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What is the difference between Reflection and dynamic keyword in C#?

, 24 May 2013
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In this article we will try to understand two terminologies reflection and dynamic keyword. Many of the developers get confused between them because both of them help us to do dynamic invocation.
Table of Contents

Introduction

In this article we will try to understand two terminologies: Reflection and the dynamic keyword. Many developers get confused between them because both of them help us to do dynamic invocation.

In this article we will try to unleash the differences and see in what scenarios we will use which. But before we start comparing let's understand each separately and then at the end of the article we will do a full comparison.

What is Reflection and why we need it?

Reflection is needed when you want to determine / inspect contents of an assembly. For example look at your Visual Studio editor intellisense, when you type “.” (dot) before any object, it gives you all the members of the object. This is possible because of Reflection.

Reflection also goes one step further; it can also invoke a member which is inspected. For instance if Reflection detects that there is a method called GetChanges in an object, we can get a reference to that method instance and invoke it on runtime.

In simple words Reflection passes through two steps: “Inspect” and “Invoke” (optional). The "Invoke" process is optional.

How do we implement Reflection?

Implementing reflection in c# is a two step process ,  1st get the “type” of the object and then use the type to browse members like “methods” , “properties” etc.

Step 1: The first step is to get the type of the object. So for example you have a DLL ClassLibrary1.dll which has a class called Class1. We can use the Assembly (belongs to the System.Reflection namespace) class to get a reference to the type of the object. Later we can use Activator.CreateInstance to create an instance of the class. The GetType() function helps us to get a reference to the type of the object.

var myAssembly = Assembly.LoadFile(@"C:\ClassLibrary1.dll");
var myType = myAssembly.GetType("ClassLibrary1.Class1");
dynamic objMyClass = Activator.CreateInstance(myType);
// Get the class type
Type parameterType = objMyClass.GetType();

Step 2: Once we have a reference of the type of the object we can then call GetMembers or GetProperties to browse through the methods and properties of the class.

// Browse through members
foreach (MemberInfo objMemberInfo in parameterType.GetMembers())
{Console.WriteLine(objMemberInfo.Name);}

// Browse through properties.
foreach (PropertyInfo objPropertyInfo in parameterType.GetProperties())
{Console.WriteLine(objPropertyInfo.Name);}

In case you want to invoke the member which you have inspected, you can use InvokeMember to invoke the method. Below is the code: 

parameterType.InvokeMember("Display",BindingFlags.Public | 
BindingFlags.NonPublic | BindingFlags.InvokeMethod | 
BindingFlags.Instance,null, objMyClass, null); 

What are the practical uses of Reflection?

  • If you are creating an application like a Visual Studio editor where you want to show the internals of an object by using intellisense.
  • If you are creating a unit testing framework. In unit testing frameworks we need to invoke methods and properties dynamically for testing purpose.
  • Sometimes we would like to dump properties, methods, and assembly references to a file or show it on screen.

What is the use of the dynamic keyword?

Programming languages can be divided into two categories: strongly typed and dynamically typed. Strongly typed languages are those where checks happen during compile time while dynamic languages are those where type checks are bypassed during compile time. In a dynamic language object types are known only during runtime and type checks are activated only at runtime.

We would like to take advantage of both worlds. Because many times we do not know the object type until the code is executed. In other words we are looking at something like a dynamically and statically typed kind of environment. That’s what the dynamic keyword helps us with.

If you create a variable using the dynamic keyword and if you try to see members of that object, you will get a message as shown below “will be resolved at runtime”. 

Now try the below code out. In the code I have created a dynamic variable which is initialized with string data. And in the second line I am trying to have fun by trying to execute a numeric incremental operation. So what will happen now? Think....

dynamic x = "c#";
x++;

Now this code will compile fine without any complaints. But during runtime it will throw an exception complaining that the mathematical operations cannot be executed on the variable as it's a string type. In other words during runtime the dynamic object gets transformed from the general data type to a specific data type (e.g.: string for the below code). 

What are the practical uses of the dynamic keyword?

One of the biggest practical uses of the dynamic keyword is when we operate on MS Office components via interop.

So for example if we are accessing Microsoft Excel components without the dynamic keyword, you can see how complicated the code gets. Lots of casting happening in the below code, right?

