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C++/CLI Cheat Sheet

, 27 Jan 2012 CPOL
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Table of Contents [hide] 1 Introduction 2 Handles 3 CLR types 3.1 Native and managed types on stack and heap 3.2 Handles and Value Types (.Net Structs and Enums) 3.3 Casting Handles 3.4 Passing handles 3.5 Mixing native and managed types 3.6 Type Of 4 Modifiers: visibility 5 Modifiers: abstract, sea

This post’s purpose is a quick comparison between C++/CLI and C#. It’s meant for those who know C# (and possibly C++) and will explain which C++/CLI language construct correspond with which in C#. (I don’t know Visual Basic so I can’t add infos about this here.)

Note: This is not a complete reference but rather quick reference for those features that are (in my opinion) the most unclear.

Note 2: C++/CLI is currently only available on Windows. At the time of writing (mid 2010) there are no plans in the Mono project to support C++/CLI. Such support would be necessary as a C++/CLI compiler creates mixed code that contains native and managed code. While the managed code could be executed by the Mono runtime the native can’t. Therefore a C++/CLI library can’t be used on Linux or MacOSX (or any other Mono supported OS).

See also:

Introduction

C++/CLI is – as the name suggest – an extension of C++ to allow it to use Microsoft’s .NET framework including the CLR (common language runtime; i.e. garbage collection and such things).

C++/CLI is the successor of “Managed C++”, which felt unnatural to many programmers. However, both “languages” have the same goal: combine native code with managed code.

Handles

C++/CLI allows for two reference/pointer types:

  • native pointers (*, &): Pointers as they’re known from C/C++. They are not garbage collected and must be managed manually in the code. Created with malloc() or new.
    Example: char*, MyClass&
  • handles (^): Handles are the references as they’re used in C# (or all other .NET languages). Handles are garbage collected (meaning you don’t need to free them manually) and are created by gcnew (instead of new with pointers).
    Example: String^, array<String^>^

The members of handles are accessed with the “->” operator (and not with the “.” operator).

CLR types

A type (class, struct) becomes a CLR type when it’s being prefixed with a specific keyword.

  • Native types: class, struct
  • Managed types:

    • C# class: ref class, ref struct
    • C# struct: value class, value struct
    • C# interface: interface class, interface struct
    • C# enum: enum class, enum struct

Notes:

  • In C++ struct and class can be used interchangeably with the difference that all C++ struct members are public by default while all C++ class members are private by default. To avoid confusion ref struct, value class, and interface struct should not be used. There are therefore stroke-through in the list above. For an interface class, however, all members are public automatically.
  • Don’t forget to terminate a type declaration (even classes and structs) with a semicolon; i.e. use ref class MyClass { };. Otherwise you will get compiler errors. (Just mention this here as this is not necessary in C#.)
  • In C++/CLI a CLR type can be used as a handle or directly on the stack, i.e.: MyCLRType^ myHandleVar (handle on heap) vs. MyCLRType myStackVar (stack)

Native and managed types on stack and heap

Handles can only “contain” managed types. Managed types can sit on the stack or in a handle, but not in a pointer.

class MyNativeTestClass {
  ...
};

public ref class MyManagedTestClass {
  ...
};

void test() {
  MyNativeTestClass native1;
  MyNativeTestClass* native2 = new MyNativeTestClass();
  MyNativeTestClass^ native3 = gcnew MyNativeTestClass(); // ERROR

  MyManagedTestClass managed1;
  MyManagedTestClass* managed2 = new MyManagedTestClass(); // ERROR
  MyManagedTestClass^ managed3 = gcnew MyManagedTestClass();
}

Handles and Value Types (.Net Structs and Enums)

Since value types (ie. value struct and enum class) are passed-by-copy, you usually don’t use handles on them but use them directly. Instead you create them directly on the stack (ie. without gcnew) like this:

Point Test() {
  Point pt(2, 5);
  return pt;
}

MyEnum Test2() {
  return MyEnum::MyEnumValue;
}

Using a handle on a value type essentially create a boxed version of that value type. In managed code, all value structs will be converted into ValueType types and all enum classes will be converted into Enum types.

