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Understanding Classes and Objects the C# Way

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This chapter teaches the basics of both object-oriented and component-oriented programming, moving on to creating a class in C# and examining how it fulfills the goals of object-oriented and component-oriented programming.
This chapter is from the book

A class is the fundamental programming concept in C#, defining both representation and behavior in a single unit. Classes provide the language support required for object-oriented and component-oriented programming and are the primary mechanism you use to create user-defined types. Traditionally, object-oriented programming languages have used the term "type" to refer to behavior, whereas value-oriented programming languages have used it to refer to data representation. In C#, it is used to mean both data representation and behavior. This is the basis of the common type system and means two types are assignment-compatible if, and only if, they have compatible representations and behaviors.

In this hour, you learn the basics of both object-oriented and component-oriented programming. When you understand these concepts, you move on to creating a class in C# and examining how it fulfills the goals of object-oriented and component-oriented programming. You learn about the different accessibility models, how to create and use properties and methods, and about optional and named parameters.

Object-Oriented Programming

Before we start talking about classes in detail, you need to understand the benefits of object-oriented programming and understand how it relates to C#. Object-oriented programming helps you think about the problem you want to solve and gives you a way to represent, or model, that problem in your code. If you do a good job modeling the problem, you end up with code that's easy to maintain, easy to understand, and easy to extend.

As previously mentioned, classes are the fundamental programming concept in C#, defining both representation and behavior in a single unit. Put another way, a class is a data structure that combines data storage with methods for manipulating that data. Classes are simply another data type that becomes available to you in much the same way any of the predefined types are available to you. Classes provide the primary mechanism you use to create user-defined types.

The four primary concepts of object-oriented programming are encapsulation, abstraction, inheritance, and polymorphism. In this hour, you learn about encapsulation and abstraction. In the next hour, you learn about inheritance and polymorphism.

Encapsulation and Abstraction

Encapsulation enables a class to hide the internal implementation details and to protect itself from unwanted changes that would result in an invalid or inconsistent internal state. For that reason, encapsulation is also sometimes referred to as data hiding.

As an example of encapsulation at work, think about your car. You start your car in the morning by inserting a key and turning it (or simply pushing a button, in some cases). The details of what happens when you turn the key (or push the button) that actually causes the engine to start running are hidden from you. You don't need to know about them to start the car. It also means you can't influence or change the internal state of the engine except by turning the ignition key.

By hiding the internal details and data, you create a public interface or abstraction representing the external details of a class. This abstraction describes what actions the class can perform and what information the class makes publicly available. As long as the public interface does not change, the internal details can change in any way required without having an adverse affect on other classes or code that depends on it.

By keeping the public interface of a class small and by providing a high degree of fidelity between your class and the real-world object it represents, you help ensure that your class will be familiar to other programmers who need to use it.

Let's look at our car example again. By encapsulating the details of what happens when you start your car and providing an action, StartCar, and information, such as IsCarStarted, we have defined a public interface, thereby creating an abstraction (or at least a partial abstraction, because cars do much more than just start) of a car.

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