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Object Serialization using C#

, 31 Jan 2002
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How to serialize custom created class objects using C#
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Writing crucial data to the disk as TEXT is always dangerous. Any anonymous user can open the text file and easily read your data. With Object Serialization, you can reduce this danger to a certain extent. You can write any complex object directly to a filestream without converting values of individual properties into a text. You can make the data written, to the disk, atleast not human readable. In order for the users to read your data files, they have to use your program. Like a File Open command which you may provide in your application.

.NET and Object Serialization

Now what does .NET framework provide us to do Serialization of Custom-build class objects? With the advent of any programming language, developers would first look whether it is an OOPL. If so, how to create my own classes with my own properties and functions. And then comes inheritance and all others. Explaining how to create user-defined classes is out of scope of this article. But along the way you will get to know about what a user-defined class is.

Serialization explained

Serialization is the process of converting complex objects into stream of bytes for storage. Deserialization is its reverse process, that is unpacking stream of bytes to their original form. The namespace which is used to read and write files is System.IO. For Serialization we are going to look at the System.Runtime.Serialization namespace. The ISerializable interface allows you to make any class Serializable.

Here are the following steps that we are going to do to create a serializable class and test it.

  • Create a custom class named Employee and assign properties.
  • Define the serialization functions.
  • Create a main class and instantiate our Employee class.
  • Serialize the object to a sample file.
  • Deserialize the values by reading it from the file.

Defining Employee class and properties

Our custom class Employee should be derived from the ISerializable interface and should hold the Serializable attribute. Here is the code snippet.
using System;
using System.IO;
using System.Runtime.Serialization;
using System.Runtime.Serialization.Formatters.Binary;

namespace MyObjSerial
    [Serializable()]    //Set this attribute to all the classes that want to serialize
    public class Employee : ISerializable //derive your class from ISerializable
        public int EmpId;
        public string EmpName;
        //Default constructor
        public Employee()
            EmpId = 0;
            EmpName = null;

Define Serialization functions

Now we need two functions: One to say how to serialize Employee objects and another to say how to deserialize them. For serialization we override the GetObjectData() function provided by the ISerializable interface. For deserialization we provide a special constructor with the serialization parameters as arguments. This constructor will be called when we deserialize our file to object (which will be shown later).

One of the important parameters is the SerializationInfo object. This object holds a name-value pair for the properties to be serialized. You can decide which property should be serialized and which not in the GetObjectData() function. All the properties that are added to this SerializationInfo parameter will be serialized. Here are the codes for the two functions. Add them to our Employee class.

//Deserialization constructor.
public Employee(SerializationInfo info, StreamingContext ctxt)
    //Get the values from info and assign them to the appropriate properties
    EmpId = (int)info.GetValue("EmployeeId", typeof(int));
    EmpName = (String)info.GetValue("EmployeeName", typeof(string));
//Serialization function.
public void GetObjectData(SerializationInfo info, StreamingContext ctxt)
    //You can use any custom name for your name-value pair. But make sure you
    // read the values with the same name. For ex:- If you write EmpId as "EmployeeId"
    // then you should read the same with "EmployeeId"
    info.AddValue("EmployeeId", EmpId);
    info.AddValue("EmployeeName", EmpName);
Thats it. You have created your own class which is now serializable. Now lets see how to write an instance of Employee to a special file with a custom .osl extension. And we also see how to read back Employee object from the file.

Create a main class and instantiate our Employee class

Following is the code snippet for ObjSerial class which holds our application's main entry point.
//Main class
public class ObjSerial
    public static void Main(String[] args)
        //Create a new Employee object
        Employee mp = new Employee();
        mp.EmpId = 10;
        mp.EmpName = "Omkumar";
        //Add code below for serialization

Serialize the object to a sample file

For serializing, lets open a stream object and give a sample file name EmployeeInfo.osl. Note, the demo exe file has this same name. So when you run ObjSerial.exe, the EmployeeInfo.osl file will be created under the folder where you copied the exe file. Add the following code to our ObjSerial class. Once a stream is open we create a BinaryFormatter and use the Serialize method to serialize our object to the stream. What Serialize method would do? It converts our object into binary format and streams it in.
// Open a file and serialize the object into it in binary format.
// EmployeeInfo.osl is the file that we are creating. 
// Note:- you can give any extension you want for your file
// If you use custom extensions, then the user will now 
//   that the file is associated with your program.
Stream stream = File.Open("EmployeeInfo.osl", FileMode.Create);
BinaryFormatter bformatter = new BinaryFormatter();
Console.WriteLine("Writing Employee Information");
bformatter.Serialize(stream, mp);

Deserialize the values by reading it from the file

Now we read the created file and cast the return value to our Employee class for further usage. For reading we again create a BinaryFormatter to read the object in binary form. We then use the Deserialize method which converts the stream of bytes to an Object object. This object can then be easily casted to our Employee class.
//Clear mp for further usage.
mp = null;
//Open the file written above and read values from it.
stream = File.Open("EmployeeInfo.osl", FileMode.Open);
bformatter = new BinaryFormatter();
Console.WriteLine("Reading Employee Information");
mp = (Employee)bformatter.Deserialize(stream);
Console.WriteLine("Employee Id: {0}",mp.EmpId.ToString());
Console.WriteLine("Employee Name: {0}",mp.EmpName);


This sample application explains the core part of serialization only. Actually you can do a lot with the objects while serializing and deserializing. Now you can create a Mulitple document application with .NET Windows Forms and go ahead Serialize the world into your disk.


