Why we need Reflection at all?

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Category:Languages

I was studying Reflection, I got some of it but I am not getting everything related to this concept. Why do we need Reflection? What things we couldn't achieve that we need Reflection?


There are many, many scenarios that reflection enables, but I group them primarily into two buckets.

  • Reflection enables us to write code that analyzes other code.

Consider for example the most basic question about an assembly: what types are in it? Assemblies are self-describing and reflection is the mechanism by which that description is surfaced to other code.

Suppose for example you wanted to write a program which took an assembly and did a graphical display of the relationships between the various classes in that assembly, to help you understand that code. There are such tools. They're in Visual Studio. Someone wrote those tools. They did not appear by magic. Reflection is the mechanism designed into the .NET framework that enables you or me or anyone else to write tools that understand code.

  • Reflection enables us to move compile time bindings to runtime.

Suppose you have a static method Foo.Bar(). When you put a call to Foo.Bar() in your program, you know with 100% certainty that the method you think is going to be called is actually going to be called. We call static methods "static" because the binding from the name Bar to the code that gets called can be understood statically -- that is, without running the program.

Now consider a virtual method Blah() on a base class. When you call whatever.Blah() you don't know exactly which Blah() will be called at compile time, but you know that some method Blah() with no arguments will be called on some type that is the runtime type of whatever, and that type is equal to or derived from the type which declares Blah(). (In fact you know more: you know that it is equal to or derived from the compile time type of whatever.) Virtual binding is a form of dynamic binding, but it is not fully dynamic. There's no way for the user to decide that this call should be to a different method on a different type hierarchy.

Reflection enables us to make calls that are bound entirely at runtime, based entirely on user choices if we like. We pay a performance penalty, and we lose compile-time type safety, but we gain the flexibility to decide 100% at runtime what code we call. There are scenarios where that's a reasonable tradeoff.

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