EF Core Lazy Loading: Simplify Your Data Management with Expert Tips

EF Core Lazy Loading: Simplify Your Data Management with Expert Tips


The Entity Frame­work Core, or EF Core, makes de­aling with data in your .NET apps easier. You can work with a database in te­rms of clear and tangible objects. One­ tricky detail for newcomers: managing data that is linke­d. This piece hopes to shine­ a light on this subject. We’ll discuss three­ main ways to handle related data: e­ager loading, lazy loading, and explicit loading within EF Core.

Loading related data is essential for accessing complex data structures, where entities are related to each other in various ways. For instance, in a blog application, a Post entity might be related to a User entity, indicating the author of the post. How you choose to load these related entities can significantly impact the performance and complexity of your application. This guide will walk you through each loading strategy, complete with C# examples, to help you understand and implement them effectively in your projects.

Whether you’re building a simple application or a complex system with extensive data relationships, mastering the techniques of loading related data in EF Core is crucial. By the end of this post, you’ll have a solid understanding of eager, lazy, and explicit loading, how to handle circular references, and the best practices for working with views and stored procedures. Let’s dive into the world of EF Core and unlock the potential of related data management in your applications.

Understanding Loading Related Data

In Entity Framework Core, managing how you load related entities is key to optimizing your data access layer’s performance and flexibility. There are three primary patterns for loading related data: eager loading, lazy loading, and explicit loading. Each has its use cases and considerations. Let’s delve into these patterns, providing examples in C# to illustrate their usage.

Eager Loading in EF Core

Eager loading is the process of loading the main entity and its related entities from the database in a single query. This approach is most useful when you know you’ll need the related data for every entity retrieved and want to minimize the number of database queries.

In EF Core, you use the Include method to specify related data to be included in the query result. Here’s a simple example:

using (var context = new BloggingContext())
    var blogs = context.Blogs
                       .Include(blog => blog.Posts)

In this example, when blogs are queried from the Blogs DbSet, their related Posts are also retrieved and populated in the resulting objects. Eager loading is straightforward and effective for avoiding the N+1 query problem but can lead to overly complex queries and large amounts of data returned if not used judiciously.

Lazy Loading in EF Core

Lazy loading defers the loading of related entities until they are explicitly accessed. This can improve performance by avoiding loading unnecessary data, but it can also lead to the N+1 query problem if not managed carefully. For lazy loading to work in EF Core, you must enable it in your context’s configuration and ensure that navigation properties are virtual.

Here’s how to enable lazy loading in EF Core:

  1. Install the Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Proxies package.
  2. Enable lazy loading via proxies in your DbContext options:
protected override void OnConfiguring(DbContextOptionsBuilder optionsBuilder)

And an example entity setup for lazy loading:

public class Blog
    public int BlogId { get; set; }
    public string Url { get; set; }
    public virtual List<Post> Posts { get; set; }

Notice the virtual keyword on the Posts navigation property, which is necessary for lazy loading.

While lazy loading in EF Core is convenient for reducing upfront data load, it requires careful use to avoid performance issues, making it essential to profile and monitor your queries.

Explicit Loading in EF Core

Explicit loading is a middle ground between eager and lazy loading. You manually trigger the loading of related data as needed. This feature allows for greater control over the loading of data, making it particularly useful in complex scenarios where performance optimization is crucial.

Here’s how you might explicitly load related data:

using (var context = new BloggingContext())
    var blog = context.Blogs
                      .Single(b => b.BlogId == 1);

           .Collection(b => b.Posts)

In this example, the Posts for a specific Blog are not loaded until the Load method is called. It provides control over data loading, enabling you to optimize performance by loading only the data required for specific operations.

Handling Circular References

Circular references occur when two or more entities reference each other directly or indirectly, creating a loop. This situation can lead to problems, especially when serializing objects to JSON, as it may result in infinite loops. Handling circular references properly is crucial to maintain the integrity of your application and ensure efficient data processing.

Strategies for Handling Circular References

Use of Data Transfer Objects (DTOs): DTOs can be employed to create simplified versions of your entities that do not include the navigation properties causing circular references. By mapping your entities to DTOs before serialization, you can avoid the circular reference issue altogether.

Here’s a basic example of converting an entity to a DTO:

public class BlogDTO
    public int BlogId { get; set; }
    public string Url { get; set; }
    // Navigation properties that lead to circular references are omitted

// Conversion
var blogDto = new BlogDTO
    BlogId = blog.BlogId,
    Url = blog.Url

Configuring JSON Serialization Settings: If you’re using ASP.NET Core, you can configure the JSON serializer to ignore circular references or to handle them in a way that doesn’t result in an error.

For example, you can use System.Text.Json in .NET Core 3.0+ to ignore circular references:

    .AddJsonOptions(options =>
        options.JsonSerializerOptions.ReferenceHandler = ReferenceHandler.Preserve;

This configuration tells the serializer to preserve object references, thus avoiding infinite loops during serialization.

Example: Handling Circular References

Consider a scenario where you have Post and Comment entities where Post contains a list of Comments, and each Comment references back to its Post. To handle circular references here, you could use a DTO for the Comment entity that doesn’t include the back reference to Post:

public class CommentDTO
    public int CommentId { get; set; }
    public string Content { get; set; }
    // Omit the Post navigation property to avoid circular reference

Using DTOs allows for better control over the data structure. Also prevents problems with circular references, ensuring effective serialization and deserialization.

Working with Views and Stored Procedures

EF Core not only simplifies working with tables but also allows the use of views and execution of stored procedures, providing flexibility in how you interact with your database.

EF Core Views

Views in a database are queries that are stored in the database itself. They can be useful for encapsulating complex queries or for presenting a simplified interface to your data. EF Core can map these views to entities, allowing you to work with them almost as if they were regular tables.

Configuring and Using Views in EF Core:

  1. Mapping a View to an Entity: Make sure that the properties of the entity you want to map to a view match the columns of the view. If the view is read-only, you do not need to define a key for the entity, but EF Core requires a key to track updates.
public class BlogSummary
    public int BlogId { get; set; }
    public string Url { get; set; }
    public int PostCount { get; set; }
  1. Querying a View: Once mapped, you can query a view just like you would a table.
var blogSummaries = context.BlogSummaries.ToList();

This approach allows for efficient data retrieval and can be particularly useful for reporting or aggregating data.

Stored Procedures

Stored procedures are precompiled SQL queries saved in the database. They can encapsulate complex logic, which can be executed from EF Core, allowing for performance optimizations and security enhancements.

Executing Stored Procedures

To execute a stored procedure and handle its results in EF Core, you can use the FromSqlRaw or ExecuteSqlRaw methods for querying and command execution, respectively:

var userPosts = context.Posts
                       .FromSqlRaw("EXEC GetUserPosts @UserId", new SqlParameter("@UserId", userId))

This method allows you to execute stored procedures directly, handling parameters and results seamlessly within your EF Core context.

Best Practices and Performance Optimization

When working with related data in EF Core, it’s essential to adopt best practices and focus on performance optimization:

  • Choose the Right Loading Strategy: Consider the specific needs of your operation when deciding between eager, lazy, and explicit loading. Use eager loading for data you know you’ll need, lazy loading for optional data, and explicit loading for maximum control.
  • Monitor and Optimize Queries: Use tools like the EF Core logging features or third-party profilers to monitor your queries and identify performance bottlenecks.
  • Use Views and Stored Procedures Wisely: Leverage views for read-only data access and aggregation, and stored procedures for complex logic and operations, ensuring they are optimized for performance within the database.

By mastering these techniques and considerations, you can effectively manage related data in EF Core, leading to more efficient, maintainable, and performant applications.

Utilizing AsNoTracking for Read-Only Scenarios

When retrieving data that won’t be updated in the current context, consider using .AsNoTracking(). This method instructs EF Core to not track changes to the returned entities. It reduces overhead and improves performance for read-only operations.

var blogs = context.Blogs

Efficiently Managing DbContext Lifespan

The lifespan of your DbContext instances plays a crucial role in the performance and scalability of your application. It’s generally best practice to keep the DbContext lifespan short, creating instances as needed and disposing of them when the work is completed. This approach helps in managing memory usage and ensures that the connection to the database is efficiently utilized and released.

Pre-filtering Data

When working with large datasets, pre-filtering data at the database level can significantly improve performance. Instead of loading large datasets into memory and then filtering, specify your filters as part of your query to ensure that only the necessary data is loaded:

var userPosts = context.Posts
                       .Where(p => p.UserId == userId)

Batch Operations

EF Core supports batch operations, allowing you to execute multiple operations in a single round trip to the database. This can be particularly useful for insert, update, and delete operations on multiple entities, reducing the number of database calls and improving performance.


Ensure your database tables are properly indexed, particularly on columns that are frequently used in queries, joins, or where clauses. Indexes can dramatically improve query performance by reducing the amount of data that needs to be scanned to fulfill a query.


For data that doesn’t change frequently, consider implementing caching strategies. Caching can significantly reduce database load by storing and serving frequently requested data from memory, leading to faster response times for common requests.

Regularly Review and Optimize Queries

Regularly review your LINQ queries and SQL statements to ensure they are optimized for performance. Look for opportunities to simplify queries, eliminate unnecessary joins or subqueries, and ensure that queries are written in a way that leverages indexes and other database optimizations.

Use Pagination for Large Datasets

When working with large datasets, consider implementing pagination to limit the amount of data loaded into memory at any one time. This approach not only improves performance but also enhances the user experience by providing data in manageable chunks.

var paginatedPosts = context.Posts
                            .OrderBy(p => p.DateCreated)
                            .Skip((page - 1) * pageSize)


Managing related data efficiently in Entity Framework Core is crucial for building high-performance, scalable applications. By understanding and implementing eager, lazy, and explicit loading strategies, handling circular references wisely, and leveraging views and stored procedures, developers can ensure that their applications are robust and efficient. Additionally, adopting best practices such as optimizing queries, managing the DbContext lifespan, using AsNoTracking for read-only data, and implementing caching and pagination can further enhance application performance.

Remember, the key to effective data management in EF Core lies in understanding the specific needs of your application and choosing the right strategies and optimizations to meet those needs. With the insights and examples provided in this guide, you’re well-equipped to leverage EF Core’s capabilities to the fullest, ensuring that your .NET applications are not only powerful but also efficient and maintainable.

By keeping these principles and practices in mind, you’ll be able to navigate the complexities of working with related data in EF Core, leading to more responsive, efficient, and user-friendly applications.

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