How to Use List in C# with Example?

In C# programming, lists are a powerful tool for managing collections of items. A list in C# is a dynamic array, meaning it can grow and shrink in size as needed, providing a flexible way to handle groups of objects. Unlike arrays, lists do not require the developer to specify the size ahead of time, which allows for more dynamic data handling. One can add, remove, and sort items easily, making lists an essential construct for developers to master when working with collections of data.

To work with lists in C#, the System.Collections.Generic namespace provides a List class that allows developers to define a list of objects. This generic class enables the creation of a list to hold any data type, from primitive types like integers and strings to complex types like custom classes.

Now, let us understand how to work with lists in C# with a few examples.

What are Lists in C#?

In C#, a List is a generic collection that stores elements in a linear fashion, allowing for dynamic resizing and ease of use. One can think of a List as an enhanced array that provides more flexibility and powerful methods for manipulation.

Create a List in C#

To create a List in C#, one ensures to include the namespace System.Collections.Generic. Here is an example of initialization:

List<int> numbers = new List<int>();

Add an Item to List in C#

Items can be added to a list in C# using the .Add() method:

numbers.Add(1); // adds 1 to the list

Access Elements from a C# List

C# list elements are accessed via index, similar to arrays:

int firstNumber = numbers[0]; // gets the first element

Remove Items from C# List

The .Remove() method can be used to delete an item from a C# list.

numbers.Remove(1); // removes the number 1 from the list

Iterate Items from a C# List

A List can be iterated using a foreach loop in C#. Here is the syntax.

foreach (int number in numbers) {
    // process each number

Count Property

List provides a .Count property giving the total number of elements.

int totalItems = numbers.Count; // gets the count of list items

Create and Initialize List in C#

Here is how to create and initialize a list in C#.

Using List Constructors

The List<T> class comes with various constructors. The default constructor List() creates an empty list ready to be populated with elements of type T. One can also specify an initial capacity using List(int capacity), which is useful if the number of elements is known beforehand as it can improve performance by reducing the number of reallocations.

Example of using constructors:

List<string> fruits = new List<string>(); // Empty list of strings
List<int> numbers = new List<int>(5); // List of integers with initial capacity of 5

Initializing with Collection Initializers

Collection initializers provide a succinct way to create and populate a list in a single statement. This is done by enclosing the initial values in braces {} after the list declaration, separating each value with a comma.

Example of collection initializers:

List<string> colors = new List<string> { "Red", "Green", "Blue" }; 
List<int> primes = new List<int> { 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 };

Using collection initializers not only makes the code cleaner but also ensures that the list is immediately populated with relevant data upon creation.

Adding Elements to a List in C#

In C#, one can easily add elements to a List<T> using methods provided by the List class, specifically the Add and AddRange methods.

Add Method

The Add() method allows for inserting a single element into a List<T> in C#. It is a straightforward operation where the element is added to the end of the list, increasing the count by one.

List<int> numbers = new List<int>();
numbers.Add(1); // List now contains {1}
numbers.Add(2); // List now contains {1, 2}
numbers.Add(3); // List now contains {1, 2, 3}

AddRange Method

On the other hand, the AddRange() method is designed for adding multiple elements at once, taken from another collection that implements the IEnumerable<T> interface. This method efficiently appends all the elements from the specified collection to the end of the list.

List<int> moreNumbers = new List<int> { 4, 5, 6 };
// List now contains {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6}

This is how to add elements to a C# list.

Accessing List Elements from C# List

In C#, accessing elements in a list involves utilizing indices, specific methods, and iteration techniques. Each approach serves different use cases and provides efficient ways to retrieve data from a list.


In C#, lists are zero-indexed, meaning the first element has an index of 0. To access an element at a specific position, the index is placed inside square brackets following the list name. For example, given a list named fruits, one retrieves the first element with fruits[0].

