Why is the 'this' keyword required to call an extension method from within the extended class

0 votes
asked Aug 18, 2010 by m4n

I have created an extension method for an ASP.NET MVC ViewPage, e.g:

public static class ViewExtensions
{
    public static string Method<T>(this ViewPage<T> page) where T : class
    {
        return "something";
    }
}

When calling this method from a View (deriving from ViewPage), I get the error "CS0103: The name 'Method' does not exist in the current context" unless I use the this keyword to call it:

<%: Method() %> <!-- gives error CS0103 -->
<%: this.Method() %> <!-- works -->

Why is the this keyword required? Or does it work without it, but I'm missing something?

(I think there must be a duplicate of this question, but I was not able find one)

Update:

As Ben Robinson says, the syntax to call extension methods is just compiler sugar. Then why can't the compiler automatically check the for extension methods of the current type's base types without requiring the this keyword?

6 Answers

0 votes
answered Aug 18, 2010 by ferruccio

Without it the compiler just sees it as a static method in a static class which takes page as it's first parameter. i.e.

// without 'this'
string s = ViewExtensions.Method(page);

vs.

// with 'this'
string s = page.Method();
0 votes
answered Aug 18, 2010 by ben-robinson

Because the extension method does not exist with the ViewPage class. You need to tell the compiler what you are calling the extension method on. Remember this.Method() is just compiler sugar for ViewExtensions.Method(this). It is the same way you can't just call an extention method within the middle of any class by the method name.

0 votes
answered Aug 18, 2010 by stakx

It's important to note that there are differences between extension methods and regular methods. I think you've just come across one of them.

I'll give you an example of another difference: It's fairly easy to call an extension method on a null object reference. Fortunately, this is much more difficult to do with regular methods. (But it can be done. IIRC, Jon Skeet demonstrated how to do this by manipulating CIL code.)

static void ExtensionMethod(this object obj) { ... }

object nullObj = null;
nullObj.ExtensionMethod();  // will succeed without a NullReferenceException!

That being said, I agree that it seems a little unlogical that this is required to call the extension method. After all, an extension method should ideally "feel" and behave just like a normal one.

But in reality, extension methods are more like syntactic sugar added on top of the existing language than an early core feature that fits nicely into the language in all respects.

0 votes
answered Aug 18, 2010 by alex-humphrey

On instance methods, 'this' is implicitly passed to each method transparently, so you can access all the members it provides.

Extension methods are static. By calling Method() rather than this.Method() or Method(this), you're not telling the compiler what to pass to the method.

You might say 'why doesn't it just realise what the calling object is and pass that as a parameter?'

The answer is that extension methods are static and can be called from a static context, where there is no 'this'.

I guess they could check for that during compilation, but to be honest, it's probably a lot of work for extremely little payoff. And to be honest, I see little benefit in taking away some of the explicitness of extension method calls. The fact that they can be mistaken for instance methods means that they can be quite unintuitive at times (NullReferenceExceptions not being thrown for example). I sometimes think that they should have introduced a new 'pipe-forward' style operator for extension methods.

0 votes
answered Aug 18, 2010 by eric-lippert

A couple points:

First off, the proposed feature (implicit "this." on an extension method call) is unnecessary. Extension methods were necessary for LINQ query comprehensions to work the way we wanted; the receiver is always stated in the query so it is not necessary to support implicit this to make LINQ work.

Second, the feature works against the more general design of extension methods: namely, that extension methods allow you to extend a type that you cannot extend yourself, either because it is an interface and you don't know the implementation, or because you do know the implementation but do not have the source code.

If you are in the scenario where you are using an extension method for a type within that type then you do have access to the source code. Why are you using an extension method in the first place then? You can write an instance method yourself if you have access to the source code of the extended type, and then you don't have to use an extension method at all! Your implementation can then take advantage of having access to the private state of the object, which extension methods cannot.

Making it easier to use extension methods from within a type that you have access to is encouraging the use of extension methods over instance methods. Extension methods are great, but it is usually better to use an instance method if you have one.

Given those two points, the burden no longer falls on the language designer to explain why the feature does not exist. It now falls on you to explain why it should. Features have enormous costs associated with them. This feature is not necessary and works against the stated design goals of extension methods; why should we take on the cost of implementing it? Explain what compelling, important scenario is enabled by this feature and we'll consider implementing it in the future. I don't see any compelling, important scenario that justifies it, but perhaps there is one that I've missed.

0 votes
answered Sep 15, 2017 by reyn

I am working on a fluent API and ran into the same issue. Even though I have access to the class I'm extending I still wanted the logic of each of the fluent methods to be in their own files. The "this" keyword was very unintuitive, users kept thinking the method was missing. What I did was make my class a partial class that implemented the methods I needed instead of using extension methods. I saw no mention of partials in the answers. If you have this question partials might be a better option.

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