Brian Keller

Director of ALM Evangelism for Microsoft

C# 'that' keyword

C# 'that' keyword

  • Comments 22

My younger brother, Danny, is doing the same graduate program that I did at the University of Florida. Recently he was given a pop quiz from one of my favorite professors where he was asked to describe what the that keyword does in C#. I must admit - I was also initially stumped because I didn't expect it to be a trick question... I figured maybe, since I focus on J#, I just hadn't encountered the C# keyword (perhaps it was part of C# 2.0 and I hadn't noticed). Ok, ok, so really I have no good excuse...

But my question for the readers of my blog: If there was a that keyword for C#, what would it be used for? Accepting all answers, real or absurd. I'll post the best ones here. BrianKel at Microsoft dot com. Who knows, maybe I'll ask Dan to champion the best responses with Anders to consider for C# 3.0? :-)

  • I can't think of a logical reason to add it, it would be superfluous and long winded.

    What would you use it for?

    My only idea would be this:

    foreach (MyType a that IBlarg in myCollection)
    //and get just the MyType's that support IBlarg as MyType?

    Which, to be honest, is awful and just lazy but it would save on an if statement... It would let you pull out a set of items that support a particular interface or inherit something.

    I certainly wouldn't WANT it or not want it, but I wouldn't be averse to using it if it was doing something timesaving.
  • "that" keyword in C# ? :S

    I never heard of this...what it can refer to to? which instance? :-)
  • Three initial thoughts:

    "that" could be used as a keyword in a with statement.

    public int ThatExample<T>(T x, T y) {
    with(System.Collections.Comparer<int>.Default) {
    if(that.Compare(x, y) > 0) {
    return that.GetHashCode(x);
    else {
    return that.GetHashCode(y);

    This usage doesn't really gain you anything over declaring a variable called "that", except for the implicit typing of "that". However, Anders has already discussed a possible solution to this problem (var).

    My second idea for "that" is an implied variable referring to the return value of a function, similar to VB's ability to refer to the return value by the method's name (although it'd be much more concise that repeating the method name over and over).

    Example (same method as above, but using a different definition of "that")

    public int ThatExample<T>(T x, T, y) {
    IComparer<T> comparer = Comparer<T>.Default;
    if(comparer.Compare(x, y) > 0) {
    that = comparer.GetHashCode(x);
    else {
    that = comparer.GetHashCode(y);

    I think this (errr...that) could be more useful. It is often nice in VB to be able refer to the return value directly without declaring a variable. This would be especially useful in factory methods that need to create an object, set lots of properties, call lots of methods, and return the new object. In this case, "that" is also implicitly typed to the return type of the method.

    My third idea involves double virtual dispatch, but I cannot come up with a good example or syntax. Besides, I'm not sure how easily double-dispatch could be implemented in C# and/or the CLR.
  • It's part of the debugger support in the CLR. When debugging a problem you can't track down you may well see references to


    where the that keyword refers to the actual object you should be using, instead of the one you mistakenly codeded.
  • The that Keyword, yes its in the same namespace as the SoWhatIf condition isnt it ?
  • it sounds to me as equivalent of VB.NET "My" keyword ;)
  • Never heard of the 'that' keyword, but wouldn't it just be fun if it was the C# term for 'My'. After all 'this' is this and 'that' would obviously be that.


  • The 'that' keyword is an implicit reference to a copy of the 'this' object that is used when making deep copies (via .Clone() or an equivalent). So if you wanted to deep copy an object like:
    class X : ICloneable {
    private SomeOtherDeepCopyableClass data;

    public override object Clone() {;

    Note that 'that' is enabled by the "UsesCopy" attribute and is implicitly returned if no other return statement is encountered.
  • int i that playsgolf();

    I don't know what it could do, but an integer that played golf could prove to be entertaining--at least for a few seconds.
  • The that keyword is short hand for what is on the left hand side of the equals sign, a = that + b. It gets mildly confusing when you have a boolean expression a == b + that == c + that. The first that is equal to a and the second that is equal to b + a.
  • I think it would be perfect for any binary operator overloading. Now you dont have to two arguments. You will endup referencing it implicitly.

    this.ID == that.ID ..

    Also, it can probably be used in AOP (if .NET supports it v5.0 ;)) to provide modification semantics (deleted, inserted) similar to SQL triggers.
  • Could be useful in operator overloading. Binary operators. People often use a variable "rhs" or something. "that" could be used to make it implicit.
  • Maybe testing object equality? I don't mean the values in the object A match the values in object B, I mean A and B point to the same object in memory. Maybe syntax like:
    if(A is that B){...}
  • you'd add a With keyword essentially equivalent to VB's version, and within the With block, "that" would refer to would refer to the with'd object so that you can pass it to other methods.

    For example:

    with new Foo()
    WhateverProperty = "property";
    IntProperty = 1;

    //call Whatever with the Foo we just made
    //before calling entering the block

  • it sounds like a VB.NET "My" equivalent,
    and please dont't refer to Dan ;)
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