c# - Why does the default parameterless constructor go away when you create one with parameters


In C#, C++ and Java, when you create a constructor taking parameters, the default parameterless one goes away. I have always just accepted this fact, but now I've started wondering why.

What is the reason for this behavior? Is it just a "safety measure/guess" saying "If you've created a constructor of your own, you probably don't want this implicit one hanging around"? Or does it have a technical reason that makes it impossible for the compiler to add one once you have created a constructor yourself?

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    There's no reason that the compiler couldn't add the constructor if you've added your own - the compiler could do pretty much whatever it wants! However, you have to look at what makes most sense:

    • If I haven't defined any constructor for a non-static class, I most likely want to be able to instantiate that class. In order to allow that, the compiler must add a parameterless constructor, which will have no effect but to allow instantiation. This means that I don't have to include an empty constructor in my code just to make it work.
    • If I've defined a constructor of my own, especially one with parameters, then I most likely have logic of my own that must be executed on creating the class. If the compiler were to create an empty, parameterless constructor in this case, it would allow someone to skip the logic that I had written, which might lead to my code breaking in all number of ways. If I want a default empty constructor in this case, I need to say so explicitly.

    So, in each case, you can see that the behaviour of current compilers makes the most sense in terms of preserving the likely intent of the code.

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    There's certainly no technical reason why the language has to be designed this way.

    There are four somewhat-realistic options that I can see:

    1. No default constructors at all
    2. The current scenario
    3. Always providing a default constructor by default, but allowing it to be explicitly suppressed
    4. Always providing a default constructor without allowing it to be suppressed

    Option 1 is somewhat attractive, in that the more I code the less often I really want a parameterless constructor. Some day I should count just how often I actually end up using a default constructor...

    Option 2 I'm fine with.

    Option 3 goes against the flow of both Java and C#, for the rest of the language. There's never anything that you explicitly "remove", unless you count explicitly making things more private than they would be by default in Java.

    Option 4 is horrible - you absolutely want to be able to force construction with certain parameters. What would new FileStream() even mean?

    So basically, if you accept the premise that providing a default constructor makes sense at all, I believe it makes a lot of sense to suppress it as soon as you provide your own constructor.

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    Edit. Actually, while what I say in my first answer is valid, this is the real reason.:

    In the beginning there was C. C is not object-oriented (you can take an OO approach, but it doesn't help you or enforce anything).

    Then there was C With Classes, that was later renamed C++. C++ is object-oriented, and therefore encourages encapsulation, and ensuring an object's invariant - upon construction and at the beginning and end of any method, the object is in a valid state.

    The natural thing to do with this, is to enforce that a class must always have a constructor to ensure it starts in a valid state - if the constructor doesn't have to do anything to ensure this, then the empty constructor will document this fact.

    But a goal with C++ was to be compatible with C to the point that as much as possible, all valid C programs were also valid C++ programs (no longer as active a goal, and the evolution of C separate to C++ means it no longer holds).

    One effect of this was the duplication in functionality between struct and class. The former doing things the C way (everything public by default) and the latter doing things in a good OO way (everything private by default, developer actively makes public what they want public).

    Another is that in order for a C struct, which couldn't have a constructor because C doesn't have constructors, to be valid in C++, then there had to be a meaning for this to the C++ way of looking at it. And so, while not having a constructor would go against the OO practice of actively ensuring an invariant, C++ took this to mean that there was a default parameterless constructor that acted like it had an empty body.

    All C structs were now valid C++ structs, (which meant they were the same as C++ classes with everything - members and inheritance - public) treated from the outside as if it had a single, parameterless constructor.

    If however you did put a constructor in a class or struct, then you were doing things the C++/OO way rather than the C way, and there was no need for a default constructor.

    Since it served as a shorthand, people kept using it even when compatibility wasn't possible otherwise (it used other C++ features not in C).

    Hence when Java came along (based on C++ in many ways) and later C# (based on C++ and Java in different ways), they kept this approach as something coders may already be used to.

    Stroustrup writes about this in his The C++ Programming Language and even more so, with more focus upon the "whys" of the language in The Design and Evolution of C++.

    === Original Answer ===

    Let's say this didn't happen.

    Let's say I don't want a parameterless constructor, because I can't put my class into a meaningful state without one. Indeed, this is something that can happen with struct in C# (but if you can't make meaningful use of an all-zeros-and-nulls struct in C# you're at best using a non-publicly-visible optimisation, and otherwise have a design flaw in using struct).

