.net c# null nullreferenceexception

What is a NullReferenceException, and how do I fix it?


I have some code and when it executes, it throws a NullReferenceException, saying:

Object reference not set to an instance of an object.

What does this mean, and what can I do to fix this error?


  • The exception helper in VS 2017 will be more helpful in diagnosing the cause of this exception —… under New Exception Helper.

    – Zev Spitz

    Dec 29, 2016 at 9:06

  • Dear future visitors, the answers to this question equally apply to an ArgumentNullException. If your question has been closed as a duplicate of this one, and you are experiencing an ANE, please follow the directions in the answers to debug and fix your problem.

    – user1228

    Oct 13, 2017 at 17:56

  • @will ANE should only happen if a null is passed as a parameter. Can you give an example if an ANE question closed as a duplicate of this one?

    Oct 14, 2017 at 21:44

  • It came up on Meta, but I’d have to go digging for the link. But as to that comment, an ANE is simply a NRE but someone added a preemptive check, and you at least know exactly what is null (the argument name is provided), so it’s a little easier to diagnose than a straight up NRE.

    – user1228

    Oct 16, 2017 at 12:53


What is the cause?

Bottom Line

You are trying to use something that is null (or Nothing in VB.NET). This means you either set it to null, or you never set it to anything at all.

Like anything else, null gets passed around. If it is null in method “A”, it could be that method “B” passed a null to method “A”.

null can have different meanings:

  1. Object variables that are uninitialized and hence point to nothing. In this case, if you access members of such objects, it causes a NullReferenceException.
  2. The developer is using null intentionally to indicate there is no meaningful value available. Note that C# has the concept of nullable datatypes for variables (like database tables can have nullable fields) – you can assign null to them to indicate there is no value stored in it, for example int? a = null; (which is a shortcut for Nullable<int> a = null;) where the question mark indicates it is allowed to store null in variable a. You can check that either with if (a.HasValue) {...} or with if (a==null) {...}. Nullable variables, like a this example, allow to access the value via a.Value explicitly, or just as normal via a.
    Note that accessing it via a.Value throws an InvalidOperationException instead of a NullReferenceException if a is null – you should do the check beforehand, i.e. if you have another non-nullable variable int b; then you should do assignments like if (a.HasValue) { b = a.Value; } or shorter if (a != null) { b = a; }.

The rest of this article goes into more detail and shows mistakes that many programmers often make which can lead to a NullReferenceException.

More Specifically

The runtime throwing a NullReferenceException always means the same thing: you are trying to use a reference, and the reference is not initialized (or it was once initialized, but is no longer initialized).

This means the reference is null, and you cannot access members (such as methods) through a null reference. The simplest case:

string foo = null;

This will throw a NullReferenceException at the second line because you can’t call the instance method ToUpper() on a string reference pointing to null.


How do you find the source of a NullReferenceException? Apart from looking at the exception itself, which will be thrown exactly at the location where it occurs, the general rules of debugging in Visual Studio apply: place strategic breakpoints and inspect your variables, either by hovering the mouse over their names, opening a (Quick)Watch window or using the various debugging panels like Locals and Autos.

If you want to find out where the reference is or isn’t set, right-click its name and select “Find All References”. You can then place a breakpoint at every found location and run your program with the debugger attached. Every time the debugger breaks on such a breakpoint, you need to determine whether you expect the reference to be non-null, inspect the variable, and verify that it points to an instance when you expect it to.

By following the program flow this way, you can find the location where the instance should not be null, and why it isn’t properly set.


Some common scenarios where the exception can be thrown:



If ref1 or ref2 or ref3 is null, then you’ll get a NullReferenceException. If you want to solve the problem, then find out which one is null by rewriting the expression to its simpler equivalent:

var r1 = ref1;
var r2 = r1.ref2;
var r3 = r2.ref3;

Specifically, in HttpContext.Current.User.Identity.Name, the HttpContext.Current could be null, or the User property could be null, or the Identity property could be null.


public class Person 
    public int Age { get; set; }
public class Book 
    public Person Author { get; set; }
public class Example 
    public void Foo() 
        Book b1 = new Book();
        int authorAge = b1.Author.Age; // You never initialized the Author property.
                                       // there is no Person to get an Age from.

If you want to avoid the child (Person) null reference, you could initialize it in the parent (Book) object’s constructor.

Nested Object Initializers

The same applies to nested object initializers:

Book b1 = new Book 
   Author = { Age = 45 } 

This translates to:

Book b1 = new Book();
b1.Author.Age = 45;

While the new keyword is used, it only creates a new instance of Book, but not a new instance of Person, so the Author the property is still null.

Nested Collection Initializers

public class Person 
    public ICollection<Book> Books { get; set; }
public class Book 
    public string Title { get; set; }

The nested collection Initializers behave the same:

Person p1 = new Person 
    Books = {
         new Book { Title = "Title1" },
         new Book { Title = "Title2" },

This translates to:

Person p1 = new Person();
p1.Books.Add(new Book { Title = "Title1" });
p1.Books.Add(new Book { Title = "Title2" });

The new Person only creates an instance of Person, but the Books collection is still null. The collection Initializer syntax does not create a collection
for p1.Books, it only translates to the p1.Books.Add(...) statements.


int[] numbers = null;
int n = numbers[0]; // numbers is null. There is no array to index.