For example the following C++/CLI code (with Point being a value type and MyEnum being an enum class):

public ref class MyTestClass {
public:
  void Test1(Point pt, Point^ pt2) { }
  void Test2(MyEnum en, MyEnum^ en2) { }
};

From a C# project, this class definition will look like this:

public class MyTestClass {
  public void Test1(Point pt, ValueType pt2);
  public void Test2(MyEnum en, Enum en2);
}

Casting Handles

There are several ways to cast a handle to another type:

  • safe cast: Casts the handle to the other type, if possible, and throws an exception if the cast isn’t possible due to incompatible types. This is identical to a C# type cast. Examples:

    • (NewType^)myHandle
    • safe_cast<NewType^>(myHandle)
  • dynamic cast: Casts the handle to the other type, if possible, and returns nullptr if the cast isn’t possible due to incompatible types. This is identical to the C# keyword as (or is, if used in a condition). Examples:

    • dynamic_cast<NewType^>(myHandle)
    • if (dynamic_cast<NewType^>(myHandle) != nullptr) { ... }
  • static cast: This is the equivalent of a C++ type cast; i.e. not type checking is done. Doing an invalid cast on a handle this way will result in undefined behaviour. Can’t be used when the compiler option “/clr:safe” is enabled. Example:

    • static_cast<NewType^>(myHandle)

Passing handles

Passing a handle to or from a method works in C++/CLI as expected. The handle inside the method identifies the same instance that it identified outside of the method (i.e. the object is passed as reference and not as copy).

void ChangeString(MyClass^ str) {
  str.myInnerString = "New string";
}

// In main()
MyClass^ str = gcnew MyClass("Old string");
ChangeString(str);
Console::WriteLine(str.myInnerString);

This code changes myInnerString as expected.

To pass the reference to the handle itself (C# keyword ref), the % operator must be used (like the & operator in C++):

void ChangeString(String^% str)
{
  str = "New string";
}

// In main()
String^ str = "Old string";
ChangeString(str);
Console::WriteLine(str);

This again changes the string. Note the % in ChangeString().

Notes:

  • For the C# keyword out, the parameter must also be prefixed with the [Out] attribute (from System::Runtime::InteropServices). For example: void ChangeString([Out] String^% str)
  • Unlike in C# out and ref don’t need to be specified when calling methods using the % operator.
  • Handles are type-safe, i.e. you can’t cast them to anything aren’t.
  • Handles can’t be cast to or from void^.

Mixing native and managed types

This section gives a quick overview what is allowed with handles and what isn’t.

Native Classes Managed Classes
Methods with native types (as parameters or return types) Yes (copy and reference) Yes (copy and reference); this method will only be callable from C++/CLI code (but not from C# code)
Methods with managed types (as parameters or return types) Yes (copy and handle) Yes (copy and handle)
Fields with native type Yes (direct and pointer) Only pointer
Fields with managed type value types directly; handles via gcroot (see below) Values types and handles

Important: Passing pointers of native types across assembly (dll) boundaries requires some more work. See Passing native pointers across C++/CLI assembly boundaries for more information.

To be able to store a handle as field in a native class, wrap it in a gcroot instance, like so: gcroot<String^> m_myMember.

#include <vcclr.h>
using namespace System;

class CppClass {
public:
   gcroot<String^> str;   // can use str as if it were String^
};

int main() {
   CppClass c;
   c.str = gcnew String("hello");
   Console::WriteLine(c.str);   // no cast required
}

Type Of

To get the type of an object, simply use:

obj->GetType()

To get a type of a class, use:

// identical to type(MyClass) in C#
MyClass::typeid

Modifiers: visibility

Visibility modifiers for class/struct members are used as in C++:

  public:
    int my_public_var;
    String^ my_public_string;

Visibility modifiers for classes/structs themself are prefixed before the CLR type keyword (i.e. like used as in C#):

public ref class MyClass { };
private value struct MyStruct { }; // internal struct

Classes/structs without visibility modifier will be interpreted as internal (which is private in C++/CLI).

