Create Generic method constraining T to an Enum [c#]


I'm late to the game, but I took it as a challenge to see how it could be done. It's not possible in C# (or VB.NET, but scroll down for F#), but is possible in MSIL. I wrote this little....thing

// license:
.assembly MyThing{}
.class public abstract sealed MyThing.Thing
       extends [mscorlib]System.Object
  .method public static !!T  GetEnumFromString<valuetype .ctor ([mscorlib]System.Enum) T>(string strValue,
                                                                                          !!T defaultValue) cil managed
    .maxstack  2
    .locals init ([0] !!T temp,
                  [1] !!T return_value,
                  [2] class [mscorlib]System.Collections.IEnumerator enumerator,
                  [3] class [mscorlib]System.IDisposable disposer)
    // if(string.IsNullOrEmpty(strValue)) return defaultValue;
    ldarg strValue
    call bool [mscorlib]System.String::IsNullOrEmpty(string)
    brfalse.s HASVALUE
    br RETURNDEF         // return default it empty

    // foreach (T item in Enum.GetValues(typeof(T)))
    // Enum.GetValues.GetEnumerator()
    ldtoken !!T
    call class [mscorlib]System.Type [mscorlib]System.Type::GetTypeFromHandle(valuetype [mscorlib]System.RuntimeTypeHandle)
    call class [mscorlib]System.Array [mscorlib]System.Enum::GetValues(class [mscorlib]System.Type)
    callvirt instance class [mscorlib]System.Collections.IEnumerator [mscorlib]System.Array::GetEnumerator() 
    stloc enumerator
        ldloc enumerator
        callvirt instance bool [mscorlib]System.Collections.IEnumerator::MoveNext()
        brfalse.s LEAVE

        // T item = (T)Enumerator.Current
        ldloc enumerator
        callvirt instance object [mscorlib]System.Collections.IEnumerator::get_Current()
        unbox.any !!T
        stloc temp
        ldloca.s temp
        constrained. !!T

        // if (item.ToString().ToLower().Equals(value.Trim().ToLower())) return item;
        callvirt instance string [mscorlib]System.Object::ToString()
        callvirt instance string [mscorlib]System.String::ToLower()
        ldarg strValue
        callvirt instance string [mscorlib]System.String::Trim()
        callvirt instance string [mscorlib]System.String::ToLower()
        callvirt instance bool [mscorlib]System.String::Equals(string)
        brfalse.s CONDITION
        ldloc temp
        stloc return_value
        leave.s RETURNVAL

        leave.s RETURNDEF
        // ArrayList's Enumerator may or may not inherit from IDisposable
        ldloc enumerator
        isinst [mscorlib]System.IDisposable
        stloc.s disposer
        ldloc.s disposer
        brtrue.s LEAVEFINALLY
        ldloc.s disposer
        callvirt instance void [mscorlib]System.IDisposable::Dispose()

    ldarg defaultValue
    stloc return_value

    ldloc return_value

Which generates a function that would look like this, if it were valid C#:

T GetEnumFromString<T>(string valueString, T defaultValue) where T : Enum

Then with the following C# code:

using MyThing;
// stuff...
private enum MyEnum { Yes, No, Okay }
static void Main(string[] args)
    Thing.GetEnumFromString("No", MyEnum.Yes); // returns MyEnum.No
    Thing.GetEnumFromString("Invalid", MyEnum.Okay);  // returns MyEnum.Okay
    Thing.GetEnumFromString("AnotherInvalid", 0); // compiler error, not an Enum

Unfortunately, this means having this part of your code written in MSIL instead of C#, with the only added benefit being that you're able to constrain this method by System.Enum. It's also kind of a bummer, because it gets compiled into a separate assembly. However, it doesn't mean you have to deploy it that way.

By removing the line .assembly MyThing{} and invoking ilasm as follows:

ilasm.exe /DLL /OUTPUT=MyThing.netmodule

you get a netmodule instead of an assembly.

Unfortunately, VS2010 (and earlier, obviously) does not support adding netmodule references, which means you'd have to leave it in 2 separate assemblies when you're debugging. The only way you can add them as part of your assembly would be to run csc.exe yourself using the /addmodule:{files} command line argument. It wouldn't be too painful in an MSBuild script. Of course, if you're brave or stupid, you can run csc yourself manually each time. And it certainly gets more complicated as multiple assemblies need access to it.

So, it CAN be done in .Net. Is it worth the extra effort? Um, well, I guess I'll let you decide on that one.

F# Solution as alternative

Extra Credit: It turns out that a generic restriction on enum is possible in at least one other .NET language besides MSIL: F#.

type MyThing =
    static member GetEnumFromString<'T when 'T :> Enum> str defaultValue: 'T =
        /// protect for null (only required in interop with C#)
        let str = if isNull str then String.Empty else str

        |> Seq.cast<_>
        |> Seq.tryFind(fun v -> String.Compare(v.ToString(), str.Trim(), true) = 0)
        |> function Some x -> x | None -> defaultValue

This one is easier to maintain since it's a well-known language with full Visual Studio IDE support, but you still need a separate project in your solution for it. However, it naturally produces considerably different IL (the code is very different) and it relies on the FSharp.Core library, which, just like any other external library, needs to become part of your distribution.

Here's how you can use it (basically the same as the MSIL solution), and to show that it correctly fails on otherwise synonymous structs:

// works, result is inferred to have type StringComparison
var result = MyThing.GetEnumFromString("OrdinalIgnoreCase", StringComparison.Ordinal);
// type restriction is recognized by C#, this fails at compile time
var result = MyThing.GetEnumFromString("OrdinalIgnoreCase", 42);


I'm building a function to extend the Enum.Parse concept that

  • Allows a default value to be parsed in case that an Enum value is not found
  • Is case insensitive

So I wrote the following:

public static T GetEnumFromString<T>(string value, T defaultValue) where T : Enum
    if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(value)) return defaultValue;
    foreach (T item in Enum.GetValues(typeof(T)))
        if (item.ToString().ToLower().Equals(value.Trim().ToLower())) return item;
    return defaultValue;

I am getting a Error Constraint cannot be special class 'System.Enum'.

Fair enough, but is there a workaround to allow a Generic Enum, or am I going to have to mimic the Parse function and pass a type as an attribute, which forces the ugly boxing requirement to your code.

EDIT All suggestions below have been greatly appreciated, thanks.

Have settled on (I've left the loop to maintain case insensitivity - I am usng this when parsing XML)

public static class EnumUtils
    public static T ParseEnum<T>(string value, T defaultValue) where T : struct, IConvertible
        if (!typeof(T).IsEnum) throw new ArgumentException("T must be an enumerated type");
        if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(value)) return defaultValue;

        foreach (T item in Enum.GetValues(typeof(T)))
            if (item.ToString().ToLower().Equals(value.Trim().ToLower())) return item;
        return defaultValue;

EDIT: (16th Feb 2015) Julien Lebosquain has recently posted a compiler enforced type-safe generic solution in MSIL or F# below, which is well worth a look, and an upvote. I will remove this edit if the solution bubbles further up the page.

Matt's and Danny's answers both have half the answer. This should actually get you what you need:

public IEnumerable<T> GetValues<T>() where T : struct
    if (!typeof(T).IsEnum) throw new InvalidOperationException("Generic type argument is not a System.Enum");
    return Enum.GetValues(typeof(T)).OfType<T>(); 

Changes from Danny's answer:

  • Though having a parameter of the generic type allows for type inference, since the value is not actually used it is more proper to explicitly specify the generic type (like with the Linq methods that don't take parameters).
  • Enum.GetValues() returns an Array of Objects, which will not cast implicitly to an IEnumerable of T. The extra Linq method to cast the results (technically OfType is a filter operation but in this case it'll return everything) is necessary to conform to the return type.
  • Optional: though NotSupportedException is as good a choice as any for an exception to throw, there are other options; ArgumentException, InvalidOperationException, InvalidCastException, etc. I chose InvalidOperationException because that's what it is; an invalid attempt to get enum values from a non-enum type. This is semantic and I'm not going to argue with anyone else's logic.

it's not possible. But if you are interested in a runtime check you can do

class A<T>
            static A()
                    throw new Exception();

System.Enum as a generic type parameter with constraints

As Eric Lippert says that and I quote

ALL features are unimplemented until someone designs, specs, implements, tests, documents and ships the feature. So far, no one has done that for this one. There's no particularly unusual reason why not; we have lots of other things to do, limited budgets, and this one has never made it past the "wouldn't this be nice?" discussion in the language design team."