Array Elements

Person[] people = new Person[5];
people[0].Age = 20 // people[0] is null. The array was allocated but not
                   // initialized. There is no Person to set the Age for.

Jagged Arrays

long[][] array = new long[1][];
array[0][0] = 3; // is null because only the first dimension is yet initialized.
                 // Use array[0] = new long[2]; first.


Dictionary<string, int> agesForNames = null;
int age = agesForNames["Bob"]; // agesForNames is null.
                               // There is no Dictionary to perform the lookup.

Range Variable (Indirect/Deferred)

public class Person 
    public string Name { get; set; }
var people = new List<Person>();
var names = from p in people select p.Name;
string firstName = names.First(); // Exception is thrown here, but actually occurs
                                  // on the line above.  "p" is null because the
                                  // first element we added to the list is null.

Events (C#)

public class Demo
    public event EventHandler StateChanged;
    protected virtual void OnStateChanged(EventArgs e)
        StateChanged(this, e); // Exception is thrown here 
                               // if no event handlers have been attached
                               // to StateChanged event

(Note: The VB.NET compiler inserts null checks for event usage, so it’s not necessary to check events for Nothing in VB.NET.)

Bad Naming Conventions:

If you named fields differently from locals, you might have realized that you never initialized the field.

public class Form1
    private Customer customer;
    private void Form1_Load(object sender, EventArgs e) 
        Customer customer = new Customer();
        customer.Name = "John";
    private void Button_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)

This can be solved by following the convention to prefix fields with an underscore:

    private Customer _customer;

ASP.NET Page Life cycle:

public partial class Issues_Edit : System.Web.UI.Page
    protected TestIssue myIssue;

    protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
        if (!IsPostBack)
             // Only called on first load, not when button clicked
             myIssue = new TestIssue(); 
    protected void SaveButton_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
        myIssue.Entry = "NullReferenceException here!";

ASP.NET Session Values

// if the "FirstName" session value has not yet been set,
// then this line will throw a NullReferenceException
string firstName = Session["FirstName"].ToString();

ASP.NET MVC empty view models

If the exception occurs when referencing a property of @Model in an ASP.NET MVC View, you need to understand that the Model gets set in your action method, when you return a view. When you return an empty model (or model property) from your controller, the exception occurs when the views access it:

// Controller
public class Restaurant:Controller
    public ActionResult Search()
        return View();  // Forgot the provide a Model here.

// Razor view 
@foreach (var restaurantSearch in Model.RestaurantSearch)  // Throws.
<p>@Model.somePropertyName</p> <!-- Also throws -->

WPF Control Creation Order and Events

WPF controls are created during the call to InitializeComponent in the order they appear in the visual tree. A NullReferenceException will be raised in the case of early-created controls with event handlers, etc., that fire during InitializeComponent which reference late-created controls.

For example:

    <!-- Combobox declared first -->
    <ComboBox Name="comboBox1" 
       <ComboBoxItem Content="Item 1" />
       <ComboBoxItem Content="Item 2" />
       <ComboBoxItem Content="Item 3" />
    <!-- Label declared later -->
    <Label Name="label1" 
           Margin="10" />

Here comboBox1 is created before label1. If comboBox1_SelectionChanged attempts to reference `label1, it will not yet have been created.

private void comboBox1_SelectionChanged(object sender, SelectionChangedEventArgs e)
    label1.Content = comboBox1.SelectedIndex.ToString(); // NullReferenceException here!!

Changing the order of the declarations in the XAML (i.e., listing label1 before comboBox1, ignoring issues of design philosophy) would at least resolve the NullReferenceException here.

Cast with as

var myThing = someObject as Thing;

This doesn’t throw an InvalidCastException but returns a null when the cast fails (and when someObject is itself null). So be aware of that.

LINQ FirstOrDefault() and SingleOrDefault()

The plain versions First() and Single() throw exceptions when there is nothing. The “OrDefault” versions return null in that case. So be aware of that.


foreach throws when you try to iterate on a null collection. Usually caused by unexpected null result from methods that return collections.

List<int> list = null;    
foreach(var v in list) { } // NullReferenceException here

More realistic example – select nodes from XML document. Will throw if nodes are not found but initial debugging shows that all properties valid:

foreach (var node in myData.MyXml.DocumentNode.SelectNodes("//Data"))

Ways to Avoid

Explicitly check for null and ignore null values.

If you expect the reference sometimes to be null, you can check for it being null before accessing instance members:

void PrintName(Person p)
    if (p != null) 

Explicitly check for null and provide a default value.

Methods you call expecting an instance can return null, for example when the object being sought cannot be found. You can choose to return a default value when this is the case:

string GetCategory(Book b) 
    if (b == null)
        return "Unknown";
    return b.Category;

Explicitly check for null from method calls and throw a custom exception.