    To make my class able to protect its invariants, I need a special removeDefaultConstructor keyword. At the very least, I'd need to create a private parameterless constructor to make sure no calling code calls the default.

    Which complicates the language some more. Better not to do it.

    In all, it's best not to think of adding a constructor as removing the default, better to think of having no constructor at all as syntactic sugar for adding a parameterless constructor that doesn't do anything.

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    The default, parameterless constructor is added if you don't do anything yourself to take control over object creation. Once you've created a single constructor to take control, the compiler "backs off" and let you have the full control.

    If it wouldn't be this way, you would need some explicit way of disabling the default constructor if you only want objects to be constructable through a constructor with parameters.

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    It's a convenience function of the compiler. If you define a Constructor with parameters but don't define a parameterless constructor, the possibility that you don't want to allow a parameterless constructor is much higher.

    This is the case for many objects that just don't make sense to initialize with an empty constructor.

    Otherwise you'd have to declare a private parameterless constructor for each class that you want to restrict.

    In my opinion it's not good style to allow a parameterless constructor for a class that needs parameters to function.

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    I think the question should be the other way around: Why don't you need to declare a default constructor if you haven't defined any other constructors?

    A constructor is mandatory for non-static classes.
    So i think if you haven't defined any constructors, the generated default constructor is just a convenient feature of the C# compiler, also your class wouldn't be valid without a constructor. So nothing wrong with implicitly generating a constructor that does nothing. It certainly looks cleaner than having empty constructors all around.

    If you have already defined a constructor, your class is valid, so why should the compiler assume you want a default constructor? What if you don't want one? Implement an attribute to tell the compiler to not generate that default constructor? I don't think that would be a good idea.

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    The default constructor can be constructed only when the class doesn't have a constructor. Compilers are written in such a way as to provide this only as a backup mechanism.

    If you have a parameterized constructor, you may not want an object to be created using the default constructor. Had the compiler provided a default constructor, you would have had to write a no-arg constructor and make it private in order to prevent objects being created using no arguments.

    Also, there would be higher chances of you forgetting disabling, or 'privatising' the default constructor, and thereby causing a potential functional error hard to catch.

    And now you have to explicitly define a no-arg constructor if you'd like an object to be created either the default way or by passing parameters. This is strongly checked, and the compiler complains otherwise, thereby ensuring no loophole here.

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    This behaviour can be seen as a natural extension of the decision for classes to have a default public parameterless constructor. Based on the question that's been asked we take this decision as a premise and assume that we are not questioning it in this instance.

    Ways to Remove Default Constructor

    It follows that there must be a way to remove the default public parameterless constructor. This removal could be accomplished in the following ways:

    1. Declare a non-public parameterless constructor
    2. Automatically remove the parameterless constructor when a constructor with parameters is declared
    3. Some keyword / attribute to indicate to the compiler to remove the parameterless constructor (awkward enough that it is easy to rule out)

    Selecting the Best Solution

    Now we ask ourselves: If there is no parameterless constructor, what must it be replaced by? and Under what types of scenarios would we want to remove the default public parameterless constructor?

    Things start to fall in place. Firstly, it must either be replaced with a constructor with parameters, or with a non-public constructor. Secondly, the scenarios under which you do not want a parameterless constructor are:

    1. We do not want the class to be instantiated at all, or we want to control the visibility of the constructor: declare a non-public constructor
    2. We want to force parameters to be provided on construction: declare a constructor with parameters


    There we have it -- exactly the two ways that C#, C++ and Java allow the removal of the default public parameterless constructor.

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    I think this is handled by the compiler. If you open the .net assembly in ILDASM you will see the default constructor, even if it is not in the code. If you define a parameterized constructor the default constructor will not bee seen.

    Actually when you define the class (non static), the compiler provides this feature thinking that you will be just creating an instance. And if you want any specific operation to perform you surely will be having your own constructor.

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    Its because when you do not define a constructor the compiler automatically generates a constructor for you which does not take any arguments. When you want something more out of a constructor, you over-ride it. This is NOT function overloading. So the only constructor that the compiler sees now is your constructor which takes an argument. To counter this problem you can pass a default value if the constructor is passed with no value.

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    A class need a constructor. It is mandatory requirement.

    • If you don't create one, parameterless constructor will be given to you automatically.
    • If you don't want a parameterless constructor, then you need to create your own.
    • If you need both, parameterless constructor and parameter based-constructor you can add them manually.

    I will answer you question with another, why do we want always a default parameterless constructor? there are case where this is not desired, so the developer has the control to add or remove it as is need.