Can someone please break down what a delegate is into a simple, short and terse explanation that encompasses both the purpose and general benefits? I've tried to wrap my head around this and it's just not sinking in.

Was it helpful?


In the simplest possible terms, it's essentially a pointer to a method.

You can have a variable that holds a delegate type (just like you would have an int variable that can hold an int type). You can execute the method that the delegate points to by simply calling your variable like a function.

This allows you to have variable functions just like you might have variable data. Your object can accept delegates from other objects and call them, without having to define all the possible functions itself.

This comes in very handy when you want an object to do things based on user specified criteria. For example, filtering a list based on a user-defined true/false expression. You can let the user specify the delegate function to use as a filter to evaluate each list item against.


I have a function:

public long GiveMeTwoTimesTwo()
    return 2 * 2;

This function sucks. What if I want 3 * 3?

public long GiveMeThreeTimesThree()
    return 3 * 3;

Too much typing. I'm lazy!

public long SquareOf(int n)
    return n * n;

My SquareOf function doesn't care what n is. It will operate properly for any n passed in. It doesn't know exactly what number n is, but it does know that n is an integer. You can't pass "Haha not an integer" into SquareOf.

Here's another function:

public void DoSomethingRad()
    int x = 4;
    long y = SquareOf(x);

Contrary to its name, DoSomethingRad doesn't actually do anything rad. However, it does write the SquareOf(4) which is 16. Can we change it to be less boring?

public void DoSomethingRad(int numberToSquare)
    long y = SquareOf(numberToSquare);

DoSomethingRad is clearly still pretty fail. But at least now we can pass in a number to square, so it won't write 16 every time. (It'll write 1, or 4, or 9, or 16, or... zzzz still kinda boring).

It'd be nice if there was a way to change what happens to the number passed in. Maybe we don't want to square it; maybe we want to cube it, or subtract it from 69 (number chosen at random from my head).

On further inspection, it seems as though the only part of SquareOf that DoSomethingRad cares about is that we can give it an integer (numberToSquare) and that it gives us a long (because we put its return value in y and y is a long).

public long CubeOf(int n)
    return n * n * n;

public void DoSomethingLeet(int numberToSquare)
    long y = CubeOf(numberToSquare);

See how similar DoSomethingLeet is to DoSomethingRad? If only there was a way to pass in behavior (DoX()) instead of just data (int n)...

So now if we want to write a square of a number, we can DoSomethingRad and if we want to write the cube of a number, we can DoSomethingLeet. So if we want to write the number subtracted from 69, do we have to make another method, DoSomethingCool? No, because that takes too damn much typing (and more importantly, it hinders our ability to alter interesting behavior by changing only one aspect of our program).

So we arrive at:

public long Radlicious(int doSomethingToMe, Func<int, long> doSomething)
    long y = doSomething(doSomethingToMe);

We can call this method by writing this:

Radlicious(77, SquareOf);

Func<int, long> is a special kind of delegate. It stores behavior that accepts integers and spits out longs. We're not sure what the method it points to is going to do with any given integer we pass; all we know is that, whatever happens, we are going to get a long back.

We don't have to give any parameters to SquareOf because Func<int, long> describes behavior, not data. Calling Radlicious(77, SquareOf) just gives Radlicious the general behavior of SquareOf ("I take a number and return its square"), not what SquareOf will do to any specific integer.

Now if you have understood what I am saying, then you have already one-upped me, for I myself don't really get this stuff.


I mean, it seems like ints could be perceived as just really boring behavior:

static int Nine()
    return 9;

That said, the line between what is data and behavior appears to blur, with what is normally perceived as data is simply boring-ass behavior.

Of course, one could imagine super "interesting" behavior, that takes all sorts of abstract parameters, but requires a ton of information to be able to call it. What if it required us to provide the source code that it would compile and run for us?

Well, then our abstraction seems to have gotten us all the way back to square one. We have behavior so abstract it requires the entire source code of our program to determine what it's going to do. This is fully indeterminate behavior: the function can do anything, but it has to be provided with everything to determine what it does. On the other hand, fully determinate behavior, such as Nine(), doesn't need any additional information, but can't do anything other than return 9.

So what? I don't know.

A delegate is a pointer to a method. You can then use your delegate as a parameter of other methods.

here is a link to a simple tutorial.

The question I had was 'So, why would I want to do that?' You won't really 'get it' until you solve a programming problem with them.

It's interesting that no-one has mentioned one of key benefits of delegation - it's preferable to sub-classing when you realise that inheritance is not a magic bullet and usually creates more problems than it solves. It is the basis of many design patterns, most notably the strategy pattern.

A delegate instance is a reference to a method. The reason they are useful is that you can create a delegate that is tied to a particular method on a particular instance of a type. The delegate instance allows you to invoke that method on that particular instance even if the object on which you will invoke the method has left your lexical scope.

The most common use for delegate instances like this is to support the concept of callbacks at the language level.

It simply references a method. They come in great use with working with cross threading.

Here is an example right out of my code.

 //Start our advertisiment thread
    rotator = new Thread(initRotate);
    rotator.Priority = ThreadPriority.Lowest;

    #region Ad Rotation
    private delegate void ad();
    private void initRotate()
        ad ad = new ad(adHelper);
        while (true)


    private void adHelper()
        List<string> tmp = Lobby.AdRotator.RotateAd();
        picBanner.ImageLocation = @tmp[0].ToString();
        picBanner.Tag = tmp[1].ToString();            

If you didnt use a delegate you wouldn't be able to crossthread and call the Lobby.AdRotator function.

Like others have said, a delegate is a reference to a function. One of the more beneficial uses(IMO) is events. When you register an event you register a function for the event to invoke, and delegates are perfect for this task.

In the most basic terms, a delegate is just a variable that contains (a reference to) a function. Delegates are useful because they allow you to pass a function around as a variable without any concern for "where" the function actually came from.

It's important to note, of course, that the function isn't being copied when it's being bundled up in a variable; it's just being bound by reference. For example:

class Foo
    public string Bar

    public void Baz()

Foo foo = new Foo();
Action someDelegate = foo.Baz;

// Produces "Hello, world".
foo.Bar = "Hello, world";

In most simplest terms, the responsibility to execute a method is delegated to another object. Say the president of some nation dies and the president of USA is supposed to be present for the funeral with condolences message. If the president of USA is not able to go, he will delegate this responsibility to someone either the vice-president or the secretary of the state.

Same goes in code. A delegate is a type, it is an object which is capable of executing the method.


Class Person
   public string GetPersonName(Person person)
     return person.FirstName + person.LastName;

   //Calling the method without the use of delegate
   public void PrintName()

   //using delegate
   //Declare delegate which matches the methods signature
   public delegate string personNameDelegate(Person person);

  public void PrintNameUsingDelegate()
      personNameDelegate = new personNameDelegate(GetPersonName);



The GetPersonName method is called using the delegate object personNameDelegate. Alternatively we can have the PrintNameUsingDelegate method to take a delegate as a parameter.

public void PrintNameUsingDelegate(personNameDelegate pnd, Person person)

The advantage is if someone want to print the name as lastname_firstname, s/he just has to wrap that method in personNameDelegate and pass to this function. No further code change is required.

Delegates are specifically important in

  1. Events
  2. Asynchronous calls
  3. LINQ (as lambda expressions)

If you were going to delegate a task to someone, the delegate would be the person who receives the work.

In programming, it's a reference to the block of code which actually knows how to do something. Often this is a pointer to the function or method which will handle some item.

In the absolute most simplest terms I can come up with is this: A delegate will force the burdens of work into the hands of a class that pretty much knows what to do. Think of it as a kid that doesn't want to grow up to be like his big brother completely but still needs his guidance and orders. Instead of inheriting all the methods from his brother (ie subclassing), he just makes his brother do the work or The little brother does something that requires actions to be taken by the big brother. When you fall into the lines of Protocols, the big brother defines what is absolutely required, or he might give you flexibility to choose what you want to make him do in certain events (ie informal and formal protocols as outlined in Objective-C).

The absolute benefit of this concept is that you do not need to create a subclass. If you want something to fall in line, follow orders when an event happens, the delegate allows a developed class to hold it's hand and give orders if necessary.

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