To demonstrate the power of inheritance, we’ll extend an existing class: the ArrayList class. This class comes with the Framework and is a dynamic array. (See Chapter, “Storing Data in Collections,” for a detailed description of the ArrayList class.) The ArrayList class maintains a list of objects, similar to an array, but it’s dynamic. The class we’ll develop in this section will inherit all the functionality of ArrayList, plus it will expose a custom method we’ll implement here: the EliminateDuplicates method. The project described in this section is the CustomArrayList sample project.
Let’s call the new class myArrayList. The first line in the new class must be the Inherits statement, followed by the name of the class we want to inherit, ArrayList. Start a new project, name it CustomArrayList, and add a new class to it. Name the new class myArrayList:
Code language: PHP (php)
Class myArrayList Inherits ArrayList End Class
If you don’t add a single line of code to this class, the myArrayList class will expose exactly the same functionality as the ArrayList class. If you add a public function to the class, it will become a method of the new class, in addition to the methods of ArrayList. Add the code of the EliminateDuplicates() subroutine (see Listing 7.1) to the myArrayList class; this subroutine will become a method of the new class.
Listing 7.1: EliminateDuplicates Method for the ArrayList Class
Code language: PHP (php)
Public Sub EliminateDuplicates() Dim i As Integer = 0 Dim delEntries As ArrayList While i <= MyBase.Count - 2 Dim j As Integer = i + 1 While j <= MyBase.count - 1 If MyBase.Item(i).ToString = MyBase.item(j).ToString Then MyBase.RemoveAt(j) End If j = j + 1 End While i = i + 1 End While End Sub
The code compares each item with all following items and removes any duplicates. The duplicate items are the ones whose ToString property returns the same value. You might wish to perform specific comparisons, but the ToString method will do for our demo. Notice that the code accesses the members of the ArrayList class through the MyBase keyword. MyBase is a keyword that represents the base class, from which the custom class inherits. To test the derived class, place a button on the test form and insert the code presented by Listing 7.2 in its Click event handler.
Listing 7.2: Testing the EliminateDuplicates Method
Code language: CSS (css)
Private Sub bttnTest Click(...) Handles bttnTest.Click Dim mlist As New myArrayList() mlist.Add("10") mlist.Add("A") mlist.Add("20") mlist.Add("087") mlist.Add("c") mlist.Add("A") mlist.Add("b") mlist.Add("a") mlist.Add("A") mlist.Add("87") mlist.Add(10) mlist.Add(100) mlist.Add(110) mlist.Add("1001") Console.WriteLine(mlist.GetString()) mlist.EliminateDuplicates() Console.WriteLine(mlist.GetString()) End Sub
Table 7.1 shows the contents of the ArrayList before and after the elimination of the duplicates. Notice that the second list contains the item 10 twice. One of the items is a string, and the other one is a numeric value; therefore, they’re not duplicates.
Table 7.1: The mList ArrayList before and after the Elimination of Duplicates
|Original List||After Elimination of Duplicates|
GetString (see Listing 7.3) is not a method of the ArrayList; it’s a method of the extended ArrayList class, which returns the values of all the items in the list. (It uses each item’s ToString method to retrieve the string representation of the individual items and concatenates them with a line feed separator.)
Listing 7.3: GetString Method
Function GetString() As String Dim i As Integer Dim strValue As String strValue = MyBase.Item(0).ToString For i = 1 To MyBase.Count - 1 strValue = strValue & vbCrLf & MyBase.Item(i).ToString Next GetString = strValue End Function
Another problem with the ArrayList class is that it can’t sort its elements if they’re not of the same type. You can always provide a custom comparer for custom types, but it’s impossible to write a comparer that can handle all objects. Sometimes, however, we need to know the smallest or largest numeric element, or the alphabetically first or last element. These methods apply to numeric or string elements only; if some of the collection’s elements are objects, we can ignore them. Let’s implement two more custom methods for the myArrayList class (see Listing 7.4). The Min method returns the alphabetically smallest value; the NumMin method returns the numerically smallest value.
Listing 7.4: Min and NumMin Methods of the ArrayList Class
Code language: PHP (php)
Function Min() As String Dim i As Integer Dim minValue As String minValue = MyBase.Item(0).ToString For i = 1 To MyBase.Count - 1 If MyBase.Item(i).ToString < minValue Then _ minValue = MyBase.Item(i).ToString Next Min = minValue End Function Function NumMin() As Double Dim i As Integer Dim minValue As Double minValue = 1E+230 For i = 1 To MyBase.Count - 1 If IsNumeric(MyBase.item(i)) And _ val(MyBase.Item(i).tostring) < minValue Then _ minValue = val(MyBase.Item(i).tostring) Next NumMin = minValue End Function
You can populate the myArrayList collection with strings and integers and call the Min and NumMin methods to retrieve the smaller string or numeric value in the list.
What have we done in this section, really? We took an existing class, a powerful one, and extended it. We did that by writing simple procedures that could have appeared in any application. We just inserted the Inherits keyword followed by the name of an existing class on which we want to base our class, and provided the implementation of the new methods. A few more keywords to learn, and you can practically customize any class that comes with the Framework. Existing applications won’t break (the ArrayList class is actually used by some system services, which will keep working fine); they see the original class, not the customized class. Some of your new applications will see the enhanced ArrayList. Another developer might further extend the functionality of your derived class. The old applications will work because ArrayList is still around, your applications will also work because myArrayList hasn’t been modified, and someone else’s applications will work with another class derived from yours.
This type of inheritance, in which we inherit an existing class and add new members and/or revise existing ones, is called implementation inheritance. Implementation inheritance is a powerful feature and can be used in many situations, besides enhancing an existing class. You can design base classes that address a large category of objects and then subclass them for specific objects. The typical example is the Person class, from which classes such as Contact, Customer, Employee, and so on can be derived. Inheritance is used with large-scale projects to ensure consistent behavior across the application. Later in this chapter, you’ll see an interesting application of inheritance. We’ll build classes that describe related objects (shapes), all of which will be based on a single class that encapsulates the basic characteristics of all derived classes.