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Fast Dynamic Property Access with C#

, 22 Mar 2005
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Reflecting on Properties is nice, but often it can be too slow. This article describes an alternative method for dynamic property access.

Sample Image - Fast_Dynamic_Properties.png

Introduction

Reflection is very useful for dynamic processing. However, if you have to repeatedly reflect on a property, say in a processing loop, you'll soon find that it can lead to performance problems. I ran into this particular problem in developing a rules engine that will be able to validate collections. I thought I would share this snippet of code, since I think it could be used in a variety of situations.

In this article I'll provide a fast, alternative solution for dynamic property access.

Implementation

My goal was to develop a class that could create a Type at runtime for direct access to the Get and Set methods of a property. This class would be provided with the target object Type and the property name it should access. I had considered runtime compiling, but then I learned about Reflection.Emit and its ability to create types at runtime through the use of MSIL. This was my first experience writing MSIL code and I found Ben Ratzlaff's Populating a PropertyGrid using Reflection.Emit to be a very helpful start.

In order to be able to compile code against against a Type that will be generated at runtime, an interface had to be created to define the generated types.

/// <summary>
/// The IPropertyAccessor interface defines a property
/// accessor.
/// </summary>
public interface IPropertyAccessor
{
    /// <summary>
    /// Gets the value stored in the property for
    /// the specified target.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="target">Object to retrieve
    /// the property from.</param>
    /// <returns>Property value.</returns>
    object Get(object target);
    /// <summary>
    /// Sets the value for the property of
    /// the specified target.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="target">Object to set the
    /// property on.</param>
    /// <param name="value">Property value.</param>
    void Set(object target, object value);
}

The concrete PropertyAccessor class generates a Type at runtime that conforms to this interface and serves as a proxy layer to the generated Type. In its constructor it simply needs to be provided with the target object Type and the name of the property it should provide access to. All of the Reflection.Emit code is performed in the EmitAssembly method.

/// <summary>
/// The PropertyAccessor class provides fast dynamic access
/// to a property of a specified target class.
/// </summary>
public class PropertyAccessor : IPropertyAccessor
{
    /// <summary>
    /// Creates a new property accessor.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="targetType">Target object type.</param>
    /// <param name="property">Property name.</param>
    public PropertyAccessor(Type targetType, string property)
    {
        this.mTargetType = targetType;
        this.mProperty = property;
        PropertyInfo propertyInfo = 
            targetType.GetProperty(property);
        //
        // Make sure the property exists
        //
        if(propertyInfo == null)
        {
            throw new 
              PropertyAccessorException(string.Format("Property \"{0}\" does" + 
              " not exist for type " + "{1}.", property, targetType));
        }
        else
        {
            this.mCanRead = propertyInfo.CanRead;
            this.mCanWrite = propertyInfo.CanWrite;
            this.mPropertyType = propertyInfo.PropertyType;
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Gets the property value from the specified target.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="target">Target object.</param>
    /// <returns>Property value.</returns>
    public object Get(object target)
    {
        if(mCanRead)
        {
            if(this.mEmittedPropertyAccessor == null)
            {
                this.Init();
            }
            return this.mEmittedPropertyAccessor.Get(target);
        }
        else
        {
            throw new 
              PropertyAccessorException(string.Format("Property \"{0}\" does" + 
              " not have a get method.", mProperty));
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Sets the property for the specified target.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="target">Target object.</param>
    /// <param name="value">Value to set.</param>
    public void Set(object target, object value)
    {
        if(mCanWrite)
        {
            if(this.mEmittedPropertyAccessor == null)
            {
                this.Init();
            }
            //
            // Set the property value
            //
            this.mEmittedPropertyAccessor.Set(target, value);
        }
        else
        {
            throw new 
              PropertyAccessorException(string.Format("Property \"{0}\" does" + 
              " not have a set method.", mProperty));
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Whether or not the Property supports read access.
    /// </summary>
    public bool CanRead
    {
        get
        {
            return this.mCanRead;
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Whether or not the Property supports write access.
    /// </summary>
    public bool CanWrite
    {
        get
        {
            return this.mCanWrite;
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// The Type of object this property accessor was
    /// created for.
    /// </summary>
    public Type TargetType
    {
        get
        {
            return this.mTargetType;
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// The Type of the Property being accessed.
    /// </summary>
    public Type PropertyType
    {
        get
        {
            return this.mPropertyType;
        }
    }

    private Type mTargetType;
    private string mProperty;
    private Type mPropertyType;
    private IPropertyAccessor mEmittedPropertyAccessor;
    private Hashtable mTypeHash;
    private bool mCanRead;
    private bool mCanWrite;

