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.NET Enumerated Types Explained


My codeproject article on .NET enumerated types.


The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to .NET enumerated types.


Code readability is a big factor when considering the quality of source code. The easier code is to understand, the easier it is to maintain. Have you ever found yourself using numbers to represent a range of variable values? For example:

Dim CalculationOperation As Integer = 0
CalculationOperation = _ GetOperation ()
Select Case CalculationOperation
    Case 1 ’ Addition
    Case 2 ‘ Subtraction
    Case 3 ‘ Multiplication
End Select

This requires you as well as any other developers that might touch your code to remember all of the possible numeric values that represents colors. This can be a maintenance nightmare! To solve this problem, VB.NET has enumerated types.

Reasons to Use Enumerated Types


From Wikipedia:

"In computer programming, an enumerated type (also called enumeration or enum) is a data type consisting of a set of named values called elements, members or enumerators of the type. The enumerator names are usually identifiers that behave as constants in the language."

Enumerated types allow you to give an English description to a range of integer values. Perhaps an example will explain this.

Public Type CalculatorOperations
    Addition       = 1
    Subtraction    = 2
    Multiplication = 3
End Type

Dim Operation As CalculatorOperations
Operation = _ GetOperation ()
Select Case Operation
    Case CalculatorOperations.Addition
    Case CalculatorOperations.Subtraction
    Case CalculatorOperations.Multiplication
End Select



This routine is easier to read.

When coding a routine, be sure to consider numeric literals that represent a value other than the number itself as a possible reason to create an enumerated type.

Enums as Routine Parameters

Enumerated types are great as routine parameters. Consider the following example.

Bad Example

Dim ApplicationState as Integer = 5 ‘lets say five stands for Fatal Crash!
Sub _SetApplicationState(ByVal State As Integer)

Good Example

Dim ApplicationState As AppState = AppState.FatalCrash
Sub _SetApplicationState(ByVal State As AppState)

If you are using Visual Studio, then you no doubt have noticed the benefit of using enumerated types as function parameters. While you are writing the code to call the routine, intellisense will show you all available members of the enumerated type.

Compiler Type Checking

Using enumerated types also provides type checking by the compiler. Consider the following block of code:

‘Valid color values are 09
Dim CurrentColor As Integer
CurrentColor = 12 ‘invalid color

This is impossible with enumerated types. Enumerated types can make powerful return values. Consider the following code:

Dim LoginResult As Boolean = false
LoginResult = _AttemptLogin()
If LoginResult = True Then
End If
If LoginResult = False Then
End If

As you can see, true and false allow for two conditions:

Dim LoginResult As AuthResult 
LoginResult = _AttemptLogin()
If LoginResult = AuthResult.Authenticated Then
End If

If LoginResult = AuthResult.Failed Then
End If

If LoginResult = AuthResult.Suspended Then
End If

If LoginResult = AuthResult.AuthenticatedChangePassword Then
End If

Do you see the possibilities?

Define the First and Last Entry as Loop Limits

You may find yourself in a situation where you need to iterate through each member of your enumerated type. One suggested practice is to reserve the first and last element as loop limits.

Public Type RGBValue
 RGB_FirstValue = 0
 RGB_Red = 0
 RGB_Green = 1
 RGB_Blue = 2
 RGB_LastValue = 2
End Type

Dim RGBVal As RGBValue
For RGBVal = RGBValue.RGB_FirstValue To RGBValue.RGB_LastValue
 ‘process here
Here is an example of iterating through an enum.
'Imagine if you had an enum for EmployeeTypes and you 'wanted to iterate over 'each employee type and perform an 'action.

'For instance

Public Type EmployeeType

 Cashier = 0

 Supervisor = 1

 Manager = 2

 Executive = 3

End Type

Dim employeeType As EmployeeType

For employeeType = EmployeeType.Cashier To EmployeeType.Executive




Well, I hope I’ve illustrated some of the benefits of using enumerated types. All of your feedback is welcome.

  kick it on  

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About the author

My name is Buddy James.  I'm a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer from the Nashville, TN area.  I'm a Software Engineer, an author, a blogger (, a mentor, a thought leader, a technologist, a data scientist, and a husband.  I enjoy working with design patterns, data mining, c#, WPF, Silverlight, WinRT, XAML, ASP.NET, python, CouchDB, RavenDB, Hadoop, Android(MonoDroid), iOS (MonoTouch), and Machine Learning. I love technology and I love to develop software, collect data, analyze the data, and learn from the data.  When I'm not coding,  I'm determined to make a difference in the world by using data and machine learning techniques. (follow me at @budbjames).  

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