Manipulating numeric values with .NET's Convert class

The .NET Framework provides various ways to convert a value from one type to another. Get the details on how the Convert class is one way to handle the conversion with various methods for converting values.

Numeric values are a part of most applications, whether it is data entered by the user or values pulled from a backend data source. The need to convert from one numeric type to another often arises during development work. The .NET Framework provides numerous ways to perform the conversion. In today's column, we explore ways to perform numeric conversions in both VB.NET and C#.

Choose your approach

As with most programming endeavors, there is more than one way to convert numeric values. You could tackle the conversion with casting, the convert function available in VB.NET, the Convert class, and so forth. We begin with an examination of the Convert class.

Understand the Convert class

The Convert class allows you to convert a base data type to another base data type. It returns a type whose value is equivalent to the value of a specified type. A conversion method exists to convert every base type to every other base type. However, the actual conversion operation performed falls into three categories:

  • A conversion from a type to itself returns that type with no actual conversion performed.
  • A conversion which does not yield a valid result throws an InvalidCastException exception. No conversion is actually performed. An exception is thrown for conversions from Char to Boolean, Single, Double, Decimal or DateTime, and from those types to Char. An exception is thrown for conversions from DateTime to any type except String, and from any type, except String, to DateTime.
  • Any base type, other than those described above, can be converted to and from any other base type.

An exception will not be thrown if the conversion of a numeric type results in a loss of precision (i.e., the loss of some least significant digits). However, an exception will be thrown if the result is larger than can be represented by the particular conversion method's return value type.

The Convert class contains the following methods for working with numeric values:

  • ToByte: Converts a specified value to an 8-bit unsigned integer.
  • ToDecimal: Converts a specified value to a Decimal number.
  • ToDouble: Converts a specified value to a double-precision floating point number.
  • ToInt16: Converts a specified value to a 16-bit signed integer.
  • ToInt32: Converts a specified value to a 32-bit signed integer.
  • ToInt64: Converts a specified value to a 64-bit signed integer.
  • ToSByte: Converts a specified value to an 8-bit signed integer.
  • ToSingle: Converts a specified value to a single-precision floating point number.
  • ToUInt16: Converts a specified value to a 16-bit unsigned integer.
  • ToUInt32: Converts a specified value to a 32-bit unsigned integer.
  • ToUInt64: Converts a specified value to a 64-bit unsigned integer.

Each method is overloaded to handle the various values that may be passed for conversion like Boolean, Unicode, decimal, floating point, and so forth. The InvalidCastException exception should be handled when dealing with conversions. The C# sample in Listing A provides a peek at how these methods may be used. (Listing B contains the VB.NET equivalent.)

The code is very simple, but it demonstrates how each method may be used. It produces the following output from a console application:


Two conversions are performed for each Convert reference in the previous example. First, the specified method of the Convert class is called to perform the conversion. Next, the new value is converted to its string representation for the Console.WriteLine call.

Now, some conversions will throw exceptions since the target type is ill-suited for the value passed to it. Also, some casts are not allowed. The code snippet in Listing C demonstrates situations where exceptions may be generated.

The following output is generated:

Invalid Cast:Invalid cast from Char to Single.
Exception: Value was either too large or too small for an Int16.
Exception: Value was either too large or too small for an unsigned byte.

In addition, the .NET Framework will implicitly perform some conversions. The most notable of such conversions is formatting a numeric value for output by automatically calling its ToString method. The example in Listing D demonstrates both implicit and explicit conversion when finding the sum of a group of values. (Listing E contains the equivalent VB.NET code.)

The byte and short values are implicitly converted to integer while the decimal, long, and decimal values must be explicitly converted for the code to compile. If you do attempt to compile the code without explicitly converting one of the values (such as the decimal value), it will yield the following compile error:

Cannot implicitly convert type 'double' to 'int'.

Alternatives to the Convert class

While the Convert class provides everything necessary to convert from one numeric type to another, it is not the only way to accomplish a conversion. For example, in C#, you may directly cast one value to another. Also, the DirectCast and specific functions like CInt are available for use in VB.NET as well as CType. Regular expressions provide another way to convert some numeric values. This is only a sampling, but you need to be aware of the alternatives.

Get what you need

Numeric operations require a consistent set of values. While the .NET Framework will implicitly perform some conversions like a numeric value to string or byte to integer, others require explicit conversion. The Convert class provides the methods necessary to convert from one numeric base to another.

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About Tony Patton

Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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