Serializing Component references#

To refer to members (such as variables and methods) of a component, you must define which instance is being used. Creating a serialized field allows that instance to be referred to elsewhere in the class.


You cannot serialize references between scenes. See cross-scene references to learn more.

If you are trying to reference a component in a dynamic situation, consider the GetComponent methods.


1. Expose a serialized reference to the target component#

The field must be marked with SerializeField:

[SerializeField] private Transform _target; 

or can be public:

public Transform Target; 

This example uses the Transform type, it will need to be replaced with the target type.

2. Reference the target component in the Inspector#

Do not directly reference the script asset. The target component must be an instance added to an object in the scene.

Drag a Component into the slot or you will get an UnassignedReferenceException.

Dragging a GameObject from the Hierarchy into the field will reference the first matching Component found on the object.

3. Access the member you care about#

public members on the target component can be accessed via the instance.

// Variables and properties
var variable = _target.Variable;
_target.Variable = variable;

// Methods

If you don't have autocomplete, configure your IDE to easily find member names and get error highlighting.

The usage must be at a method or block level scope.


Dragging components and using multiple inspectors#

You can drag the header of components themselves. When the origin and destination are on two separate objects you may need to open two inspectors to perform the drag. You can right-click on the tab of an editor window and select Add TabInspector to create a second one. You can also select the small lock icon in the top right to lock it to its current selection.

Serialization and instancing#

When the Component or ScriptableObject is created Unity will deserialize the reference into the field, there is no need to further assign the value in code. Serialized references are locally maintained when Objects are instanced; references in prefab instances will be local, not referring to the original.

Referencing Components, not GameObjects#

Don't reference a GameObject unless you only use its methods. Referencing a component directly avoids using GetComponent.

// 🟠 Wasteful and error-prone.
[SerializeField] private GameObject _example;

void CallFoo()
    // GetComponent is required to do anything beyond calling SetActive.

// 🟢 Simple and communicates usage.
[SerializeField] private Example _example;

void CallFoo()
    // Has direct access to useful methods.