The place for .NET enthusiasts, Azure lovers, and backend developers

LINQ for beginners: pick the right methods!

2023-01-10 5 min read Blog

LINQ is a set of methods that help developers perform operations on sets of items. There are tons of methods - do you know which is the one for you?

Table of Contents

Just a second!
If you are here, it means that you are a software developer. So, you know that storage, networking, and domain management have a cost .

If you want to support this blog, please ensure that you have disabled the adblocker for this site. I configured Google AdSense to show as few ADS as possible - I don't want to bother you with lots of ads, but I still need to add some to pay for the resources for my site.

Thank you for your understanding.
- Davide

LINQ is one of the most loved functionalities by C# developers. It allows you to perform calculations and projections over a collection of items, making your code easy to build and, even more, easy to understand.

As of C# 11, there are tens of methods and overloads you can choose from. Some of them seem similar, but there are some differences that might not be obvious to C# beginners.

In this article, we’re gonna learn the differences between couples of methods, so that you can choose the best one that fits your needs.

First vs FirstOrDefault

Both First and FirstOrDefault allow you to get the first item of a collection that matches some requisites passed as a parameter, usually with a Lambda expression:

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2, 1, 6, 12 };

var mod3OrDefault = numbers.FirstOrDefault(n => n % 3 == 0);
var mod3 = numbers.First(n => n % 3 == 0);

Using FirstOrDefault you get the first item that matches the condition. If no items are found you’ll get the default value for that type. The default value depends on the data type:

Data type Default value
int 0
string null
bool false
object null

To know the default value for a specific type, just run default(string).

So, coming back to FirstOrDefault, we have these two possible outcomes:

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2,  1, 6, 12 };
numbers.FirstOrDefault(n => n % 3 == 0); // 6
numbers.FirstOrDefault(n => n % 7 == 0); // 0

On the other hand, First throws an InvalidOperationException with the message “Sequence contains no matching element” if no items in the collection match the filter criterion:

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2,  1, 6, 12 };
numbers.First(n => n % 3 == 0); // 6
numbers.First(n => n % 7 == 0); // throws InvalidOperationException

First vs Single

While First returns the first item that satisfies the condition, even if there are more than two or more, Single ensures that no more than one item matches that condition.

If there are two or more items that passing the filter, an InvalidOperationException is thrown with the message “Sequence contains more than one matching element”.

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2, 1, 6, 12 };
numbers.First(n => n % 3 == 0); // 6
numbers.Single(n => n % 3 == 0); // throws exception because both 6 and 12 are accepted values

Both methods have their corresponding -OrDefault counterpart: SingleOrDefault returns the default value if no items are valid.

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2, 1, 6, 12 };

numbers.SingleOrDefault(n => n % 4 == 0); // 12
numbers.SingleOrDefault(n => n % 7 == 0); // 0, because no items are %7
numbers.SingleOrDefault(n => n % 3 == 0); // throws exception

Any vs Count

Both Any and Count give you indications about the presence or absence of items for which the specified predicate returns True.

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2, 1, 6, 12 };

numbers.Any(n => n % 3 == 0); // true
numbers.Count(n => n % 3 == 0); // 2

the difference is that Any returns a boolean, while Count returns an integer.

Where vs First

As you remember, First returns only one item.

If you need all the items that meet the specified criteria, you can use Where:

int[] numbers = new int[] { -2, 1, 6, 12 };
numbers.Where(n => n % 3 == 0); // [6, 12]

Sort vs Order

Both Sort and Order deal with the sorting of collections.

The main difference is that Sort sorts the items in place, modifying the original collection.

On the contrary, Order and OrderBy create a new collection of items with the same items of the original sequence but sorted.

List<int> originalNumbers = new List<int> { -7, 1, 5, -6};
originalNumbers.Sort(); // originalNumbers now is [-7, -6, 1, 5]

Also, notice that Sort is valid only on List<T>, and not Arrays or generic Enumerables.

OrderBy and Order create a brand-new collection of items.

List<int> originalNumbers = new List<int> { -7, 1, 5, -6};
var sortedNumbers = originalNumbers.OrderBy(n => n);
// sortedNumbers is [-7, -6, 1, 5];
// originalNumbers is [-7, 1, 5, -6];

💡 Starting from C# 11 we can simplify OrderBy(n => n) and use Order()!

Further readings

C# collections do not natively expose such methods. They are ALL Extension methods (well, except for Sort, which is a native of List<T> ).

If you want to learn what are Extension Methods and how you can write your own methods, have a look at this article:

🔗 How you can create extension methods in C# | Code4IT

Then, in the C# TIPS section of my blog, there are several articles that you might find interesting.

One of these is about a LINQ method that you might want to know: SelectMany.

🔗 C# Tip: SelectMany in LINQ

This article first appeared on Code4IT 🐧

If you want to learn more about Sort, the best place is the documentation:

🔗 List.Sort Method | Microsoft Docs

Wrapping up

In this article, we learned the differences between couples of LINQ methods.

Each of them has a purpose, and you should use the right one for each case.

❓ A question for you: talking about performance, which is more efficient: First or Single? And what about Count() == 0 vs Any()? Drop a message below if you know the answer! 📩

I hope you enjoyed this article! Let’s keep in touch on Twitter or on LinkedIn, if you want! 🤜🤛

Happy coding!