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Posted 21 May 2013

Simple Delegates in a Nutshell

, 21 May 2013 CPOL
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The easiest, most straight-forward delegate tutorial.


When first learning C#, I had a hard time understanding how to use delegates. Once I grasped the idea and realized how easy they are to use, I made a place for them everywhere in my code. In this tutorial I’ll show you the basics behind properly implementing delegates. First, if you don’t know… 

A delegate is a type that references a method. Once a delegate is assigned a method, it behaves exactly like that method. The delegate method can be used like any other method, with parameters and a return value…~ MSDN

A delegate is someone designated to represent someone else. When coding, a delegate represents a method

A great example for using delegates is a simple calculator.

Calculator Scenario  

Say you want to perform an operation on two numbers, x and y. That operation can be addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. The parameters are the same no matter which type of calculation you want to perform.

double z = x + y;
double z = x - y;
double z = x * y;
double z = x / y;

The only difference in the above code is the operator that’s used. That being the case what if we could call one method and pass in a parameter telling us which operator to use? That’s where delegates come into play.

Delegates represent Methods 

Let's define a delegate and the methods that it will represent:

private delegate double CalculateDelegate(double x, double y);
private          double Add              (double x, double y) { return x + y; }
private          double Subtract         (double x, double y) { return x - y; }
private          double Multiply         (double x, double y) { return x * y; }
private          double Divide           (double x, double y) { return x / y; }

As you can see, the method definitions and the delegate method look the same except for the "delegate" keyword in front of the return type. Think of the delegate method as a template of the type of method in which it can call. For instance, a delegate method with a return type of string can only represent a method with the return type of string

Also notice that the delegate method looks like a normal method except that it has no method body. That's because it's going to call the body of the method that it's referencing. But how does a delegate know which method to call? 

Calling All Methods!

You have to decide which method the delegate will call by assigning that method to the delegate. Let's say I want to call the Add() method. Let's instantiate a delegate variable:

private CalculateDelegate calculate = new CalculateDelegate(Add);

The delegate variable calculate now represents the Add() method. So now when you call:

double result = calculate(3, 5);

the variable result will equal 8.

Put It Together

Here is a quick sample:

class Program {
    static void Main(string[] args) {
        Calculator calc = new Calculator();
        double result = calc.Calculate(Calculator.CalculateTypeEnum.Multiply, 5, 3);
    public class Calculator {
        internal double Calculate(CalculateTypeEnum type,double x, double y) {
            switch (type) {
                case CalculateTypeEnum.Add:
                    calculate = new CalculateDelegate(Add);
                case CalculateTypeEnum.Subtract:
                    calculate = new CalculateDelegate(Subtract);
                case CalculateTypeEnum.Multiply:
                    calculate = new CalculateDelegate(Multiply);
                case CalculateTypeEnum.Divide:
                    calculate = new CalculateDelegate(Divide);
            return calculate(x, y);

        private double Add(double x, double y) { return x + y; }
        private double Subtract(double x, double y) { return x - y; }
        private double Multiply(double x, double y) { return x * y; }
        private double Divide(double x, double y) { return x / y; }

        public enum CalculateTypeEnum {

        private delegate double CalculateDelegate(double x, double y);
        private CalculateDelegate calculate;

And This is Just the Beginning! 

Delegates are very powerful. Especially when you start using Callbacks and Anonymous Methods. If anyone finds this helpful then I'll do a Callbacks in a Nutshell tutorial. 


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


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Comments and Discussions

GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
not_starman22-May-13 12:07
membernot_starman22-May-13 12:07 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 Pin
jay1_z29-May-13 4:21
memberjay1_z29-May-13 4:21 

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