Common Mistakes C# Developers Make with Generic Types

Mabrouk Mahdhi
3 min readOct 17
Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Let’s talk about a topic that I often see tripping up many developers, especially those relatively new to the C# world: generic types. If you’ve used C# for any length of time, you’ve probably used them or at least seen them. They look like this: List<T>, Dictionary<TKey, TValue>, and so on.

But, like many powerful tools, it’s easy to use them incorrectly. Here are some of the most common mistakes made by C# developers when it comes to generic types.

Ignoring the default keyword

Let's imagine you want a method to return a default value for a generic type:

public T GetDefaultValue<T>()
return null;

Well, this code will fail if T is a value type. Instead, use the default keyword:

public T GetDefaultValue<T>()
return default(T);

Overcomplicating with Too Many Constraints

Generic types are designed to be… well, generic! They’re meant to allow a wide range of types to be used. But sometimes, developers get carried away and start adding too many constraints.

public class MyGenericClass<T> where T : class, new(), IEnumerable, IDisposable

Keep your constraints simple. The more constraints you add, the less generic and more restrictive your generic type becomes.

Abusing Generics for Code Reusability

We’ve all been there: you learn a new tool or technique, and suddenly, you want to use it everywhere. Generics in C# are no different. It’s quite tempting to make everything generic because of the allure of reusability. However, as the saying goes, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The Problem

Making everything generic can lead to several issues:

  • Confusing Code: Too many generic parameters can confuse other developers (or even yourself after a few months).
  • Compile-time Complexities: Overly complex generic types might cause longer compilation times or even unexpected compiler errors.
  • Performance Hits: Depending on the use case, there might be situations where generics could introduce a performance overhead.

The Example

Consider this made-up example:

public class UniversalContainer<T, U, V, W, X>
public T Value1 { get; set; }
public U Value2 { get; set; }
public V Value3 { get; set; }
public W Value4 { get; set; }
public X Value5 { get; set; }

This generic class aims to be a container for any five items of potentially different types. While the intention is noble (maximum flexibility!), in reality, this design is clunky and not very intuitive. When would you ever need such a generic container in real-world applications?

Using this in your code will also be verbose and not very readable:

var container = new UniversalContainer<int, string, double, List<string>, DateTime>();

The Solution

Instead of forcing everything to be overly generic, design your classes and methods with a clear purpose in mind. If you need a class to handle different data types, consider the actual requirements and the scenarios where it will be used.

For our UniversalContainer, perhaps you just need two generic parameters for a key-value pair:

public class SimpleContainer<TKey, TValue>
public TKey Key { get; set; }
public TValue Value { get; set; }

This design is simpler, more intuitive, and will likely cover most use cases you had in mind.


Generic types in C# are a fantastic feature, allowing developers to create flexible and reusable code. But like all things in software development, they come with their set of pitfalls.



Mabrouk Mahdhi

Senior Technical Consultant by eBiz Consulting GmbH | Software Engineering