5.5 The Root of All Classes: Object

All C# classes, of any type, are treated as if they ultimately derive from System.Object. Interestingly, this includes value types.

A base class is the immediate "parent" of a derived class. A derived class can be the base to further derived classes, creating an inheritance "tree" or hierarchy. A root class is the topmost class in an inheritance hierarchy. In C#, the root class is Object. The nomenclature is a bit confusing until you imagine an upside-down tree, with the root on top and the derived classes below. Thus, the base class is considered to be "above" the derived class.

C and C++ programmers take note: C# uses single inheritance with a monolithic class hierarchy: every class inherits from a base class of Object, and multiple inheritance is not possible. However, C# interfaces provide many of the benefits of multiple inheritance. (See Chapter 8 for more information.)

Object provides a number of methods that subclasses can and do override. These include Equals( ) to determine if two objects are the same; GetType( ), which returns the type of the object (discussed in Chapter 8); and ToString( ), which returns a string to represent the current object (discussed in Chapter 10). Table 5-1 summarizes the methods of Object.

Table 5-1. The methods of Object


What it does

Equals( )

Evaluates whether two objects are equivalent.

GetHashCode( )

Allows objects to provide their own hash function for use in collections (see Chapter 9).

GetType( )

Provides access to the type object (see Chapter 18).

ToString( )

Provides a string representation of the object.

Finalize( )

Cleans up nonmemory resources; implemented by a destructor (see Chapter 4).

MemberwiseClone( )

Creates copies of the object; should never be implemented by your type.

ReferenceEquals( )

Evaluates whether two objects refer to the same instance.

Example 5-4 illustrates the use of the ToString( ) method inherited from Object, as well as the fact that primitive datatypes such as int can be treated as if they inherit from Object.

Example 5-4. Inheriting from Object
using System;

public class SomeClass
   private int val;

   public SomeClass(int someVal)
      val = someVal;

   public override string ToString( )
      return val.ToString( );

public class Tester
   static void Main( )
      int i = 5;
      Console.WriteLine("The value of i is: {0}", i.ToString( ));

      SomeClass s = new SomeClass(7);
      Console.WriteLine("The value of s is {0}", s.ToString( ));

The value of i is: 5
The value of s is 7

The documentation for Object.ToString( ) reveals its signature:

public virtual string ToString( );

It is a public virtual method that returns a string and that takes no parameters. All the built-in types, such as int, derive from Object and so can invoke Object's methods.

Example 5-4 overrides the virtual function for SomeClass, which is the usual case, so that the class' ToString( ) method will return a meaningful value. If you comment out the overridden function, the base method will be invoked, which will change the output to:

The value of s is SomeClass

Thus, the default behavior is to return a string with the name of the class itself.

Classes do not need to explicitly declare that they derive from Object; the inheritance is implicit.

    Part I: The C# Language