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Introduction to Collections in C#

Introduction to Collections in C#
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Introduction to Collections in C#

C# is a dynamic and powerful programming language, offering a vast array of built-in features that make it the go-to choice for developing versatile applications. Among these essential features lies the remarkable world of collections. If you’re eager to master C# and harness its true potential, you simply cannot overlook the importance of understanding collections.

In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the core concepts of collections in C#, demonstrating how they can be effectively used to store and manage data with ease. We’ll also examine the crucial differences between arrays and collections, equipping you with the knowledge to make informed decisions when choosing the ideal data structure for your specific needs.

Embark on this essential journey through the intricacies of C# collections and unlock the door to becoming a more proficient and confident developer. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to elevate your programming skills to new heights.

By the way, if you want to skyrocket your C# career, check out our powerful ASP.NET FULL-STACK WEB DEVELOPMENT COURSE, which also covers test-driven development and C# software architecture.

 

Collections in C#

Collections in C# are versatile data structures designed to store and manage groups of objects, allowing for more flexibility and functionality compared to arrays. By enabling dynamic resizing, type safety, and a wealth of built-in operations, collections streamline the process of working with groups of objects and simplify complex programming tasks.

The System.Collections namespace in C# houses a plethora of classes and interfaces dedicated to the creation and manipulation of various collection types. These classes and interfaces provide a robust foundation for developers to build upon, catering to diverse use cases and scenarios.

C# collections can be broadly classified into two primary categories:

  • Collections based on IList or directly on ICollection These collections focus on storing elements that contain only a value. Examples include List<T>, Queue, Stack, and LinkedList<T>, each with its own unique properties and use cases.
  • Collections based on IDictionary These collections store elements as key-value pairs, allowing for efficient retrieval and management of data based on unique keys. Examples of IDictionary-based collections include Dictionary<TKey, TValue>, SortedList, and ConcurrentDictionary<TKey, TValue>.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into each category of collections, providing a thorough explanation and simple examples to illustrate their usage. By understanding the nuances of each collection type, you’ll be better equipped to choose the most suitable data structure for your specific programming needs.

 

Collections based on IList or directly on ICollection

They include:

  • Array
  • ArrayList (not recommended for use; prefer List<T> instead)
  • List<T>
  • Queue
  • ConcurrentQueue<T>
  • Stack
  • ConcurrentStack<T>
  • LinkedList<T>

 

Array

An array is a fixed-size, zero-based collection of elements of the same type, providing a simple yet efficient way to store and manage groups of related items. Arrays are particularly useful when you know the number of elements in advance and require fast access to elements by index. They are often used in scenarios where the size and structure of the data remain constant, making them a fundamental building block in many applications.

To create an array, use the following syntax:

Example:

An important property of arrays is the Array.Rank, which represents the number of dimensions in the array. For example, a one-dimensional array has a rank of 1, while a two-dimensional array has a rank of 2. The Array.Rank property can be used to determine the dimensionality of an array during runtime, allowing for more flexible and dynamic array processing.

Example:


A two dimensional array you say? Well yes, they exist. However, we will not go into that part of collections as that is a topic that deserves its own article. To be specific, this article right here! -> Jagged Arrays vs. Multidimensional Arrays in C#! For now, let us simply continue with our other types of collections.

 

ArrayList (Not Recommended)

ArrayList is a dynamic-sized, non-generic collection that stores elements as objects, adapting its size as elements are added or removed. However, due to its lack of type safety, the use of ArrayList is generally discouraged in favor of List<T>. Type safety ensures that elements stored in a collection are of the correct type, reducing the risk of runtime errors and improving code readability.

To create an ArrayList use the following syntax:

Example (not recommended):

 

List<T>

List<T> is a generic, dynamic-sized, ordered collection of elements, offering a more versatile alternative to arrays. Lists are beneficial when you need a resizable collection that allows for fast access to elements by index. Additionally, they provide a wide range of built-in methods for element manipulation, such as Add, Remove, and Contains, simplifying complex programming tasks and improving overall code maintainability.

To create a list, use the following syntax:

Example:


 

Queue

A Queue is a first-in, first-out (FIFO) collection, designed to store and manage elements in the order they were added. Queues are particularly useful in scenarios where elements must be processed sequentially, such as task scheduling, buffering, or managing requests in a web server.

To create a queue, use the following syntax:

Example:

 

ConcurrentQueue<T>

ConcurrentQueue<T> is a thread-safe, first-in, first-out (FIFO) collection that ensures safe concurrent access by multiple threads. It is an ideal choice for multi-threaded scenarios, such as parallel processing or shared resource management, where several threads may access the queue simultaneously without causing data corruption or race conditions.

To create a concurrent queue, use the following syntax:

Example:

 

Stack

A Stack is a last-in, first-out (LIFO) collection, tailored for situations where elements need to be processed in the reverse order they were added. Stacks are commonly employed in tasks like parsing expressions, managing backtracking, or implementing undo/redo functionality in software applications.

To create a stack, use the following syntax:

Example:

 

ConcurrentStack<T>

ConcurrentStack<T> is a thread-safe, last-in, first-out (LIFO) collection that caters to multi-threaded environments where multiple threads access the stack concurrently. Its synchronized operations help prevent data corruption and race conditions, making it an invaluable tool in parallel programming.

