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LINQ-to-Lists

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3.46 (7 votes)
14 Jan 2017CPOL
With this library,"from x in list select x.Property" returns another list.

Introduction

The venerable “LINQ to Objects” (Enumerable class) lets us query and transform any object that implements IEnumerable<T> and get another IEnumerable<T> in return. But what if our input object is a collection? Shouldn’t we be able to query a list with LINQ and get another list in return?

My library Loyc.Essentials provides a supplement to System.Linq.Enumerable called “LINQ-to-lists”, formerly LINQ-to-Collections (I changed the name because it does not focus on non-list collections, such as dictionaries). LinqToLists has two purposes:

  • To improve the performance of a few methods of Enumerable using the knowledge that an object is a list. For example, Enumerable.Skip(IEnumerable<T>, int) has to scan through the specified number of items to skip them, but LinqToLists.Skip(IList<T> list, int) skips them without a loop by returning a slice (sublist).
  • To preserve the interface: if the input is a list, then the output can be a list, too. However, LinqToLists only provides methods to preserve the interface in cases where the list size is known immediately, without scanning the list. So there is a LinqToLists version of Select that returns a list of the same size, but there is no LinqToLists version of Where because it would be necessary to scan the entire list to determine the output size. Instead, use the normal .Where() extension method and call either the .ToList() extension method to construct a list from it greedily (immediately), or .Buffered() (an extension method of LinqToLists) to construct a list from it lazily (on-demand).

Usage: add a reference to Loyc.Essentials (available as NuGet package), then add using Loyc.Collections; to the top of a source file.

LINQ-to-Lists supports both the traditional IList<T> and the new IReadOnlyList<T> from .NET 4.5. If you are using the .NET 3.5 version of Loyc.Essentials then IReadOnlyList<T> is defined in the compatibility library Theraot.Core.dll; If you are using the .NET 4 version then IReadOnlyList<T> is defined by Loyc.Essentials.dll itself.

Plus, LINQ-to-Lists supports “neg-lists”: lists whose minimum valid index is not necessarily zero.

The extension methods that return lists rely on adapter structures and classes defined in Loyc.Essentials such as ListSlice<T>, SelectList<T,TResult>, and ReversedList<T>. To optimize performance, these types are returned directly instead of returning IList<T> or IReadOnlyList<T>.

LINQ-to-Lists has following performance-enhancing methods (only IList<T> overloads are listed here, but generally there are also overloads for IReadOnlyList<T> or IListSource<T>, and usually INegListSource<T>):

  • FirstOrDefault<T>(this IList<T> list, T defaultValue = default(T)): returns the first item. This has better performance than Enumerable.FirstOrDefault since an enumerator object does not have to be created and queried. Plus, you can choose the default value.
  • Last<T>(this IList<T> list): returns list[list.Count - 1] or throws EmptySequenceException if empty. (Note: Enumerable.Last does check “does this object implement IList<T>? If so, return list[list.Count - 1], but this method avoids the cast, and Enumerable.Last does not have a similar optimization for IReadOnlyList<T> and will scan the whole list to get the last item.)
  • LastOrDefault<T>(this IList<T> list, T defaultValue = default(T)): returns list[list.Count - 1] or defaultValue if empty.
  • Skip<T>(this IList<T> list, int start): returns a smaller list without the first start items. This is faster since it doesn’t scan the items that were skipped. Note: this behaves slightly differently from Enumerable.Skip since the latter doesn’t actually do anything until you start enumerating, whereas this method creates the slice and calculates its size immediately. This method is a synonym for another Loyc.Essentials extension method, Slice(list, start).
  • Count<T>(this IList<T> list): returns list.Count.

LINQ-to-Lists has the following methods that don’t improve performance but preserve the list interface:

  • Take<T>(this IList<T> list, int count): returns a list whose size is limited to count items. If count is greater than or equal to the size of the original list, this method returns the original list wrapped in a slice structure (ListSlice<T>). Note: this behaves slightly differently from Enumerable.Take since the latter doesn’t actually do anything until you start enumerating, whereas this method creates the slice and calculates its size immediately. This method is a synonym for Slice(list, 0, count).
  • TakeNowWhile<T>(this IList<T> list, Func<T, bool> predicate): takes elements from the beginning of a list while the specified predicate returns true, and returns a slice that provides access to them. Since the entire (possibly lengthy) operation is done up-front, I decided to call it TakeNowWhile instead of just TakeWhile.
  • SkipNowWhile<T>(this IList<T> list, Func<T, bool> predicate): skips elements from the beginning of a list while the specified predicate returns true, and returns a slice that provides access to the remainder of the list. Since the entire (possibly lengthy) operation is done up-front, I decided to call it SkipNowWhile instead of just SkipWhile. Should I have done the same for Take and Skip?
  • Select<T, TResult>(this IListSource<T> source, Func<T, TResult> selector): returns a “projected” version of the list, so whenever you read the item at index i, selector(source[i]) is called. Unlike other methods of LinqToLists, this method returns a read-only list, but it does implement IList<T> as well as IReadOnlyList<T>.
  • Reverse<T>(this IList<T> c): returns a reversed view of the list (so Reverse(list)[i] really means list[list.Count - 1 - i]).

Occasionally, preserving the interface yields higher performance; for example, list.Take(N).Last() would scan N items when using Enumerable but immediately returns list[Math.Max(list.Count, N) - 1] when using Loyc.Essentials.

