Conditional Ref, Ref ReadOnly, Ref Reassignment in C# 7.X

C# has gone through the major changes starting from 6.0 specifically from 7.0. I wrote a list of posts on C# new features which covers key topics that can be used in our day to day programming. You can find the previous posts list below

C# 7.X posts

Today we are going to discuss few uses of ref which provided altogether different meaning to it.

Conditional Ref: This feature was introduced in C# 7.2. Before going to this specific topic, we know that ref keyword has been in C# prior to 7.X and we used this keyword to pass the values by reference as

        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            TestRef testRef = new TestRef() { Description = "First Object" };
            double price = 20;

            DoSomething(ref price, ref testRef);
            Console.WriteLine(price);
            Console.Write(testRef.Description);

            Console.ReadKey();
        }

        public static void DoSomething(ref double finalPrice, ref TestRef test )
        {
            finalPrice = finalPrice * 1.2;
            test = new TestRef() { Description = "Second Object" };
        }

   public class TestRef
    {
        public string Description { get; set; }
    }

Here I am passing a value type variable price and an object of a class type TestRef (we know classes are reference type). So let’s see the result before discussing it

Here we can see that  finalPrice is passed as ref parameter and when we are updating the value in the method, the updated value is available in caller function as it was passed using ref. Similarly in case of TestRef’s instance as ref parameter, a new instance is assigned to the variable then the variable in caller method also got updated with the new instance. It is because the instance testRef was pass passed using ref.

We have discussed few other usages of ref keyword which got introduced in 7.X, conditional ref are one of the interesting ones. We used ternary operator in past as

    var smallArray = new int[] { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 };
    var largeArray = new int[] { 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 };

    int index = 7;
    int val = ((index < 5) ? smallArray[index] : largeArray[index - 5]);
    val = 0;

Here val gets assigned with value 0. If we change this value, no update takes place in the original array. Now let’s see the power of ref keyword here. We can see that based on condition first or second value is returned but now we can use ref keyword as

    ref int val = ref ((index < 5) ? ref smallArray[index] : ref largeArray[index - 5]);
    val = 0;

Here I am using the same array but here we are using the ref keyword in Consequent (smallArray), Alternative (largeArray) and put the ref at the whole ternary expression. Also, at left side added ref as ref int val. Removing any ref keyword will produce an error. If we want to store it as normal value then we may remove ref from left and outer ref from right.

Now val is pointing to the largeArray[2] and as we assigned it to 0, array also got updated.

Also as these ternary operator refers to a memory location so we may use it as LValue as

    ref ((index < 5) ? ref smallArray[index] : ref largeArray[index - 5]) = 0;

ref readonly: I discussed about ref keyword in one of my previous posts (refer here). It allows us to pass the values by reference, return the value by reference. But what about if we want to return a value which we dont want to get modified by the caller. Either we pass it by value (which creates a copy ) or we can use ref readonly. It will make sure the reference is returned (not the copy) but caller cannot modify the returned value. Let’s see an example


static void Main(string[] args)
{
    var points = new Point[] { new Point(1,2), new Point(1, 2), new Point(1, 2) };

    var point = new Point();
    point.SetPoints(points);

    ref readonly var myPoint = ref point.GetPoint(2);

    // It is a compile time error
    myPoint.Y = 10;

    Console.ReadKey();
}
	
struct Point
    {
        public int X;
        public int Y;

        public Point(int x, int y)
        {
            X = x;
            Y = y;
            points = null;
        }

        private Point[] points;

        public void SetPoints(Point[] arrPoint)
        {
            points = arrPoint;
        }

        public ref readonly Point GetPoint(int index)
        {
            if (points.Length &amp;gt; index)
                return ref points[index];
            else
                throw new KeyNotFoundException();
        }
    }

Here you can see GetPoint method in struct which returns one of the points from the array using ref keyword. Now if we want that the caller should not be able to modify it, then we need to put ref readonly in return type (not while returning). Now if you see while calling, we have to use ref on the right side and ref readonly on the left side and changing that variable would be a compile time error. As the method return ref readonly we cannot remove readonly from left side, however we can completely remove ref from both side including readonly then it will create a copy of the point.

If you remember In (about In)operator which allows the variable pass by reference but called method can’t modify that, it is opposite as Caller cannot modify the returned variable however the keywords are bit different.

As I used struct for the example which is value type and using operators like ref, In etc makes sure that we dont create a copy of that. However we know value type are easy to initialize and destroy in memory but Microsoft recommends that if the size of the struct is more than System.IntPtr.Size then we should avoid creating the copy of the struct.

Tip: Use the ref readonly for large structures and top preserve the immutability of the data structure.

Ref ReAssignment – This feature was added in C# 7.3 which allows us reassign a ref local variable to different location and obviously that should be of same type. Lets see an example

In this example I am going to use earlier Point class and just removed readonly from GetPoint method.

Here we can see a C# 7.2 feature where we get the reference of an array via ref and if we update the ref variable via another ref instance, it updates the original array as we can see in the tool tip.

Ref reassignment allows us to update ref local variables to different location which was not possible prior to C# 7.3 as

Here we can see refPoint was referencing to the last element of the array and once we assign to the first element, it started referring to the first object. This code will work only C# version is selected as 7.3.

As mentioned earlier, C# 7.X and 8.0 has lots of new features and few important ones we discussed earlier. In this post, we discussed three important features related to ref- Conditional ref, ref readonly, ref reassignment. Hope you have enjoyed the post.

Thanks
Brij

 

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Using Deconstructors in C# 7.0

This is another awesome feature that got introduced with C# 7.0 which can be helpful in many scenarios while consuming various objects. Deconstruction is mostly discussed with another new feature System.ValueTuple but it can be used with other custom type as well. I have also discussed it in briefly in ValueTuple post at the link below. I will advise to go through that first before starting here.

How to use the new ValueTuples : A C# 7.0 feature

What is Deconstruction

It is a process of splitting an instance’s (value types and reference types) value into multiple parts and assigning them to new variables. Like, I mentioned that it is extremely useful with the Tuples which contains a set of values but can be used with other types.

How to use Deconstruction

We can leverage it in our custom classes, structs or interfaces. We need to implement Deconstruct method, which returns void and each deconstructed value should be added as out parameter in the method signature. We can have multiple overridden Deconstruct method based on the requirement. Let’s see an example

public class Person
{
    public string FirstName { get; set; }

    public string MiddleName { get; set; }

    public string LastName { get; set; }

    public int Age { get; set; }

    public Person(string fName, string mName, string lName, int age)
    {
        FirstName = fName;
        MiddleName = mName;
        LastName = lName;
        Age = age;
    }
    public void Deconstruct(out string fName, out string lName)
    {
        fName = FirstName;
        lName = LastName;
    }

    public void Deconstruct(out string fName, out string lName, out int age)
    {
        fName = FirstName;
        lName = LastName;
        age = Age;
    }
}

Here we can see that I have provided two Deconstruct methods, one with two out parameters: fName, lName and other with three : fName, lName, age.

Person p = new Person("Brij", "Bhushan", "Mishra", 32);

//(string firstName, string lastName) = p;
// OR
var (firstName, lastName) = p;

Console.WriteLine($"Person Details: First Name: {firstName}, Last Name: {lastName}");


(string firstName, string lastName, int age) = p;

Console.WriteLine($"Person Details: First Name: {firstName}, Last Name: {lastName}, Age: {age}");

Here I created the instance of Person with all the details. Then in first deconstruction, we got the first name and last name which calls the first Deconstruct method of the class which has two out parameters. Note that we have two ways of deconstruction. First we explicitly declare the type of each field inside parentheses (commented out) and another, using var keyword so that C# infers the type of each variable. Similarly later, second Deconstruct method is called which deconstructs it in three variables. It can be really useful when we have a class with numerous properties, fields and most of the time, we need only few there we can use the Deconstruct methods.

Similar to ValueTuples, we can use discards here as well. To discard a variable of Deconstruct method, we can use underscore (_) as

Person p = new Person("Brij", "Bhushan", "Mishra", 32);
(string firstName, _ , int age) = p;

Console.WriteLine($"Hello {firstName}, your age is {age}");

Deconstruction use Extension method

There could be scenarios where you want to this feature but its an existing class where changes are not possible (like some third party classes, classes own by different team or even framework classes), there we can add this as an extension method. Lets assume that Person class doesn’t have Deconstruct methods and we can add it as an extension method as

public static class DeconstructionExtensions
{
    public static void Deconstruct( this Person p, out string fName, out string lName, out int age)
    {
        fName = p.FirstName;
        lName = p.LastName;
        age = p.Age;
    }
}

It will work in the same way as earlier.

