C# Nullable types: How do you work with nullable types in C#?

As you know, a value type variable cannot be assigned a null value. For example, if you try to assign a null value to the value type   int i = null  it will give you a compile-time error.
In this post, you will learn about the C# Nullable Types with the help of multiple examples.

CSharp nullable types

What are Nullable types?

In C#, Nullable types allow variables to hold either a value or null.
We can declare a null value using Nullable<T> where T is a type like an int, double, float, bool, and so on.
C# 2.0 introduced us to the Nullable types to assign a value data type to null but later in C# 8.0, the nullable types were also introduced to hold the null value for Reference Type.


The operator “?” can be used to declare any data type as a nullable type.


Nullable<T> variable_name
// or
< data_type> ? <variable_name> = null;
// Example:
int? i = null;

Properties of Nullable types

Following are the two properties of nullable types.

HasValue:This property returns a boolean value based on whether the nullable variable has a valid value. It returns true if the variable has a value. Otherwise, returns false if the value is missing or null.
Value:This property returns the value of the current Nullable type variable if it has been assigned a valid underlying value. Otherwise, it will throw a runtime InvalidOperationException exception when the variable value is null.
Nullable type properties

Example 1:

The example below shows how to declare variables as nullable types in C#.

// C# program to demonstrate the Nullable types in C#
using System;
namespace Nullable_Types_Example
    class Program
        static void Main(string[] args)
                Nullable<int> num1 = null;
                Console.WriteLine($" num1: {num1.HasValue}"); // Print False
                // You can declare nullable type like below as well.
                int? num2 = 10;
                Console.WriteLine($" num2: {num2.HasValue}"); // Print True
                int? num3 = 20;
                Console.WriteLine($" num3: {num3.Value}"); // Print 20
                int? num4 = null;           
                Console.WriteLine($" num3: {num4.Value}"); // Thow run time 'InvalidOperationException'

            catch(Exception ex)

As shown in the image below, the Value property of the nullable variable “num4” throws an InvalidOperationException exception because it is null and does not contain a value.

Nullable types example in CSharp

Example 2:

 int? x = null;
 int? y = 10;
 Console.WriteLine($" x = {x} , y = {y}");
 // Output: x =  , y = 10      

In the above example, the value of x is null, so nothing was printed; only the value of y is printed because it has a value.

GetValueOrDefault() method of Nullable Types

The GetValueOrDefault() method is used to get the value of a nullable type. It will return the value of the nullable type if it contains a value, or the default value if null.

            Nullable<int> num1 = null;           
            Nullable<int> num2 = 5;           

            double? a = null;
            double? b = 99.9;
            bool? c = true;
            bool? d = false;
            bool? e = null;
            Console.WriteLine(num1.GetValueOrDefault());// Returns 0
            Console.WriteLine(num2.GetValueOrDefault()); // Returns 5

            Console.WriteLine(a.GetValueOrDefault()); // Returns 0
            Console.WriteLine(b.GetValueOrDefault()); // Returns 99.9
            Console.WriteLine(c.GetValueOrDefault()); // Returns True
            Console.WriteLine(d.GetValueOrDefault()); // Returns False
            Console.WriteLine(e.GetValueOrDefault()); // Returns False

The null coalescing operator (??)

The null coalescing operator (??) can be used with the nullable value types and reference types. It is used to define the default value that will be returned when you assign a nullable type to a non-nullable type.
If the value of the first operand is null, then the operator returns the value of the second operand, otherwise, the operator returns the value of the first operand. Here is an example of code that illustrates this.

// C# program to demonstrate the null-coalescing operator in C#
using System;
namespace Nullable_Types_Example
    class Program
        static void Main(string[] args)
            int? x = null;
            int y = x ?? 100;
            Console.WriteLine($" x = {x} , y = {y}");
            // Output: x =  , y = 100           

If you look at the above code example, you will notice that we used a null-coalescing operator  ??  to assign the value of the nullable variable x to non-nullable variable y and specified the value (100) to be assigned to variable y if the variable x value is null.

Assignment rule for Nullable Type

We must assign a value to the nullable type while declaring the local variable. Otherwise, the program will give a compile-time error. Here is an example of code to demonstrate this.

Nullable types variable example in CSharp

C# Nullable Types Characteristics

The following are the key features of the nullable type in C#.

  • Nullable<T> types are useful to assign a null value to the value type variables such as int, long, float, etc.
  • We can declare nullable types like Nullable<T> or ? both are the same. The syntax ? is shorthand for Nullable<T>
  • The HasValue property of the nullable type will return true if the variable has a value and false if it is null.
  • The Value property of the nullable type variable will throw an InvalidOperationException if the value is null; otherwise, it will return the value.
  • The nullable type concept is not valid with the “var” keyword.
  • It is illegal to assign a nullable type variable value to a non-nullable type variable.
  • Example: int? x = 10; int y = x; // Throw compile time error.
  • We can use ==and != operators with a nullable type.
  • If a nullable type variable is declared at the class level then it will have a null value by default.
  • A nullable type variable declared at the function level must have value otherwise a compile-time error will occur. Example: int? num;

Refer to this link to read more about the Value Type and Reference Type in C#


Q: Why should you use nullable types?

If a variable does not have a value, you can set it to null with nullable types. This makes it clear that the variable has no value and can help prevent errors.
For example, the default value for int is 0. However, 0 could represent a valid value. This can result in a number of bugs that are difficult to track down.

Q: What is the difference between “Nullable” and “?” annotation?

Nullable<T> and “?” are the same. The “?” annotation is a shortcut for Nullable<T> in C#.

Q: How do nullable types get declared in C#?

Nullable types can be declared using Nullable<T> where T is a type. For Example: Nullable<int> i = null;

References: MSDN- Nullable value types


In this Post, We learned about the nullable types with multiple examples. I hope this has been informative and useful to you and that you have found what you were looking for. If you like this post, please do comment and share it with others.

Shekh Ali
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