Visual Basic

Using Collections to Extend the Type System

You can also extend the type system ("type" meaning mere data at this point). At TMS, we often use a Collection object to represent objects that are entirely entities of state; that is, they have no methods. (You cannot append a method to a collection.) See Chapter 1 for more on building type-safe versions of Visual Basic's intrinsic types (called Smarties).

Dim KindaForm As New Collection
  Const pHeight As String = "1"
  Const pWidth  As String = "2"
  Const pName   As String = "3"
  ' ...
  With KindaForm
      .Add Key:=pHeight, Item:=Me.Height
      .Add Key:=pWidth, Item:=Me.Width
      .Add Key:=pName, Item:=Me.Name
  End With
  ' ...
  With KindaForm
      Print .Item(pHeight)
      Print .Item(pWidth)
      Print .Item(pName)
  End With

Here we have an object named KindaForm that has the "properties" pHeight, pWidth, and pName. In other words, an existing Visual Basic type (with both properties and method) is being used to create a generic state-only object. If you're using classes to do this, you might want to consider using Collection objects as shown here instead.

You can add functional members to a Collection object with just one level of indirection by adding an object variable to the collection that is set to point to an object that has the necessary functionality defined in it. Such methods can act on the state in the other members of the collection.

So what's the difference between using a collection and creating a user-defined type (UDT)? Well, a collection is more flexible (not always an advantage) and has support for constructs such as For Each:

  For Each v In KindaForm
      Print v

The advantage of UDTs is that they have a known mapping. For example, they can be used as parameters to APIs, sent around a network and passed between mainframe and PC systems-they are just byte arrays. (See Chapter 4 for more on UDTs-they're one of Jon Burns's favorite things!) Obviously, a state-only Collection object doesn't mean much to a mainframe system, and passing KindaForm as "the thing" itself will result in your only passing an object pointer to a system that cannot interpret it. (Even if it could, the object would not be available because it's not transmitted with its address.)