You can also throw a custom exception, only to catch it in the calling code:

string GetCategory(string bookTitle) 
    var book = library.FindBook(bookTitle);  // This may return null
    if (book == null)
        throw new BookNotFoundException(bookTitle);  // Your custom exception
    return book.Category;

Use Debug.Assert if a value should never be null, to catch the problem earlier than the exception occurs.

When you know during development that a method could, but never should return null, you can use Debug.Assert() to break as soon as possible when it does occur:

string GetTitle(int knownBookID) 
    // You know this should never return null.
    var book = library.GetBook(knownBookID);  

    // Exception will occur on the next line instead of at the end of this method.
    Debug.Assert(book != null, "Library didn't return a book for known book ID.");

    // Some other code

    return book.Title; // Will never throw NullReferenceException in Debug mode.

Though this check will not end up in your release build, causing it to throw the NullReferenceException again when book == null at runtime in release mode.

Use GetValueOrDefault() for nullable value types to provide a default value when they are null.

DateTime? appointment = null;
// Will display the default value provided (DateTime.Now), because appointment is null.

appointment = new DateTime(2022, 10, 20);
// Will display the appointment date, not the default

Use the null coalescing operator: ?? [C#] or If() [VB].

The shorthand to providing a default value when a null is encountered:

IService CreateService(ILogger log, Int32? frobPowerLevel)
   var serviceImpl = new MyService(log ?? NullLog.Instance);
   // Note that the above "GetValueOrDefault()" can also be rewritten to use
   // the coalesce operator:
   serviceImpl.FrobPowerLevel = frobPowerLevel ?? 5;

Use the null condition operator: ?. or ?[x] for arrays (available in C# 6 and VB.NET 14):

This is also sometimes called the safe navigation or Elvis (after its shape) operator. If the expression on the left side of the operator is null, then the right side will not be evaluated, and null is returned instead. That means cases like this:

var title = person.Title.ToUpper();

If the person does not have a title, this will throw an exception because it is trying to call ToUpper on a property with a null value.

In C# 5 and below, this can be guarded with:

var title = person.Title == null ? null : person.Title.ToUpper();

Now the title variable will be null instead of throwing an exception. C# 6 introduces a shorter syntax for this:

var title = person.Title?.ToUpper();

This will result in the title variable being null, and the call to ToUpper is not made if person.Title is null.

Of course, you still have to check title for null or use the null condition operator together with the null coalescing operator (??) to supply a default value:

// regular null check
int titleLength = 0;
if (title != null)
    titleLength = title.Length; // If title is null, this would throw NullReferenceException
// combining the `?` and the `??` operator
int titleLength = title?.Length ?? 0;

Likewise, for arrays you can use ?[i] as follows:

int[] myIntArray = null;
var i = 5;
int? elem = myIntArray?[i];
if (!elem.HasValue) Console.WriteLine("No value");

This will do the following: If myIntArray is null, the expression returns null and you can safely check it. If it contains an array, it will do the same as:
elem = myIntArray[i]; and returns the ith element.

Use null context (available in C# 8):

Introduced in C# 8, null contexts and nullable reference types perform static analysis on variables and provide a compiler warning if a value can be potentially null or have been set to null. The nullable reference types allow types to be explicitly allowed to be null.

The nullable annotation context and nullable warning context can be set for a project using the Nullable element in your csproj file. This element configures how the compiler interprets the nullability of types and what warnings are generated. Valid settings are:

  • enable: The nullable annotation context is enabled. The nullable warning context is enabled. Variables of a reference type, string, for example, are non-nullable. All nullability warnings are enabled.
  • disable: The nullable annotation context is disabled. The nullable warning context is disabled. Variables of a reference type are oblivious, just like earlier versions of C#. All nullability warnings are disabled.
  • safeonly: The nullable annotation context is enabled. The nullable warning context is safeonly. Variables of a reference type are non-nullable. All safety nullability warnings are enabled.
  • warnings: The nullable annotation context is disabled. The nullable warning context is enabled. Variables of a reference type are oblivious. All nullability warnings are enabled.
  • safeonlywarnings: The nullable annotation context is disabled. The nullable warning context is safeonly.
    Variables of a reference type are oblivious. All safety nullability warnings are enabled.

A nullable reference type is noted using the same syntax as nullable value types: a ? is appended to the type of the variable.

Special techniques for debugging and fixing null derefs in iterators

C# supports “iterator blocks” (called “generators” in some other popular languages). NullReferenceException can be particularly tricky to debug in iterator blocks because of deferred execution:

public IEnumerable<Frob> GetFrobs(FrobFactory f, int count)
    for (int i = 0; i < count; ++i)
    yield return f.MakeFrob();
FrobFactory factory = whatever;
IEnumerable<Frobs> frobs = GetFrobs();
foreach(Frob frob in frobs) { ... }

If whatever results in null then MakeFrob will throw. Now, you might think that the right thing to do is this:

public IEnumerable<Frob> GetFrobs(FrobFactory f, int count)
   if (f == null) 
      throw new ArgumentNullException("f", "factory must not be null");
   for (int i = 0; i < count; ++i)
      yield return f.MakeFrob();

Why is this wrong? Because the iterator block does not actually run until the foreach! The call to GetFrobs simply returns an object which when iterated will run the iterator block.