Hope you have enjoyed the post and will be able to use in your day to day coding.

Thanks
Brij

C# 6.0 and 7.x posts links

Hello All,

There are rapid changes to C# language recently. Although these are very useful in writing cleaner, concise, less repetitive and performance oriented code, I see very less usage of these in our day to day coding. So I thought of writing these features as blog posts to learn myself and share with others. In this post I am just listing down the links of my earlier C#6.0 and C# 7.x blog posts so that it is easily available. Do let me know if there is any important feature that I missed which could be useful in our day to day coding.

C# 6.0 features

C# 7.X features

Hope you’ll enjoy these posts and able to use these in your day to day development.

Cheers,
Brij

Expression-bodied Members in C#

Expression-bodied members are one of the shiny features of C# 6.0 which allows us to write the implementation of a member in more readable and concise format. We can use the expressions as a definition of the members instead of using the statement block. The format of the expression is as

var=> expression

This is also called lambda expressions and => is called lambda operator. In C# 6.0, we can use this feature with methods and properties. Lets see few examples

Properties: Instead of using the normal getter, we can use expressions with lambda operators as mentioned.


// Normal way
public string FullName
{
    get { return string.Format("{0} {1}", FirstName, LastName); }
}

// Using Expression (C# 6.0)
public string FullName => string.Format("{0} {1}", FirstName, LastName);

// Above code can be more consize using string interpolation
public string FullName =>$"{FirstName} {LastName}";

If you are not aware of String Interpolation, you can refer one of my previous post here.

Methods : Similar to properties, C# 6.0 also allows us to use expressions while writing methods which returns values to the caller.


// Normal way
public string GetFullName(string firstname, string middleName, string lastName)
{
    return middleName == null ? $"{firstname} {lastName}" : $"{firstname} {middleName} {lastName}";
}

// Using Expessions 
public string GetFullName(string firstname, string middleName, string lastName) => middleName == null ? 
             $"{firstname} {lastName}" : $"{firstname} {middleName} {lastName}";

Limitation: There is a limitation of expression bodied members.We can have just single statement in the expression and statement blocks {} are not allowed. In my above example, I used the ternary operator conditional logic instead of using if statement block.

As we can see C# 6.0 added the capability for methods and read only properties, C# 7.0 added more power to this feature and now we can use expressions in constructors, set accessors in properties, indexers and finalizers. Let’s take a look

Properties: We saw earlier enhancements for Property which was similar to get accessor

private string _name;
public string Name {
    get => _name;
    set => _name = value;
}

Here this is a very simple example and in this scenario, I would like to prefer the Auto propery as below

public string Name { get; set; }

However in my earlier example where I was returning FullName after concatenating two strings, there it is better suited. So when you are doing some smaller operations as well in your property then it is better choice.

Constructor: We can leverage the expression with the constructors as well. Let’s see

// Earlier
public Person(string name)
{
    this.Name = name;
}

// With C# 7.0
public Person(string name) => this.Name = name; 

As mentioned earlier that statement block can’t be used here. So say if I have multiple parameters to pass so I can use another C# 7.0 features: ValueTuple and Destructors.

public Person(string firstName, string lastName) => (FirstName, LastName) = (firstName, lastName);

I wrote some time back on ValueTuples and Deconstructors, you can take a look.

Finalizers: We can use expressions in finalizers as well. Let’s see

// Earlier
~Person()
{
    Console.WriteLine("Person's destructor");
}

// Using Expressions
~Person() => Console.WriteLine("Person's destructor");

There are many new features that got intrudocuced in C# 6.0 and C# 7.X (7.0, 7.1, 7.2) if these are used together, can provide lot of value. The whole idea is write cleaner, concise and more performant code so that the focus is more on business logic.

Hope you are enjoying the enhancements.

