By John Sonmez September 24, 2010

Explaining What Action And Func Are

In C#, Action and Func are extremely useful tools for reducing duplication in code and decreasing coupling.

It is a shame that many developers shy away from them because they don’t really understand them.

Adding Action and Func to your toolbox is a very important step in improving your C# code.

It’s not really that hard to understand what they do and how to use them, it just takes a little patience…

Also, before you start learning up any new skill or concept, I suggest you take a look at my course “10 Steps to Learn Anything Quickly”.

A simple way of thinking about Action<>

Most of us are pretty familiar with finding sections of repeated code, pulling that code out into a method and making that method take parameters to represent the differences.

Here is a small example, which should look pretty familiar:

Each one of these methods pretty much does the same thing.  The only difference here is the type of vegetable and the time to steam it.

It is a simple and common refactor to refactor that code to:

Much better, now we aren’t repeating the “actions” in 3 different methods.

Now let's imagine we want to do something more than steam.  We need to be able to fry or bake the vegetables.  How can we do that?

Probably we will have to add some new methods for doing that.  So we will end up with something like this:

Hmm, lots of duplication again.  No problem.  Let's just do what we did to the first set of methods and make a CookVegetable method.  Since we always clean, then cook, then serve, we should be able to just pass in the method of cooking we will use.

Oh wait, how do we do that?  We can’t just extract out Bake or Fry or Steam, because the Bake, Fry and Steam methods are logic and not data.

Unless… unless we can make them data.  Can we do that?

We sure can, check this out:

We got rid of the duplicated code the same way we did when we did our first refactor, except this time we parameterized method calls instead of data.

If you understood this, you understand Action.  Action is just a way of treating methods like they are data. Now you can extract all of the common logic into a method and pass in data that changes as well as actions that change.

Congratulations, you are doing the strategy pattern without having to create an abstract base class and a huge inheritance tree!

So when you see Action, just think “ah, that means I am passing a method as data.”

It really is as simple as that.

Action<Vegetable, CookingTime> translated to English is: “A method that takes a Vegetable and a CookingTime as parameters and returns void.”

What about Func<>?

If you understand Action, you understand Func.

Func<X, Y, Z> translated to English is: “A method that takes an X, and a Y as parameters and returns a Z”.”

The only difference between Action and Func is that Func’s last template parameter is the return type.  Funcs have non-void return values.

Bonus: Predicate is a Func that always returns a boolean.

That’s all there is to it.  There really isn’t a need to know much more than that to make sure of Action and Func in order to start using them.

Further Resources for Action and Func

If you are interested in some other ways to apply Action and Func, here are some posts I have written which focus on them.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."