By writing a null check like this you prevent the NullReferenceException, but you move the NullArgumentException to the point of the iteration, not to the point of the call, and that is very confusing to debug.

The correct fix is:

public IEnumerable<Frob> GetFrobs(FrobFactory f, int count)
   // No yields in a public method that throws!
   if (f == null) 
       throw new ArgumentNullException("f", "factory must not be null");
   return GetFrobsForReal(f, count);
private IEnumerable<Frob> GetFrobsForReal(FrobFactory f, int count)
   // Yields in a private method
   Debug.Assert(f != null);
   for (int i = 0; i < count; ++i)
        yield return f.MakeFrob();

That is, make a private helper method that has the iterator block logic and a public surface method that does the null check and returns the iterator. Now when GetFrobs is called, the null check happens immediately, and then GetFrobsForReal executes when the sequence is iterated.

If you examine the reference source for LINQ to Objects you will see that this technique is used throughout. It is slightly more clunky to write, but it makes debugging nullity errors much easier. Optimize your code for the convenience of the caller, not the convenience of the author.

A note on null dereferences in unsafe code

C# has an “unsafe” mode which is, as the name implies, extremely dangerous because the normal safety mechanisms which provide memory safety and type safety are not enforced. You should not be writing unsafe code unless you have a thorough and deep understanding of how memory works.

In unsafe mode, you should be aware of two important facts:

  • dereferencing a null pointer produces the same exception as dereferencing a null reference
  • dereferencing an invalid non-null pointer can produce that exception in some circumstances

To understand why that is, it helps to understand how .NET produces NullReferenceException in the first place. (These details apply to .NET running on Windows; other operating systems use similar mechanisms.)

Memory is virtualized in Windows; each process gets a virtual memory space of many “pages” of memory that are tracked by the operating system. Each page of memory has flags set on it that determine how it may be used: read from, written to, executed, and so on. The lowest page is marked as “produce an error if ever used in any way”.

Both a null pointer and a null reference in C# are internally represented as the number zero, and so any attempt to dereference it into its corresponding memory storage causes the operating system to produce an error. The .NET runtime then detects this error and turns it into the NullReferenceException.

That’s why dereferencing both a null pointer and a null reference produces the same exception.

What about the second point? Dereferencing any invalid pointer that falls in the lowest page of virtual memory causes the same operating system error, and thereby the same exception.

Why does this make sense? Well, suppose we have a struct containing two ints, and an unmanaged pointer equal to null. If we attempt to dereference the second int in the struct, the CLR will not attempt to access the storage at location zero; it will access the storage at location four. But logically this is a null dereference because we are getting to that address via the null.

If you are working with unsafe code and you get a NullReferenceException, just be aware that the offending pointer need not be null. It can be any location in the lowest page, and this exception will be produced.


  • 62

    Maybe this is a dumb comment but wouldnt the first and best way to avoid this problem be to initialize the object? For me if this error occurs it is usually because I forgot to initialize something like the array element. I think it is far less common to define the object as null and then reference it. Maybe give the way to solve each problem adjacent to the description. Still a good post.

    – JPK

    May 20, 2014 at 6:39

  • 33

    What if there is no object, but rather the return value from a method or property?

    May 20, 2014 at 6:41

  • 7

    The book/author example is a little weird…. How does that even compile? How does intellisense even work? What is this I’m not good with computar…

    – user1228

    Sep 8, 2014 at 18:26

  • 5

    @Will: does my last edit help? If not, then please be more explicit about what you see as a problem.

    Sep 8, 2014 at 18:41

  • 6

    @JohnSaunders Oh, no, sorry, I meant the object initializer version of that. new Book { Author = { Age = 45 } }; How does the inner initialization even… I can’t think of a situation where inner init would ever work, yet it compiles and intellisense works… Unless for structs?

    – user1228

    Sep 8, 2014 at 18:44


NullReference Exception — Visual Basic

The NullReference Exception for Visual Basic is no different from the one in C#. After all, they are both reporting the same exception defined in the .NET Framework which they both use. Causes unique to Visual Basic are rare (perhaps only one).

This answer will use Visual Basic terms, syntax, and context. The examples used come from a large number of past Stack  Overflow questions. This is to maximize relevance by using the kinds of situations often seen in posts. A bit more explanation is also provided for those who might need it. An example similar to yours is very likely listed here.


  1. This is concept-based: there is no code for you to paste into your project. It is intended to help you understand what causes a NullReferenceException (NRE), how to find it, how to fix it, and how to avoid it. An NRE can be caused many ways so this is unlikely to be your sole encounter.
  2. The examples (from Stack  Overflow posts) do not always show the best way to do something in the first place.
  3. Typically, the simplest remedy is used.

Basic Meaning

The message “Object not set to an instance of Object” means you are trying to use an object which has not been initialized. This boils down to one of these:

  • Your code declared an object variable, but it did not initialize it (create an instance or ‘instantiate‘ it)
  • Something which your code assumed would initialize an object, did not
  • Possibly, other code prematurely invalidated an object still in use

Finding The Cause

Since the problem is an object reference which is Nothing, the answer is to examine them to find out which one. Then determine why it is not initialized. Hold the mouse over the various variables and Visual Studio (VS) will show their values – the culprit will be Nothing.

