Translate expression trees

In this article, you learn how to visit each node in an expression tree while building a modified copy of that expression tree. You translate expression trees to understand the algorithms so that it can be translated into another environment. You change the algorithm that has been created. You might add logging, intercept method calls and track them, or other purposes.

The code you build to translate an expression tree is an extension of what you've already seen to visit all the nodes in a tree. When you translate an expression tree, you visit all the nodes, and while visiting them, build the new tree. The new tree may contain references to the original nodes, or new nodes that you've placed in the tree.

Let's visit an expression tree, and creating a new tree with some replacement nodes. In this example, let's replace any constant with a constant that is 10 times larger. Otherwise, you leave the expression tree intact. Rather than reading the value of the constant and replacing it with a new constant, you make this replacement by replacing the constant node with a new node that performs the multiplication.

Here, once you find a constant node, you create a new multiplication node whose children are the original constant and the constant 10:

private static Expression ReplaceNodes(Expression original)
{
if (original.NodeType == ExpressionType.Constant)
{
return Expression.Multiply(original, Expression.Constant(10));
}
{
var binaryExpression = (BinaryExpression)original;
ReplaceNodes(binaryExpression.Left),
ReplaceNodes(binaryExpression.Right));
}
return original;
}


Create a new tree by replacing the original node with the substitute. You verify the changes by compiling and executing the replaced tree.

var one = Expression.Constant(1, typeof(int));
var two = Expression.Constant(2, typeof(int));
var executableFunc = Expression.Lambda(sum);

var func = (Func<int>)executableFunc.Compile();


Building a new tree is a combination of visiting the nodes in the existing tree, and creating new nodes and inserting them into the tree. The previous example shows the importance of expression trees being immutable. Notice that the new tree created in the preceding code contains a mixture of newly created nodes, and nodes from the existing tree. Nodes can be used in both trees because the nodes in the existing tree can't be modified. Reusing nodes results in significant memory efficiencies. The same nodes can be used throughout a tree, or in multiple expression trees. Since nodes can't be modified, the same node can be reused whenever it's needed.

Let's verify the new tree by building a second visitor that walks the tree of addition nodes and computes the result. Make a couple modifications to the visitor that you've seen so far. In this new version, the visitor returns the partial sum of the addition operation up to this point. For a constant expression it's simply the value of the constant expression. For an addition expression, the result is the sum of the left and right operands, once those trees have been traversed.

var one = Expression.Constant(1, typeof(int));
var two = Expression.Constant(2, typeof(int));
var three = Expression.Constant(3, typeof(int));
var four = Expression.Constant(4, typeof(int));

// Declare the delegate, so you can call it
// from itself recursively:
Func<Expression, int> aggregate = null!;
// Aggregate, return constants, or the sum of the left and right operand.
// Major simplification: Assume every binary expression is an addition.
aggregate = (exp) =>
exp.NodeType == ExpressionType.Constant ?
(int)((ConstantExpression)exp).Value :
aggregate(((BinaryExpression)exp).Left) + aggregate(((BinaryExpression)exp).Right);

var theSum = aggregate(sum);
Console.WriteLine(theSum);


There's quite a bit of code here, but the concepts are approachable. This code visits children in a depth first search. When it encounters a constant node, the visitor returns the value of the constant. After the visitor has visited both children, those children have computed the sum computed for that subtree. The addition node can now compute its sum. Once all the nodes in the expression tree have been visited, the sum has been computed. You can trace the execution by running the sample in the debugger and tracing the execution.