Cheers
Brij

Span: A new upcoming feature of C#

With the ground-up changes in ASP.NET with ASP.NET Core which is still going on, it appears that now it is turn of C# language and the run-time. I am sure the ground work must have been going on from last couple of years as these changes required massive ground up changes but I am hoping there are lot more changes will take place in future. After using the power of Span<T> and Memory<T> in ASP.NET Core 2.1, which is claimed to be 70-80% faster than ASP.NET Core 1.X, it is planned to release for all of us. In this post, we will be discussing the new type Span<T>. Before jumping directly into Span<T>, let’s have a quick overview current types.

Every object in C# can be categorized in two type: ValueType and Reference Type. We know Value Type instances gets created on stack and only available in the current scope while reference gets created on managed heap which is taken care by Garbage Collector (GC). Garbage collection is expensive process so if we can minimize the reference type object creation and use more Value Type objects then it could be a huge performance benefit. I am not saying that GC is not properly optimized or similar but no GC is always better that any performance optimized GC.  Let’s understand how Span can help in few scenarios.

Note – Currently this feature is available in prerelease state so some changes in final release are expected. To use this this feature, we need we need Visual Studio 2017 15.5+ version and need to install nuget package – System.Memory (Check the include prerelease checkbox while searching it). You can have a look here if getting an error.

What is Span<T>

Span<T> is a ValueType which allows us write low level code in safe and efficient way without any GC overhead. It’s as efficient as working with unmanaged pointers with the benefits of C#. Span<T> represents a contiguous region of arbitrary memory which could be unmanaged memory, memory allocated on stack and arrays or strings.

Let’s understand it with the help of a string.

Here we can see that when we use Substring method on a string, a new copy gets created on the heap. But, we may not want a new copy as we just read that particular part and even sometimes we may need to update the original string itself. Let’s see how does Span<T> work here

So here we can see that we got a ReadOnlySpan from the string and then used Slice (similar to Substring) method of span to get a specific part of the string but here both the variables refer to same memory location. As span is a struct, lastName doesn’t cost any GC overhead. The two parameters of the Slice method are, starting index and length of the sliced part. Let’s see the complete example

Span<Char> name = "Brij Mishra".ToCharArray().AsSpan();

Span<char> lastName = name.Slice(5,4);

lastName[3] = 'k';

Console.WriteLine(lastName.ToString()); // Prints -> Miskra
Console.WriteLine(name.ToString()); // Prints -> Brij Miskra

lastName[5] = 'k'; // Throws Exception -> System.IndexOutOfRangeException'

Here we can see that change in one character using lastName reflects in both the variables. In the last line, when we try to access the fifth character via lastName, it throws IndexOutofRangeException even we know that we have character at this location. But since lastName was created with only four characters, we cannot access it.

Span vs ReadOnlySpan

As the name suggests Span<T> allows us update the values but many a times, we use the sub-string only for readonly purposes. Say we have a method where we need to pass the part of the string which is just needed for reading purposes, it is safer to pass ReadOnlySpan to save from any accidental update because it will affect all the places inside the program. The current version of the package, returns the ReadOnlySpan while getting the span out of string. So if you are sure that we need the span for read only purposes then we should use ReadOnlySpan. Trying to make any changes in ReadOnlySpan will be an compile time error.

Usages

If you are working with payloads where you create and manipulate strings a lot, it can be quite useful. Similarly, parsing needs usage Substring where it can be quite useful. Other usages are not so common like working with buffers and doing multiple transformations like encoding/decoding, parsing, escaping etc. Working with network buffers can be other quite useful scenario.

Limitations

Span<T> is designed to  stay in the stack onlu which is a limiting factor as well. Few key limitations are

  • We can’t box/unbox because it can’t stay on the heap
  • We can’t have it as fields in classes or even in non-ref structs
  • Cannot be used in lambda method because it might turn into field.
  • Due to stack only field, cannot be use in async methods or iterators

Even having quite many limitations, it can be really helpful where you have big structs, file I/O , Network I/O, string manipulations, working with buffers, synchronous methods.

Hope you have enjoyed the post.

