Tag Archives: programming

To uint, or not to uint

I like unsigned integers, always have. It’s more correct, concise and expressive, you get more (positive) space out of it and you’re preventing bugs by design. What’s not to love?


I’ve been nooking CLR via C# and it’s a fantastic read for anyone who wants to ‘get serious’ about .Net. The book’s so crammed full of good information it’s hard not to gush, but I digress.

I was nooking, you see, and I came across this recommendation:

“Use signed data types (such as Int32 and Int64 instead of unsigned numeric types such as UInt32 and UInt64) wherever possible.”

Say it aint so!

Jeffrey Richter continues:

“This allows the compiler to detect more overflow/underflow errors. In addition, various parts of the class library (such as Array’s and String’s Length properties) are hard-coded to return signed values, and less casting is required as you move these values around in your code.”

Casting is ugly, no argument there but I don’t care much about the overflow/underflow errors. I generally don’t enable overflow checking, there’s no political statement here, it’s just never come up.

And it still feels wrong for me to declare a value signed when I know that it shouldn’t be.

(Richter recommends enabling checking for debug builds, and disabling for release. Sound advice!)

But here’s real the kicker for me:

In addition, unsigned numeric types are not CLS-compliant.

Doh. I did a bit of searching to try and track down why it’s not part of the CLS, and I found that Brad Abrams expresses it best in this post:

“The general feeling among many of us is that the vast majority of programming is done with signed types. Whenever you switch to unsigned types you force a mental model switch (and an ugly cast). In the worst cast you build up a whole parallel world of APIs that take unsigned types. The value of avoiding the ‘< 0' check is not worth the inclusion of generics in the CLS"

Alright, I give in. I’m apparently in the minority, these guys are way smarter than I am, and it is easier, if not more concise. So it goes.

Goodbye for now uint, you’ll always hold a positive place in my heart.

Just like Weezer: