Click here to Skip to main content
Click here to Skip to main content

Boxing and unboxing in C#

, 1 May 2002
Rate this:
Please Sign up or sign in to vote.
An introduction to boxing and unboxing using C#
<!-- Add the rest of your HTML here -->

Introduction

Boxing and unboxing is a  essential concept in .NET’s type system. With Boxing and unboxing one can link between value-types and reference-types by allowing any value of a value-type to be converted to and from type object. Boxing and unboxing enables a unified view of the type system wherein a value of any type can ultimately be treated as an object.

Converting a value type to reference type is called Boxing. Unboxing is the opposite operation and is an explicit operation.

.NET provides a unified type system. All types including value types derive from the type object. It is possible to call object methods on any value, even values of  primitive  types such as int.

The example

using System;
class Test
{
	static void Main() {
		Console.WriteLine(3.ToString());
	}
}

calls the object-defined ToString method on an integer literal.

The example

class Test
{
	static void Main() {
		int i = 1;
		object o = i;		// boxing
		int j = (int) o;	// unboxing
	}
}

An int value can be converted to object and back again to int.

 This example shows both boxing and unboxing. When a variable of a value type needs to be converted to a reference type, an object box is allocated to hold the value, and the value is copied into the box.

Unboxing is just the opposite. When an object box is cast back to its original value type, the value is copied out of the box and into the appropriate storage location.

Boxing conversions

A boxing conversion permits any value-type to be implicitly converted to the type object or to any interface-type implemented by the value-type.
Boxing a value of a value-type consists of allocating an object instance and copying the value-type value into that instance.

For example any value-type G, the boxing class would be declared as follows:

class vBox
{
	G value;
	G_Box(G g) {
		value = g;
	}
}

Boxing of a value v of type G now consists of executing the expression new G_Box(v), and returning the resulting instance as a value of type object.
Thus, the statements

int i = 12;
object box = i;

conceptually correspond to

int i = 12;
object box = new int_Box(i);

Boxing classes like G_Box and int_Box above don’t actually exist and the dynamic type of a boxed value isn’t actually a class type. Instead, a boxed value of type G has the dynamic type G, and a dynamic type check using the is operator can simply reference type G. For example,

int i = 12;
object box = i;
if (box is int) {
	Console.Write("Box contains an int");
}

will output the string  Box contains an int on the console.

A boxing conversion implies making a copy of the value being boxed. This is different from a conversion of a reference-type to type object, in which the value continues to reference the same instance and simply is regarded as the less derived type object.

For example, given the declaration

struct Point
{
	public int x, y;
	public Point(int x, int y) {
		this.x = x;
		this.y = y;
	}
}

the following statements

Point p = new Point(10, 10);
object box = p;
p.x = 20;
Console.Write(((Point)box).x);

will output the value 10 on the console because the implicit boxing operation that occurs in the assignment of p to box causes the value of p to be copied. Had Point instead been declared a class, the value 20 would be output because p and box would reference the same instance.

Unboxing conversions

An unboxing conversion permits an explicit conversion from type object to any value-type or from any interface-type to any value-type that implements the interface-type. An unboxing operation consists of first checking that the object instance is a boxed value of the given value-type, and then copying the value out of the instance.

unboxing conversion of an object box to a value-type G consists of executing the expression ((G_Box)box).value.

Thus, the statements

object box = 12;
int i = (int)box;

conceptually correspond to

object box = new int_Box(12);
int i = ((int_Box)box).value;

For an unboxing conversion to a given value-type to succeed at run-time, the value of the source argument must be a reference to an object that was previously created by boxing a value of that value-type. If the source argument is null or a reference to an incompatible object, an InvalidCastException is thrown.

Conclusion

This type system unification provides value types with the benefits of object-ness without introducing unnecessary overhead.

For programs that don’t need int values to act like objects, int values are simply 32-bit values. For programs that need int values to behave like objects, this capability is available on demand. This ability to treat value types as objects bridges the gap between value types and reference types that exists in most languages.

License

This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here

Share

About the Author

Arun Ganesh
Web Developer
Asia/Pacific Region Asia/Pacific Region
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 4 PinprofessionalDevkanta27-Aug-13 23:51 
nice representation
GeneralMy vote of 1 Pinmemberformulaone874-Jun-10 19:03 
QuestionC# Windows PinmemberGaurav Lal12-Sep-06 23:12 
Jokeame Articel at two site PinmemberDebasish Pramanik9-Jan-06 18:38 
Generalwhy.. PinmemberJabraJabra21-Oct-05 0:48 
GeneralRe: why.. Pinmemberzopiro22-Jan-06 11:07 
GeneralRe: why.. Pinmemberkpnut23-Oct-07 5:00 
GeneralCasting PinsussAnonymous24-Mar-05 0:21 
GeneralI like Box PinsussAnonymous8-Jun-03 18:56 
GeneralDon Box PinadminDavid Cunningham5-May-02 3:46 
GeneralRe: Don Box Pinmembersanjit_rath13-Jun-05 17:13 

General General    News News    Suggestion Suggestion    Question Question    Bug Bug    Answer Answer    Joke Joke    Rant Rant    Admin Admin   

Use Ctrl+Left/Right to switch messages, Ctrl+Up/Down to switch threads, Ctrl+Shift+Left/Right to switch pages.

| Advertise | Privacy | Mobile
Web03 | 2.8.141022.2 | Last Updated 2 May 2002
Article Copyright 2002 by Arun Ganesh
Everything else Copyright © CodeProject, 1999-2014
Terms of Service
Layout: fixed | fluid