Beside using a single visibility modifier, C++/CLI allows the programmer to specify two modifiers. The rule here is: The higher visibility is used inside the assembly and the lower visibility outside the assembly.

Here’s a list of supported modifiers:

Scope C++/CLI C#
Classes/Members public public
Members protected protected
Members private private
Classes private internal
Members internal internal
Members public protected internal protected
Members protected private not possible (i.e. you can’t define this in C# although it’s a valid CLR visibility)

Modifiers: abstract, sealed, static

If the modifiers abstract and sealed needs to be specified after the class name but before the inheritance operator:

public ref class MyTestClass2 abstract : MyTestClass { };

The meaning of these keywords translates directly into C#. Combining both keywords results in a static C# class/struct.

For members (methods and fields) the keywords abstract and sealed must be specified after the parameter list:

virtual void Func() abstract;

static, on the other hand, must be specified before the return type:

static int MyFunc();

Modifiers: const, readonly

To sum it up:

C++/CLI C# Note
literal const Compile-time constant
initonly readonly Runtime constant

So, for example, this C++/CLI code:

class MyClass {
public:
  literal String^ MY_LITERAL = "Hello World";

  static initonly int MY_INITONLY = 5;
  initonly int myInitOnly;
};

will translate into this C# code:

public class MyClass {
  public const string MY_LITERAL = "Hello World";

  public static readonly int MY_INITONLY;
  public readonly int myInitOnly;
}

Inheritance

Inheritance for CLR types is like you know it from C#. Therefore just some notes:

  • Only public inheritance is allowed for CLR types. This doesn’t work:
    ref class Derived1 : private Base {}; // which would be allowed in C++
    If no visibility is specified, public will be assumed automatically.
  • Multiple inheritance isn’t supported by the CLR (although it is by C++).
  • “value” types can only inherit interfaces but not classes.
  • “value” types are automatically sealed.

Arrays

Arrays are defined like this in C++/CLI:

  • array<int>^ myArr1
  • array<String^>^ myArr2
  • array<String^> myArr3 // sits on the stack

Arrays (if they’re a handle) are created using “gcnew”:

  • Regular array:
    array<int>^ strarray = gcnew array<int>(5); // 5 elements
  • Multi-dimensional array:
    array<String^,2>^ names = gcnew array<String^,2>(4,3); // 4x3 elements
  • Jagged array (array of arrays):
    array<array<int>^>^ arr = gcnew array<array<int>^>(5);

Accessing an element works like in C# or C++:

myArray[5]  // retrieves or sets the 6th array element

All C++/CLI arrays are direct subclasses of System::Array. Thus, the size of an array can be obtained through the property Length.

More information:

Properties

The easiest way to define a .NET property is like this:

property String^ MyProperty;

This is called a trivial property and the compiler will automatically generate a getter and a setter for this property. So, basically it’s identical to string MyProperty { get; set; } in C#.

Note, however, that there is no way to make a trivial property where getter or setter has another visibility than the property – eg. string MyProperty { get; private set; } has no equivalent in C++/CLI. Also you can’t make read-only or write-only trivial properties in C++/CLI.

In most cases, however, you want to specify some code for your property. Here’s how it’s done.

private:
  String^ field;
public:
  property String^ SomeValue {
    String^ get() { return field; }
    void set(String^ value) { field = value; }
  }

You can also specify the visibility directly for one of the accessor methods and thereby turning the property read-only or write-only:

private:
  String^ field;
public:
  property String^ SomeValue {
    String^ get() { return field; }
    private: void set(String^ value) { field = value; }
  }

And if you want to separate definition (.h file) from implementation (.cpp file), you do it like this:

// .h file - assume class is "MyClass"
private:
  String^ field;
public:
  property String^ SomeValue {
    String^ get();
    void set(String^ value);
  }

// .cpp file
String^ MyClass::SomeValue::get() {
  return field;
}

void MyClass::SomeValue::set(String^ value) {
  field = value;
}

Read on: CppCliProperties.aspx

Constructors

Constructors in C++/CLI have the same syntax as in C++. There’s one limitation though: Constructor chaining is not supported in C++/CLI (although .NET supports it).

