What is the difference between a field and a property? – Dev

The best answers to the question “What is the difference between a field and a property?” in the category Dev.

QUESTION:

In C#, what makes a field different from a property, and when should a field be used instead of a property?

ANSWER:

Object orientated programming principles say that, the internal workings of a class should be hidden from the outside world. If you expose a field you’re in essence exposing the internal implementation of the class. Therefore we wrap fields with Properties (or methods in Java’s case) to give us the ability to change the implementation without breaking code depending on us. Seeing as we can put logic in the Property also allows us to perform validation logic etc if we need it.
C# 3 has the possibly confusing notion of autoproperties. This allows us to simply define the Property and the C#3 compiler will generate the private field for us.

public class Person
{
   private string _name;

   public string Name
   {
      get
      {
         return _name;
      }
      set
      {
         _name = value;
      }
   }
   public int Age{get;set;} //AutoProperty generates private field for us
}

ANSWER:

Properties expose fields. Fields should (almost always) be kept private to a class and accessed via get and set properties. Properties provide a level of abstraction allowing you to change the fields while not affecting the external way they are accessed by the things that use your class.

public class MyClass
{
    // this is a field.  It is private to your class and stores the actual data.
    private string _myField;

    // this is a property. When accessed it uses the underlying field,
    // but only exposes the contract, which will not be affected by the underlying field
    public string MyProperty
    {
        get
        {
            return _myField;
        }
        set
        {
            _myField = value;
        }
    }

    // This is an AutoProperty (C# 3.0 and higher) - which is a shorthand syntax
    // used to generate a private field for you
    public int AnotherProperty { get; set; } 
}

@Kent points out that Properties are not required to encapsulate fields, they could do a calculation on other fields, or serve other purposes.

@GSS points out that you can also do other logic, such as validation, when a property is accessed, another useful feature.

ANSWER:

I’ll give you a couple examples of using properties that might get the gears turning:

  • Lazy Initialization: If you have a property of an object that’s expensive to load, but isn’t accessed all that much in normal runs of the code, you can delay its loading via the property. That way, it’s just sitting there, but the first time another module tries to call that property, it checks if the underlying field is null – if it is, it goes ahead and loads it, unknown to the calling module. This can greatly speed up object initialization.
  • Dirty Tracking: Which I actually learned about from my own question here on StackOverflow. When I have a lot of objects which values might have changed during a run, I can use the property to track if they need to be saved back to the database or not. If not a single property of an object has changed, the IsDirty flag won’t get tripped, and therefore the saving functionality will skip over it when deciding what needs to get back to the database.

ANSWER:

An important difference is that interfaces can have properties but not fields. This, to me, underlines that properties should be used to define a class’s public interface while fields are meant to be used in the private, internal workings of a class. As a rule I rarely create public fields and similarly I rarely create non-public properties.