Procedures & functions in Visual Basic

In this part of the tutorial, you will learn Visual Basic procedures & functions.

We use procedures and functions to create modular programs. Visual Basic statements are grouped in a block enclosed by Sub, Function and matching End statements. The difference between the two is that functions return values, procedures do not.

A procedure and function is a piece of code in a larger program. They perform a specific task. The advantages of using procedures and functions are:

Procedures

A procedure is a block of Visual Basic statements inside Sub, End Sub statements. Procedures do not return values.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Sub Main()
       
        SimpleProcedure()
        
    End Sub
    
    Sub SimpleProcedure()
        Console.WriteLine("Simple procedure")
    End Sub
    
End Module

This example shows basic usage of procedures. In our program, we have two procedures. The Main() procedure and the user defined SimpleProcedure(). As we already know, the Main() procedure is the entry point of a Visual Basic program.

SimpleProcedure()

Each procedure has a name. Inside the Main() procedure, we call our user defined SimpleProcedure() procedure.

Sub SimpleProcedure()
    Console.WriteLine("Simple procedure")
End Sub

Procedures are defined outside the Main() procedure. Procedure name follows the Sub statement. When we call a procedure inside the Visual Basic program, the control is given to that procedure. Statements inside the block of the procedure are executed.

Procedures can take optional parameters.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Sub Main()

        Dim x As Integer = 55
        Dim y As Integer = 32
       
        Addition(x, y)
        
    End Sub
    
    Sub Addition(ByVal k As Integer, ByVal l As Integer)
        Console.WriteLine(k+l)
    End Sub
    
End Module

In the above example, we pass some values to the Addition() procedure.

Addition(x, y)

Here we call the Addition() procedure and pass two parameters to it. These parameters are two Integer values.

Sub Addition(ByVal k As Integer, ByVal l As Integer)
    Console.WriteLine(k+l)
End Sub

We define a procedure signature. A procedure signature is a way of describing the parameters and parameter types with which a legal call to the function can be made. It contains the name of the procedure, its parameters and their type, and in case of functions also the return value. The ByVal keyword specifies how we pass the values to the procedure. In our case, the procedure obtains two numerical values, 55 and 32. These numbers are added and the result is printed to the console.

Functions

A function is a block of Visual Basic statements inside Function, End Function statements. Functions return values.

There are two basic types of functions. Built-in functions and user defined ones. The built-in functions are part of the Visual Basic language. There are various mathematical, string or conversion functions.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Sub Main()
       
        Console.WriteLine(Math.Abs(-23))
        Console.WriteLine(Math.Round(34.56))
        Console.WriteLine("ZetCode has {0} characters", _
            Len("ZetCode"))
        
    End Sub
    
End Module

In the preceding example, we use two math functions and one string function. Built-in functions help programmers do some common tasks.

In the following example, we have a user defined function.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Dim x As Integer = 55
    Dim y As Integer = 32
    
    Dim result As Integer

    Sub Main()

        result = Addition(x, y)
        Console.WriteLine(Addition(x, y))
        
    End Sub
    
    Function Addition(ByVal k As Integer, _
                       ByVal l As Integer) As Integer
        Return k+l
    End Function
    
End Module

Two values are passed to the function. We add these two values and return the result to the Main() function.

result = Addition(x, y)

Addition function is called. The function returns a result and this result is assigned to the result variable.

Function Addition(ByVal k As Integer, _
                    ByVal l As Integer) As Integer
    Return k+l
End Function

This is the Addition function signature and its body. It also includes a return data type, for the returned value. In our case is is an Integer. Values are returned to the caller with the Return keyword.

Passing parameters by value, by reference

Visual Basic supports two ways of passing parameters to functions. By value and by reference. For this, we have two keywords. ByVal and ByRef. When we pass arguments by value, the function works only with the copies of the values. This may lead to performance overheads, when we work with large amounts of data.

When we pass values by reference, the function receives a reference to the actual values. The original values are affected, when modified. This way of passing values is more time and space efficient. On the other hand, it is more error prone.

Which way of passing arguments should we use? It depends on the situation. Say we have a set of data, salaries of employees. If we want to compute some statistics of the data, we do not need to modify them. We pass by values. If we work with large amounts of data and the speed of computation is critical, we pass by reference. If we want to modify the data, e.g. do some reductions or raises to the salaries, we might pass by reference.

The following two examples cover both concepts.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Dim a As Byte = 4
    Dim b As Byte = 7

    Sub Main()
       
        Console.WriteLine("Outside Swap procedure")
        Console.WriteLine("a is {0}", a)
        Console.WriteLine("b is {0}", b)

        Swap(a, b)

        Console.WriteLine("Outside Swap procedure")
        Console.WriteLine("a is {0}", a)
        Console.WriteLine("b is {0}", b)
        
    End Sub
    

    Sub Swap(ByVal a As Byte, ByVal b As Byte) 
        Dim temp As Byte
        temp = a
        a = b
        b = temp
        Console.WriteLine("Inside Swap procedure")
        Console.WriteLine("a is {0}", a)
        Console.WriteLine("b is {0}", b)
    End Sub
  
End Module

The Swap() procedure swaps the numbers between the a and b variables. The original variables are not affected.

Dim a As Byte = 4
Dim b As Byte = 7

At the beginning, these two variables are initiated.

Swap(a, b)

We call the Swap() procedure. The procedure takes a and b variables as parameters.

temp = a
a = b
b = temp

Inside the Swap() procedure, we change the values. Note that the a and b variables are defined locally. They are valid only inside the Swap() procedure.

$ ./swap1.exe 
Outside Swap procedure
a is 4
b is 7
Inside Swap procedure
a is 7
b is 4
Outside Swap procedure
a is 4
b is 7

The output shows that the original variables were not affected.

The next code example passes values to the function by reference. The original variables are changed inside the Swap() procedure.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Dim a As Byte = 4
    Dim b As Byte = 7

    Sub Main()
       
        Console.WriteLine("Outside Swap procedure")
        Console.WriteLine("a is {0}", a)
        Console.WriteLine("b is {0}", b)

        Swap(a, b)

        Console.WriteLine("Outside Swap procedure")
        Console.WriteLine("a is {0}", a)
        Console.WriteLine("b is {0}", b)
        
    End Sub
    

    Sub Swap(ByRef a As Byte, ByRef b As Byte) 
        Dim temp As Byte
        temp = a
        a = b
        b = temp
        Console.WriteLine("Inside Swap procedure")
        Console.WriteLine("a is {0}", a)
        Console.WriteLine("b is {0}", b)
    End Sub
  
End Module

In this example, calling the Swap() procedure will change the original values.

Sub Swap(ByRef a As Byte, ByRef b As Byte) 
 ...  
End Sub

Now we use the ByRef keyword to indicate that we pass parameters by reference.

$ ./swap2.exe 
Outside Swap procedure
a is 4
b is 7
Inside Swap procedure
a is 7
b is 4
Outside Swap procedure
a is 7
b is 4

Here we see that the Swap() procedure really changed the values of the variables.

Recursion

Recursion, in mathematics and computer science, is a method of defining functions in which the function being defined is applied within its own definition. (Wikipedia) In other words, a recursive function calls itself to do its job. Recursion is a widely used approach to solve many programming tasks.

A typical example is calculation of the factorial.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Sub Main()
       
        Console.WriteLine(Factorial(4))
        Console.WriteLine(Factorial(10))
        
    End Sub
    
    Function Factorial(ByVal n As UShort) As UShort
        If (n=0)
            Return 1
        Else
            Return n * Factorial(n-1)
        End If 
       
    End Function
    
End Module

In this code example, we calculate the factorial of two numbers.

Return n * Factorial(n-1)

Inside the body of the factorial function, we call the factorial function with a modified argument. The function calls itself.

$ ./recursion.exe 
24
3628800

These are the results.

Module scope, procedure scope

A scope is the range in which a variable can be referenced. A variable which is declared inside the procedure has a procedure scope. It is valid only in this particular procedure. A variable declared inside a module has a module scope. It is valid everywhere in the module.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Dim a As Byte = 2

    Sub Main()
        Dim b As Byte = 3         

        Console.WriteLine(a)
        SimpleProcedure()
        
    End Sub
    
    Sub SimpleProcedure()
        Console.WriteLine(a)
        ' Console.WriteLine(b)
    End Sub
    
End Module

In the preceding example, we declare two variables. Variable a has the module scope, variable b has the procedure scope.

Dim a As Byte = 2

Variable a is declared inside the Example module, outside the two procedures. It is valid in both procedures.

Sub Main()
    Dim b As Byte = 3         
...
End Sub

The variable b is declared in the Main() procedure. It is valid only there. It is not valid in the second procedure.

Sub SimpleProcedure()
    Console.WriteLine(a)
    ' Console.WriteLine(b)
End Sub

The statement printing the b variable is commented. If we uncommented the line, the example would not compile.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Dim a As Byte = 2

    Sub Main()
        Dim a As Byte = 3         

        Console.WriteLine(a)
        
    End Sub
    
End Module

In the preceding example, we have declared a variable with the same name in two different scopes. They do not collide. The variable declared inside the Main() procedure overrides the one, declared in the module scope.

$ ./scope2.exe 
3

Output.

Static variables

A static variable is a variable that has been allocated statically, whose lifetime extends across the entire run of the program. (Wikipedia) The default, local variables do not retain their value within consecutive calls of the function.

Option Strict On


Module Example

    Sub Main()
       
        NonStatic()
        NonStatic()
        NonStatic()
        NonStatic()
        Console.WriteLine(NonStatic)
        
    End Sub
    
    Function NonStatic() As Integer
        Dim x As Integer = 0
        x += 1
        Return x
    End Function
    
End Module

In the above example, we have a normal, non-static variable. We increment the variable each time the function is called. We call the function 5 times. However, non-static variables are initiated for each call of the function.

$ ./nonstatic.exe 
1

After 5 function calls the x variable equals to 1.

The static variables are initiated only once, when the function is first called. They retain their value afterwards.

Option Strict On

Module Example

    Sub Main()
       
        StaticFunction()
        StaticFunction()
        StaticFunction()
        StaticFunction()
        Console.WriteLine(StaticFunction)
        
    End Sub
    
    Function StaticFunction() As Integer
        Dim Static x As Integer = 0
        x += 1
        Return x
    End Function
    
End Module

After 5 consecutive calls, the x is equal to 5.

Dim Static x As Byte = 0

Static variables are created with the Static keyword.

$ ./static.exe 
5

Running the example.

In this part of the Visual Basic tutorial, we covered procedures and functions.