// Before the introduction of dynamic.
Application excelApplication = new  Application();
((Excel.Range)excelApp.Cells[1, 1]).Value2 = "Name";
Excel.Range range2008 = (Excel.Range)excelApp.Cells[1, 1];

Now look at how simple the code becomes by using the dynamic keyword. No casting needed and during runtime type checking also happens.

// After the introduction of dynamic, the access to the Value property and 
// the conversion to Excel.Range are handled by the run-time COM binder.
dynamic excelApp = new Application();
excelApp.Cells[1, 1].Value = "Name";
Excel.Range range2010 = excelApp.Cells[1, 1];

What is the difference between Reflection and dynamic?

  • Both Reflection and dynamic are used when we want to operate on an object during runtime.
  • Reflection is used to inspect the meta-data of an object. It also has the ability to invoke members of an object at runtime.
  • dynamic is a keyword which was introduced in .NET 4.0. It evaluates object calls during runtime. So until the method calls are made the compiler is least bothered if those methods / properties exist or not.
  • dynamic uses Reflection internally. It caches the method calls made thus improving performance to a certain extent.
  • Reflection can invoke both public and private members of an object while dynamic can only invoke public members.
  • dynamic is instance specific: you don't have access to static members; you have to use Reflection in those scenarios.

Below is the detailed comparison table which shows in which scenario they are suited:

  Reflection Dynamic
Inspect (meta-data)  Yes  No 
Invoke public members Yes Yes
Invoke private members Yes No
Caching No Yes
Static class   Yes  No 

Below is a simple diagram which summarizes visually what Reflection can do and what the dynamic keyword can do.

I am thankful to the www.questpond.com team without whom it would have been difficult to complete this article. You can visit Questpond for .NET interview questions with answer videos.

Here’s by blog where I write mostly on C# interview questions and answers.

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

Shivprasad koirala
Architect http://www.questpond.com
India India

I am a Microsoft MVP for ASP/ASP.NET and currently a CEO of a small
E-learning company in India. We are very much active in making training videos ,
writing books and corporate trainings. Do visit my site for 
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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionNice Article PinmemberNaz_Firdouse11-Aug-14 0:04 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMarla Sukesh16-Oct-13 8:14 
QuestionExcellent Share PinmemberSunny_Kumar_15-Oct-13 18:31 
AnswerNice PinmemberDhavalRana15-Oct-13 18:10 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembermayank.gpt13-Jul-13 4:26 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinprofessionalMonjurul Habib11-Jun-13 7:50 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinprofessionalRenju Vinod29-May-13 0:02 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmvpShivprasad koirala29-May-13 2:08 
GeneralUsing dynamics PinmemberAlexMortola28-May-13 10:05 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberS. M. Ahasan Habib28-May-13 8:18 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmvpShivprasad koirala28-May-13 8:57 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmemberjawed.ace27-May-13 2:48 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmvpShivprasad koirala28-May-13 8:57 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberSRIRAM 223-May-13 18:48 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmvpShivprasad koirala23-May-13 18:51 
Questionnice PinmemberCIDev23-May-13 11:20 
AnswerRe: nice PinmvpShivprasad koirala23-May-13 16:19 
GeneralMy vote of 4 PinmemberRockstar_23-May-13 1:45 
GeneralRe: My vote of 4 PinmvpShivprasad koirala23-May-13 6:28 
QuestionExcellent, My vote of 5 PinmemberAtal Upadhyay20-May-13 19:12 
AnswerRe: Excellent, My vote of 5 PinmvpShivprasad koirala21-May-13 18:17 
Question[My vote of 2] What is behind the Dynamic type? PinmemberAndyVGa17-May-13 9:36 
AnswerRe: [My vote of 2] What is behind the Dynamic type? PinmvpShivprasad koirala17-May-13 14:25 
Agreed fully in my differences i have already mentioned Dynamic uses reflection. But the biggest difference is the way we use it. One is a mechanism ( reflection) and the other is a business object invocation.
 

AndyVGa wrote:
the code is shorter in case of the Dynamic.

Agreed , i have shown the same in the article.
My book .NET interview questions with 500 mostly asked questions in .NET world .NET Interview questions and answers

GeneralRe: [My vote of 2] What is behind the Dynamic type? PinmemberAndyVGa20-Jun-13 8:24 
Question5 PinmemberAnotherKen17-May-13 9:33 

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