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Formatting Strings
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.NET provides functionality for creating strings that contain formatted representations of other data types. This includes the use of formatting conventions for different regions, cultures, and languages. Java provides similar capabilities through the java.text.MessageFormat class, among others; however, the implementations are sufficiently different that it is easier, and more instructive, just to discuss the .NET implementation on its own. Formatting functionality is exposed through overloaded methods in a number of classes in which string output is generated. The most commonly used methods are
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System.String.Format System.Text.StringBuilder.AppendFormat System.Console.WriteLine and System.Console.Write
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7. Strings and Regular Expressions
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System.IO.TextWriter.WriteLine and System.IO.TextWriter.Write
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Details of the System.Console and System.IO.TextWriter classes are provided in 10, "Streams, Files, and I/O."
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Most of these classes provide overloaded methods that take different numbers of parameters. For our discussion, we'll consider the most general case of the System.Console.WriteLine method, which takes a variable number of arguments through the use of a params parameter. The signature is as follows:
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public static void WriteLine(string format, params object[] args);
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The format parameter is a string that contains both the standard text to output and embedded format specifiers at locations where formatted data will be inserted. The args array contains the objects to be formatted and inserted into the resulting string. The method will accept a variable number of arguments through the use of the params keyword. The order of these arguments determines the index they occupy in the object array. The array index of each object is used in the format string to identify where each formatted object should be inserted. The best way to convey how this works is by example. This code
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double a = 345678.5678; uint b = 12000; byte c = 254; Console.WriteLine("a = {0}, b = {1}, and c = {2}", a, b, c); Console.WriteLine("a = {0:c0}, b = {1:n4}, and c = {2,10:x5}", a, b, c);
will result in the following output:
a = 345678.5678, b = 12000, and c = 254 a = 345,679, b = 12,000.0000, and c =
000fe
The codes in the braces, highlighted in the example, are called format specifications. Changing the contents of the format specification changes the format of the output. The current cultural and regional settings can affect the formatted output. As in the example, the currency symbol, thousands separator, and decimal separator are all affected by localization settings. Format specifications have the general form
{N,[M][:F]}
7. Strings and Regular Expressions
where:
N is the zero-based index, which indicates the formatted argument to insert. M is an optional integer that specifies the minimum width of the inserted element. If M is positive, the formatted value is right-justified, and left-justified if M is negative. The value will be padded with white space to ensure that it fills the minimum specified width. F is an optional set of formatting codes called a format string. Format strings determine how the data item is to be formatted when rendered to a string value. Different data types support different format strings.
Any object can be passed as a parameter for formatting, although only types that implement the IFormattable interface support format strings. Any type that doesn't implement IFormattable will always be rendered to a string using the inherited Object.ToString method, irrespective of any format strings provided. Attempts to use invalid format strings on IFormattable objects will cause a FormatException exception to be thrown. All of the simple types, as well as System.DateTime, System.TimeSpan, and System.Enum, implement IFormattable. We'll discuss some of the more common format strings in 8, "Numbers and Dates," but the .NET documentation provides complete coverage.
The IFormattable Interface
Any class or struct that needs to support formatting must implement the IFormattable interface. This interface contains a single member with the following signature:
string ToString(string format, IFormatProvider formatProvider);
The format argument is a string containing the format string. This is the portion of the format specifier that follows the colon and contains instructions on how the object should create a string representation of itself; this will be null if no format string was specified. The formatProvider argument provides a reference to an IFormatProvider instance. An IFormatProvider contains information about the current system settings, culture, region, and preferences. The IFormattable object being formatted can refer to the IFormatProvider to decide how best to render itself to a string given the current environment. The decision can take into consideration such elements as the appropriate currency symbol to use and how many decimal places are required by a given locale. By default, formatProvider will be null, which means that the default settings of the current system are to be used. However, it is possible to specify a different value in some of the overloaded string formatting methods. The following example demonstrates a class named MyNumber that implements the IFormattable interface. The class holds an integer. If used in a formatted string, MyNumber can render itself either to digits or to words depending on the format specifier used. Either w or W signals that words should be output.
7. Strings and Regular Expressions using System; using System.Text; public class MyNumber : IFormattable { private int val; public MyNumber(int v) { val = v; } public string ToString(string format, IFormatProvider provider) { if (format != null && format.ToLower() == "w") { switch (val) { case 1 : return "one"; case 2 : return "two"; case 3 : return "three"; default: return "unknown"; } } else { return val.ToString(); } } public static void Main() { MyNumber numberOne = new MyNumber(3); MyNumber numberTwo = new MyNumber(1); Console.WriteLine("The first number is {0} and the second is {1}", numberOne, numberTwo); Console.WriteLine("The first number is {0:w} and the second is " + "{1:w}", numberOne, numberTwo); } }
When this example is executed, the following output is produced:
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