Extension methods + weak references = extension pseudo-properties in C#

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When the below was first written, extension properties were just wishful thinking. However, check out the upcoming “Extension Everything” features slated for C# 8. Unfortunately, additional state is apparently not yet to be supported directly, but at least the property syntax will be cleaner; state can be dummied up as necessary using the below approach.

Note: A full reference implementation including extension methods for both setting/getting extra item data, as well as caching, is available at the SharpByte project. See ObjectExtensions.cs.

Extension methods can be helpful for adding functionality onto existing classes, especially where one doesn’t have the ability to control a class definition and thus can’t add the methods directly. Adding extension properties to C# could be just as useful in some programming scenarios, but so far isn’t slated for definite release. Yet when working with third-party code such as the Sitecore API, it can be especially useful to add on both post-hoc functionality and state. And while extension methods can’t precisely duplicate the syntax of properties in C#, they can come close through the use of getter/setter methods as in Java, if some facility is used to store data on the object.

The System.Runtime.CompilerServices.ConditionalWeakTable class is ideal for such use, as a collection specifically made to contain weak references, i.e. to allow any referred-to object to be garbage collected (releasing the weak reference as well) if all strong references have been removed. What this means on a practical basis is that one can provide ancillary state for an object by using such a weak-reference collection in a static, and ideally thread-safe, way. It’s exactly what’s needed to dummy up extension properties in C#, while we wait for the real deal from Microsoft.

Here’s a basic example:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Runtime.CompilerServices;

public static class ExtendedDataExtensions
{
    ///<summary>Stores extended data for objects</summary>
    private static ConditionalWeakTable<object, object> extendedData = new ConditionalWeakTable<object, object>();

    /// <summary>
    /// Creates a collection of extended pseudo-property values
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="o">The object to receive the tacked-on data values</param>
    /// <returns>A new dictionary</returns>
    internal static IDictionary<string, object> CreateObjectExtendedDataCache(object o)
    {
        return new Dictionary<string, object>();
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Sets an extended pseudo-property value on this object
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="o">this object</param>
    /// <param name="name">The pseudo-property name</param>
    /// <param name="value">The value to set (if null, any value for the name will be removed)</param>
    public static void SetExtendedDataValue(this object o, string name, object value)
    {
        if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(name)) throw new ArgumentException("Invalid name");
        name = name.Trim();

        // Gets the key-value collection serving as extended "properties" for this object
        IDictionary<string, object> values = (IDictionary<string, object>)extendedData.GetValue(o, CreateObjectExtendedDataCache);

        if (value != null)
            values[name] = value;
        else
            values.Remove(name);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Gets a pseudo-property value stored for this object
    /// </summary>
    /// <typeparam name="T">The type to return</typeparam>
    /// <param name="o">this object</param>
    /// <param name="name">The pseudo-property name</param>
    /// <returns>A value of the indicated type, or the type default if not found or of a different type</returns>
    public static T GetExtendedDataValue<T>(this object o, string name)
    {
        if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(name)) throw new ArgumentException("Invalid name");
        name = name.Trim();

        IDictionary<string, object> values = (IDictionary<string, object>)extendedData.GetValue(o, CreateObjectExtendedDataCache);
        object value = null;
        if (values.TryGetValue(name, out value)) 
        {
            if (value is T)
                return (T)value;
            else
                return default(T); // or throw an exception, as desired
        }
        else
            return default(T);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Gets a pseudo-property value stored for this object
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="o">this object</param>
    /// <param name="name">The pseudo-property name</param>
    /// <returns>A value if found for the specified name, otherwise null</returns>
    public static object GetExtendedDataValue(this object o, string name)
    {
        if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(name)) throw new ArgumentException("Invalid name");
        name = name.Trim();

        IDictionary<string, object> values = (IDictionary<string, object>)extendedData.GetValue(o, CreateObjectExtendedDataCache);
        object value = null;
        if (values.TryGetValue(name, out value))
            return value;
        else
            return null;
    }
}

A brief example of calling the methods:

Item item = Sitecore.Context.Item;
item.SetExtendedDataValue("Tweet Count", 300);
// ...
int tweetCount = item.GetExtendedDataValue<int>("Tweet Count");

… after which one’s thoughts naturally turn to wrapping things up a bit more nicely, seasoning to taste for such issues as null and range checking. An inane example, for want of a better one:

public static class ItemExtensions
{
    public static int GetTweetCount(this Item item)
    {
        return item.GetExtendedDataValue<int>("Tweet Count");
    }

    public static void SetTweetCount(this Item item, int tweetCount)
    {
        item.SetExtendedDataValue("Tweet Count", tweetCount);
    }
}

And, of course, if it’s desired to make the pseudo-properties thread-safe, merely replace the dictionary storage with ConcurrentDictionary, with nearly identical performance.

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