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# Wednesday, 08 January 2014

Dealing recently with some task, we were in a position to use a weak dictionary in the .NET. Instinctively we assumed that it should exist somewhere in the standard library. We definitely knew that there is a WeakReference class to for a single instance. We also knew that there is WeakHashMap in java, and that it's based on java's WeakReference.

So, we were surprised to find that there is no such thing out of the box in .NET.

We have found that java's and .NET's weak references are different. In java weak references whose targets are GCed can be automatically put into a queue, which can be used to build clean up logic to remove dead keys from weak hash map. There is nothing similar in .NET, where weak reference just silently loses it's value.

Internet is full with custom implementations of weak dictionaries in .NET.

.NET 4.5 finally defines a class ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue>, which solves the problem in case when you need to match keys by instance identity.

Unfortunately in our case we needed to match keys using key's GetHashCode() and Equals(). So, ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue> did not directly work, but then we found a way to make it work for us.

Here is a quote from the definition:

A ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue> object is a dictionary that binds a managed object, which is represented by a key, to its attached property, which is represented by a value. The object's keys are the individual instances of the TKey class to which the property is attached, and its values are the property values that are assigned to the corresponding objects.

...in the ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue> class, adding a key/value pair to the table does not ensure that the key will persist, even if it can be reached directly from a value stored in the table... Instead, ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue> automatically removes the key/value entry as soon as no other references to a key exist outside the table.

This property of ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue> has helped us to build a way to get a notification when the key is being finalized, which is the missed ingredient in .NET's weak references.

Assume you have an instance key of type Key. To get a notification you should define a class Finalizer that will call some handler when it's finalized, and you should bind key and a finalizer instance using weak table.

The code looks like this:

public class Finalizer<K>
  where K: class
{
  public static void Bind(K key, Action<K> handler)
  {
    var finalizer = table.GetValue(key, k => new Finalizer<K> { key = k });

    finalizer.Handler += handler;
  }

  public static void Unbind(K key, Action<K> handler)
  {
    Finalizer finalizer;

    if (table.TryGetValue(key, out finalizer))
    {
      finalizer.Handler -= handler;
    }
  }

  ~Finalizer()
  {
    var handler = Handler;

    if (handler != null)
    {
      handler(key);
    }
  }

  private event Action<K> Handler;
  private K key;

  private static readonly ConditionalWeakTable<K, Finalizer> table =
    new ConditionalWeakTable<K, Finalizer>();
}


Key key = ...

Finalizer.Bind(key, k => { /* clean up. */ });

Using this approach we have created a class WeakTable<K, V> modeled after ConditionalWeakTable<TKey, TValue>.

So, this is our take in the problem: WeakTable.cs.

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 21:57:16 UTC  #    Comments [0] -
.NET | Java | Thinking aloud | Tips and tricks
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