array of a more derived type to an array of a less derived type. Unfortunately, this is not type safe.

object[] strArray = new string[10];
strArray[0] = 1; //will throw runtime exception

In the above example, our object array is of string type, but we are assigning integer value to one of its elements, it will not throw any compile-time exception, but it will throw runtime exception.

Delegate Covariance

This type of Covariance is also called as method group variance. From MSDN,
you can assign to delegates not only methods that have matching signatures, but also methods that return more derived types (covariance) or that accept parameters that have less derived types (contravariance) than that specified by the delegate type. This includes both generic and non-generic delegates.

static string Parental()
	return "Grandfather name is: Lala Bhagwan Das";

and see the following:

Func<object> parentalLambda = () => Parental(); //lambda expression
Func<object> parentalFunc = Parental; //Grouped

Now, consider the following method in a class:

static string ParentalObject(object obj)
	//method signature

Contravariance. A delegate specifies a parameter type as string, but can assign a method that takes an object.

Action<String> parentalDel = ParentalObject;

Variance in Generic Type Parameters

As per MSDNyou can enable implicit conversion between delegates, so that generic delegates that have different types specified by generic type parameters can be assigned to each other, if the types are inherited from each other as required by variance.

To enable implicit conversion, you must explicitly declare generic parameters in a delegate as covariant or contravariant by using the in or out keyword.

Consider the below code:

delegate T ParentalGenericDelegate<out T>();

In the above, we declared type T as a contravariant by using the out keyword.

ParentalGenericDelegate<string> grandFatherName = () => "Grandfather name is: Lala Bhagwan Das";

Above shows how we can create a delegate which has a generic type parameter.

ParentalGenericDelegate<object> anotherGenericDelegate = () => grandFatherName;

The above statement is correct, we can assign delegates to each-other and type T is declared as covariant.


We can say Covariance and Contravariance are the polymorphism extensions to array types, delegate types, and generic type (we will see in the coming sections).


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Gaurav Aroraa
India India
There is no age limit for learning and its never late, to start.

Comments and Discussions

GeneralMy Vote 5 Pin
Shemeemsha (ഷെമീംഷ)29-Oct-14 20:12
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GeneralRe: My Vote 5 Pin
Gaurav Aroraa29-Oct-14 21:08
professionalGaurav Aroraa29-Oct-14 21:08 
GeneralSimple and easy to understand Pin
Shuby Arora25-Oct-14 8:30
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GeneralRe: Simple and easy to understand Pin
Gaurav Aroraa25-Oct-14 9:01
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GeneralRe: Simple and easy to understand Pin
Shuby Arora25-Oct-14 23:48
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GeneralRe: Simple and easy to understand Pin
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GeneralYour article? Pin
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