Generic method return types

Generics don’t just have to be used at the class level. You can also use them to pass type information to methods.

My favourite example of this is having a generic return type so you can get strongly typed information from a generally useful method without having to cast the result. I first saw this when using ArtOfTest to write unit tests for webpages. Their API hads a nice feature where you can specify the type of element you’re looking for when querying the webpage’s DOM.

The type place holder is declared after the method name and then can be used in the same way you’d use a type place holder declared for a whole class:

public static T MethodName() where T : constraints
    // do stuff
    return (T) result;

Then to call the method, you pass the real type in angled brackets after the method name:

int i = MyClass.MethodName();

For a real example here’s some code to grab a strongly typed value from the web.config file:

public class Config
    public static T GetValue(string key, T defaultValue) where T : struct
        if (ConfigurationManager.AppSettings[key] != null)
            Type type = typeof(T);
            MethodInfo parse = type.GetMethod("Parse", new Type[] { typeof(string) });
            if (parse != null)
                return (T)parse.Invoke(null, new object[] { ConfigurationManager.AppSettings[key] });
        return defaultValue;

    public static T GetValue(string key) where T : struct
        return GetValue(key, default(T));

The code that uses it would look something like this

int myValue = Config.GetValue("intValue");
Posted on 05 May 08 by Helen Emerson (last updated on 05 May 08).
Filed under .NET