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.NET 1.1+

The System.Type Class

The second part of the Reflection tutorial looks at the System.Type class. This class can be used to represent a type declaration, such as that of a class or structure, and obtain information about that type and its members.


The starting point for most reflection operations is the Type class, found in the System namespace. Type instances provide information about types, such as classes, structures, enumerations, arrays, etc. This information can be extracted from the Type class' methods and properties, some of which give information directly and some of which obtain other Type instance or other objects that can be used to reflect over the original type's members and related types.

In this article we'll look at the basics of instantiating a Type object for standard .NET framework types and user-defined types. We'll also read some of the common Type properties. To begin, we need some types to reflect over. Create a console application project named, "ReflectionTest" and add the following code:

namespace ReflectionTest
    class Program
        static void Main()

    public class PublicClass
        private struct PrivateNestedStruct { }

        public sealed class PublicNestedClass { }

    public abstract class AbstractClass { }

    internal interface InternalInterface { }

    enum Enumeration { }

Obtaining Type Instances

There are several ways in which you can create an instance of the System.Type class. The choice that you make will be based upon the situation so the three main methods are described below.

Obtaining a Type Instance for a Known Type

When you wish to obtain information for a specific type, and that type is in the scope of your solution, you can create a Type object for it using the typeof keyword. The name of the type is provided to this keyword as the only parameter. You can either provide the fully qualified type name or a shorter version if you have included a suitable using directive in your code.

The code below obtains information about the PublicClass type and outputs its full name. You can try this out by adding it to the Main method.

Type t = typeof(PublicClass);
Console.WriteLine(t.FullName);  // ReflectionTest.PublicClass

Obtaining a Type from an Existing Object

If you do not have the name of a type but do have an object whose type you would like to examine, you can obtain a Type instance by executing its GetType method. This method is present in all .NET framework types and any classes and structures that you create yourself.

For example:

object o = new PublicClass();
Type t = o.GetType();
Console.WriteLine(t.FullName);  // ReflectionTest.PublicClass

Obtaining a Type by Name

A third way of getting a Type object is necessary when you do not have access to the type or an object of that type. In this situation you can create the instance using the Type class' static method, GetType. The most basic overloaded version of the method accepts a string parameter that contains the name of the type that you wish to reflect over. This approach is ideal when you wish to define types in a configuration file that should be loaded dynamically at runtime. However, as you are using strings to describe types this method is prone to typing errors.

To use the method, ensure that the string argument contains the namespace and the name of the type you wish to examine, separated with a full stop or period, as shown below:

Type t = Type.GetType("ReflectionTest.InternalInterface");

In the sample types we have two nested classes. You can use the same approach to reflect over their information by providing the containing class' name and the nested type's name, separated by a plus sign (+).

Type t = Type.GetType("ReflectionTest.PublicClass+PrivateNestedStruct");

You can also specify the assembly in which the class can be found by adding a comma and the assembly name to the end of the string, as follows:

Type t = Type.GetType("ReflectionTest.PublicClass+PrivateNestedStruct,ReflectionTest");

If you provide an unknown type name to the GetType method, when used with a single parameter, the return value is null. This is useful in many scenarios but sometimes it is more sensible to throw an exception. You can switch between these behaviours by adding a second, Boolean parameter. If the throwOnError value is true, an exception is thrown when the type name is not found. If false, the default action of returning null occurs.

Type t = Type.GetType(
    "ReflectionTest.PublicClass+PrivateNestedStruct,ReflectionTest", true);

Another overload of GetType allows you to specify that you wish the type search to be case-insensitive. This is useful when the information is loaded from a configuration file, where users can easily provide an entirely upper or lower case type name. Set the third parameter to true to ignore the case of the type name and false to use the default option.

Type t = Type.GetType("reflectionTest.abstractclass", true, true);
5 February 2012