C# Yield Return Statement

C# Yield Return Statement

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In this week's newsletter I want to talk about the yield keyword in C#. I think it's a powerful C# feature and I wanted to highlight the benefits.

The yield keyword tells the compiler that the method in which it appears is an iterator block. An iterator block, or method, returns an IEnumerable as the result. And the yield keyword is used to return the values for the IEnumerable.

An interesting thing aboug IEnumerable is that it is lazily evaluted. Calling a method with an iterator block doesn't run any code. It's only when the IEnumerable is iterated over, or enumerated, that we get the actual values. I'll talk about this more later.

Let's see how we can start using the yield keyword!

How To Use The Yield Keyword

The yield keyword on it's own doesn't do anything, you have to combine it with the return or break statement:

  • yield return - provides the next value of the iterator
  • yield-break - signals the end of iteration

In every project I worked on, there's a piece of code similar to the following. You create a list to hold the results, add elements to the list, and return the list in the end.

var engineers = GetSoftwareEngineers();

public IEnumerable<SoftwareEngineer> GetSoftwareEngineers()
{
    var result = new List<SoftwareEngineer>();

    for(var i = 0; i < 10; i++)
    {
        result.Add(new SoftwareEngineer
        {
            Id = i
        });
    }

    return result;
}

You can simplify the method using the yield return statement, and completely remove the intermediate list required to hold the results.

var engineers = GetSoftwareEngineers();

public IEnumerable<SoftwareEngineer> GetSoftwareEngineers()
{
    for(var i = 0; i < 10; i++)
    {
        yield return new SoftwareEngineer
        {
            Id = i
        };
    }
}

However, it's important to note these two implementation are fundamentally different from each other. In the first example, the entire list is populated and materialized. In the second example, the IEnumerable returned will not be materialized and you have to either iterate over it inside a foreach loop or call ToList().

Stopping Iteration With Yield Break

You can use the yield break statement to stop iteration and exit the iterator block. Typically you would do this when a certain condition is met, or you only want to return a specific set of values from the iterator block.

Here's an example where this would be useful:

Console.WriteLine(string.Join(", ", TakeWhilePositive(new[] { 1, 2, -3, 4 })));
// Output: 1, 2

public IEnumerable<int> TakeWhilePositive(IEnumerable<int> numbers)
{
    foreach(int num in numbers)
    {
        if (num > 0)
        {
            yield return num;
        }
        else
        {
            yield break;
        }
    }
}

Working With IAsyncEnumerable

In C# 8 we got the IAsyncEnumerable type which allows us to iterate over a collection asynchronously with the yield statement.

For example, this can be useful when you want to call a thid-party API multiple times to fetch some data. A common situation is when you get a list of users from the database, and then have to call an external storage service to get profile picture information.

Without IAsyncEnumerable you would have to do something like this:

public async Task<IEnumerable<User>> GetUsersAsync()
{
    var users = await GetUsersFromDbAsync();

    foreach(var user in users)
    {
        user.ProfileImage = await GetProfileImageAsync(user.Id);
    }

    return users;
}

// And you would call the method like this.
var users = await GetUsersAsync();

foreach(var user in users)
{
    Console.WriteLine(user);
}

Now, consider this same example with the use of IAsyncEnumerable:

public async IAsyncEnumerable<User> GetUsersAsync()
{
    var users = await GetUsersFromDbAsync();

    foreach(var user in users)
    {
        user.ProfileImage = await GetProfileImageAsync(user.Id);

        yield return user;
    }
}

// And you would call the method like this.
await foreach(var user in GetUsersAsync())
{
    Console.WriteLine(user);
}

The second implementation will iterate over the users returned from the database when they are yielded by the IAsyncEnumerable.

When Should I Use Yield?

I've found a few interesting practical applications for the yield keyword. One example is when implementing Domain-Driven Design value objects.

Value objects need to support structural equality. They need to implement a method that returns all of the equality components. Here's an example of that using the yield return statement:

public class Address
{
    public string City { get; init; }

    public string Street { get; init; }

    public string Zip { get; init; }

    public string Country { get; init; }

    public IEnumerable<object> GetEqualityComponents()
    {
        yield return City;
        yield return Street;
        yield return Zip;
        yield return Country;
    }
}

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