    /// <summary>
    /// This method generates creates a new assembly containing
    /// the Type that will provide dynamic access.
    /// </summary>
    private void Init()
    {
        this.InitTypes();
        // Create the assembly and an instance of the 
        // property accessor class.
        Assembly assembly = EmitAssembly();
        mEmittedPropertyAccessor = 
          assembly.CreateInstance("Property") as IPropertyAccessor;
        if(mEmittedPropertyAccessor == null)
        {
            throw new Exception("Unable to create property accessor.");
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Thanks to Ben Ratzlaff for this snippet of code
    /// http://www.codeproject.com/cs/miscctrl/CustomPropGrid.asp
    /// 
    /// "Initialize a private hashtable with type-opCode pairs 
    /// so i dont have to write a long if/else statement when outputting msil"
    /// </summary>
    private void InitTypes()
    {
        mTypeHash=new Hashtable();
        mTypeHash[typeof(sbyte)]=OpCodes.Ldind_I1;
        mTypeHash[typeof(byte)]=OpCodes.Ldind_U1;
        mTypeHash[typeof(char)]=OpCodes.Ldind_U2;
        mTypeHash[typeof(short)]=OpCodes.Ldind_I2;
        mTypeHash[typeof(ushort)]=OpCodes.Ldind_U2;
        mTypeHash[typeof(int)]=OpCodes.Ldind_I4;
        mTypeHash[typeof(uint)]=OpCodes.Ldind_U4;
        mTypeHash[typeof(long)]=OpCodes.Ldind_I8;
        mTypeHash[typeof(ulong)]=OpCodes.Ldind_I8;
        mTypeHash[typeof(bool)]=OpCodes.Ldind_I1;
        mTypeHash[typeof(double)]=OpCodes.Ldind_R8;
        mTypeHash[typeof(float)]=OpCodes.Ldind_R4;
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Create an assembly that will provide the get and set methods.
    /// </summary>
    private Assembly EmitAssembly()
    {
        //
        // Create an assembly name
        //
        AssemblyName assemblyName = new AssemblyName();
        assemblyName.Name = "PropertyAccessorAssembly";
        //
        // Create a new assembly with one module
        //
        AssemblyBuilder newAssembly = 
           Thread.GetDomain().DefineDynamicAssembly(assemblyName, 
           AssemblyBuilderAccess.Run);
        ModuleBuilder newModule = 
           newAssembly.DefineDynamicModule("Module");
        //
        // Define a public class named "Property" in the assembly.
        //
        TypeBuilder myType = 
           newModule.DefineType("Property", TypeAttributes.Public);
        //
        // Mark the class as implementing IPropertyAccessor. 
        //
        myType.AddInterfaceImplementation(typeof(IPropertyAccessor));
        // Add a constructor
        ConstructorBuilder constructor = 
           myType.DefineDefaultConstructor(MethodAttributes.Public);
        //
        // Define a method for the get operation. 
        //
        Type[] getParamTypes = new Type[] {typeof(object)};
        Type getReturnType = typeof(object);
        MethodBuilder getMethod = 
          myType.DefineMethod("Get", 
          MethodAttributes.Public | MethodAttributes.Virtual, 
          getReturnType, 
          getParamTypes);
        //
        // From the method, get an ILGenerator. This is used to
        // emit the IL that we want.
        //
        ILGenerator getIL = getMethod.GetILGenerator();

        //
        // Emit the IL. 
        //
        MethodInfo targetGetMethod = this.mTargetType.GetMethod("get_" + 
                                                    this.mProperty);
        if(targetGetMethod != null)
        {
            getIL.DeclareLocal(typeof(object));
            getIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ldarg_1); //Load the first argument
            //(target object)
            //Cast to the source type
            getIL.Emit(OpCodes.Castclass, this.mTargetType);
            //Get the property value
            getIL.EmitCall(OpCodes.Call, targetGetMethod, null);
            if(targetGetMethod.ReturnType.IsValueType)
            {
                getIL.Emit(OpCodes.Box, targetGetMethod.ReturnType);
                //Box if necessary
            }
            getIL.Emit(OpCodes.Stloc_0); //Store it

            getIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ldloc_0);
        }
        else
        {
            getIL.ThrowException(typeof(MissingMethodException));
        }
        getIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ret);