List<string> fruits = new List<string> { "Apple", "Banana", "Cherry" };
string firstFruit = fruits[0]; // Apple

Using Methods

Lists provide methods such as .Find() and .FindAll() to search for elements. The .Find() method retrieves the first element that matches a condition, while .FindAll() returns a list of all matching elements.

string redFruit = fruits.Find(fruit => fruit.StartsWith("A"));
List<string> allRedFruits = fruits.FindAll(fruit => fruit.StartsWith("A"));

Enumeration with Foreach

Enumerating over a list with a foreach loop allows one to access each element without requiring indices. This is particularly useful for performing operations on every element.

foreach (string fruit in fruits)

Modifying List Elements in C#

In C#, lists are dynamic arrays that provide the flexibility to modify elements. Specific operations include setting values and updating lists using various methods.

Setting Values by Index

One can set the value of a list element by specifying its index. This operation directly assigns a new value to the list item at the given index. The code snippet below demonstrates how to set a list element at index 1 to "new value".

List<string> myList = new List<string>() { "first", "second", "third" };
myList[1] = "new value"; // Update the second element

It is essential to ensure that the index provided is within the bounds of the list to avoid IndexOutOfRangeException.

Update with Methods

The List class in C# offers various methods to update its contents. Two common methods are Add and Remove.

  • Add: Inserts a new element at the end of the list.
  • Remove: Searches for the specified element and removes the first occurrence from the list.

For more targeted modifications, one might also use Insert to add elements at a specific index or RemoveAt to remove an element at a particular index.

  • Insert:
myList.Insert(1, "inserted");
  • RemoveAt:

These methods allow for precise control over the list elements and their positions within the list.

Removing Elements from a C# List

Managing elements within a List in C# includes removing items. The methods to remove elements include Remove, RemoveAt, and Clear, each serving different purposes.

Remove Method

The Remove method is used to delete the first occurrence of a specific object from a List. If the item is found, it returns true; otherwise, it returns false.

List<int> numbers = new List<int> { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 };
bool isRemoved = numbers.Remove(3);  // Removes the first instance of '3'

RemoveAt Method

RemoveAt method deletes an element at a specified index within the List, shifting any subsequent elements down.

List<int> numbers = new List<int> { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 };
numbers.RemoveAt(2);  // Removes the element at index 2 which is '3'

Clear Method

The Clear method removes all the elements from a List. This method does not return any value.

List<int> numbers = new List<int> { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 };
numbers.Clear();  // All elements are removed

Sorting and Searching Lists in C#

In C#, lists can be efficiently managed to either sort or find elements. The List class provides methods like Sort for ordering the items and BinarySearch for searching.

Sort Method

The Sort method of a List<T> sorts the elements in ascending order by default. Developers can customize the sorting behavior by providing a comparer through an overload of the Sort method. For example:

List<int> numbers = new List<int> { 8, 3, 11 };
// numbers is now sorted to { 3, 8, 11 }

Using a custom comparer:

List<string> fruits = new List<string> { "banana", "cherry", "apple" };
// fruits is now sorted alphabetically regardless of case: { "apple", "banana", "cherry" }

BinarySearch Method

The BinarySearch method allows for efficient searching within a sorted list, returning the index of the element if found. It is crucial that the list is sorted before calling BinarySearch, as an unsorted list will yield unreliable results.

Using BinarySearch:

List<int> numbers = new List<int> { 3, 8, 11 };
int index = numbers.BinarySearch(8);
// index will be 1, since 8 is at the second position in the list

If the item is not found, the method returns a negative number, which is the bitwise complement of the index of the next element that is larger than the searched item or, if there is no larger element, the bitwise complement of Count.

Read-Only Lists in C#

In C#, creating a read-only view of a list ensures that the collection cannot be modified. This is particularly useful when one needs to provide access to list elements without allowing external code to change the list’s contents.