Cheers
Brij

Ref and Out improvements in C# 7.0

If you have been observing last few releases of C#, the key focus of C# language team is to improve the developer productivity by reducing the repetitive/common code and performance of the application. First one, helps a lot in writing cleaner and concise code so it mainly contains logic instead of number of lines for null check etc.

ref and out keywords are available with C# since long and very useful in many scenarios. These were serving the purpose quite beautifully but there were few improvements in C# 7.0 which makes it more attractive. In this post, I am not going to discuss the basics of these keywords detail but mainly focus on the improvements in C# 7.0.

Ref keyword – This keyword is used to pass the parameter by reference (even if it is value type) to a method. When we pass the parameter by reference, any change that takes place in the called method also reflects in calling method. ref keyword should be used by in calling method while passing the parameter and in the called method as well. Also unassigned variable cannot be passed as well. Lets see a quick example

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    Point p;
    p.x = 10;
    p.y = 20;

    UpdateCoordinates(ref p);

    Console.WriteLine($"Point coordinates x : {p.x}, y : {p.y}"); // Output: Point coordinates x : 20, y : 40

    Console.ReadKey();
}

static void UpdateCoordinates(ref Point p)
{
    p.x = 20;
    p.y = 40;
}

public struct Point
{
    public int x, y;
}

Here Point is a value type and it is passed using ref keyword. Here the variable gets updated in the called method and it shows 20 and 40 in output.

Note: ref keyword can be used with reference types as well. You can refer one of my previous posts for details here 

C# 7.0 Enhancements :

As in the example above, the values are passed by reference in the method but what about returning the values by reference. For this, there were two enhancements introduced

1- Ref Returns : For this, we need to add ref keyword after return statement in a method and before the return type in the method signature. This feature can be used only in Class (not structs). Let see the Point class as

public class Point
{
    private int x, y;

    public Point(int a, int b)
    {
        this.x = a;
        this.y = b;
    }
    public ref int GetX()
    {
        return ref this.x;
    }

    public ref int GetY()
    {
        return ref this.y;
    }
      
    public void Display()
    {
        Console.WriteLine($"Point coordinates x : {x}, y : {y}");
    }
}

Here I added two methods GetX and GetY which returns x and y by reference. ref keyword also got added with method signature as well.

2- Ref Locals: To store a reference variable (ref), returned by a method, the local variable should also be added with ref keyword before the type and adding the ref keyword before the method call. Now the local variable contains the value by reference and has the ability to change the value of variable which will reflect in the original variable as well. We can call the method without using the ref keyword which will behave as normal method call and the returned value will be a copy of the value.

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    Point p = new Point(10, 20);

    ref int i = ref p.GetX();
    i = 50;

    p.Display(); // Output: Point coordinates x : 50, y : 20

    int j = p.GetY();
    j = 100;

    p.Display(); // Output: Point coordinates x : 50, y : 20

    Console.ReadKey();
}

Initially the values of x and y are 10 and 20. We got the variable x by refernce and updated it to 50 using variable i which is reflected in output. We also received the value of y without using ref which creates a copy of the variable and updating it doesn’t affect the instance p.

It is a really nice feature in scenarios where the values are required to be updated at different places. This also can be when we have a collection of values and few of the items can be updated by the caller method based on the need.

Enhancements in Out parameter: There is a small enhancements in out parameter usage. Earlier out parameter is used as

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    int age;
    string name = GetUserDetails(out age);
    Console.WriteLine($"name : {name}, age : {age}");

    Console.ReadKey();
}

public static string GetUserDetails(out int age)
{
    age = 32;
    return "Brij";
}

Now after enhancement, we dont need to declare the variable first, instead we can direcly declare in the paarmeter as well as

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    //int age;
    string name = GetUserDetails(out int age);
    Console.WriteLine($"name : {name}, age : {age}");

    Console.ReadKey();
}

Although this is a small enhancement but makes more sense.

Hope you enjoyed the post and will be able leverage these enhancements in your day to day coding.

Cheers,
Brij

How to use the new ValueTuples : A C# 7.0 feature

Tuples are one of the awesome features of C# which was initially introduced with .NET 4.0. Although it is less used but it become very handy when we need to return multiple values from a function. We have another option to use out operator but it is not recommended due to various reasons. I am not going to discuss it in this post. Tuple is a static class under namespace System which implements a Factory pattern to create the instances of Tuples. It has a Create method with eight overloads which allows us to have 8 elements in a Tuple. Also, we can have nested tuples as well.

There were few issues with System.Tuple. It is a reference type so even if you are returning few values type elements , the instance gets created on heap, means adding pressure on Garbage Collector. It doesn’t allow to provide a name to the elements, instead we have to refer it as item1, item2.. etc. Also, the way we used to create Tuple is also quite verbose.

Tuple in C# 7.0

C# 7.0 introduces System.ValueTuple as a new language feature, which resolves the problems mentioned above and provides few more additional features. And Yes, it has the power of Value Type so it removes the GC overhead of the old tuple.

Note: ValueTuple is available as indepedent nuget package. You can install it from here.

Lets see few examples of new Value Tuples,

Tuple Literals

Tuple literal is a comma separated list of literal (of various types), surrounded by parenthesis.

static void Main(string[] args)
{
    // Tuple Literals
    var tpl = (1, 2);
    var author = ("Brij", 32, "https://codewala.net/");
}

public (string, int, string) Author { get; set; } = ("Brij", 32, "https://codewala.net/");

Here we can see that creating Tuple is now a simple assignment operation. Also we can have different types in a Tuple which helps in combining various set of information in a tuple based on the need.

Using Tuples as Return Type

We can use value tuple as return type and the syntax looks so simple as


var author = GetAuthor();

Console.WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {author.Item1}, Age: {author.Item2}, BlogURL : {author.Item3 ?? "URL not available" } ");

private static (string, int, string) GetAuthor()
{
    string name = "Amit Kumar";
    int age = 33;
    return (name, age, null);
}

Naming the Tuple Elements:
Yes, we can name the tuple elements and this also provides the intellisense support. This is one of the best improvements. We can write the above code as

var author = GetAuthor();
WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {author.name}, Age: {author.age}, BlogURL : {author.url ?? "URL not available" } ");

private static (string name, int age, string url) GetAuthor()
{
    string name = "Amit Kumar";
    int age = 33;
    return (name, age, null);
}

We can give names in tuple literal as well

var author = (name: "Brij", age: 32, url: "https://codewala.net/");      
Console.WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {author.name}, Age: {author.age}, BlogURL : {author.url ?? "URL not available" } ");
// Or we can also write as
(string name, int age, string url) author = ("Brij", 32, "https://codewala.net/");

Let’s move to another exciting feature

Value Tuple Deconstruction

Value tuple allows us deconstruct the tuple and access the elements as a local variable. We need to assign a tuple to variable surrounded by parenthesis.  Broadly, it can be done in three ways

  • Providing the types of each element in parenthesis.
  • Using var keyword outside the parenthesis (it is applied to each variable).
  • Or using existing variables

Lets see the examples


// First Option - Providing the type of each element. var is also allowed.
(string authorname, int age, var blog) = GetAuthor();
Console.WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {authorname}, Age: {age}, BlogURL : {blog ?? "URL not available" } ");

// Second Option - Using var outside of the parenthesis
var (authorname, age, blog) = GetAuthor();
Console.WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {authorname}, Age: {age}, BlogURL : {blog ?? "URL not available" } ");

// Third option - Using existing variables
string authorname = "Brij";
int age = 32;
string blog = "https://codewala.net/";

(authorname, age, blog) = GetAuthor();
Console.WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {authorname}, Age: {age}, BlogURL : {blog ?? "URL not available" } ");			

Now it may happen that you are not sure about all the elements or want to discard few , you can use underscore (_) as

var (authorname, age, _) = GetAuthor();
Console.WriteLine($"Author Details: Name: {authorname}, Age: {age}");

Last thing, as we have now System.Tuple and System.ValueTuple both, ValueTuple provide a nice extension method as ToTuple() to convert it to System.Tuple.

C# 7.1 Enhancements: 

There are a small enhancement in C# 7.1 which can save few keystrokes as now elements names are inferred from the variables. Let’s see the example

// Earlier
string name = "Brij";
int age = 32;
string blog = "https://codewala.net/";
var author = (name: name, age: age, blog: blog);

// With C# 7.1 
string name = "Brij";
int age = 32;
string blog = "https://codewala.net/";
var author = (name, age, blog); // Element names would be - name, age, blog

Hope you have enjoyed this post and will be able to use in your day to day coding.

Cheers,
Brij