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New Features in VB.NET Whidbey, Part 1

by Wei-Meng Lee, author of Windows XP Unwired
04/26/2004

Microsoft recently released the Community Preview of the next Visual Studio .NET (codenamed Whidbey) With so many changes in the pipeline (many of which are improvements to the current .NET 1.1 way of doing things), developers would do well to get their learning engines up and running early so that they can be well-oiled when Microsoft finally launches Visual Studio .NET 2005. One of the enhancements in Whidbey is the new improved VB.NET language. Based on feedback on VB.NET, Microsoft has added some new features to the language. In this article, I will walk you through some of the enhancements in VB.NET. In the next article, I will focus on one of the new enhancements to .NET languages: generics.

Unsigned Types

VB.NET Whidbey introduces three new unsigned data types, UInteger, ULong, and UShort, which take up four, eight, and two bytes, respectively. They are useful in situations where you do not have the need to store negative numbers, and hence can use unsigned data types to save on storage. For example, UInteger is four bytes, so instead of using Long, which is eight bytes, you can store positive numbers (up to a maximum of 4,294,967,295).

The following shows the comparison between an unsigned integer versus an Integer data type:

Dim UInt As UInteger
Dim int As Integer

int = -2147483648  ' minimum value
int = 2147483647   ' maximum value

UInt = -1          ' not allowed
UInt = 0           ' minimum value
UInt = 4294967295  ' maximum value

Partial Class

Instead of defining a class in a single file, you now have the option to split the class definition into multiple files. This is useful if you need to hide some sensitive information within a class definition. For example, the Windows Form Designer uses partial classes for controls such as Form, so that it can hide the InitializeComponent procedure. Since the user should never modify the sensitive code in a procedure, it is much safer for the InitializeComponent procedure to be defined in another location.

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The following example illustrates the use of the Partial keyword:

' defined in file1
Public Class Point
  Dim pX, pY As Single

  Property x()
    Get
      Return pX
    End Get
    Set(ByVal value)
      pX = value
    End Set
  End Property
  Property y()
    Get
      Return pY
    End Get
    Set(ByVal value)
      pY = value
    End Set
  End Property
End Class

' defined in file2
Partial Public Class Point
  Public Function getDistanceFromO() As Single
    Return Math.Sqrt(pX ^ 2 + pY ^ 2)
  End Function
End Class

VB.NET simply combines the two definitions into one, and it is transparent to the user:

Dim ptA As New Point
ptA.x = 3
ptA.y = 4
MsgBox(ptA.getDistanceFromO())

Note that the Partial keyword applies also to structures.

Operator Overloading

Another new feature in VB.NET is operator overloading. For example, the + operator can be overloaded to add other data types, besides adding numbers and concatenating strings. In the following example, I have overloaded the + operator to add the lengths of two Point objects:

Public Class Point
  Public Shared Operator +(ByVal pointA As Point, _
                           ByVal pointB As Point) _
                           As Single
    Return (pointA.getDistanceFromO + _
            pointB.getDistanceFromO)
  End Operator
End Class

So, I could essentially do this:

Dim ptA As New Point
Dim ptB As New Point

ptA.x = 3
ptA.y = 4

ptB.x = 4
ptB.y = 5

MsgBox(ptA + ptB)   ' returns 11.40312

The IsNot Operator

The IsNot operator is a new keyword that has been added to VB.NET. Instead of using the sometimes awkward combination of the Is and Not operators to compare the equality (or inequality) of two objects, it is much more natural to combine the two into one, as the following example illustrates:

Dim ds As New DataSet

' sounds awkward
If Not ds Is Nothing Then
  MsgBox("ds contains a reference")
End If

' sounds better!
If ds IsNot Nothing Then
  MsgBox("ds contains a reference")
End If

Default Instances

VB6 programmers who migrated to VB.NET often lament at the need to create an instance of a form before they can display the form. In VB.NET, you need to do the following when opening another form:

'---uses another instance of it
Dim frm2 As New Form2

frm2.Show()

In VB.NET Whidbey, there is no need to create an instance of another form before you can display it. You can open it directly (just as you can in VB6) using its default instance:

  '---default instance
  Form2.Show()   ' uses the default instance

Of course, if you wish to create additional instances of Form2, you can use the former method.

The Continue Statement

The new Continue statement allows you to skip to the next iteration in a loop. For example, the following will sum up all of the odd numbers from 0 to 10:

'---continue statement
Dim counter, sum As Short
sum = 0
For counter = 0 To 10
  If counter Mod 2 = 0 Then Continue For
  sum += counter
Next

The Continue keyword works for the Do, For, and While looping constructs.

Explicit Zero Lower Bound on an Array

Another new keyword in VB.NET is To. For example:

'---new "To" keyword
Dim num(5) As Integer
Dim num(0 To 5) As Integer ' same as above

The To keyword serves cosmetic purposes only; it does not allow you to change the lower bound of an array:

Dim num1(1 to 5) as Integer   ' not allowed

Using the To keyword helps to make your code more readable; beginning VB.NET programmers (especially C++ and Java programmers) often did not realize that the number of array members is always one more than the index specified in the array declaration.

The Using Block

Often you need to create and use some resources and then immediately release the resources so that memory can be conserved. VB.NET Whidbey comes with a new construct known as Using ... End Using. The Using construct guarantees that the resources defined within the Using block will be disposed of after the block:

Public Sub DataAccess(ByVal str As String)

  Using conn As New SqlConnection(str)
    Dim ds As DataSet
    '---some code to perform data access
  End Using

  ds = Nothing  '---not allowed as ds is 
  ' defined within the using block

End Sub

The My Object

VB.NET Whidbey provides the new My object that encapsulates some of the most common functionality that developers need in their daily work. The My object exposes several different objects, as shown in Figure 1. Note that at this moment, some of the objects exposed by the My object are not yet finalized, and are subject to changes.


Figure 1. Using the My object

The aim of the My object is to provide a quick way for developers to access information they need about their computer/application without needing to create an instance of an class. (It also serves as a one-stop shop for locating all of the relevant classes.) For example, the following example shows how I can check to see if my computer is connected to a network, and if it is, print out the IP address straightaway:

If My.Computer.Network.IsConnected Then
  MsgBox(My.Computer.Network.IPAddress)
End If

I can also check the current UI culture of my application, which is needed for localization:

MsgBox(My.Application.Culture.CurrentUICulture)

Summary

I hope that you now have a good idea of some of the language enhancements that will ship with Visual Basic .NET Whidbey. In the next article, I will discuss the next big enhancements to VB.NET: generics.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) http://weimenglee.blogspot.com is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions http://www.developerlearningsolutions.com, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.


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