Understanding Dependency Property

Everyone who get introduced to Windows Presentation Foundation(WPF) are familiar with this term. But lot many get confused on it or never get what it is. I will try and make this post very simple so that it is easier to understand. My intentions are not to provide the complete technical stuff behind the Dependency property, but to keep things simple to understand and to get started. You should probably work on this lot many times to understand it better.

If you are not new to .net or any other OOP language, you are not new to Property. Dependency property was introduced in .net 3.0 and it is all together new implementation of normal properties. Dependency property differ in terms of its storage mechanism, it uses Sparse Storage and its implementation saves per-instance memory compared to a typical .NET property. However benefits of dependency property is more than just storage. One of the significances of Dependency property is its support for notification change – that means any change in the value of the property is notified down the element tree in WPF. This point particularly becomes very important to understand this.

Before I completely get on with Dependency property, let me give a gist of what attached property is. Let me explain this in a way a lay man understands: Consider a “<Canvas></Canvas>” element in your XAML. Now if you want to add a child element “<TextBlock>” to it, how do you place them in the canvas? – Here it is:

       <TextBlock Canvas.Top=”100″ Canvas.Left=”100″ Text=”Hello World”/>

OR an example with a Grid

<TextBlock Grid.Column=”0″ Grid.Row=”0″ Text=”Hello World  1″/>
<TextBlock Grid.Column=”1″ Grid.Row=”0″ Text=”Hello World 2″/>
<TextBlock Grid.Column=”0″ Grid.Row=”1″ Text=”Hello World 3″/>
<TextBlock Grid.Column=”1″ Grid.Row=”1″ Text=”Hello World 4″/> 

So what we do is we set the Canvas’s Top and Left property in the TextBlock child element or even the Grid’s Column and Row property in the child elements. This is achieved using attached property.

So here is the MSDN explanation: “An attached property is intended to be used as a type of global property that is settable on any object. One purpose of an attached property is to allow different child elements to specify unique values for a property that is actually defined in a parent element.”

In the above example, we see the property element of a parent is changed by the child, and the same gets reflected throughout the child elements. I have explained this so that you don’t confuse attached property with dependency property.

Let us extend couple of lines of code more and now understand dependency property.

And here it is:

<Slider Canvas.Top=”10″ Canvas.Left=”10″ Name=”MySlider” Minimum=”10″ Maximum=”1000″ Ticks=”100″ Width=”300″/>
 <Ellipse Canvas.Top=”130″ Canvas.Left=”150″ Width=”{Binding ElementName=MySlider, Path=Value}” Height=”{Binding ElementName=MySlider, Path=Value}” Fill=”Red”/>

The output of the above example is: When the slider is moved, automatically the ellipse gets larger or smaller based on the value of the slider. So what we understand from this is without writing event handlers or any code behind to handle the slider movement and the ellipse height and width setters – we achieve this. This is because the property “Value” of the slider is a dependency property and it notifies the change to all the elements in the XAML, and since the Ellipse’s width and height are bound to the “Slider.Value” it automatically reflects the change.

This was just an introduction, there are couple of more things I want to cover like – creating your own dependency properties for the custom controls etc, which will be updated in the next post.


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