Shadow and Indexer Properties

Shadow properties are properties that aren't defined in your .NET entity class but are defined for that entity type in the EF Core model. The value and state of these properties is maintained purely in the Change Tracker. Shadow properties are useful when there's data in the database that shouldn't be exposed on the mapped entity types.

Indexer properties are entity type properties, which are backed by an indexer in .NET entity class. They can be accessed using the indexer on the .NET class instances. It also allows you to add additional properties to the entity type without changing the CLR class.

Foreign key shadow properties

Shadow properties are most often used for foreign key properties, where the relationship between two entities is represented by a foreign key value in the database, but the relationship is managed on the entity types using navigation properties between the entity types. By convention, EF will introduce a shadow property when a relationship is discovered but no foreign key property is found in the dependent entity class.

The property will be named <navigation property name><principal key property name> (the navigation on the dependent entity, which points to the principal entity, is used for the naming). If the principal key property name includes the name of the navigation property, then the name will just be <principal key property name>. If there is no navigation property on the dependent entity, then the principal type name is used in its place.

For example, the following code listing will result in a BlogId shadow property being introduced to the Post entity:

internal class MyContext : DbContext
{
    public DbSet<Blog> Blogs { get; set; }
    public DbSet<Post> Posts { get; set; }
}

public class Blog
{
    public int BlogId { get; set; }
    public string Url { get; set; }

    public List<Post> Posts { get; set; }
}

public class Post
{
    public int PostId { get; set; }
    public string Title { get; set; }
    public string Content { get; set; }

    // Since there is no CLR property which holds the foreign
    // key for this relationship, a shadow property is created.
    public Blog Blog { get; set; }
}

Configuring shadow properties

You can use the Fluent API to configure shadow properties. Once you have called the string overload of Property, you can chain any of the configuration calls you would for other properties. In the following sample, since Blog has no CLR property named LastUpdated, a shadow property is created:

internal class MyContext : DbContext
{
    public DbSet<Blog> Blogs { get; set; }

    protected override void OnModelCreating(ModelBuilder modelBuilder)
    {
        modelBuilder.Entity<Blog>()
            .Property<DateTime>("LastUpdated");
    }
}

public class Blog
{
    public int BlogId { get; set; }
    public string Url { get; set; }
}

If the name supplied to the Property method matches the name of an existing property (a shadow property or one defined on the entity class), then the code will configure that existing property rather than introducing a new shadow property.

Accessing shadow properties

Shadow property values can be obtained and changed through the ChangeTracker API:

context.Entry(myBlog).Property("LastUpdated").CurrentValue = DateTime.Now;

Shadow properties can be referenced in LINQ queries via the EF.Property static method:

var blogs = context.Blogs
    .OrderBy(b => EF.Property<DateTime>(b, "LastUpdated"));

Shadow properties cannot be accessed after a no-tracking query since the entities returned are not tracked by the change tracker.

Configuring indexer properties

You can use the Fluent API to configure indexer properties. Once you've called the method IndexerProperty, you can chain any of the configuration calls you would for other properties. In the following sample, Blog has an indexer defined and it will be used to create an indexer property.

internal class MyContext : DbContext
{
    public DbSet<Blog> Blogs { get; set; }

    protected override void OnModelCreating(ModelBuilder modelBuilder)
    {
        modelBuilder.Entity<Blog>().IndexerProperty<DateTime>("LastUpdated");
    }
}

public class Blog
{
    private readonly Dictionary<string, object> _data = new Dictionary<string, object>();
    public int BlogId { get; set; }

    public object this[string key]
    {
        get => _data[key];
        set => _data[key] = value;
    }
}

If the name supplied to the IndexerProperty method matches the name of an existing indexer property, then the code will configure that existing property. If the entity type has a property, which is backed by a property on the entity class, then an exception is thrown since indexer properties must only be accessed via the indexer.

Indexer properties can be referenced in LINQ queries via the EF.Property static method as shown above or by using the CLR indexer property.

Property bag entity types

Note

Support for Property bag entity types was introduced in EF Core 5.0.

Entity types that contain only indexer properties are known as property bag entity types. These entity types don't have shadow properties, and EF creates indexer properties instead. Currently only Dictionary<string, object> is supported as a property bag entity type. It must be configured as a shared-type entity type with a unique name and the corresponding DbSet property must be implemented using a Set call.

internal class MyContext : DbContext
{
    public DbSet<Dictionary<string, object>> Blogs => Set<Dictionary<string, object>>("Blog");

    protected override void OnModelCreating(ModelBuilder modelBuilder)
    {
        modelBuilder.SharedTypeEntity<Dictionary<string, object>>(
            "Blog", bb =>
            {
                bb.Property<int>("BlogId");
                bb.Property<string>("Url");
                bb.Property<DateTime>("LastUpdated");
            });
    }
}

Property bag entity types can be used wherever a normal entity type is used, including as an owned entity type. However, they do have certain limitations: