No covariance for value type

For a while now I’ve been wondering why C#’s support for covariance does not cover value types, both in normal array covariance and covariance in the generic parameter introduced in C# 4:

   1: void Main()

   2: {

   3:     int i = 0;

   4:     string str = "hello world";

   5:     

   6:     TestMethod(i);       // legal

   7:     TestMethod(str);     // legal

   8:     TestMethod2(Enumerable.Empty<int>());           // illegal

   9:     TestMethod2(Enumerable.Empty<string>());        // legal

  10:     

  11:     Console.WriteLine(i is object);                 // true

  12:     Console.WriteLine(new int[0] is object[]);      // false

  13:     Console.WriteLine(new string[0] is object[]);   // true

  14:     Console.WriteLine(new uint[0] is int[]);        // false

  15: }

  16:  

  17: public void TestMethod(object obj)

  18: {

  19:     Console.WriteLine(obj);

  20: }

  21:  

  22: public void TestMethod2(IEnumerable<object> objs)

  23: {

  24:     Console.WriteLine(objs.Count());

  25: }

Until I stumbled upon this old post by Eric Lippert on the topic of array covariance, which essentially points to a disagreement in the C# and CLI specification on the rule of array covariance:

CLI

"if X is assignment compatible with Y then X[] is assignment compatible with Y[]"

C#

"if X is a reference type implicitly convertible to reference type Y then X[] is implicitly convertible to Y[]"

Whilst this doesn’t directly point to the generics case with IEnumerable<out T>, one would expect they are one and the same, otherwise you end up with different rules for int[] and IEnumerable<int> where (new int[0] is IEnumerable<int>) == true.. now that would be weird!

References:

Eric Lippert – Why is covariance of value-typed arrays inconsistent?

Question on StackOverflow – why does my C# array lose type sign information when cast to object?

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Yan Cui

I’m an AWS Serverless Hero and the author of Production-Ready Serverless. I have run production workload at scale in AWS for nearly 10 years and I have been an architect or principal engineer with a variety of industries ranging from banking, e-commerce, sports streaming to mobile gaming. I currently work as an independent consultant focused on AWS and serverless.

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