title=Fundamentals of Programming: User-defined data types

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UNIT 1 - ⇑ Fundamentals of Programming ⇑

← Two-Dimensional Arrays User-defined data types File handling →

You have already met a variety of built-in datatypes with integers, strings, chars and more. But often these limited datatypes aren't enough and a programmer wants to build their own datatypes. Just as an integer is restricted to "a whole number from -2,147,483,648 through 2,147,483,647", user-defined datatypes have limits placed on their use by the programmer.

Enumerated, subrange, sets


If you are using lots of constants in your program that are all related to each other it is a good idea to keep them together using a structure called an Enum. For example you might want to store the names of each set of cards in a deck, instead of writing:

Const heart as integer = 1
Const club as integer = 2
Const spade as integer = 3
Const diamond as integer = 4

dim cardset as string
cardset = spade

We can bring them together in a nice neat structure called an enum:

Enum suits
   HEARTS = 1
   CLUBS = 2
   SPADES = 3
End Enum
dim cardset as suits
cardset = suits.HEARTS

This allows you to set meaningful names to the enum and its members, meaning it it easier to remember and makes your code more readable.

We might also create separate constants to store the points of football results

Const Win as Integer = 3
Const Draw as Integer = 1
Const Lose as Integer = 0

With enums we can create a datatype called Result and store the points within it, under easy to remember name:

Enum Result
    Win = 3
    Lose = 1
    Draw = 0
End Enum

dim ManUvChelsea as Result
ManUvChelsea = Result.Win
Console.Writeline("ManU scored " & ManUvChelsea & " points" )
Exercise: Enumerated types
Declare an enum called months that holds the months along with how many days in each for a non-leap year


Enum months
   January = 31
   February = 28
   March = 31
   April = 30
   May = 31
   June = 30
   July = 31
   August = 31
   September = 30
   October = 31
   November = 30
   December = 31
End Enum
What would the following code do:
Enum DayOfWeek
    Monday = 1
    Tuesday = 2
    Wednesday = 3
    Thursday = 4
    Friday = 5
    Saturday = 6
    Sunday = 7
End Enum


   Code Output
Down arrow Hexagonal Icon.svg

Records and Fields[edit]

Record - a value that contains other values, indexed by names

Field - an element of a record

Records are collections of data items (fields) stored about something. They allow you to combine several data items (or fields) into one variable. An example at your college they will have a database storing a record for each student. This student record would contain fields such as ID, Name and Date of Birth. The following example that DOESN'T USE RECORDS might be simple enough for one student:

   Dim studentID As Integer 
   Dim studentName As String 
   Dim studentDoB As Date
Sub Main()
	Console.write("insert the id: ")
	newStudentid = console.readline()
	console.write("insert the name: ")
	newStudentname = console.readline()
	console.write("insert the Date of Birth: ")
	newStudentDoB = console.readline()

	console.writeline("new record created: " & newStudentid & " " & newStudentname & " " & newStudentDoB)
End Sub

For the following input:

   Code Output
Down arrow Hexagonal Icon.svg

insert the id: 12
insert the name: Nigel
insert the Date of Birth: 12/12/1994
new record created: 12 Nigel 12/12/1994

But what if your college has more than one student, we'd have to write:

   Dim studentID1 As Integer 'field
   Dim studentName1 As String 'field
   Dim studentDoB1 As Date 'field
   Dim studentID2 As Integer 'field
   Dim studentName2 As String 'field
   Dim studentDoB2 As Date 'field
   Dim studentID3 As Integer 'field
   Dim studentName3 As String 'field
   Dim studentDoB3 As Date 'field
   Dim studentID2400 As Integer 'field
   Dim studentName400 As String 'field
   Dim studentDoB400 As Date 'field

It would take an awfully long time to declare them all, let alone saving writing data to them. So how do we solve this? Well we need to combine two things we have learnt about so far, the record and the array. We are going to make an array of student records:

    Structure student 'record declaration
        Dim id As Integer 'field
        Dim name As String 'field
        Dim DoB As Date 'field
    End Structure

    Sub Main()
        Dim newStudents(400) As student 'declare an array of student records,  a school with 401 students

        for x = 0 to 400 'insert the details for each student
            Console.WriteLine("insert the id")
            newStudents(x).id = Console.ReadLine()
            Console.WriteLine("insert the name")
            newStudents(x).name = Console.ReadLine()
            Console.WriteLine("insert the Date of Birth")
            newStudents(x).DoB = Console.ReadLine()
        for x = 0 to 400 'print out each student
            Console.WriteLine("new record created: " & newStudents(x).id & " " & newStudents(x).name & " " & newStudents(x).DoB)
    End Sub

This seems to solve our problem, you might want to try it out yourself but decrease the number of students slightly!

Exercise: Records
Declare an record called player to store the following Role Playing Game attributes: health, name, characterclass (barbarian, wizard, elf), gold, gender


Enum type
End Enum

Structure player 'remember Visual Basic uses structure instead of record
   name as string
   health as integer
   gold as integer
   gender as char
   ' class as string ' you might have already noticed, the word class is 'reserved'
   ' this means it is has a special purpose in VBNET and we'll have to use another
   characterclass as type 'a string would work, but it's better to use an enum
End player
Creates 2 characters, Gandolf and Conan using the player record


'you can of course give them different attributes
Dim Gandolf As player
Gandolf.name = "Gandolf"
Gandolf.health = 70
Gandolf.gold = 50
Gandolf.gender = "m"
Gandolf.characterclass = type.WIZARD

Dim Conan As player
Conan.name = "Conan"
Conan.health = 100
Conan.gold = 30
Conan.gender = "m"
Conan.characterclass = type.BARBARIAN

However, what use is a program that only saves all the students for as long as it is running? We need to know how to write to files, and read the data back, we'll look at that in the next chapter.

Extension: Object Orientation

It's pretty cool creating your own datatypes where you can set up collections of attributes (fields), but it would be even cooler if you could store custom procedures and functions as well. This is where Object Orientation comes in. It's a very common way of writing code with many of the world's most popular languages (Java, C++, C#, Python) making use of it. You'll learn a lot more about it in A2 but there is nothing to stop you getting started now.