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String.Equals compares strings. It is not the same as the Compare and CompareTo methods. Equals tests strings for equality. It is invoked with the method name Equals or with the equality operator.

Compare, CompareTo

Example. First we look at how you can compare strings and test equality. Here we see the instance Equals method in part 1 and 2, the op_Equality operator in part 3, and three Compare methods.

Note: All of the conditionals in the example evaluate to the Boolean value true.

C# program that compares strings for equality

using System;

class Program
    static void Main()
	string a = "a" + 1;
	string b = "a" + 1;

	// 1
	// Compare a to b using instance method on a.
	if (a.Equals(b))
	    Console.WriteLine("a.Equals(b) = true");

	// 2
	// Compare b to a using instance method on b.
	if (b.Equals(a))
	    Console.WriteLine("b.Equals(a) = true");

	// 3
	// Compare a to b with op_Equality
	if (a == b)
	    Console.WriteLine("a == b = true");

	// 4
	// Compare with string.Compare; this returns zero if they are equal
	if (string.Compare(a, b) == 0)
	    Console.WriteLine("string.Compare(a, b) = 0");

	// 5
	// Compare with string.CompareOrdinal
	// This returns zero if the char numeric values are equal
	if (string.CompareOrdinal(a, b) == 0)
	    Console.WriteLine("string.CompareOrdinal(a, b) = 0");

	// 6
	// Compare with instance Compare method
	if (a.CompareTo(b) == 0)
	    Console.WriteLine("a.CompareTo(b) = 0");


a.Equals(b) = true
b.Equals(a) = true
a == b = true
string.Compare(a, b) = 0
string.CompareOrdinal(a, b) = 0
a.CompareTo(b) = 0

There are small differences in the behavior of these statements. Parts 1 and 2 require that the string be non-null. This can be problematic in certain algorithms, but good in others.

Operator: The most common method for string comparisons is part 3 above. Sometimes operator overloading is confusing.

And: It might obscure what the compiler actually does with the expression. The compiler calls an operator method.


Compare methods. The final three examples above use the special Compare and CompareOrdinal methods, and then the CompareTo instance method. These return an integer indicating whether the first string is larger or smaller alphabetically.

IL. We can look into the .NET Framework itself to see what the instance Equals method and the equality operator do in the above examples. The Equals method is found in mscorlib.dll. It has the following internal code.

Equals instance method on string type: C#

// 1. Equals instance method
[ReliabilityContract(Consistency.WillNotCorruptState, Cer.MayFail)]
public bool Equals(string value)
    if ((value == null) && (this != null))
	return false;
    return EqualsHelper(this, value);

Equality operator on string type: IL

// The == operator overload MSIL:
.method public hidebysig specialname static bool
    op_Equality(string a, string b) cil managed
    .maxstack 8
    L_0000: ldarg.0
    L_0001: ldarg.1
    L_0002: call bool System.String::Equals(
	string, string)
    L_0007: ret

// Calls into this:
public static bool Equals(string a, string b)
    return ((a == b) || (((a != null) &&
	(b != null)) && EqualsHelper(a, b)));

Benchmark. To test the code for Equals methods, I ran a simple benchmark of two strings that are equal but don't share a string pool reference. Keep in mind that the string intern pool can complicate benchmarks.

string Equals performance test

Instance Equals method: 2028 ms [faster]
Equality operator ==:   2200 ms

Compare. Next, we review the Compare methods and note when they are needed in the C# language. In the first example in this article, you can see the result of the string.Compare method being tested for a value of zero.

When string.Compare returns zero, the strings are equal. It returns 1 or -1 depending on the sorted order of the string parameters. This means that if string.Compare ever returns 1 or -1, the strings are not equal.

Empty. There are many materials about string.Empty and empty strings. You will find that, as FxCop recommends, testing against Length is usually the best way. The string.IsNullOrEmpty method deserves a special mention—it is fast and safe.


Cases. You can easily compare strings in such a way that their case differences are ignored. To do this, use the StringComparison.OrdinalIgnoreCase or other culture-specific methods in the Equals method.

StringComparison Enum

Summary. We used the string.Equals and Compare methods. The string.Equals and equal operators have the same use normally. The Compare and CompareTo methods serve a different purpose, primarily being useful for sorting.