In my most recent project we had to support classes with fairly deep object graphs where any of the nodes could validly be null. We didn’t want to have lots of ‘if not null’ checks everywhere, so I wrote an extension method which takes an expression of any length and returns the expression value or a default value if any of the nodes are null. It enabled us to do this - for this example let’s say we’ve got a Person class which has an Address property of type Address, which in turn has a Postcode property of type Postcode, which itself has a Value property of type string:

person.GetValueOrDefault(p => p.Address.Postcode.Value);

You can also optionally pass in a default value to return, like this:

person.GetValueOrDefault(p => p.Address.Postcode.Value, "No postcode");

If person, person.Address or person.Address.Postcode are null the default value is returned. Here’s the code for the extension method, followed by an overview of how it works:

using System;
using System.Linq;
using System.Linq.Expressions;
using System.Collections.Concurrent;

public static class ObjectExtensions
    public static TResponse GetValueOrDefault<T, TResponse>(
        this T root,
        Expression<Func<T, TResponse>> property,
        TResponse defaultValue = default(TResponse))
        where T : class
        if (root == null)
            return defaultValue;
        return ValueOrDefaultCache<T, TResponse>.Cache
                key => CreateValueOrDefaultLambda(property))
            .Invoke(root, defaultValue);
    private static Func<T, TResponse, TResponse> CreateValueOrDefaultLambda<T, TResponse>(
        Expression<Func<T, TResponse>> property)
        where T : class
        var rootParameter = property.Parameters.First();
        var defaultValueParameter = Expression.Parameter(typeof(TResponse), "default");
        var memberExpression = (MemberExpression)property.Body;
        Expression valueOrDefaultExpression = null;
        while (memberExpression != null)
            var memberDefaultValue = Expression.Default(memberExpression.Type);
            var memberIsNotDefault = Expression.NotEqual(memberExpression, memberDefaultValue);
            valueOrDefaultExpression = Expression.Condition(
                (valueOrDefaultExpression ?? memberExpression),
            memberExpression = memberExpression.Expression as MemberExpression;
        var lambda = Expression.Lambda<Func<T, TResponse, TResponse>>(
        return lambda.Compile();
    private static class ValueOrDefaultCache<T, TResponse>
        public static readonly ConcurrentDictionary<string, Func<T, TResponse, TResponse>> 
            Cache = new ConcurrentDictionary<string, Func<T, TResponse, TResponse>>();

The ValueOrDefaultCache class contains a ConcurrentDictionary which caches functions which return a value or default for a given expression against the ‘signature’ of the expression itself. Because ValueOrDefaultCache is static and generic, one dictionary and set of functions is cached per root and leaf object type, ensuring the functions are unique. To illustrate, the cache entry for our person.GetValueOrDefault() example above looks like this:


The cached method is built using Expression Trees; starting at the leaf the while loop walks back up to the expression root, creating a nested ternary condition for each node. The condition’s true branch returns the expression value for the leaf node, or the set of ternary conditions so far for the other nodes. The false branch returns the default value - either that supplied by the caller or the default value of the leaf node’s Type. Once a set of ternary operators has been built which checks the entire expression, a Lambda Expression is created and compiled into the function to be cached and executed.

For example, on the first pass over the loop for our person.GetValueOrDefault() example:

First pass

…the valueOrDefaultExpression goes as far as checking if p.Address.Postcode.Value is different to the default value for string; if it is it returns it, otherwise it returns the value of the default parameter passed to the function. The second time around the loop looks like this:

Second pass

…now the conditional checks if p.Address.Postcode is different to the default value for Postcode; if it is it returns the result of the first conditional, otherwise as before it returns the value of the default parameter passed to the function.

The Expression continues to built in this way to an arbitrary depth. Eventually the expression from our example looks like this:

Final pass

And we’ve got a way of checking each node in an object graph of arbitrary depth to make sure it has a value. The expression is compiled and the resulting function cached, so the next time we execute person.GetValueOrDefault(p => p.Address.Postcode.Value), it runs at almost native speed.

This version of the function only deals with MemberAccessExpressions, which means it doesn’t deal with MethodCallExpressions; calls to instance or extension methods. Maybe I’ll update it to do so at some point, otherwise I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader :)