12 August 2005

An annotation on a program element (commonly a class, method, or field) is a piece of meta-data added to that program element which can be used to embellish that element with extra code.

In Java this is called an annotation, in C# this is called an attribute. C# has had them since its first release, in Java they appeared with version 1.5.

A good example of an attribute is the [Obsolete] attribute in C# to mark elements that are going out of service (the same as deprecated in Java). The Obsolete attribute can take arguments to print messages and to indicate if using the element is an error or a warning. The language platform comes with many annotations defined, but allows you to add your own annotations.

When writing about programming, I prefer to use 'annotation' as the general term. Although .NET was first, the word 'attribute' is just too widely used for different things.

Languages may provide annotations in ways that don't reflect the syntax of the language, for example RubyAnnotations are very common - but done with class methods.