Static Constructors

Static constructors are automatically called by the CLR when the class is “loaded”. They’re defined just as in C#, must be private though.

public ref class MyClass {
private:
  static MyClass() { } // <- Static constructor
public:
  MyClass() { } // <- Regular constructor
};

Destructors and Finalizers

The terms and syntax for destructors and finalizer may be somewhat confusing between C++, C++/CLI and C#. Therefore here is an example:

ref class MyClass // : IDisposable (this is automatically added by the compiler)
{
public:
  MyClass();  // constructor
  ~MyClass(); // (deterministic) destructor (converted into
              // IDisposable.Dispose() by the compiler)
protected:
  !MyClass(); // finalizer (non-deterministic destructor)
              // (converted into "virtual void Finalize()" by the compiler)
};

You only need destructor and finalizer when the class hosts some unmanaged data (e.g. a pointer to a C++ class). If you don’t have unmanaged data in your class, you neither need destructor nor finalizer (unless you have some members implementing IDisposable).

Note: The destructor (Dispose()) will not be called automatically from the finalizer.

Since freeing unmanaged resources should occur in the finalizer (see IDisposable, Finalizer, and SuppressFinalize in C# and C++/CLI), the default implementation pattern for finalizer and destructor looks like this:

ref class DataContainer {
public:
  ~DataContainer() {
    if (m_isDisposed)
       return;

    // dispose managed data
    //delete m_managedData;
    this->!DataContainer(); // call finalizer
    m_isDisposed = true;
  }

  // Finalizer
  !DataContainer() {
    // free unmanaged data
    //DataProvider::DeleteUnmanagedData(m_unmanagedData);
  }

private:
  bool m_isDisposed; // must be set to false
};

Calling the Destructor

There are two ways of calling the (deterministic) destructor (i.e. ~MyClass()) in C++/CLI.

When an object sits on the stack, its destructor is automatically called when the variable goes out of scope:

int main() {
  MyClass myClazz;
  myClazz.DoSomething();
  // Destructor gets called when the function returns
}

On the other hand, when an object is created on the GC heap, use delete to call its destructor:

int main() {
  MyClass^ myClazz;
  myClazz->DoSomething();
  // Call destructor
  delete myClazz;
}

Events and Delegates

Delegates are basically pointers (or “handles”) to .NET methods. The can be called directly or be used as event handlers.

Delegates

You create a delegate by passing this and a pointer to method to its constructor.

using namespace System;

ref class CliClass {
public:
  void MyHandler(Object^ sender, EventArgs^ args);
};

int main() {
  CliClass^ clazz = gcnew CliClass();
  // Create delegate instance
  EventHandler^ handler = gcnew EventHandler(clazz, &CliClass::MyHandler);
}

To call a delegate, simply call it like a regular function:

int main() {
  EventHandler^ handler = gcnew EventHandler(clazz, &CliClass::MyHandler);
  handler(nullptr, EventArgs::Empty); // or use "Invoke()"
}

To define a custom delegate, use the delegate keyword:

public delegate double Addition(double val1, double val2);

Events

To assign a delegate to an event, use the += operator just as in C#:

dispatcherTimer->Tick += gcnew EventHandler(this, &MyClass::OnTick);

Creating an event is pretty much the same as in C#. Just use the keyword event together with the desired delegate type:

public ref class CExercise {
public:
  event EventHandler^ MyCustomEvent;
};

Calling an event is identical to calling a delegate:

this->MyCustomEvent(this, EventArgs::Empty);

Note: Checking the event against nullptr isn’t required in C++/CLI (unlike C#). That’s because the event’s raise() method automatically checks whether there are actually any event handlers (source).

Templates and Generics

C++/CLI classes can use C++ templates as well as .NET generics. Since templates aren’t visible in .NET (but generics are), we’ll skip them here. See the link below for more information.

