# Monday, October 08, 2007

What are Operators in C#?

Operators are language symbols that specify which operations to perform in an expression. If you are a programmer, you are familiar with the usual arithmetic and logic operators, such as the "+" and "-" for adding and subtracting, and the "&" for (anding) boolean comparisons.

What do you mean by Overloading?

Since most classes aren't primarily concerned with such arithmetic or logical evaluation, C# allows classes to "overload" these operators for their own custom use.

The following example shows how to overload the "+" and "-" operators for use in a hypothetical Order class. The goal is to utilize "+" for adding an item to an order, and "-" for removing an item from an order.
public class Order

    //other details omitted
    public static Order operator +(Order order, OrderItem orderItem)
        return order;

    public static Order operator -(Order order, OrderItem orderItem)
        return order;

Here is a test (NUnit) to illustrate the intended usage (remember x += y is shorthand for x = x + y):
public void AddOrderItem()

    Order order = new Order();
    OrderItem orderItem = new OrderItem(15);
    order += orderItem;

    Assert.That(order.OrderItems.Count == 1);


Overloading Operator Overloading

If you had tried to use the overloaded operator defined above with a different "target" class, such as adding a shipping charge to an order, (i.e.: order += shippingCharge) you would have received the error "Operator '+=' cannot be applied to operands of type 'Order' and 'ShippingCharge'".

But, if you indeed want the "+" operator to also allow adding a ShippingCharge object, you can define that behavior as well. And it's a great way to illustrate what I call "Overloading Operator Overloading", a.k.a. O3 *grin*. As such, the signature of the additional overloaded "+" would be:
public static Order operator +(Order order, ShippingCharge shippingCharge)

In The Wild

In the .Net Framework itself, you have probably seen the "+" (and therefore the "+=") operator overloaded for the purpose of adding a event handler for an event. 
btnSubmit.Click += new System.EventHandler(btnSubmit_Click);

Casting Operators

Many (but not all) operators can be overloaded. You can view the list at MSDN. Included in this list are cast operators "()" which give you control over the casting behavior of your classes. One example would be converting a Farenheit object to a Celsius object (example via MSDN docs):
Farenheit f = new Farenheit(100.0f);
Celsius c = (Celsius)f;
With the overloaded casting operator found in the Celsius class:
public static explicit operator Celsius(Farenheit f)
    return new Celsius((5.0f/9.0f)*(f.degrees-32));

Syntactic Shorthand

I must admit that generally the "syntactic shorthand" that overloading operators affords you is more of a nice-to-have than a problem-solver. However, I think that there is definitely some untapped potential with the casting operators, in particular.

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.NET | C_Sharp | NUnit