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Beware CS1612 when dealing with "Point" (it's not really a structurelike most of us think of)

P: n/a
I ran afoul of this Compiler error CS1612 recently, when trying to
modify a Point, which I had made have a property. It's pointless to
do this (initially it will compile, but you'll run into problems
later). Apparently Point is a struct, a value type, and it does not
behave like a classic structure (in my mind's eye, and see below).
Traditionally I think of a classic structure as simply an object where
every member is public. But with "Point", this is not strictly true,
as the 'members' --namely Point.X and Point.Y--don't have meaning by
themselves. So it's Pointless (sic) to do this:

private _myPoint;
public Point myPoint
get { return _myPoint; }
set { _myPoint = value; }

You run a risk of CS1612 later (it's hard to explain, but this happens
sometimes when you don't use 'new' often enough, and/or don't use
temporary copies, see an example below at " // Use this instead", but
there are many permutations). It's better simply to make "myPoint"
public and be careful using it, or, if you insist on some protection
(which is debatable, see below), treat "myPoint" as a magic number
like an important integer, and use public 'get' / 'set' accessor
methods/functions (but apparently not properties, though you would
think properties are ideal for this task). Keep in mind myPoint is
like 'int' or 'nullable' types, and does not really have 'member
variables' like myPoint.X or myPoint.Y, even though it appears to in
the documentation (this is what tricked me).

Beware. A rule of thumb to avoid this is simply don’t treat Points
with properties, as you would use properties in an object. Or, as
better said by the poster "marko" below: "Apparently, C# does not
allow you to return a reference to a value type. In practical terms
this means that you cannot modify the fields
of a struct-based property."

I solved this in my program by making everything "point" simply
public, and that 'solved' the problem at a cost of some risk because I
wanted to check that Point was greater than zero (for my program) as
an object having a "property" (i.e., using pseudocode, for a property
myPoint, having a private member _myPoint: myPoint.Set-- if (value.X
0 && value.Y >0) , then _myPoint = value, otherwise not, to avoid
divide by zero;). But such is life. Now I'll have to check that the
point is zero (for each of its components, X,Y) everytime I use it
later, which is not a big deal but a bit of a hassle. See below on
this ‘point’ made by the poster: “you don't change ints: you calculate
new ones and set variables / properties to new values. Similarly, you
don't change Points: you calculate new ones and set variables /
properties to new values” (not sure this is technically accurate, but
I kind of see his point—no pun—you need to think of Points as
primitive data types like int, and the ‘property’ portion of a point,
namely, “Point.X” and “Point.Y” is a fiction, a shorthand way of
accessing the structure, like the ‘nullable’ structure, but Point is
not like a class or even a structure, but a primitive data type).

The following code generates error CS1612.

Copy Code
// CS1612.cs
public struct MyStruct
public int Width;

public class ListView
public MyStruct Size
get { return new MyStruct(); }

public class MyClass
public MyClass()
ListView lvi;
lvi = new ListView();
lvi.Size.Width = 33; // CS1612
// Use this instead:
// MyStruct temp = lvi.Size;
// temp.Width = 33;

public static void Main() {}

Author Modifying a struct-based property
2005-05-19, 8:58 pm

Apparently, C# does not allow you to return a reference to a value
type. In practical terms this means that you cannot modify the fields
of a struct-based property. For example:

public class Thing
private Point _pos; // Point is a struct, a value type

public Point Position
get { return _pos; } // returns a _copy_ of _pos. Not what I had
in mind.
set { _pos = value; }


Thing t = new Thing;
t.Position.X = 100; // compiler error CS1612: cannot modify return

To add insult to injury, the program also incurs a slight performance
hit for allocating a temporary copy of the structure each time the
Position property is invoked. Am I right about this?

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just cannot see the purpose of such
a restriction. Where is the benefit of not allowing references to


Bruce Wood
2005-05-19, 8:58 pm

Because they're value types? :)

You're meant to think about value types as though they were ints or
doubles. You don't go into an int and fiddle with the third bit of
_that particular int_. In fact, the concept of "that particular int"
doesn't even make any sense. ints don't have identities: there is no
"this copy of the value 5" versus "that copy of the value 5". There's
just 5.

Of course, there are _variables_ that store ints, and you can modify
them. That is, in a nutshell, the point: you modify variables
containing values; you don't modify the values themselves.

