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by Jiří {x2} Činčura

Master-detail magic that’s completely clear

7 Jul 2014 2 mins Entity Framework

Last week participant on my Entity Framework course created a code that looked like it should not work, but it worked. And I had initially trouble explaining why. After I dug deep, almost running out of bullets 😃, I finally saw it clearly. It made complete sense as computers follow steps exactly. Let’s have a look.

It’s a pretty simple master-detail scenario. Here’s the setup.

class MyContext : DbContext
	public MyContext()
		: base(new SqlConnection(@"Data Source=(localdb)\mssql;Initial Catalog=test;Integrated Security=True"), true)
	{ }

	public DbSet<Master> Masters { get; set; }
	public DbSet<Detail> Details { get; set; }

class MyContextConfiguration : DbConfiguration
	public MyContextConfiguration()
		SetDatabaseInitializer(new DropCreateDatabaseAlways<MyContext>());

class Master
	public int Id { get; set; }
	public int FooBar { get; set; }
	public ICollection<Detail> Details { get; set; }

class Detail
	public int Id { get; set; }
	public int FooBarBaz { get; set; }
	public int MasterId { get; set; }
	public Master Master { get; set; }

And now imagine this code.

using (var ctx = new MyContext())
	var detail = new Detail() { FooBarBaz = 1234 };
	var master = new Master() { FooBar = 4321 };

In case you missed it. The master and detail are not connected whatsoever. I’m not setting MasterId nor Master property (neither touching Details property, which is null anyway). Shouldn’t the SaveChanges call fail? If you already tried the code, you know it didn’t failed. But why?

Well, after the cloud of smoke from frustration settles and you start tearing it apart piece by piece, it’s pretty obvious. The two entites are actually connected. The master.Id is 0, because that’s the default value for int. Same for detail.MasterId. Makes complete sense, right? And so when you save it, Entity Framework figures it needs to save Master entity first, get the Id and then continue with Detail entity, that is now with updated MasterId because of previous step.

And there you go. Completely clear, only once you do it really step by step. Still on a first sight bit counterintuitive.

Profile Picture Jiří Činčura is .NET, C# and Firebird expert. He focuses on data and business layers, language constructs, parallelism, databases and performance. For almost two decades he contributes to open-source, i.e. FirebirdClient. He works as a senior software engineer for Microsoft. Frequent speaker and blogger at