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The parameterless ToString method has two problems. First, the caller has no control over the formatting of the string. For example, an application might want to format a number into a currency string or a decimal string, or a percent string or a hexadecimal string. Second, the caller can t choose to format a string using a specific culture. This second problem is more troublesome for server side application code than for client side code. On rare occasions, an application needs to format a string using a culture different from the culture associated with the calling thread. To have more control over string formatting, you need a version of the ToString method that allows you to specify specific formatting and culture information. Types that want to offer the caller a choice in formatting and culture implement the System.IFormattable interface:
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public interface IFormattable { String ToString(String format, IFormatProvider formatProvider); }
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In the FCL, all the base types (Byte, SByte, Int16/UInt16, Int32/UInt32, Int64/UInt64, Single, Double, Decimal, and DateTime) implement this interface. In addition, some other types, like GUID, also implement it. Finally, every enumerated type automatically implements the IFormattable interface to obtain a meaningful string symbol from the numeric value stored in an instance of an enumerated type. IFormattable s ToString method takes two parameters. The first, format, is a string that tells the method how the object should be formatted. ToString s second parameter, formatProvider, is an instance of a type that implements the System.IFormatProvider interface. This type supplies specific culture information to the ToString method. I ll discuss how shortly. The type implementing the IFormattable interface s ToString method determines which format strings it s going to recognize. If you pass a format string that the type doesn t recognize, the type should throw a System.FormatException exception. Many of the types that Microsoft has defined in the FCL recognize several formats. For example, the DateTime type supports "d" for short date, "D" for long date, "g" for general, "M" for month/day, "s" for sortable, "T" for time, "u" for universal time in ISO 8601 format, "U" for universal time in long date format, "Y" for year/month, and more. All enumerated types support "G" for general, "F" for flags, "D" decimal, and "X" for hexadecimal. I ll cover formatting enumerated types in more detail in 13. Also, all the built in numeric types support C for currency, D for decimal, E for scientific (exponential), F for fixed point, G for general, N for number, P for percent, R for round trip, and X for hexadecimal. In fact, the numeric types also support picture format strings just in case the simple format strings don t offer you exactly what you re looking for. Picture format strings contain special characters that tell the type s ToString method exactly how many digits to show, exactly where to place a decimal separator, exactly how many digits to place after the decimal separator, and so on. For complete information about format strings, see "Formatting Strings" in the .NET Framework SDK. Calling ToString passing null for the format string is identical to calling ToString and passing "G" for the format string. In other words, objects format themselves using the "General format" by default. When implementing a type, choose a format that you think will be the most commonly used format; this format is the "General format." By the way, the ToString method that takes no 221
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parameters assumes that the caller wants the general format. So now that format strings are out of the way, let s turn to culture information. By default, strings are formatted using the culture information associated with the calling thread. The parameterless ToString method certainly does this, and so does IFormattable s ToString if you pass null for the formatProvider parameter. Culture sensitive information applies when you re formatting numbers (including currency, integers, floating point, and percentages), dates, and times. A type that represents a GUID has a ToString method that just returns a string representing the GUID s value. There s no need to consider the thread s current culture when generating the GUID s string. When formatting a number, the ToString method sees what you ve passed for the formatProvider parameter. If null is passed, then ToString determines the culture associated with the calling thread by reading the System.Threading. Thread.CurrentThread.CurrentCulture property. This property returns an instance of the System.Globalization.CultureInfo type. Using this object, ToString reads its NumberFormat or DateTimeFormat property, depending on whether a number or date/time is being formatted. These properties return an instance of System.Globalization.NumberFormatInfo or System.Globalization.DateTimeFormatInfo, respectively. The NumberFormatInfo type defines a bunch of properties, such as CurrencyDecimalSeparator, CurrencySymbol, NegativeSign, NumberGroupSeparator, and PercentSymbol. Likewise, the DateTimeFormatInfo type defines an assortment of properties, such as Calendar, DateSeparator, DayNames, LongDatePattern, ShortTimePattern, and TimeSeparator. ToString reads these properties when constructing and formatting a string. When calling IFormattable s ToString method, instead of passing null, you can pass a reference to an object whose type implements the IFormatProvider interface:
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public interface IFormatProvider { Object GetFormat(Type formatType); }
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Here s the basic idea behind the IFormatProvider interface: when a type implements this interface, it is saying that an instance of the type knows how to provide culture specific formatting information and that the culture information associated with the calling thread should be ignored. The System.Globalization.CultureInfo type is one of the very few types defined in the FCL that implements the IFormatProvider interface. If you want to format a string for, say, Vietnam, you d construct a CultureInfo object and pass that object in as ToString s formatProvider parameter. The following code obtains a string representation of a Decimal numeric value formatted as currency appropriate for Vietnam:
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Decimal price = 123.54M; String s = price.ToString("C", new CultureInfo("vi VN")); System.Windows.Forms.MessageBox.Show(s);
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