And yes, whenever you return an int from a property, you get a copy,
not the original int. Allowing you to get a reference leads to C / C+
meaning unsafe code:

myClassObject.IntProperty = 0;
int *x = &myClassObject.IntProperty;
*x = 5;

I don't think I need to go into the problems that this causes: that *x
= 5 bypasses any code in set_IntProperty designed to safeguard
encapsulation, etc. etc.

So, what does this have to do with Point? Everything! As I said, Point
is a value type, and you're meant to think of it in the same way as
think of an int or a double. You don't change ints: you calculate new
ones and set variables / properties to new values. Similarly, you
change Points: you calculate new ones and set variables / properties
new values.

Yes, Points get copied onto the stack when returned from a property,
just as ints and doubles do. Think about what would happen if it were
not so:

myClassObject.PointProperty.X = 0;

bypasses all of the code in set_PointProperty designed to encapsulate
the state of myClass. What if set_PointProperty takes great pains to
ensure that the point never has an X of 0? Too bad: it was set through
the "back door".

The way you solve this problem with reference types (classes) is with
events: If you had a Point class, it would have to raise XChanged and
YChanged events so that myClass could intercept changes and throw
exceptions as appropriate. Ouch! Talk about overhead!

No, when dealing with value types, you have to set properties like

myClass.PointProperty = new Point(100, myClass.PointProperty.Y);

Points are really small (64 bits), so pushing one on the stack is no
big deal. In fact, that's one of the recommendations for making
structs: keep them small, because they're copied all over the place,
just as ints and double are.

The only issue I have with the way that structs are implemented
in .NET
is that many common structs, like Point, have set accessors on some of
their properties. Personally, I think that this is utterly ridiculous.
It really doesn't buy you much to be able to say:

Point p = new Point(0, 0);
p.X = 50;

instead of:

Point p = new Point(0, 0);
p = new Point(50, p.Y);

and the former syntax only works if p is a variable, not, as you
pointed out, if it's a property. Neither does it work if the Point is
in an aggregate structure:

Hashtable h = new Hashtable();
h["Point"] = new Point(0, 0);
((Point)h["Point"]).X = 50;

does squat, because it's changing the X property of a copy of the
(boxed) Point in the hash table, not of the entry itself.

So, as I said, I think that set accessors on struct properties are
stupid. They just lead people to the false assumption that they can
treat structs as they treat classes, which isn't true. When I make my
own structs, I always make them invariant: if you want to change one
my value types, you either have to "new" a new one, or call some
on one that returns a new value. (A silly example for Point would be:

Point p = new Point(0, 0);
p = p.ChangeX(50);

this would always work, no matter what the situation. Sadly, they
didn't implement Point this way. I think they should have.)

2005-05-25, 8:57 pm
>>Where is the benefit of not allowing references to value types?
>Because they're value types? :)
I know they are, but what's wrong with returning a reference to a
type? You can /pass in/ a value type by reference to a function (by
using the ref keyword), so why shouldn't you be able to pass it out?
It really doesn't buy you much to be able to say:
>Point p = new Point(0, 0);
p.X = 50;
>instead of:
>Point p = new Point(0, 0);
p = new Point(50, p.Y);
Hmm, I must disagree with this one. Assigning a value to a field is
many times cheaper than dynamically allocating a new copy of the
struct, copying _all the fields_, and finally having the garbage
collector clean up the copy. That's like buying a new walkman every
time the battery runs out, instead of just replacing the battery. :)
>So, as I said, I think that set accessors on struct properties are
stupid. They just lead people to the false assumption that they can
treat structs as they treat classes, which isn't true.
I agree, which is why I think struct fields should be public. Structs
are typically used when performance is an issue, so information hiding
in this case is not really a concern.

By extension struct-based class properties may also be publically
exposed without guilt, because they are, well, value types. You can't
do something dumb, like forget to allocate them, or assign null to
them. The worst you can do is assign some nonsensical value to a
(If that's an issue, hide the fields behind accessors)

I suppose OO purists will stone me for suggesting violating the golden
rules, but the alternative is worse. I tried re-writing the Size
as a class (with private fields, and accessors) so I could return it
value, and then change its properties. It worked fine, but I had to do
write an extra class, and I don't think I gained much by doing that.
Purity comes at a cost, and sometimes it's not worth it.


Bruce Wood
2005-05-25, 8:57 pm
Structs are typically used when performance is an issue
No! No! I blame Microsoft for this misconception. They have examples
doing this on MSDN and all. It's a terrible design decision. Yes, in a
few obscure cases you can gain something by using structs instead of
classes. However, the cases are, as I said, obscure... and rare.

