Delegates (Visual Basic)

Delegates are objects that refer to methods. They are sometimes described as type-safe function pointers because they are similar to function pointers used in other programming languages. But unlike function pointers, Visual Basic delegates are a reference type based on the class System.Delegate. Delegates can reference both shared methods — methods that can be called without a specific instance of a class — and instance methods.

Delegates and Events

Delegates are useful in situations where you need an intermediary between a calling procedure and the procedure being called. For example, you might want an object that raises events to be able to call different event handlers under different circumstances. Unfortunately, the object raising the events cannot know ahead of time which event handler is handling a specific event. Visual Basic lets you dynamically associate event handlers with events by creating a delegate for you when you use the AddHandler statement. At run time, the delegate forwards calls to the appropriate event handler.

Although you can create your own delegates, in most cases Visual Basic creates the delegate and takes care of the details for you. For example, an Event statement implicitly defines a delegate class named <EventName>EventHandler as a nested class of the class containing the Event statement, and with the same signature as the event. The AddressOf statement implicitly creates an instance of a delegate that refers to a specific procedure. The following two lines of code are equivalent. In the first line, you see the explicit creation of an instance of Eventhandler, with a reference to method Button1_Click sent as the argument. The second line is a more convenient way to do the same thing.

AddHandler Button1.Click, New EventHandler(AddressOf Button1_Click)
' The following line of code is shorthand for the previous line.
AddHandler Button1.Click, AddressOf Me.Button1_Click

You can use the shorthand way of creating delegates anywhere the compiler can determine the delegate's type by the context.

Declaring Events that Use an Existing Delegate Type

In some situations, you may want to declare an event to use an existing delegate type as its underlying delegate. The following syntax demonstrates how:

Delegate Sub DelegateType()
Event AnEvent As DelegateType

This is useful when you want to route multiple events to the same handler.

Delegate Variables and Parameters

You can use delegates for other, non-event related tasks, such as free threading or with procedures that need to call different versions of functions at run time.

For example, suppose you have a classified-ad application that includes a list box with the names of cars. The ads are sorted by title, which is normally the make of the car. A problem you may face occurs when some cars include the year of the car before the make. The problem is that the built-in sort functionality of the list box sorts only by character codes; it places all the ads starting with dates first, followed by the ads starting with the make.

To fix this, you can create a sort procedure in a class that uses the standard alphabetic sort on most list boxes, but is able to switch at run time to the custom sort procedure for car ads. To do this, you pass the custom sort procedure to the sort class at run time, using delegates.

AddressOf and Lambda Expressions

Each delegate class defines a constructor that is passed the specification of an object method. An argument to a delegate constructor must be a reference to a method, or a lambda expression.

To specify a reference to a method, use the following syntax:

AddressOf [expression.]methodName

The compile-time type of the expression must be the name of a class or an interface that contains a method of the specified name whose signature matches the signature of the delegate class. The methodName can be either a shared method or an instance method. The methodName is not optional, even if you create a delegate for the default method of the class.

To specify a lambda expression, use the following syntax:

Function ([parm As type, parm2 As type2, ...]) expression

The following example shows both AddressOf and lambda expressions used to specify the reference for a delegate.

Module Module1

    Sub Main()
        ' Create an instance of InOrderClass and assign values to the properties.
        ' InOrderClass method ShowInOrder displays the numbers in ascending 
        ' or descending order, depending on the comparison method you specify.
        Dim inOrder As New InOrderClass
        inOrder.Num1 = 5
        inOrder.Num2 = 4

        ' Use AddressOf to send a reference to the comparison function you want
        ' to use.
        inOrder.ShowInOrder(AddressOf GreaterThan)
        inOrder.ShowInOrder(AddressOf LessThan)

        ' Use lambda expressions to do the same thing.
        inOrder.ShowInOrder(Function(m, n) m > n)
        inOrder.ShowInOrder(Function(m, n) m < n)
    End Sub

    Function GreaterThan(ByVal num1 As Integer, ByVal num2 As Integer) As Boolean
        Return num1 > num2
    End Function

    Function LessThan(ByVal num1 As Integer, ByVal num2 As Integer) As Boolean
        Return num1 < num2
    End Function

    Class InOrderClass
        ' Define the delegate function for the comparisons.
        Delegate Function CompareNumbers(ByVal num1 As Integer, ByVal num2 As Integer) As Boolean
        ' Display properties in ascending or descending order.
        Sub ShowInOrder(ByVal compare As CompareNumbers)
            If compare(_num1, _num2) Then
                Console.WriteLine(_num1 & "  " & _num2)
                Console.WriteLine(_num2 & "  " & _num1)
            End If
        End Sub

        Private _num1 As Integer
        Property Num1() As Integer
                Return _num1
            End Get
            Set(ByVal value As Integer)
                _num1 = value
            End Set
        End Property

        Private _num2 As Integer
        Property Num2() As Integer
                Return _num2
            End Get
            Set(ByVal value As Integer)
                _num2 = value
            End Set
        End Property
    End Class
End Module

The signature of the function must match that of the delegate type. For more information about lambda expressions, see Lambda Expressions. For more examples of lambda expression and AddressOf assignments to delegates, see Relaxed Delegate Conversion.

Title Description
How to: Invoke a Delegate Method Provides an example that shows how to associate a method with a delegate and then invoke that method through the delegate.
How to: Pass Procedures to Another Procedure in Visual Basic Demonstrates how to use delegates to pass one procedure to another procedure.
Relaxed Delegate Conversion Describes how you can assign subs and functions to delegates or handlers even when their signatures are not identical
Events Provides an overview of events in Visual Basic.