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About the Author

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Started programming with computers in 1995. Ever since it keeps me busy and creative. Did a bachelor's degree in electronics and communication only to better understand the inside of computers and its power. Currently working as a software developer in US and looking for a girl-friend...

Comments and Discussions

GeneralA nice one PinprofessionalArkadeep De2-Nov-14 8:03 
QuestionMy vote of 5 PinmemberGuyThiebaut1-Nov-14 23:44 
Questionusing stream PinprofessionalDietmar Schoder10-Dec-13 23:57 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembernaren19915-Jun-13 22:29 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembermanoj kumar choubey25-Apr-13 2:22 
QuestionCare with ENUM types PinmemberOscar Miras29-Nov-12 3:13 
QuestionDeserialize Pinmemberingvare14-Nov-12 3:18 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberTem Rhythm11-Sep-12 22:52 
Questionserialization Pinmemberjingdedi22-Aug-12 0:07 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberAkiii0018-Jun-12 6:08 
Suggestion[My vote of 2] My vote of 2 - dangerous Pinmemberandyclap23-Jan-12 1:20 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberSergiy Tkachuk15-Dec-11 20:21 
QuestionData is readable PinmemberS.Reda30-Jun-11 2:55 
GeneralMy vote of 4 Pinmembershankaranarayana18-May-11 1:14 
GeneralAnother great site with info on serialization Pinmemberjonarnar24-Apr-11 3:51 
QuestionHow to De-serialize whole array or list of ojbects PinmemberMushtaq Muhammad3-Apr-11 1:06 
AnswerRe: How to De-serialize whole array or list of ojbects Pinmemberjonarnar24-Apr-11 3:52 
QuestionGreat, exactly what I needed though I have a small question PinmemberIlanF25-Mar-11 2:29 
GeneralMy vote of 4 Pinmemberdendrit6-Dec-10 2:15 
although it's brief it's useful information
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberNithin Sundar25-Nov-10 18:34 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberSayem Ahmed2-Oct-10 20:28 
QuestionHow images are serilized? PinmemberMember 471108727-Sep-10 3:10 
GeneralThe article is complete but far from perfect PinmemberSimon Dufour14-Jul-10 5:18 
AnswerRe: The article is complete but far from perfect PinmemberMazen el Senih6-Apr-12 5:47 
GeneralThanks Pinmemberxliqz4-Feb-10 8:01 
Generalfilehandling PinmemberM.YASIR ALI7-Dec-09 11:33 
GeneralNice PinmemberNitin Sawant30-Nov-09 23:15 
Generalexcellent! Pinmemberalejandro29A28-Aug-09 3:54 
GeneralAwesome PinmemberAnubisasc19-Jan-09 6:33 
GeneralISerializable, inheritance and GetObjectData Pinmemberdevvvy9-Jan-09 15:09 
GeneralRe: ISerializable, inheritance and GetObjectData Pinmemberdevvvy9-Jan-09 16:02 
QuestionCan I serialize whole object to xml? Pinmemberjeff wa27-Dec-08 12:50 
QuestionWhat are the reasons to Serialize Pinmemberexpresso10001-Oct-08 5:18 
AnswerRe: What are the reasons to Serialize PinmemberAram Azhari30-Dec-08 5:37 
GeneralRe: What are the reasons to Serialize PinmemberJason Newland14-Oct-11 0:28 
GeneralRe: What are the reasons to Serialize PinmemberAram Azhari14-Oct-11 1:48 
GeneralSerializing image data Pinmembersohst9-Sep-08 5:33 
GeneralSerializing Lists/Arrays/etc. PinmemberThanks for all the fish13-Aug-07 14:28 
GeneralArrayList in my object PinmemberSpyder_Snyper6-Aug-07 7:13 
GeneralSerialize a complex class PinmemberNigel Bogle13-Apr-07 2:18 
QuestionDoes this work with XMLSerialization? Pinmembervoodoo90558-Mar-07 10:16 
QuestionCan I Serialize a Interface PinmemberIvelinaDoycheva26-Nov-06 23:21 
AnswerRe: Can I Serialize a Interface PinmemberTim Wiffen7-Mar-07 3:48 
GeneralXMLSerialization PinmemberBVandenbon25-Oct-06 2:13 
QuestionShould implement the interface ISerializable? Pinmemberanees7729-Jun-06 0:40 
AnswerRe: Should implement the interface ISerializable? PinmemberGanesh Paulraj6-Oct-06 4:12 
AnswerRe: Should implement the interface ISerializable? Pinmembertallgill27-Jun-07 6:20 
Generalsimple yet consise PinmemberDarchangel6-Apr-06 7:40 
GeneralSerializing/ Deserializing an ArrayList PinmemberMax Leifer7-Oct-05 7:58 
GeneralVery... very good. PinmemberCaio Proiete9-Jun-05 6:02 

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