As you have pointed out, using structs instead of classes causes lots
of copying, which can lead to performance _degradation_... unless you
pay very, very close attention to what you're doing. The source of all
of the confusion is the idea that structs are somehow "classes lite",
and that you should press them into service when you need screaming
performance. Of course, every newbie out there immediately starts
making everything a "struct" so that their app will "run faster", then
wonders why everything is so screwy. Aaargh. (Sorry... this is a pet
peeve of mine, doubly so because Microsoft seems to endorse this sort
of silliness. :)

Those few obscure and rare cases aside, structs should be employed in
only one situation: when you want _value semantics_. That is, when you
_want_ something that is copied rather than handled by reference. When
you want it to act like a _value_.

Here are couple of examples from my coding: a Fraction, and a Measure.
A Fraction is just what it looks like: it's a type capable of holding
whole part, a numerator, and a denominator. It acts like any other
number, and that's why it's a struct. I absolutely _don't_ want to
assign a Fraction to some variable, have that variable say
fracVar.Numerator = 3, and have the fraction change in that variable
_and_ the variable it was assigned from. That would be horrific. I
the thing to act like a _value_: like an int or a double or a decimal.
(This is, incidentally, precisely why my Fraction has no set
so the snippet of code above isn't even legal in my world.) Similarly,
a Measure is a quantity that has a unit of measure (a reference type,
in my world) tagging along with it. Again, I want it to act like an
or a decimal. I _absolutely don't_ want reference semantics here. I
want value semantics.

IMHO there is a huge problem in the .NET community, wherein
try to press structs into service as a sort of "class lite" to
performance, without really understanding what they're doing and thus
creating unnecessary headaches for themselves. structs are a valuable
part of the language. As I said, I've used them in a few places _where
they make sense_ and they're wonderful just the way they are. It's
you try to use them inappropriately that they start acting up. (The
only exception being what you ran into: putting Points and Sizes into
an aggregate structure is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Then
wondering why you can't work with them as though they were reference
types is also perfectly reasonable. The problem is not that they don't
act like reference types. The problem is that somebody thought it was
clever to make Point and Size _mutable_, which they shouldn't be.)
finally having the garbage collector clean up the copy
This is inaccurate. The garbage collector does not have to clean up
copy: the copy must either live on the stack (no garbage collection
there), or within a reference type which would have had to have been
garbage collected anyway. The only time the garbage collector gets
involved with value types is if you box them, which effectively
a reference type to hold the value. This is probably why Microsoft
chose to make Point and Size into value types: precisely to avoid
garbage collection of a bazillion little Points and Sizes when code
starts doing mathematics with them. _This_ is the sense in which
structs are "faster": they require no GC, and they require no heap
allocation. Constructing a new Point is, at run time, no more
than constructing a new double, and just like a double there is no
garbage collection required. It's a questionable design: I'm not sure
that the savings in GC and allocation time for Points and Sizes is
worth the confusion it's caused amongst programmers. The fact that
contains an example of using a struct for a _customer record_ doesn't
help matters either (grrr...).
...which is why I think struct fields should be public.
.... which is useful only if you're using them for what I would claim
the "wrong purpose". If you use structs to implement new kinds of
_values_, then there's no need to go breaking encapsulation in an
attempt to make them act like reference types. Again, you could argue
that Points and Sizes as structs is a dodgy implementation, and I
agree. However, if you're making your own structs, and you make all of
the fields public and start trying to use them as though they were
reference types, I would claim that you're pushing on a rope. :)

As well, even doing this won't help your hash table situation: even if
all of Point's fields were public, you still couldn't do the
directly into the value that is boxed and stored in the hash table.
Value semantics would still bite you back. :)
Purity comes at a cost, and sometimes it's not worth it.
Absolutely true, and sometimes I decide to abandon clean code for
benefits. Just be sure, however, that you're not abandoning what you
call "purity" because you're using the wrong construct for what you
want to do. The only "bad" thing about structs is that in aggregates
(pre v2.0) you have to say:

Point oldPoint = (Point)myHash["Key"];
myHash["Key"] = new Point(oldPoint.X, newY);

instead of

((Point)myHash["Key"]).Y = newY;

It has nothing to do with performance... it's all about how much
is required. I agree. the source code is ugly, and v2.0 won't be much

myHash["Key"] = new Point(myHash["Key"].X, newY);

But IMHO it's not worth abandoning or warping the feature because in
one situation it doesn't "play nice", when it's so useful in other

Aug 21 '08 #1
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