To create a concurrent stack, use the following syntax:

Example:


 

LinkedList<T>

LinkedList<T> is a doubly-linked list collection, offering a dynamic and flexible data structure for managing elements. Linked lists are advantageous when frequent insertions or deletions occur in the middle of the collection, as they provide faster insertion and deletion times compared to arrays or lists, while maintaining a predictable order.

To create a linked list, use the following syntax:

Example:

 

Collections based on IDictionary

They include:

  • Hashtable (not recommended for use; prefer Dictionary<TKey,TValue> instead)
  • SortedList
  • SortedList<TKey,TValue>
  • Dictionary<TKey,TValue>
  • ConcurrentDictionary<TKey,TValue>

 

Hashtable (Not Recommended)

Hashtable is a non-generic collection that stores key-value pairs using a hash table, allowing for efficient data retrieval based on unique keys. However, its lack of type safety makes it less desirable, and it is recommended to use Dictionary<TKey, TValue> instead.

To use hashtables use the following syntax:

Example (not recommended):


 

SortedList

SortedList is a non-generic collection that stores key-value pairs in a sorted order based on the keys. This collection is beneficial when a sorted order must be maintained while adding and retrieving key-value pairs, ensuring efficient data access and manipulation.

To create a sorted list, use the following syntax:

Example:

 

SortedList<TKey, TValue>

SortedList<TKey, TValue> is a generic collection that stores key-value pairs in a sorted order based on the keys, providing type safety and improved performance compared to its non-generic counterpart.

To create a generic sorted list, use the following syntax:

Example:


 

Dictionary<TKey, TValue>

Dictionary<TKey, TValue> is a generic collection that stores key-value pairs using a hash table. This collection offers fast retrieval, insertion, and deletion of key-value pairs, making it an optimal choice for situations where data must be efficiently accessed and managed based on unique keys. Its type-safe nature helps to prevent runtime errors and enhances code readability.

To create a dictionary, use the following syntax:

Example:


 

ConcurrentDictionary<TKey, TValue>

ConcurrentDictionary<TKey, TValue> is a thread-safe, generic collection that stores key-value pairs using a hash table. This collection is particularly useful in multi-threaded scenarios where multiple threads access the dictionary concurrently. Its synchronized operations help ensure data integrity and avoid race conditions, allowing for seamless parallel processing and shared resource management.

To create a concurrent dictionary, use the following syntax:

Example:

 

In summary, C# provides a diverse range of collection types that cater to different programming requirements and scenarios. Understanding the unique features and use cases of each collection type is essential for selecting the most suitable data structure for your needs, ensuring efficient data storage and management while minimizing potential errors and performance issues.

Arrays vs. Collections – What are the differences?

Arrays and collections are both fundamental data structures used to store and manage groups of objects in C#. While they share some similarities, there are key differences between the two that can impact their use in various scenarios. To help you better understand these differences, we will explore them in detail and provide examples to illustrate their usage:

Size

Arrays have a fixed size, which is determined at the time of creation. Once the size of an array is set, it cannot be changed without creating a new array.

Example:

In contrast, collections can dynamically resize themselves as elements are added or removed, making them more flexible when dealing with a varying number of elements.

Example:


 

Type Safety

Arrays in C# are strongly typed, which means that the type of elements they can store is determined at compile time. This ensures type safety and prevents accidental type mismatches.

Collections like List<T>, Dictionary<TKey, TValue>, and others are also strongly typed, ensuring type safety.

However, non-generic collections like ArrayList and Hashtable store elements as objects, which can lead to runtime type errors. To avoid these issues, it is generally recommended to use generic collections over non-generic ones.

 

Performance

Arrays can offer better performance in certain scenarios due to their contiguous memory allocation and lower overhead. Accessing elements in an array is generally faster compared to collections.

However, collections provide better functionality and flexibility, which can outweigh the performance benefits of arrays in many cases. Collections like List<T> and Dictionary<TKey, TValue> offer optimized implementations that balance performance and functionality.

 

Built-in Methods

Collections offer a variety of built-in methods to manipulate the stored data, such as Add, Remove, Contains, etc. These methods simplify common tasks, making it easier to work with groups of objects.

Example:

Arrays do not have these built-in methods, so you would need to write custom code to achieve the same functionality. For instance, to remove an element from an array, you would have to create a new array without that element and copy the remaining elements over.

Understanding the differences between arrays and collections is essential for choosing the most suitable data structure for your specific programming needs. While arrays may offer better performance in some scenarios, collections often provide a more flexible and feature-rich solution for managing groups of objects.

 

Conclusion: Introduction to Collections in C#

In this article, we have introduced the concept of collections in C# and discussed the different types of collections available. We have also explored the differences between arrays and collections, highlighting the advantages of using collections in many scenarios.

When deciding whether to use an array or a collection, consider the specific requirements of your application. If you need a fixed-size, high-performance data structure, an array might be more suitable. On the other hand, if you require a flexible, dynamic data structure with built-in functionality, a collection would be a better choice.

As you develop your C# programming skills, you will become more adept at choosing the right data structure for your specific needs, ensuring that your applications are efficient and easy to maintain.

By the way, if you want to skyrocket your C# career, check out our powerful ASP.NET FULL-STACK WEB DEVELOPMENT COURSE, which also covers test-driven development and C# software architecture.

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