What is the difference between a static class and a static member variable or method? I have asked this question in most of my interviews, and most of the time, it confuses candidates. So I thought of writing an informative article on it so that the difference is comprehensible, and fellow developers can add more information/valuable points.
Let's start with the memory first. Whenever a process is loaded in the RAM, we can say that the memory is roughly divided into three areas (within that process): Stack, Heap, and Static (which, in .NET, is actually a special area inside Heap only known as High Frequency Heap).
The static part holds the “
static” member variables and methods. What exactly is static? Those methods and variables which don't need an instance of a class to be created are defined as being static. In C# (and Java too), we use the
static keyword to label such members as static. For e.g.:
public static int a;
public static void DoSomething();
These member variables and methods can be called without creating an instance of the enclosing class. E.g., we can call the static method
We don't need to create an instance to use this static method.
MyClass m = new MyClass();
An important point to note is that the static methods inside a class can only use static member variables of that class. Let me explain why:
Suppose you have a private variable in
MyClass which is not static:
private int a;
private static int b;
public static void DoSomething()
a = a + 1;
b = b + 1;
Now, we will call the
DoSomething method as:
Note that we have not created any instance of the class, so the private variable "
a" has no memory as when we call a static method for a class, only the static variables are present in the memory (in the Static part). Instance variables, such as “
a” in the above example, will only be created when we create an instance of the class using the “
new” keyword, as:
MyClass m = new MyClass();
But since we haven’t created an instance yet, the variable “
a” is not there in the process memory. Only “
b” and “
DoSomething()” are loaded. So when we call
DoSomething(), it will try to increment the instance variable “
a” by 1, but since the variable isn’t created, it results in an error. The compiler flags an error if we try to use instance variables in static methods.
Now, what is a static class? When we use the
static keyword before a class name, we specify that the class will only have static member variables and methods. Such classes cannot be instantiated as they don’t need to: they cannot have instance variables. Also, an important point to note is that such static classes are
sealed by default, which means they cannot be inherited further.
This is because static classes have no behavior at all. There is no need to derive another class from a static class (we can create another static class).
Why do we need static classes? As already written above, we need static classes when we know that our class will not have any behavior as such. Suppose we have a set of helper or utility methods which we would like to wrap together in a class. Since these methods are generic in nature, we can define them all inside a static class. Remember that helper or utility methods need to be called many times, and since they are generic in nature, there is no need to create instances. E.g., suppose that you need a method that parses an
int to a
string. This method would come in the category of a utility or helper method.
So using the
static keyword will make your code a bit faster since no object creation is involved.
An important point to note is that a static class in C# is different from one in Java. In Java, the
static modifier is used to make a member class a nested top level class inside a package. So using the
static keyword with a class is different from using it with member variables or methods in Java (static member variables and methods are similar to the ones explained above in C#).
Please see the following link for details:
static keyword in C++ is used to specify that variables will be in memory till the time the program ends; and initialized only once. Just like C# and Java, these variables don’t need an object to be declared to use them. Please see this link for the use of the
static keyword in C++:
Writing about the
const keyword brings me to a subtle but important distinction between
readonly keywords in C#:
const variables are implicitly static and they need to be defined when declared.
readonly variables are not implicitly static and can only be initialized once.
E.g.: You are writing a car racing program in which the racing track has a fixed length of 100 Km. You can define a
const variable to denote this as:
private const int trackLength = 100;
Now, you want the user to enter the number of cars to race with. Since this number would vary from user to user, but would be constant throughout a game, you need to make it
readonly. You cannot make it a
const as you need to initialize it at runtime. The code would be like:
public class CarRace
private const int _trackLength = 100;
private readonly int _noOfCars;
public CarRace(int noOfCars)
public CarRace(int noOfCars)
_noOfCars = noOfCars;
We examined the
static keyword in C#, and saw how it helps in writing good code. It is best to think and foresee possible uses of the
static keyword so that the code efficiency, in general, increases.
Vivek Thakur is the admin and moderator of the popular ASP.NET community http://www.codeasp.net (CodeAsp.Net).
All his articles can be found at:
Join the premiere ASP.NET community for free today:
For questions/comments, do post them in http://www.codeasp.net/forums so that I can answer to each of them.