Generic class:

generic<typename T> where T : IDog
ref class GenRef {
  void DoAll();
  T myDog;
}

Implementation of a method from a generic class:

generic<typename T> where T:IDog
void GenRef<T>::DoAll() {
  t->Bark(0);
  t->WagTail();
}

See also: Using generics in C++/CLI

Referencing managed type from other file (in the same project)

Using a managed type that comes with an assembly (dll) in a C++/CLI file is simple: Simply use it – either fully qualified or with using.

void MyClass::MyMethod() {
  // Defined in .NET Assembly "System".
  System::Uri^ myUri = gcnew System::Uri("http://manski.net");
  ...
}

Using a managed type that comes from another file in the same project on the other hand requires you to include it in the file you want to use it. Or to be more precise: You need to include its method signatures (.h file( – not the actual implementation (.cpp file).

#include "MyOtherClass.h"

void MyClass::MyMethod() {
  // Defined in the same project
  MyOtherClass^ myClass = gcnew MyOtherClass();
  ...
}

So, if you have separated the class into a .h and a .cpp file, include the .h file. If, on the other hand, you want to write your class in one file (like in C#), you need to create a .h file (and not a .cpp file) and include this file.

Preprocessor

By enabling the common language runtime support for a project (i.e. making it a C++/CLI project rather than a pure C++ project), a preprocessor definition called _MANAGED will be defined (with value 1):

#ifdef _MANAGED
  // This part is only included in C++/CLI projects.
  doSomething();
#endif

Also defined are __cplusplus_cli and __CLR_VER. For more information, see Predefined Macros.

Glossary

Garbage Collector (GC)
reclaims garbage, or memory used by objects that will never be accessed or mutated again by the application.
Common Language Infrastructure (CLI)
It is an open specification that defines a runtime environment that allows multiple high-level languages to be used on different computer platforms without being rewritten for specific architectures.
Common Type System (CTS)
a standard that specifies how Type definitions and specific values of Types are represented in computer memory, so programs in different programming languages can easily share information.
Base Class Library (BCL)
a standard library available to all languages using the .NET Framework, comparable in scope to the standard libraries of Java.
Framework Class Library (FCL)
a collection of thousands of reusable classes, interfaces and value types, within hundreds of namespaces. BCL is a part of FCL and provide the most fundamental functionality.
Mono

Free .NET (CLI) alternative available on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. The development is usually behind the development of Microsoft’s .NET implementation (e.g. while Microsoft supports .NET 4.0, Mono only supports .NET 2.0).

History

What happened to this article:

  • 2012-01-13: Improved info about gcroot, delegates and events, and improved destructors section
  • 2012-01-11: Updated information about preprocessor defines and added history section
  • 2012-01-10: Added section about C#’s typeof equivalent in C++/CLI
  • 2012-01-09: Added note about passing native pointer across assembly boundaries
  • 2012-01-04: Added section about constructors
  • 2011-12-20: Added section about templates and generics
  • 2011-12-19: Added some notes about CLR arrays and preprocessor definitions
  • 2011-08-29: Added section about handles and pointers as members of managed and native classes
  • 2011-08-26: Added section about managed and native classes on the heap, stack, and GC heap
  • 2011-08-19: Added section “Referencing managed type from other file (in the same project)”
  • 2011-08-09: Added sections about .NET properties and the C# modifiers const and readonly
  • 2011-06-15: Added information about value types and their relationship to handles
  • 2011-05-02: Formatting and added scope to modifier table
  • 2011-04-19: Published

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Sebastian Krysmanski
Software Developer University of Stuttgart
Germany Germany
I have studied Software Engineering and am currently working at the University of Stuttgart, Germany.
 
I have been programming for many years and have a background in C++, C#, Java, Python and web languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript).
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Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMember 97114275-Mar-13 8:14 
SuggestionCorrection to Accessing Manages Classes in Different Files in the Same Project PinmemberCJ16-Feb-12 8:33 

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