.net - What is the difference between const and readonly in C#?

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Top 5 Answer for .net - What is the difference between const and readonly in C#?

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90

Apart from the apparent difference of

  • having to declare the value at the time of a definition for a const VS readonly values can be computed dynamically but need to be assigned before the constructor exits.. after that it is frozen.
  • const's are implicitly static. You use a ClassName.ConstantName notation to access them.

There is a subtle difference. Consider a class defined in AssemblyA.

public class Const_V_Readonly {   public const int I_CONST_VALUE = 2;   public readonly int I_RO_VALUE;   public Const_V_Readonly()   {      I_RO_VALUE = 3;   } } 

AssemblyB references AssemblyA and uses these values in code. When this is compiled:

  • in the case of the const value, it is like a find-replace. The value 2 is 'baked into' the AssemblyB's IL. This means that if tomorrow I update I_CONST_VALUE to 20, AssemblyB would still have 2 till I recompile it.
  • in the case of the readonly value, it is like a ref to a memory location. The value is not baked into AssemblyB's IL. This means that if the memory location is updated, AssemblyB gets the new value without recompilation. So if I_RO_VALUE is updated to 30, you only need to build AssemblyA and all clients do not need to be recompiled.

So if you are confident that the value of the constant won't change, use a const.

public const int CM_IN_A_METER = 100; 

But if you have a constant that may change (e.g. w.r.t. precision).. or when in doubt, use a readonly.

public readonly float PI = 3.14; 

Update: Aku needs to get a mention because he pointed this out first. Also I need to plug where I learned this: Effective C# - Bill Wagner

vote vote

84

There is a gotcha with consts! If you reference a constant from another assembly, its value will be compiled right into the calling assembly. That way when you update the constant in the referenced assembly it won't change in the calling assembly!

vote vote

70

Constants

  • Constants are static by default
  • They must have a value at compilation-time (you can have e.g. 3.14 * 2, but cannot call methods)
  • Could be declared within functions
  • Are copied into every assembly that uses them (every assembly gets a local copy of values)
  • Can be used in attributes

Readonly instance fields

  • Must have set value, by the time constructor exits
  • Are evaluated when instance is created

Static readonly fields

  • Are evaluated when code execution hits class reference (when new instance is created or a static method is executed)
  • Must have an evaluated value by the time the static constructor is done
  • It's not recommended to put ThreadStaticAttribute on these (static constructors will be executed in one thread only and will set the value for its thread; all other threads will have this value uninitialized)
vote vote

62

Just to add, readonly for reference types only makes the reference read only not the values. For example:

public class Const_V_Readonly {   public const int I_CONST_VALUE = 2;   public readonly char[] I_RO_VALUE = new Char[]{'a', 'b', 'c'};    public UpdateReadonly()   {      I_RO_VALUE[0] = 'V'; //perfectly legal and will update the value      I_RO_VALUE = new char[]{'V'}; //will cause compiler error   } } 
vote vote

51

This explains it. Summary: const must be initialized at declaration time, readonly can be initialized on the constructor (and thus have a different value depending on the constructor used).

EDIT: See Gishu's gotcha above for the subtle difference

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