IDE debug display

You should also remove any Try/Catch blocks from the relevant code, especially ones where there is nothing in the Catch block. This will cause your code to crash when it tries to use an object which is Nothing. This is what you want because it will identify the exact location of the problem, and allow you to identify the object causing it.

A MsgBox in the Catch which displays Error while... will be of little help. This method also leads to very bad Stack  Overflow questions, because you can’t describe the actual exception, the object involved or even the line of code where it happens.

You can also use the Locals Window (Debug -> Windows -> Locals) to examine your objects.

Once you know what and where the problem is, it is usually fairly easy to fix and faster than posting a new question.

See also:

Examples and Remedies

Class Objects / Creating an Instance

Dim reg As CashRegister
TextBox1.Text = reg.Amount         ' NRE

The problem is that Dim does not create a CashRegister object; it only declares a variable named reg of that Type. Declaring an object variable and creating an instance are two different things.


The New operator can often be used to create the instance when you declare it:

Dim reg As New CashRegister        ' [New] creates instance, invokes the constructor

' Longer, more explicit form:
Dim reg As CashRegister = New CashRegister

When it is only appropriate to create the instance later:

Private reg As CashRegister         ' Declare
reg = New CashRegister()            ' Create instance

Note: Do not use Dim again in a procedure, including the constructor (Sub New):

Private reg As CashRegister

Public Sub New()
   Dim reg As New CashRegister
End Sub

This will create a local variable, reg, which exists only in that context (sub). The reg variable with module level Scope which you will use everywhere else remains Nothing.

Missing the New operator is the #1 cause of NullReference Exceptions seen in the Stack  Overflow questions reviewed.

Visual Basic tries to make the process clear repeatedly using New: Using the New Operator creates a new object and calls Sub New — the constructor — where your object can perform any other initialization.

To be clear, Dim (or Private) only declares a variable and its Type. The Scope of the variable – whether it exists for the entire module/class or is local to a procedure – is determined by where it is declared. Private | Friend | Public defines the access level, not Scope.

For more information, see:


Arrays must also be instantiated:

Private arr as String()

This array has only been declared, not created. There are several ways to initialize an array:

Private arr as String() = New String(10){}
' or
Private arr() As String = New String(10){}

' For a local array (in a procedure) and using 'Option Infer':
Dim arr = New String(10) {}

Note: Beginning with VS 2010, when initializing a local array using a literal and Option Infer, the As <Type> and New elements are optional:

Dim myDbl As Double() = {1.5, 2, 9.9, 18, 3.14}
Dim myDbl = New Double() {1.5, 2, 9.9, 18, 3.14}
Dim myDbl() = {1.5, 2, 9.9, 18, 3.14}

The data Type and array size are inferred from the data being assigned. Class/Module level declarations still require As <Type> with Option Strict:

Private myDoubles As Double() = {1.5, 2, 9.9, 18, 3.14}

Example: Array of class objects

Dim arrFoo(5) As Foo

For i As Integer = 0 To arrFoo.Count - 1
   arrFoo(i).Bar = i * 10       ' Exception

The array has been created, but the Foo objects in it have not.


For i As Integer = 0 To arrFoo.Count - 1
    arrFoo(i) = New Foo()         ' Create Foo instance
    arrFoo(i).Bar = i * 10

Using a List(Of T) will make it quite difficult to have an element without a valid object:

Dim FooList As New List(Of Foo)     ' List created, but it is empty
Dim f As Foo                        ' Temporary variable for the loop

For i As Integer = 0 To 5
    f = New Foo()                    ' Foo instance created
    f.Bar =  i * 10
    FooList.Add(f)                   ' Foo object added to list

For more information, see:

Lists and Collections

.NET collections (of which there are many varieties – Lists, Dictionary, etc.) must also be instantiated or created.

Private myList As List(Of String)
myList.Add("ziggy")           ' NullReference

You get the same exception for the same reason – myList was only declared, but no instance created. The remedy is the same:

myList = New List(Of String)

' Or create an instance when declared:
Private myList As New List(Of String)

A common oversight is a class which uses a collection Type:

Public Class Foo
    Private barList As List(Of Bar)

    Friend Function BarCount As Integer
        Return barList.Count
    End Function

    Friend Sub AddItem(newBar As Bar)
        If barList.Contains(newBar) = False Then
        End If
    End Function

Either procedure will result in an NRE, because barList is only declared, not instantiated. Creating an instance of Foo will not also create an instance of the internal barList. It may have been the intent to do this in the constructor:

Public Sub New         ' Constructor
    ' Stuff to do when a new Foo is created...
    barList = New List(Of Bar)
End Sub

As before, this is incorrect:

Public Sub New()
    ' Creates another barList local to this procedure
     Dim barList As New List(Of Bar)
End Sub

For more information, see List(Of T) Class.

Data Provider Objects

Working with databases presents many opportunities for a NullReference because there can be many objects (Command, Connection, Transaction, Dataset, DataTable, DataRows….) in use at once. Note: It does not matter which data provider you are using — MySQL, SQL Server, OleDB, etc. — the concepts are the same.