AsReadOnly Method

The AsReadOnly method is a part of the List<T> class, whereby it produces a ReadOnlyCollection<T> that wraps the original list. Here is a succinct example demonstrating its usage:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Collections.ObjectModel;

class Program
    static void Main()
        // Create a List of integers.
        List<int> numbers = new List<int> { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 };

        // Make the List read-only.
        ReadOnlyCollection<int> readOnlyNumbers = numbers.AsReadOnly();

        // Display read-only collection elements.
        foreach (int number in readOnlyNumbers)

        // Attempting to modify the collection will result in a compiler error.
        // readOnlyNumbers.Add(6); // Compiler Error

When AsReadOnly is invoked on a list, the caller receives a reference to a read-only collection that reflects the current state of the list. It’s critical to note that if the original list is changed, these changes will be visible to the read-only reference as well. However, the ReadOnlyCollection<T> does not provide any methods to modify the list, thereby preventing changes through this reference.

Advanced C# List Operations

Let us learn how to enhance the functionality of lists in C# through complex operations such as converting lists to other data structures and effectively handling exceptions that may arise during list manipulation.

Converting Lists

To extend the usability of lists, they can be converted into arrays or other collection types. This is achieved using methods such as ToArray() or ToList().

List<string> fruits = new List<string> { "Apple", "Banana", "Cherry" };
string[] fruitsArray = fruits.ToArray(); // Convert to array

One can also convert a list to a Dictionary, HashSet, or Queue for more specialized behavior:

var fruitDictionary = fruits.ToDictionary(fruit => fruit.Length);
var fruitHashSet = new HashSet<string>(fruits);
var fruitQueue = new Queue<string>(fruits);

Handling Exceptions

When performing list operations, exceptions can occur. For robust code, one should handle potential exceptions. Use try-catch blocks to handle exceptions like ArgumentOutOfRangeException when accessing elements outside the bounds of the list.

try {
    Console.WriteLine(fruits[3]); // This will throw an exception
} catch (ArgumentOutOfRangeException ex) {
    Console.WriteLine("Index out of range: " + ex.Message);

For operations that may not be supported, such as adding items to a fixed-size list, catching an NotSupportedException ensures the program remains stable.

try {
    var fixedSizeList = fruits.AsReadOnly();
    fixedSizeList.Add("Mango"); // This will throw an exception
} catch (NotSupportedException ex) {
    Console.WriteLine("Operation not supported: " + ex.Message);

Example Implementations

This section provides specific examples demonstrating how to use lists in C#. It covers basic usage to initialize and manipulate a list, followed by more complex operations.

Basic List Usage Example

One initializes a List in C# by first including the System.Collections.Generic namespace. Below is a simple example of list initialization and basic operations such as adding and retrieving elements:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;

class Program
    static void Main()
        // Initialize a new List of type int
        List<int> numbers = new List<int>();

        // Add elements to the list

        // Access elements by index
        Console.WriteLine("First element: " + numbers[0]);

        // Iterate through the list
        foreach (int number in numbers)

The output will display the first element followed by each number in the list sequentially.

Complex List Manipulations

For complex list operations, such as sorting and searching, the List class provides a suite of methods. Here’s how to perform these manipulations:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;

class Program
    static void Main()
        // Initialize a new List of type string
        List<string> planets = new List<string> { "Mars", "Earth", "Venus", "Jupiter" };

        // Sort the list alphabetically

        // Search for an element and retrieve its index
        int earthIndex = planets.IndexOf("Earth");

        // Check for the existence of an element
        bool hasNeptune = planets.Contains("Neptune");

        // Remove an element by its content

        // Output results
        Console.WriteLine("Sorted Planets:");
        foreach (string planet in planets)
        Console.WriteLine("Index of Earth: " + earthIndex);
        Console.WriteLine("Contains Neptune: " + hasNeptune);

The list of planets is first sorted, then the program searches for “Earth” to find its index, checks for “Neptune”, and removes “Venus” from the list before outputting the results.


In utilizing lists in C#, developers harness a dynamic and versatile data structure. It is crucial to understand their capabilities to manage collections of data effectively. The List<T> class offered by the System.Collections.Generic namespace is a powerful tool suitable for a myriad of programming scenarios.

In this C# tutorial, I have explained how to work with lists in C# with real examples.

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