Jef Claes

On software and life

14 Jul 2010

Switching with non-constant cases in C#

Last week I came across a scenario where I wanted to switch over non-constants (aka variables), but while I was compiling I got Compiler Error CS0150 (A constant value is expected). This is one of those things I always forget. You can’t use variables in your case statements because the C# compiler doesn’t allow you to. It’s very logical though, the compiler forces you to use constants because otherwise there is no way of knowing there are equal case statements.

The scenario

Let’s say I have an ASP.NET page where the user can input and submit a value. On the server-side I want to match this value with a value from a local resource file. Depending on the match I want to execute other code.

Remember I can’t use a switch because the values in the local resource file are variable.

Option one: Using conditional statements

As shown in the code snippet below you can use else-if statements to search for a match.

if (input == GetLocalResourceObject("CaseOne").ToString()) {
      this.ltResult.Text = "Case one matched.";
} else if (input == GetLocalResourceObject("CaseTwo").ToString()) {
      this.ltResult.Text = "Case two matched.";
} else if (input == GetLocalResourceObject("CaseThree").ToString()) {
      this.ltResult.Text = "Case three matched.";
} else {
      this.ltResult.Text = "No matching case found.";

This option has at least two disadvantages:

  • It allows equal conditions (cases) which might have horrible consequences.
  • It’s ugly.

Option two: Using a dictionary

You can also use a generic dictionary where the pairs have a string as the key and a delegate as the value. Because the code I’m executing when a match is found is so compact I’m using the simplest delegate of them all: an Action delegate. An Action delegate takes no parameters and does not return a value.

Dictionary<string, Action> mappings = new Dictionary<string, Action>() {
      { GetLocalResourceObject("CaseOne").ToString(), () => this.ltResult.Text = "Case one matched."},
      { GetLocalResourceObject("CaseTwo").ToString(), () => this.ltResult.Text = "Case two matched."},
      { GetLocalResourceObject("CaseThree").ToString(), () => this.ltResult.Text = "Case three matched."}

if (mappings.ContainsKey(input)) {
} else {
      this.ltResult.Text = "No matching case found.";

I think this option is a lot better than the previous one:

  • This code is elegant, no spaghetti here.
  • And better yet, having equal conditions (cases) is impossible. You can’t add duplicate keys to a dictionary. If you do, an ArgumentException gets thrown at runtime.