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Posted 26 Jan 2006

Expanding Enumerators for Saving to a Database or Displaying to a User

, 26 Jan 2006
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An article showing how to use custom attributes with enumerators to display more information about the enumerator fields.



When I'm developing an application, I often like to use enumerators as properties of my objects to improve the readability of my code. Often, the enumerator value will come from a table in the database. For example, we might have an enumerator resembling something like this:

Public Enum EmailStatus
End Enum

Using enumerators is very useful when developing classes since it provides a strongly-typed way to implement business logic:

If Me.EmailStatus = EmailStatus.Read Then
    'do something
End If

Nevertheless, we're bound to run into a problem when we need to display the enumerator's value to the user. The same is true when we try to save the object's state to the database. Luckily, we can use a custom attribute to give us this type of functionality.


This article will show you a basic implementation of how to use custom attributes in your enumerators. You can certainly expand the custom attribute to store more information about the field in the enumerator you wish to enhance.

Using the code

Creating a custom attribute is very much like creating any other class. The main difference is that we must inherit from System.Attribute.

Public Class SmartEnumeratorAttribute
    Inherits System.Attribute
End Class

Once we've done this, we must set the AttributeUsage of the class. Since we're only going to apply this to fields of an enumerator, the parameter should be set to AttributeTargets.Field. This tells the compiler that when using this attribute, it can only be applied to a field. We also don't want to allow the developer to apply this attribute to the same field multiple times, so we must set AllowMultiple = False.

<AttributeUsage(AttributeTargets.Field, AllowMultiple:=False)> _
Public Class SmartEnumeratorAttribute
    Inherits System.Attribute
End Class

At this point, we can begin to define the extended properties that we want a particular field of the enumerator to return. Since we want to be able to display the value to the user interface, we will create a Description property. We also want to save the enumerator's value to the database using a foreign key of type Integer. We will also be creating a public constructor that accepts the value of our properties to make the initialization of the attribute easier:

Private mDatabaseValue As String
Private mDescription As String

Public Property DatabaseValue() As String
        Return mDatabaseValue
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As String)
        mDatabaseValue = Value
    End Set
End Property

Public Property Description() As String
        Return mDescription
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As String)
        mDescription = Value
    End Set
End Property

Public Sub New(ByVal DatabaseValue As String, _
               ByVal Description As String)
    mDatabaseValue = DatabaseValue
    mDescription = Description
End Sub

Finally, to create the actual enumerator, just add the custom attribute to each field in the enumerator:

Public Enum EmailStatus
    <SmartEnumerator("1", "New E-mail")> Unread
    <SmartEnumerator("2", "Read E-mail")> Read
    <SmartEnumerator("3", "Deleted E-mail")> Deleted
End Enum

Accessing the custom attributes will involve the use of the System.Reflection namespace since the attribute is being applied to the individual fields of the enumerator:

Imports System
Imports System.Reflection
Imports System.ComponentModel

Public Class SmartEnum

    Public Shared Function GetDescription(ByVal _
                  obj As Object) As String

        Dim t As Type = obj.GetType

        Dim fInfo As FieldInfo = _
            t.GetField(System.Enum.GetName(t, obj))

        Dim attr As SmartEnumeratorAttribute = _
            GetType(SmartEnumeratorAttribute), _
            False)(0), SmartEnumeratorAttribute)

        Return attr.Description

    End Function
End Class

Points of Interest

Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of how to use custom attributes with enumerators to increase the readability of your code when your enumerators need to interact with a database or display their value to the user.


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


About the Author

Michael Bosch
Web Developer
United States United States
Michael Bosch is a software applications developer specializing in .NET development for both Windows platform and ASP.NET web applications. He has been working on developing software applications in VB.NET for over 5 years. His experience also includes SQL Server database design and implementation. He is currently working on large enterprise integration projects using BizTalk server.

Michael graduated from the University of Florida in May 2002 with a BS in Decision and Information Sciences and is currently working as the Enterprise Applications Integration Architect for Brightstar Corporation in Miami, FL.

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralExactly what I was looking for Pin
Duncan Edwards Jones30-Nov-07 6:15
memberDuncan Edwards Jones30-Nov-07 6:15 
QuestionHow to Update Attribute Values At runtime. Pin
VBDeveloper74114-Jun-06 9:35
memberVBDeveloper74114-Jun-06 9:35 
AnswerRe: How to Update Attribute Values At runtime. Pin
VBDeveloper74114-Jun-06 9:38
memberVBDeveloper74114-Jun-06 9:38 
GeneralSlightly misleading title Pin
Richard Deeming2-Feb-06 4:41
memberRichard Deeming2-Feb-06 4:41 
GeneralVery useful concept Pin
bxb31-Jan-06 2:23
memberbxb31-Jan-06 2:23 
Generala real eye opener Pin
David Allen - Minneapolis31-Jan-06 0:03
memberDavid Allen - Minneapolis31-Jan-06 0:03 

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