Variance in Generic Interfaces (Visual Basic)
.NET Framework 4 introduced variance support for several existing generic interfaces. Variance support enables implicit conversion of classes that implement these interfaces. The following interfaces are now variant:
IEnumerable<T> (T is covariant)
IEnumerator<T> (T is covariant)
IQueryable<T> (T is covariant)
IComparer<T> (T is contravariant)
IEqualityComparer<T> (T is contravariant)
IComparable<T> (T is contravariant)
Covariance permits a method to have a more derived return type than that defined by the generic type parameter of the interface. To illustrate the covariance feature, consider these generic interfaces:
IEnumerable(Of Object) and
IEnumerable(Of String). The
IEnumerable(Of String) interface does not inherit the
IEnumerable(Of Object) interface. However, the
String type does inherit the
Object type, and in some cases you may want to assign objects of these interfaces to each other. This is shown in the following code example.
Dim strings As IEnumerable(Of String) = New List(Of String) Dim objects As IEnumerable(Of Object) = strings
In earlier versions of the .NET Framework, this code causes a compilation error in Visual Basic with
Option Strict On. But now you can use
strings instead of
objects, as shown in the previous example, because the IEnumerable<T> interface is covariant.
Contravariance permits a method to have argument types that are less derived than that specified by the generic parameter of the interface. To illustrate contravariance, assume that you have created a
BaseComparer class to compare instances of the
BaseClass class. The
BaseComparer class implements the
IEqualityComparer(Of BaseClass) interface. Because the IEqualityComparer<T> interface is now contravariant, you can use
BaseComparer to compare instances of classes that inherit the
BaseClass class. This is shown in the following code example.
' Simple hierarchy of classes. Class BaseClass End Class Class DerivedClass Inherits BaseClass End Class ' Comparer class. Class BaseComparer Implements IEqualityComparer(Of BaseClass) Public Function Equals1(ByVal x As BaseClass, ByVal y As BaseClass) As Boolean _ Implements IEqualityComparer(Of BaseClass).Equals Return (x.Equals(y)) End Function Public Function GetHashCode1(ByVal obj As BaseClass) As Integer _ Implements IEqualityComparer(Of BaseClass).GetHashCode Return obj.GetHashCode End Function End Class Sub Test() Dim baseComparer As IEqualityComparer(Of BaseClass) = New BaseComparer ' Implicit conversion of IEqualityComparer(Of BaseClass) to ' IEqualityComparer(Of DerivedClass). Dim childComparer As IEqualityComparer(Of DerivedClass) = baseComparer End Sub
For more examples, see Using Variance in Interfaces for Generic Collections (Visual Basic).
Variance in generic interfaces is supported for reference types only. Value types do not support variance. For example,
IEnumerable(Of Integer) cannot be implicitly converted to
IEnumerable(Of Object), because integers are represented by a value type.
Dim integers As IEnumerable(Of Integer) = New List(Of Integer) ' The following statement generates a compiler error ' with Option Strict On, because Integer is a value type. ' Dim objects As IEnumerable(Of Object) = integers
It is also important to remember that classes that implement variant interfaces are still invariant. For example, although List<T> implements the covariant interface IEnumerable<T>, you cannot implicitly convert
List(Of Object) to
List(Of String). This is illustrated in the following code example.
' The following statement generates a compiler error ' because classes are invariant. ' Dim list As List(Of Object) = New List(Of String) ' You can use the interface object instead. Dim listObjects As IEnumerable(Of Object) = New List(Of String)