What Can You Overload?

You can overload pretty much any of Visual Basic's standard operators (except for Is and IsNot), plus a few other features. This section describes each overloadable operator, grouped by general type. Each section includes a table of operators. To overload an operator in a class, use the name in the Operator column as the function name. If there were an operator named XX, the matching Operator statement would be as follows.

Public Shared Operator XX(...) 

Mathematical Operators

Visual Basic defines ten mathematical or pseudo-mathematical operators. All but one of these exists to manipulate numbers. The leftover operator is the string concatenation operator (&), which works with strings, but kind of looks like the other mathematical operators in its syntax and use.

Two of the operators, plus (+) and minus (), are both unary and binary operators. The minus sign () works as a unary "negation" operator (as in "5"), and also as a binary "subtraction" operator (the common "5 2" syntax). When overloading these operators, the difference lies in the number of arguments included in the argument signature.

Public Shared Operator -(ByVal operand1 As SomeClass, _       ByVal operand2 As SomeClass) As SomeClass    ' ----- This is the binary "subtraction" version. End Operator Public Shared Operator -(ByVal operand1 As SomeClass) _       As SomeClass    ' ----- This is the unary "negation" version. End Operator 

Table 12-1 lists the mathematical operators that support overloading.

Table 12-1. The Overloadable Mathematical Operators






The unary "plus" operator. You can already use this operator with numbers, as in "+5." But if you enter this value in Visual Studio, the plus operator gets stripped out because it is considered redundant. However, if you overload this operator on a class of your own, Visual Studio will retain the unary form of this operator when used in code.

' ----- Assuming the unary + operator '       is overloaded... Dim oneBuzz As New Bumblebee Dim moreBuzz As Bumblebee = +oneBuzz 

Because this is a unary operator, only include a single argument when defining the Operator method.



The standard addition operator. Remember, just because the operator is called the "addition" operator doesn't mean that you have to retain that connotation. However, you should attempt to overload the operators as close to their original meaning as possible. Visual Basic itself overloads this operator to let it act a little like the string concatenation operator.



This is the unary "negation" operator that comes just before a value or expression.



The subtraction operator, although if you can figure out how to subtract one bumblebee from another, then you're a better programmer than I am.



The multiplication operator.



The standard division operator.



The integer division operator. Remember, you are not required to retain any sense of "integer" in this operator if it doesn't meet your class's needs.



The exponentiation ("to the power of") operator.



The modulo operator, sometimes called the remainder operator because it returns the remainder of a division action.



The string concatenation operator.

Comparison Operators

Visual Basic includes seven basic comparison operators, most often used in If statements and similar expressions that require a Boolean conditional calculation. The Operator methods for these comparison operators have the same syntax as is used for mathematical operators, but most of them must be implemented in pairs. For example, if you overload the Less Than (<) operator, Visual Basic requires you to overload the Greater Than (>) operator within the same class, and for the same argument signature.

All comparison operators are Boolean operators. Although you can alter the data types of the arguments passed to the operator, they must all return a Boolean value.

Public Shared Operator <=(ByVal operand1 As SomeClass, _       ByVal operand2 As SomeClass) As Boolean    ' ----- The <= operator returns a Boolean result. End Operator 

Table 12-2 lists six of the seven basic comparison operators that you can overload. Each entry includes a "buddy" value that identifies the matching operator that must also be overloaded.

Table 12-2. The Overloadable Comparison Operators






The Equal To operator compares two operands for equivalence, returning True if they are equal.



The Not Equal To operator compares two operands for non-equivalence, and returns True if they do not match.



The Less Than operator returns True if the first operand is "less than" the second.



The Greater Than operator returns True if the first operand is "greater than" the second.



The Less Than Or Equal To operator returns True if the first operand is "less than or equal to" the second. Aren't you getting tired of reading basically the same sentence over and over again?



The Greater Than Or Equal To operator returns True if the first operand is "greater than or equal to" the second.

The seventh comparison operator is Like. In standard Visual Basic, it compares the first operand to a string "pattern," which is generally a set of matching characters and wildcards.

If (someValue Like somePattern) Then 

You don't have to use the same pattern rules when overloading the Like operator, and you can accept any data type for the pattern operand, but you must still return a Boolean result.

Public Shared Operator Like(ByVal operand1 As Bumblebee, _       ByVal operand2 As Integer) As Boolean    ' ----- See if Bumblebee matches an Integer pattern. End Operator 

There is no "buddy" operator that you must implement when overloading the Like operator.

Bitwise and Logical Operators

Among the logical and bitwise operators included in Visual Basic, four already perform double duty as overloaded operators. The bitwise And, Or, Xor, and Not accept integer operands, generating a numeric result with values transformed at the individual bit level. They also work as logical operators, accepting and returning Boolean values, most often in conditional statements. But they can handle the stress of being overridden a little more.

When you do override these four operators, you are overriding the bitwise versions, not the logical versions. Basically, this means that you have control over the return value, and aren't required to make it Boolean.

Table 12-3 lists the eight overloadable bitwise and logical operators.