Let's make it easier to trace how the nodes are analyzed and how the sum is computed by traversing the tree. Here's an updated version of the Aggregate method that includes quite a bit of tracing information:

private static int Aggregate(Expression exp)
{
if (exp.NodeType == ExpressionType.Constant)
{
var constantExp = (ConstantExpression)exp;
Console.Error.WriteLine($"Found Constant: {constantExp.Value}"); if (constantExp.Value is int value) { return value; } else { return 0; } } else if (exp.NodeType == ExpressionType.Add) { var addExp = (BinaryExpression)exp; Console.Error.WriteLine("Found Addition Expression"); Console.Error.WriteLine("Computing Left node"); var leftOperand = Aggregate(addExp.Left); Console.Error.WriteLine($"Left is: {leftOperand}");
Console.Error.WriteLine("Computing Right node");
Console.Error.WriteLine($"Right is: {rightOperand}"); var sum = leftOperand + rightOperand; Console.Error.WriteLine($"Computed sum: {sum}");
return sum;
}
else throw new NotSupportedException("Haven't written this yet");
}


Running it on the sum expression yields the following output:

10
Computing Left node
Computing Left node
Found Constant: 1
Left is: 1
Computing Right node
Found Constant: 2
Right is: 2
Computed sum: 3
Left is: 3
Computing Right node
Computing Left node
Found Constant: 3
Left is: 3
Computing Right node
Found Constant: 4
Right is: 4
Computed sum: 7
Right is: 7
Computed sum: 10
10


Trace the output and follow along in the preceding code. You should be able to work out how the code visits each node and computes the sum as it goes through the tree and finds the sum.

Now, let's look at a different run, with the expression given by sum1:

Expression<Func<int>> sum1 = () => 1 + (2 + (3 + 4));


Here's the output from examining this expression:

Found Addition Expression
Computing Left node
Found Constant: 1
Left is: 1
Computing Right node
Computing Left node
Found Constant: 2
Left is: 2
Computing Right node
Computing Left node
Found Constant: 3
Left is: 3
Computing Right node
Found Constant: 4
Right is: 4
Computed sum: 7
Right is: 7
Computed sum: 9
Right is: 9
Computed sum: 10
10


While the final answer is the same, the tree traversal is different. The nodes are traveled in a different order, because the tree was constructed with different operations occurring first.

Create a modified copy

Create a new Console Application project. Add a using directive to the file for the System.Linq.Expressions namespace. Add the AndAlsoModifier class to your project.

public class AndAlsoModifier : ExpressionVisitor
{
public Expression Modify(Expression expression)
{
return Visit(expression);
}

protected override Expression VisitBinary(BinaryExpression b)
{
if (b.NodeType == ExpressionType.AndAlso)
{
Expression left = this.Visit(b.Left);
Expression right = this.Visit(b.Right);

// Make this binary expression an OrElse operation instead of an AndAlso operation.
return Expression.MakeBinary(ExpressionType.OrElse, left, right, b.IsLiftedToNull, b.Method);
}

return base.VisitBinary(b);
}
}


This class inherits the ExpressionVisitor class and is specialized to modify expressions that represent conditional AND operations. It changes these operations from a conditional AND to a conditional OR. The class overrides the VisitBinary method of the base type, because conditional AND expressions are represented as binary expressions. In the VisitBinary method, if the expression that is passed to it represents a conditional AND operation, the code constructs a new expression that contains the conditional OR operator instead of the conditional AND operator. If the expression that is passed to VisitBinary doesn't represent a conditional AND operation, the method defers to the base class implementation. The base class methods construct nodes that are like the expression trees that are passed in, but the nodes have their sub trees replaced with the expression trees produced recursively by the visitor.

Add a using directive to the file for the System.Linq.Expressions namespace. Add code to the Main method in the Program.cs file to create an expression tree and pass it to the method that modifies it.

Expression<Func<string, bool>> expr = name => name.Length > 10 && name.StartsWith("G");
Console.WriteLine(expr);

AndAlsoModifier treeModifier = new AndAlsoModifier();
Expression modifiedExpr = treeModifier.Modify((Expression)expr);

Console.WriteLine(modifiedExpr);

/*  This code produces the following output:

name => ((name.Length > 10) && name.StartsWith("G"))
name => ((name.Length > 10) || name.StartsWith("G"))
*/


The code creates an expression that contains a conditional AND operation. It then creates an instance of the AndAlsoModifier class and passes the expression to the Modify method of this class. Both the original and the modified expression trees are outputted to show the change. Compile and run the application.