Sep 9, 2009

Random nerd debates

Working as an engineer means that you get involved in random nerd debates on (at least) a weekly basis.

Most of these debates are useless drivel that aren’t worth noting but occasionally a topic comes up that is worth some level of posterity. Since my blog is otherwise full of useless stuff I figure starting a series on nerd debates isn’t the worst thing I could do :) 

So episode 1 of the Random nerd debate series.

(Interestingly you will notice that SyntaxHighlighter doesn’t even understand the Class name syntax Boolean, but does understand the alias syntax)




Or int Vs. Int32 or whatever you want to call it. I am pretty sure I am in the minority here but I tend to prefer using the class name syntax Boolean Vs. the alias syntax bool. It is mostly personal preference but I think there are two key areas where the distinction makes a difference.

First when you are calling static methods that live on the class it seems weird to me to use the alias syntax.


doesn’t feel the same as


Again, I think I am in the minority here. My thought is that when you are calling methods you are doing so on the class itself. Using the alias just adds a level of indirection, albeit a minor and mostly overlooked one.

The second place where I think class name syntax gives you a true benefit is in clarity. When using the alias syntax int I have heard several people think that Int32 is simply a implementation detail and that the alias int hides that from you. So if you were compiling on x64 int would translate into Int64 instead of Int32.

This is a misconception however the int alias is simply that, an alias, or syntactic sugar for Int32. If you want Int64 you have to use the alias long. Of course you could specify Int64 explicitly using class name syntax and be done with it.

The more 64 bit programming becomes the norm I think the more we will run into some confusion. Do you use int, or double, or float, or long etc…

Interestingly the alias double maps to the class Double but the alias float maps to the class Single (have you ever seen someone use Single in their code?) In a chat with a friend about this topic his response was

“I go with shorter just from habit, but would generally defer to the team standard. i.e. it's not an issue I feel strongly about, but do feel that a decision one way or another needs to be made on a project”

Generally I agree with that statement and I think team level consistency is important. I think in most cases you will see teams using the alias and I think, in most case, this works out fine for them. All programmers can read the alias and I think that some may even be confused at first if they see the ClassName syntax and haven’t seen it before but, to me, it increases clarity and intent.

Stack Overflow had a nice thread about this very thing that I found while poking around for this post

You can find a complete list of all the built in type aliases for .NET, and their equivalent class name here

In a bit of a contradiction of style I do however use the var keyword very often. Which may sound like it reduces code clarity but there are places in which I purposely want to abstract the implementation details of the backing type from my code. But that debate is for episode 2. Stay tuned.

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