Example 1

Dim da As OleDbDataAdapter
Dim ds As DataSet
Dim MaxRows As Integer

Dim sql = "SELECT * FROM tblfoobar_List"
da = New OleDbDataAdapter(sql, con)
da.Fill(ds, "foobar")

MaxRows = ds.Tables("foobar").Rows.Count      ' Error

As before, the ds Dataset object was declared, but an instance was never created. The DataAdapter will fill an existing DataSet, not create one. In this case, since ds is a local variable, the IDE warns you that this might happen:


When declared as a module/class level variable, as appears to be the case with con, the compiler can’t know if the object was created by an upstream procedure. Do not ignore warnings.


Dim ds As New DataSet

Example 2

ds = New DataSet
da = New OleDBDataAdapter(sql, con)
da.Fill(ds, "Employees")

txtID.Text = ds.Tables("Employee").Rows(0).Item(1)
txtID.Name = ds.Tables("Employee").Rows(0).Item(2)

A typo is a problem here: Employees vs Employee. There was no DataTable named “Employee” created, so a NullReferenceException results trying to access it. Another potential problem is assuming there will be Items which may not be so when the SQL includes a WHERE clause.


Since this uses one table, using Tables(0) will avoid spelling errors. Examining Rows.Count can also help:

If ds.Tables(0).Rows.Count > 0 Then
    txtID.Text = ds.Tables(0).Rows(0).Item(1)
    txtID.Name = ds.Tables(0).Rows(0).Item(2)
End If

Fill is a function returning the number of Rows affected which can also be tested:

If da.Fill(ds, "Employees") > 0 Then...

Example 3

Dim da As New OleDb.OleDbDataAdapter("SELECT TICKET.TICKET_NO,
Dim ds As New DataSet

If ds.Tables("TICKET_RESERVATION").Rows.Count > 0 Then

The DataAdapter will provide TableNames as shown in the previous example, but it does not parse names from the SQL or database table. As a result, ds.Tables("TICKET_RESERVATION") references a non-existent table.

The Remedy is the same, reference the table by index:

If ds.Tables(0).Rows.Count > 0 Then

See also DataTable Class.

Object Paths / Nested

If myFoo.Bar.Items IsNot Nothing Then

The code is only testing Items while both myFoo and Bar may also be Nothing. The remedy is to test the entire chain or path of objects one at a time:

If (myFoo IsNot Nothing) AndAlso
    (myFoo.Bar IsNot Nothing) AndAlso
    (myFoo.Bar.Items IsNot Nothing) Then

AndAlso is important. Subsequent tests will not be performed once the first False condition is encountered. This allows the code to safely ‘drill’ into the object(s) one ‘level’ at a time, evaluating myFoo.Bar only after (and if) myFoo is determined to be valid. Object chains or paths can get quite long when coding complex objects:


It is not possible to reference anything ‘downstream’ of a null object. This also applies to controls:

myWebBrowser.Document.GetElementById("formfld1").InnerText = "some value"

Here, myWebBrowser or Document could be Nothing or the formfld1 element may not exist.

UI Controls

Dim cmd5 As New SqlCommand("select Cartons, Pieces, Foobar " _
     & "FROM Invoice where invoice_no = '" & _
     Me.ComboBox5.SelectedItem.ToString.Trim & "' And category = '" & _
     Me.ListBox1.SelectedItem.ToString.Trim & "' And item_name="" & _
     Me.ComboBox2.SelectedValue.ToString.Trim & "" And expiry_date="" & _
     Me.expiry.Text & """, con)

Among other things, this code does not anticipate that the user may not have selected something in one or more UI controls. ListBox1.SelectedItem may well be Nothing, so ListBox1.SelectedItem.ToString will result in an NRE.


Validate data before using it (also use Option Strict and SQL parameters):

Dim expiry As DateTime         ' for text date validation
If (ComboBox5.SelectedItems.Count > 0) AndAlso
    (ListBox1.SelectedItems.Count > 0) AndAlso
    (ComboBox2.SelectedItems.Count > 0) AndAlso
    (DateTime.TryParse(expiry.Text, expiry) Then

    '... do stuff
    MessageBox.Show(...error message...)
End If

Alternatively, you can use (ComboBox5.SelectedItem IsNot Nothing) AndAlso...

Visual Basic Forms

Public Class Form1

    Private NameBoxes = New TextBox(5) {Controls("TextBox1"), _
                   Controls("TextBox2"), Controls("TextBox3"), _
                   Controls("TextBox4"), Controls("TextBox5"), _

    ' same thing in a different format:
    Private boxList As New List(Of TextBox) From {TextBox1, TextBox2, TextBox3 ...}

    ' Immediate NRE:
    Private somevar As String = Me.Controls("TextBox1").Text

This is a fairly common way to get an NRE. In C#, depending on how it is coded, the IDE will report that Controls does not exist in the current context, or “cannot reference non-static member”. So, to some extent, this is a VB-only situation. It is also complex because it can result in a failure cascade.

