.net – ArgumentNullException or NullReferenceException from extension method

.netexceptionextension-methods

What would you consider to be the best exception type to throw when an extension method is called on a null instance (where the extension method does not allow it)? Since extension methods are nothing but static methods you could argue that it should be ArgumentNullException, but on the other hand they're used like instance methods so it might be more natural to use the NullReferenceException. Let's take the following example:

public static string ToInvariantString(this IFormattable value, string format)
{
    return value.ToString(format, CultureInfo.InvariantCulture);
}

This way a NullReferenceException will be thrown if the value parameter is null.

The other example would be:

public static string ToInvariantString(this IFormattable value, string format)
{
    if (value == null) throw new ArgumentNullException("value");
    return value.ToString(format, CultureInfo.InvariantCulture);
}

EDIT:
In some of the answers you have pointed out that an extension methods can be called like a static method and in those cases a null reference exception would be wrong, which is a great point, and actually one of my concerns, not sure why I forgot to mention that in the question in the first place.

Someone also pointed out that it's wrong to throw a NullReferenceException, and yes, it is. That's why I don't throw it, I just let it happen (let the CLR throw it) by not guarding the method.

I think I favor the ArgumentNullException (that's what I've use so far) but I still think there is at least room to argue for an against the NullReferenceException since it seems more natural in most places where the method is going to be used.

Best Solution

In general, exceptions included, you should treat an extension method as if it were a normal static method. In this case you should throw an ArgumentNullException.

Throwing a NullReferenceException here is a bad idea for a few reasons

  • A null reference did not actually occur so seeing one is counterintuitive
  • Throwing a NullReferenceException and causing a NullReferenceException to occur produce discernably different exceptions (One way to see the difference is the error code). This is true of many exceptions that are thrown by the CLR.

See When can you catch a StackOverflowException (a post I did on this subject).

  • It's perfectly legal to call an extension method just as if it were a regular method. In that case I would certainly not except a NullReferenceException, but instead an ArgumentNullException.
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