Making F# type inference friendly for C#

One of my current hobby projects, VsVim, requires me to make a lot of calls between F# and C# projects.  The core Vim engine is a pure F# solution based on Visual Studio’s new editor.  It additionally has a small hosting layer and a large test bed both written in C#. 

When working with the exposed core Vim engine API, I’ve found a number of generated F# constructs which are not easily accessible from C#.  The problem stems from the manner in which native F# types are exposed.  Many of them are generic and  lack type inference friendly helper methods that force awkward usage patterns in C#.  Most painful is the FSharpOption<T> type because it’s a type I frequently expose in APIs. 

FSharpOption<T> is the exposed type for the native F# option construct representing a value which may or may not be present. It’s similar to C#’s nullable type except that it applies to all types of values.  The primary operations you want to do with an FSharpOption<T> are

  1. Create an option with a value
  2. Create an option without a value
  3. Determine if it has a value
  4. Determine if it does not have a value
  5. Access the value

In F# using an option is an inherent part of the language and the hence the resulting code is very elegant.

let OptionExample = 
    let optionWithValue = Some(42)
    let optionWithoutValue = None
    let isSome = Option.isSome optionWithValue
    let isNone = Option.isNone optionWithoutValue
    Option.get optionWithValue

Unfortunately the equivalent C# code is not nearly so nice. 

static int OptionExample() {
    var optionWithValue = new FSharpOption<int>(42);
    var optionWithoutValue = FSharpOption<int>.None;
    var isSome = FSharpOption<int>.get_IsSome(optionWithValue);
    var isNone = FSharpOption<int>.get_IsNone(optionWithValue);
    return optionWithValue.Value;

Too many explicit types!!!  Using any explicit type with F# related code just feels wrong. 

In C#, and most other .Net languages, 4 out of the 5 operations you want to do on FSharpOption require an explicit type parameter.  This resulting code is a bit tedious with a simple type like int but once you get to more complex generics it can get extremely verbose.  In the case of anonymous types, it’s simply not possible to use the FSharpOption<T> without a few wrappers. 

Luckily most of these can be solved by using the familiar pattern of using a non-generic class with static generic methods.  These allow C# users to take advantage of the languages type inference capabilities to reduce the verbosity of the code. 

public static class FSharpOption {
    public static FSharpOption<T> Create<T>(T value) {
        return new FSharpOption<T>(value);
    public static bool IsSome<T>(this FSharpOption<T> opt) {
        return FSharpOption<T>.get_IsSome(opt);
    public static bool IsNone<T>(this FSharpOption<T> opt) {
        return FSharpOption<T>.get_IsNone(opt);

Now we can rewrite the original sample a bit cleaner

static int OptionExample() {
    var optionWithValue = FSharpOption.Create(42);
    var optionWithoutValue = FSharpOption<int>.None;
    var isSome = optionWithValue.IsSome();
    var isNone = optionWithoutValue.IsNone();
    return optionWithValue.Value;

Notice we still haven’t fixed the None case.  Fixing this is a beyond the scope of what I want to write here but it is possible in certain scenarios.  You can take a look at how in one of my previous blog articles: Function C# Providing an Option

This pattern is not just limited to the FSharpOption class but can be applied to many of the generic constructs F# exports to wrap their native types.  In particular FSharpFunc<T,Result> and the various FSharpChoice<> types can be made a bit friendlier with a few wrappers. 

Comments (5)

  1. Jay Bazuzi says:

    Are you sure "interopting" is a word?

  2. jaredpar says:


    I was sure until I read your comment and agreed with you :).  Updated the post.  

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  4. There is a IsSome and IsNone property on FSharpOption<T>. However, both properties are static and I can’t seem to figure out how to call them.

    The property takes an argument, so of course C# can’t call it. But VB can’t call it either.

  5. P.S. Because those static properties exist, I can’t use those names for extension methods in VB.