Table 12-3. The Overloadable Bitwise and Logical Operators




The Shift Left operator performs bit-shifting on a source integer value, moving the bits to the left by a specified number of positions. Although you do not have to use this operator to perform true bit shifting, you must accept a shift amount (an Integer) as the second operand.

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Public Shared Operator <<(ByVal operand1 As Bumblebee, _ ByVal operand2 As Integer) As Bumblebee ' ----- Add shifting code here. End Operator


The Shift Right operator performs bit-shifting just like the Shift Left operator, but it moves the bits in the "right" direction. I guess that would make those bits more conservative. Your code can make the return value more liberal if you want, but as with the Shift Left operator, you must accept an Integer as the second operand.


The bitwise negation operator. This operator is unary, and accepts only a single operand argument.


The bitwise conjunction operator. The original operator sets a bit in the return value if both equally-positioned bits in the source operands are also set.


The bitwise disjunction operator. The original operator sets a bit in the return value if either of the equally positioned bits in the source operands is set.


The bitwise exclusion operator. The original operator sets a bit in the return value if only one of the equally-positioned bits in the source operands is set.


Overloading the Or operator does not automatically overload the related OrElse operator. To use OrElse, you must also overload the special IsTrue operator. It's not a real Visual Basic operator, and you can't call it directly even when overloaded. But when you use the OrElse operator in place of an overloaded Or operator, Visual Basic calls the IsTrue operator when needed. There are a few rules you must follow to use the IsTrue overload.

  • The overloaded Or operator must return the class type of the class in which it is defined. If you want to use OrElse on the Bumblebee class, the overload of the Or operator in that class must return a value of type Bumblebee.

  • The overloaded IsTrue operator must accept a single operand of the containing class's type (Bumblebee), and return a Boolean.

  • You must also overload the IsFalse operator.

How you determine the truth or falsity of a Bumblebee is up to you.


The IsFalse overload works just like IsTrue, and has similar rules, but it applies to the And and AndAlso operators.

The CType Operator

The Visual Basic CType feature looks more like a function than an operator:

result = CType(source, type) 

But looks are deceiving. It is not a true function, and as with the other conversion functions (like CInt), it is actually processed at compile time, long before the program even runs. By allowing you to overload it as an operator, Visual Basic enables you to create custom and special conversions between data types that don't seem compatible. The following method template converts a value of type Bumblebee to an Integer.

Public Shared Operator CType(ByVal operand1 As Bumblebee) _       As Integer    ' ----- Perform conversion here, returning an Integer. End Operator 

If you try to type that last block of code into Visual Basic, it will complain that you are missing either the "Widening" or "Narrowing" keyword (see Figure 12-1).

Figure 12-1. Visual Basic complains about all things wide and narrow

I mentioned widening and narrowing conversions in passing in Chapter 2, "Introducing Visual Basic," but let's examine them in more depth. When you convert between some core data types in Visual Basic, there is a chance that it will sometimes fail because the source value cannot fit into the destination value. This is true when converting a Short value to a Byte.

Dim quiteBig As Short = 5000 Dim quiteSmall As Byte ' ----- These next two lines will fail. quiteSmall = quiteBig quiteSmall = CByte(quiteBig) 

And it's obvious why it fails: A Byte variable cannot hold the value 5000. But what about this code?

Dim quiteBig As Short = 5 Dim quiteSmall As Byte ' ----- These next two lines will succeed. quiteSmall = quiteBig quiteSmall = CByte(quiteBig) 

It will run just fine, because 5 fits into a Byte variable with room to spare. (If Option Strict is set to On, the first assignment will still fail to compile.) Still, there is nothing to stop me from reassigning a value of 5000 to quiteBig and trying the assignment again. It's this potential for failure during conversion that is the issue.

When a conversion has the potential to fail due to the source data not being able to fully fit in the target variable, it's called a narrowing conversion. Narrowing conversions are a reality, and as long as you have checked the data before the conversion, there shouldn't be any reason to permanently restrict such conversions.

Widening conversions go in the opposite direction. They occur when any source value in the original data type will always fit easily in the target type. A widening conversion will always succeed as long as the source data is valid.

Visual Basic allows widening conversions to occur automatically, implicitly. You don't have to explicitly use CType to force the conversion. If you had a widening conversion from Bumblebee to Integer, and you had set Option Strict to On, the following code would work just fine.

Dim sourceValue As New Bumblebee Dim destValue As Integer = sourceValue 

If the conversion from Bumblebee to Integer was narrowing, you would have to force the conversion using CType just so Visual Basic was sure you really wanted to do this.

Dim sourceValue As New Bumblebee Dim destValue As Integer = CType(sourceValue, Integer) 

When you create custom conversions with the overloaded CType operator, you must inform Visual Basic whether the conversion is widening or narrowing by inserting either the Widening or Narrowing keyword between the Shared and Operator keywords.

Public Shared Narrowing Operator CType( _       ByVal operand1 As Bumblebee) As Integer    ' ----- Perform narrowing conversion here. End Operator 

Start-to-Finish Visual Basic 2005. Learn Visual Basic 2005 as You Design and Develop a Complete Application
Start-to-Finish Visual Basic 2005: Learn Visual Basic 2005 as You Design and Develop a Complete Application
ISBN: 0321398009
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 247
Authors: Tim Patrick

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