The arrays and collections cannot be initialized this way. This initialization code will run before the constructor creates the Form or the Controls. As a result:

  • Lists and Collection will simply be empty
  • The Array will contain five elements of Nothing
  • The somevar assignment will result in an immediate NRE because Nothing doesn’t have a .Text property

Referencing array elements later will result in an NRE. If you do this in Form_Load, due to an odd bug, the IDE may not report the exception when it happens. The exception will pop up later when your code tries to use the array. This “silent exception” is detailed in this post. For our purposes, the key is that when something catastrophic happens while creating a form (Sub New or Form Load event), exceptions may go unreported, the code exits the procedure and just displays the form.

Since no other code in your Sub New or Form Load event will run after the NRE, a great many other things can be left uninitialized.

Sub Form_Load(..._
   Dim name As String = NameBoxes(2).Text        ' NRE
   ' ...
   ' More code (which will likely not be executed)
   ' ...
End Sub

Note this applies to any and all control and component references making these illegal where they are:

Public Class Form1

    Private myFiles() As String = Me.OpenFileDialog1.FileName & ...
    Private dbcon As String = OpenFileDialog1.FileName & ";Jet Oledb..."
    Private studentName As String = TextBox13.Text

Partial Remedy

It is curious that VB does not provide a warning, but the remedy is to declare the containers at the form level, but initialize them in form load event handler when the controls do exist. This can be done in Sub New as long as your code is after the InitializeComponent call:

' Module level declaration
Private NameBoxes as TextBox()
Private studentName As String

' Form Load, Form Shown or Sub New:
' Using the OP's approach (illegal using OPTION STRICT)
NameBoxes = New TextBox() {Me.Controls("TextBox1"), Me.Controls("TestBox2"), ...)
studentName = TextBox32.Text           ' For simple control references

The array code may not be out of the woods yet. Any controls which are in a container control (like a GroupBox or Panel) will not be found in Me.Controls; they will be in the Controls collection of that Panel or GroupBox. Nor will a control be returned when the control name is misspelled ("TeStBox2"). In such cases, Nothing will again be stored in those array elements and an NRE will result when you attempt to reference it.

These should be easy to find now that you know what you are looking for:
VS shows you the error of your ways

“Button2” resides on a Panel


Rather than indirect references by name using the form’s Controls collection, use the control reference:

' Declaration
Private NameBoxes As TextBox()

' Initialization -  simple and easy to read, hard to botch:
NameBoxes = New TextBox() {TextBox1, TextBox2, ...)

' Initialize a List
NamesList = New List(Of TextBox)({TextBox1, TextBox2, TextBox3...})
' or
NamesList = New List(Of TextBox)
NamesList.AddRange({TextBox1, TextBox2, TextBox3...})

Function Returning Nothing

Private bars As New List(Of Bars)        ' Declared and created

Public Function BarList() As List(Of Bars)
    If someCondition Then
        For n As Integer = 0 to someValue
        Next n
        Exit Function
    End If

    Return bars
End Function

This is a case where the IDE will warn you that ‘not all paths return a value and a NullReferenceException may result‘. You can suppress the warning, by replacing Exit Function with Return Nothing, but that does not solve the problem. Anything which tries to use the return when someCondition = False will result in an NRE:

bList = myFoo.BarList()
For Each b As Bar in bList      ' EXCEPTION


Replace Exit Function in the function with Return bList. Returning an empty List is not the same as returning Nothing. If there is a chance that a returned object can be Nothing, test before using it:

 bList = myFoo.BarList()
 If bList IsNot Nothing Then...

Poorly Implemented Try/Catch

A badly implemented Try/Catch can hide where the problem is and result in new ones:

Dim dr As SqlDataReader
    Dim lnk As LinkButton = TryCast(sender, LinkButton)
    Dim gr As GridViewRow = DirectCast(lnk.NamingContainer, GridViewRow)
    Dim eid As String = GridView1.DataKeys(gr.RowIndex).Value.ToString()
    ViewState("username") = eid
    sqlQry = "select FirstName, Surname, DepartmentName, ExtensionName, jobTitle,
             Pager, mailaddress, from employees1 where username="" & eid & """
    If connection.State <> ConnectionState.Open Then
    End If
    command = New SqlCommand(sqlQry, connection)

    'More code fooing and barring

    dr = command.ExecuteReader()
    If dr.Read() Then
        lblFirstName.Text = Convert.ToString(dr("FirstName"))
    End If

    dr.Close()             ' <-- NRE
End Try

This is a case of an object not being created as expected, but also demonstrates the counter usefulness of an empty Catch.

There is an extra comma in the SQL (after ‘mailaddress’) which results in an exception at .ExecuteReader. After the Catch does nothing, Finally tries to perform clean up, but since you cannot Close a null DataReader object, a brand new NullReferenceException results.

An empty Catch block is the devil’s playground. This OP was baffled why he was getting an NRE in the Finally block. In other situations, an empty Catch may result in something else much further downstream going haywire and cause you to spend time looking at the wrong things in the wrong place for the problem. (The “silent exception” described above provides the same entertainment value.)


Don’t use empty Try/Catch blocks – let the code crash so you can a) identify the cause b) identify the location and c) apply a proper remedy. Try/Catch blocks are not intended to hide exceptions from the person uniquely qualified to fix them – the developer.

DBNull is not the same as Nothing

For Each row As DataGridViewRow In dgvPlanning.Rows
    If Not IsDBNull(row.Cells(0).Value) Then

The IsDBNull function is used to test if a value equals System.DBNull: From MSDN:

The System.DBNull value indicates that the Object represents missing or non-existent data. DBNull is not the same as Nothing, which indicates that a variable has not yet been initialized.


If row.Cells(0) IsNot Nothing Then ...

As before, you can test for Nothing, then for a specific value:

If (row.Cells(0) IsNot Nothing) AndAlso (IsDBNull(row.Cells(0).Value) = False) Then

Example 2

Dim getFoo = (From f In dbContext.FooBars
               Where f.something = something
               Select f).FirstOrDefault

If Not IsDBNull(getFoo) Then
    If IsDBNull(getFoo.user_id) Then
        txtFirst.Text = getFoo.first_name

FirstOrDefault returns the first item or the default value, which is Nothing for reference types and never DBNull:

If getFoo IsNot Nothing Then...


Dim chk As CheckBox

chk = CType(Me.Controls(chkName), CheckBox)
If chk.Checked Then
    Return chk
End If

If a CheckBox with chkName can’t be found (or exists in a GroupBox), then chk will be Nothing and be attempting to reference any property will result in an exception.


If (chk IsNot Nothing) AndAlso (chk.Checked) Then ...

The DataGridView

The DGV has a few quirks seen periodically:

dgvBooks.DataSource = loan.Books
dgvBooks.Columns("ISBN").Visible = True       ' NullReferenceException
dgvBooks.Columns("Title").DefaultCellStyle.Format = "C"
dgvBooks.Columns("Author").DefaultCellStyle.Format = "C"
dgvBooks.Columns("Price").DefaultCellStyle.Format = "C"

If dgvBooks has AutoGenerateColumns = True, it will create the columns, but it does not name them, so the above code fails when it references them by name.


Name the columns manually, or reference by index:

dgvBooks.Columns(0).Visible = True

Example 2 — Beware of the NewRow

xlWorkSheet = xlWorkBook.Sheets("sheet1")

For i = 0 To myDGV.RowCount - 1
    For j = 0 To myDGV.ColumnCount - 1
        For k As Integer = 1 To myDGV.Columns.Count
            xlWorkSheet.Cells(1, k) = myDGV.Columns(k - 1).HeaderText
            xlWorkSheet.Cells(i + 2, j + 1) = myDGV(j, i).Value.ToString()

When your DataGridView has AllowUserToAddRows as True (the default), the Cells in the blank/new row at the bottom will all contain Nothing. Most attempts to use the contents (for example, ToString) will result in an NRE.


Use a For/Each loop and test the IsNewRow property to determine if it is that last row. This works whether AllowUserToAddRows is true or not:

For Each r As DataGridViewRow in myDGV.Rows
    If r.IsNewRow = False Then
         ' ok to use this row

If you do use a For n loop, modify the row count or use Exit For when IsNewRow is true.

My.Settings (StringCollection)

Under certain circumstances, trying to use an item from My.Settings which is a StringCollection can result in a NullReference the first time you use it. The solution is the same, but not as obvious. Consider:

My.Settings.FooBars.Add("ziggy")         ' foobars is a string collection

Since VB is managing Settings for you, it is reasonable to expect it to initialize the collection. It will, but only if you have previously added an initial entry to the collection (in the Settings editor). Since the collection is (apparently) initialized when an item is added, it remains Nothing when there are no items in the Settings editor to add.


Initialize the settings collection in the form’s Load event handler, if/when needed:

If My.Settings.FooBars Is Nothing Then
    My.Settings.FooBars = New System.Collections.Specialized.StringCollection
End If

Typically, the Settings collection will only need to be initialized the first time the application runs. An alternate remedy is to add an initial value to your collection in Project -> Settings | FooBars, save the project, then remove the fake value.

Key Points

You probably forgot the New operator.


Something you assumed would perform flawlessly to return an initialized object to your code, did not.

Don’t ignore compiler warnings (ever) and use Option Strict On (always).

MSDN NullReference Exception



    Another scenario is when you cast a null object into a value type. For example, the code below:

    object o = null;
    DateTime d = (DateTime)o;

    It will throw a NullReferenceException on the cast. It seems quite obvious in the above sample, but this can happen in more “late-binding” intricate scenarios where the null object has been returned from some code you don’t own, and the cast is for example generated by some automatic system.

    One example of this is this simple ASP.NET binding fragment with the Calendar control:

    <asp:Calendar runat="server" SelectedDate="<%#Bind("Something")%>" />

    Here, SelectedDate is in fact a property – of DateTime type – of the Calendar Web Control type, and the binding could perfectly return something null. The implicit ASP.NET Generator will create a piece of code that will be equivalent to the cast code above. And this will raise a NullReferenceException that is quite difficult to spot, because it lies in ASP.NET generated code which compiles fine…


    • 7

      Great catch. One-liner way to avoid: DateTime x = (DateTime) o as DateTime? ?? defaultValue;

      Jun 29, 2015 at 11:07