        //
        // Define a method for the set operation.
        //
        Type[] setParamTypes = new Type[] {typeof(object), typeof(object)};
        Type setReturnType = null;
        MethodBuilder setMethod = 
            myType.DefineMethod("Set", 
           MethodAttributes.Public | MethodAttributes.Virtual, 
           setReturnType, 
           setParamTypes);
        //
        // From the method, get an ILGenerator. This is used to
        // emit the IL that we want.
        //
        ILGenerator setIL = setMethod.GetILGenerator();
        //
        // Emit the IL. 
        //
        MethodInfo targetSetMethod = 
            this.mTargetType.GetMethod("set_" + this.mProperty);
        if(targetSetMethod != null)
        {
            Type paramType = targetSetMethod.GetParameters()[0].ParameterType;
            setIL.DeclareLocal(paramType);
            setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ldarg_1); //Load the first argument 
            //(target object)
            //Cast to the source type
            setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Castclass, this.mTargetType);            
            setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ldarg_2); //Load the second argument 
            //(value object)
            if(paramType.IsValueType)
            {
                setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Unbox, paramType); //Unbox it 
                if(mTypeHash[paramType]!=null) //and load
                {
                    OpCode load = (OpCode)mTypeHash[paramType];
                    setIL.Emit(load);
                }
                else
                {
                    setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ldobj,paramType);
                }
            }
            else
            {
                setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Castclass, paramType); //Cast class
            }

            setIL.EmitCall(OpCodes.Callvirt, 
               targetSetMethod, null); //Set the property value
        }
        else
        {
            setIL.ThrowException(typeof(MissingMethodException));
        }
        setIL.Emit(OpCodes.Ret);
        //
        // Load the type
        //
        myType.CreateType();
        return newAssembly;
    }
}

Discussion

Although the PropertyAccessor class must reflect on the target Type the first time the property is accessed (for either read or write), this reflection only has to be done once. All subsequent calls to Get or Set will use the generated IL code.

Run the sample project for a performance demonstration. I've also included an NUnit test fixture.

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

James Nies
Software Developer Astral Softworks, LLC
United States United States
James Nies is a graduate of the University of Wyoming's Department of Computer Science. He is currently employed as a software developer and has been programming in C#, his favorite language, for the last 5 years. James recently formed a small software development and web design company, Astral Softworks, LLC.

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralRe: Extended for field accessors Pinmembersgheeren16-May-06 5:37 
AnswerRe: Extended for field accessors [modified] Pinmembersgheeren26-May-06 4:31 
GeneralRe: Extended for field accessors Pinmembersgheeren16-May-06 5:50 
Generalcongratulations!! and a question Pinmemberrurum22-Jun-05 12:10 
GeneralRe: congratulations!! and a question PinmemberJames Nies15-Jul-05 19:34 
GeneralNice Pinmemberreinux4-Apr-05 10:42 
GeneralA few optimizations PinmemberKris Vandermotten29-Mar-05 8:12 
GeneralRe: A few optimizations PinmemberJames Nies29-Mar-05 12:47 
Thanks for all the great suggestions Kris. Smile | :) The mTypeHash definitely should be static.
 
Secondly, why not do the call to Init() in the constructor? That would avoid the tests for null values in the Get and Set methods.
 
I lazily performed the Reflection.Emit calls under the assumption that I may never attempt to access a given property. This will benefit me in my particular application of this code, since I'll be creating many ProperyAccessors that may never get used. I suppose this all depends on what the calling code will be doing.
 
Another possible optimization would be to cache the generated EmittedPropertyAccessor in a static Hashtable, to avoid regeneration when a new PropertyAccessor is created with the same parameters. Whether this is actually an optimization obviously depends on the nature of the calling code.
 
I plan on using the PropertyAccessor class in a manner similar to what you suggest. I'll be caching classes in a Hashtable that contain all the PropertyAccessors for a given Type.
 
And if you allow me to make a final suggestion, even if this is a matter of style rather than optimization: I would personally use a property, named Value for example, instead of the Get and Set methods.
 
I can't see Value being a property... there needs to be some way to send in the target object.
 
James
 

GeneralRe: A few optimizations PinmemberSteve Hansen23-May-06 23:03 
Questionwhat license? PinmemberRoger J29-Mar-05 0:04 
AnswerRe: what license? PinmemberJames Nies31-Mar-05 18:41 
Generalvs Reflection Pinmembersmoot425-Mar-05 16:15 
GeneralRe: vs Reflection PinmemberJames Nies28-Mar-05 12:00 
Generalrules engine PinmemberMarc Sommer24-Mar-05 19:34 
GeneralRe: rules engine PinmemberJames Nies25-Mar-05 9:06 
GeneralSmall bug PinmemberDale Thompson24-Mar-05 10:07 
GeneralRe: Small bug PinmemberJames Nies25-Mar-05 8:52 
GeneralRe: Small bug PinmemberDale Thompson28-Mar-05 3:00 
GeneralVery cool! PinmemberMarc Brooks23-Mar-05 5:23 
GeneralTime tests seem to be flawed... Pinmembercjbreisch23-Mar-05 2:04 
GeneralRe: Time tests seem to be flawed... Pinmemberleppie23-Mar-05 3:20 
GeneralRe: Time tests seem to be flawed... PinmemberJames Nies23-Mar-05 4:09 
GeneralRe: Time tests seem to be flawed... Pinmembersgheeren16-May-06 5:55 
GeneralCool :) Pinmemberleppie23-Mar-05 1:45 

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