Extension Methods

In order to use LINQ with your IEnumerable collections, you must include this using statement:

using System.LINQ 

Without it, the LINQ collection methods will not be available. You might be wondering why, as your collections are mostly defined in the System.Collections or System.Collections.Generic namespaces.

The answer is that LINQ on collections is implemented using extension methods. This is a C# feature that allows you to add methods to any class, even a sealed class. But how can we add methods to a sealed class? Isn’t the point of sealing a class to prevent altering it?

The answer is that extension methods don’t actually modify the class itself. Instead, they make available additional methods that the compiler “pretends” are a part of the class. But these are defined separate from the class, and cannot modify it, nor access private or protected members of the class. As the LINQ extension methods are defined in the System.LINQ namespace, we must make them available with a using statement before the compiler and intellisense will let us use them.

Let’s see an example of creating our own extension methods. As programmers, we often use class names in Pascal case, that might be useful to convert into human-readable strings. Let’s write an extension method to do this transformation:

using System.Text;

namespace StringExtensions {
    /// <summary>
    /// Converts a camel-case or pascal case string into a human-readable one 
    /// </summary>
    public static string Humanize(this String s)
        StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
        int start = 0;
        for(int i = 1; i < s.Length; i++) 
            // An upper case character is the start of a new word
                // So we'll add the last word to the StringBuilder
                string word = s.Substring(start, i - start);
                // Since that wasn't the last word, add a space 
                sb.Append(" ");
                // Mark the start of the new word 
                start = i;
        // We should have one more word left 
        return sb.ToString();


Notice a couple of important features. First, the method is defined as static. All extension methods are static methods. Second, note the use of this in the first parameter, this string s. The use of the this keyword is what tells C# the method is an extension method. Moreover, it indicates the class that is being extended - String (which is equivalent to string).

Other than these two details, the rest of the method looks much like any other method. But any time this method is in scope (i.e. within the StringExtensions namespace, or in any file with a using StringExtensions statement), there will be an additional method available on string, Humanize().

That’s all there is to writing an extension method. Go ahead and try writing your own to convert human-readable strings into Pascal or Camel case!