A peek inside

You can find the Enhanced C# source code here. Admittedly, it’s not super simple, as it is part of a larger library themed “stuff that should be built into the .NET framework, but isn’t”. It uses Enhanced C# to generate variations of similar code, and it relies on several adapter types defined here and helper classes in here. Those, in turn, may rely on some of the base classes here and some of the interfaces here.

It's a lot of code, so let’s just look at one example. TakeNowWhile is implemented like this:

public static ListSlice<T> TakeNowWhile<T>(this IList<T> list,
                                           Func<T, bool> predicate)
{
    Maybe<T> value;
    for (int i = 0;; i++) {
        if (!(value = list.TryGet(i)).HasValue)
            return new ListSlice<T>(list); // entire list
        else if (!predicate(value.Value))
            return new ListSlice<T>(list, 0, i);
    }
}

Loyc.Essentials has a lot extension methods outside of LinqToLists. One of them is TryGet, which is used here to get the item if it exists:

public static Maybe<T> TryGet<T>(this IList<T> list, int index)
{
    if ((uint)index < (uint)list.Count)
        return list[index];
    return Maybe<T>.NoValue;
}

This returns Maybe<T>, a structure in Loyc.Essentials that is practically identical to the standard Nullable<T> except that T is allowed to be a class. So if the index is out of range, TryGet(i) returns NoValue (a.k.a. default(Maybe<T>)), which in turn makes TakeNowWhile decide that the entire list should be returned (wrapped in a ListSlice).

On the other hand, if predicate(value.Value) returns false then just a part or “slice” of the list is returned. ListSlice<T> is a struct, so if you use var to hold the result, or immediately iterate with foreach, no memory allocation will occur (in contrast with System.Linq.Enumerable):

var list = new List<int> { 1, 2, 3, -4, 5 };
var slice = list.TakeNowWhile(x => x > 0); // first three items

ListSlice looks like this:

public struct ListSlice<T> : IRange<T>, ICloneable<ListSlice<T>>,
     IListAndListSource<T>, ICollectionEx<T>, IArray<T>, IIsEmpty
{
    public static readonly ListSlice<T> Empty = new ListSlice<T>();

    IList<T> _list;
    int _start, _count;

    public ListSlice(IList<T> list, int start, int count = int.MaxValue)
    {
        _list = list;
        _start = start;
        _count = count;
        if (start < 0) 
            throw new ArgumentException("The start index was below zero.");
        if (count < 0)
            throw new ArgumentException("The count was below zero.");
        if (count > _list.Count - start)
            _count = System.Math.Max(_list.Count - start, 0);
    }

    public ListSlice(IList<T> list)
    {
        _list = list;
        _start = 0;
        _count = list.Count;
    }

    public int Count
    {
        get { return _count; }
    }
    public bool IsEmpty
    {
        get { return _count == 0; }
    }
    public T First
    {
        get { return this[0]; }
    }
    public T Last
    {
        get { return this[_count - 1]; }
    }

    public T this[int index]
    {
        get {
            if ((uint)index < (uint)_count)
                return _list[_start + index];
            throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("index");
        }
        set {
            if ((uint)index < (uint)_count)
                _list[_start + index] = value;
            throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("index");
        }
    }
    ...
}

It goes on like that for about 150 more lines of code; Loyc collection classes and wrappers implement not just the standard IList<T> interface but also several other handy interfaces which I won’t talk about right now because they are not related to the idea of “LINQ to lists”.

An interesting thing to note here is that a ListSlice<T> is writable, so for example, if you write

var list = new List<int> { 1, 2, 3, -4, 5 };
(list.Skip(2))[1] = 4;

You’re modifing the original list at index 3.

More extension methods!

Besides LINQ to Lists, it’s also worth noting that Loyc.Essentials has additional extension methods for plain-old IEnumerable<T> in EnumerableExt.

Help wanted (Jan 2017): I haven’t found the time to write unit tests for this stuff in LoycCore.Tests.

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

Qwertie
Software Developer None
Canada Canada
Since I started programming when I was 11, I wrote the SNES emulator "SNEqr", the FastNav mapping component, the Enhanced C# programming language (in progress), the parser generator LLLPG, and LES, a syntax to help you start building programming languages, DSLs or build systems.

My overall focus is on the Language of your choice (Loyc) initiative, which is about investigating ways to improve interoperability between programming languages and putting more power in the hands of developers. I'm also seeking employment.

Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionToList() ? Pin
sx200811-Jan-17 11:05
Membersx200811-Jan-17 11:05 
AnswerRe: ToList() ? Pin
Ken Domino11-Jan-17 11:18
professionalKen Domino11-Jan-17 11:18 
GeneralRe: ToList() ? Pin
Qwertie13-Jan-17 23:11
MemberQwertie13-Jan-17 23:11 
GeneralRe: ToList() ? Pin
Qwertie13-Jan-17 23:19
MemberQwertie13-Jan-17 23:19 
QuestionAbout Enumerable.Skip Pin
Member 995718711-Jan-17 9:21
MemberMember 995718711-Jan-17 9:21 
QuestionI don't know what to make of this. Pin
Pete O'Hanlon10-Jan-17 23:06
mvePete O'Hanlon10-Jan-17 23:06 
AnswerRe: I don't know what to make of this. Pin
Qwertie13-Jan-17 23:04
MemberQwertie13-Jan-17 23:04 
AnswerRe: I don't know what to make of this. Pin
Qwertie14-Jan-17 0:07
MemberQwertie14-Jan-17 0:07 

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Posted 10 Jan 2017

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