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In October of last year, I blogged about Dev Labs - a site dedicated to software innovations for the developer community.

Today, Dev Labs released a new innovation that our Microsoft Research organization has been working on: Code Contracts for .NET.

Design-by-contract is an idea that was pioneered by Eiffel. Today's release, Code Contracts for .NET, is a general design-by-contract mechanism that all .NET programmers can now take advantage of. Using it, programmers provide method preconditions and postconditions that enrich existing APIs with information that is not expressible in the type systems of .NET languages. Additionally, contracts specify object invariants, which define what allowable states an instance of a class may be in (i.e. its internal consistency.)

The contracts are used for runtime checking, static verification, and documentation generation. Contracts also allow automatic documentation checking and improved testing. Code Contracts for .NET currently consists of three components: the static library methods used for expressing the contracts, a binary rewriter and a static checker.

The Library Methods

The static method Contract.Requires() is used for preconditions and Contract.Ensures() is used for postconditions. Programmers write calls to these methods as a preamble at the beginning of a method. The Contract.Invariant() method is used to specify object invariants. All object invariants are put into a method marked with the attribute [ContractInvariantMethod].

You can see how these are used in the screenshot below. Notice the use of the method Contract.OldValue() within the postcondition to refer to values as they existed at the beginning of the method. The code is then compiled by the normal .NET compiler, e.g., C#, to produce IL.

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