# Classes/Structures

# Class basics

A class is a user-defined type. A class is introduced with the class, struct or union keyword. In colloquial usage, the term "class" usually refers only to non-union classes.

A class is a collection of class members, which can be:

  • member variables (also called "fields"),
  • member functions (also called "methods"),
  • member types or typedefs (e.g. "nested classes"),
  • member templates (of any kind: variable, function, class or alias template)

The class and struct keywords, called class keys, are largely interchangeable, except that the default access specifier for members and bases is "private" for a class declared with the class key and "public" for a class declared with the struct or union key (cf. Access modifiers).

For example, the following code snippets are identical:

struct Vector
{
    int x;
    int y;
    int z;
};
// are equivalent to
class Vector
{
public:
    int x;
    int y;
    int z;
};

By declaring a class` a new type is added to your program, and it is possible to instantiate objects of that class by

Vector my_vector;

Members of a class are accessed using dot-syntax.

my_vector.x = 10;
my_vector.y = my_vector.x + 1; // my_vector.y = 11;
my_vector.z = my_vector.y - 4; // my:vector.z = 7;

# Final classes and structs

Deriving a class may be forbidden with final specifier. Let's declare a final class:

class A final {
};

Now any attempt to subclass it will cause a compilation error:

// Compilation error: cannot derive from final class:
class B : public A {
};

Final class may appear anywhere in class hierarchy:

class A {
};

// OK.
class B final : public A {
};

// Compilation error: cannot derive from final class B.
class C : public B {
};

# Access specifiers

There are three keywords that act as access specifiers. These limit the access to class members following the specifier, until another specifier changes the access level again:

Keyword Description
public Everyone has access
protected Only the class itself, derived classes and friends have access
private Only the class itself and friends have access

When the type is defined using the class keyword, the default access specifier is private, but if the type is defined using the struct keyword, the default access specifier is public:

struct MyStruct { int x; };
class MyClass { int x; };

MyStruct s;
s.x = 9; // well formed, because x is public

MyClass c;
c.x = 9; // ill-formed, because x is private

Access specifiers are mostly used to limit access to internal fields and methods, and force the programmer to use a specific interface, for example to force use of getters and setters instead of referencing a variable directly:

class MyClass {

public: /* Methods: */

    int x() const noexcept { return m_x; }
    void setX(int const x) noexcept { m_x = x; }

private: /* Fields: */

    int m_x;

};

Using protected is useful for allowing certain functionality of the type to be only accessible to the derived classes, for example, in the following code, the method calculateValue() is only accessible to classes deriving from the base class Plus2Base, such as FortyTwo:

struct Plus2Base {
    int value() noexcept { return calculateValue() + 2; }
protected: /* Methods: */
    virtual int calculateValue() noexcept = 0;
};
struct FortyTwo: Plus2Base {
protected: /* Methods: */
    int calculateValue() noexcept final override { return 40; }
};

Note that the friend keyword can be used to add access exceptions to functions or types for accessing protected and private members.

The public, protected, and private keywords can also be used to grant or limit access to base class subobjects. See the Inheritance example.

# Inheritance

Classes/structs can have inheritance relations.

If a class/struct B inherits from a class/struct A, this means that B has as a parent A. We say that B is a derived class/struct from A, and A is the base class/struct.

struct A
{
public:
    int p1;
protected:
    int p2;
private:
    int p3;
};

//Make B inherit publicly (default) from A
struct B : A
{
};

There are 3 forms of inheritance for a class/struct:

  • public
  • private
  • protected

Note that the default inheritance is the same as the default visibility of members: public if you use the struct keyword, and private for the class keyword.

It's even possible to have a class derive from a struct (or vice versa). In this case, the default inheritance is controlled by the child, so a struct that derives from a class will default to public inheritance, and a class that derives from a struct will have private inheritance by default.

public inheritance:

struct B : public A // or just `struct B : A`
{
    void foo()
    {
        p1 = 0; //well formed, p1 is public in B
        p2 = 0; //well formed, p2 is protected in B
        p3 = 0; //ill formed, p3 is private in A
    }
};

B b;
b.p1 = 1; //well formed, p1 is public
b.p2 = 1; //ill formed, p2 is protected
b.p3 = 1; //ill formed, p3 is inaccessible

private inheritance:

struct B : private A
{
    void foo()
    {
        p1 = 0; //well formed, p1 is private in B
        p2 = 0; //well formed, p2 is private in B
        p3 = 0; //ill formed, p3 is private in A
    }
};

B b;
b.p1 = 1; //ill formed, p1 is private
b.p2 = 1; //ill formed, p2 is private
b.p3 = 1; //ill formed, p3 is inaccessible

protected inheritance:

struct B : protected A
{
    void foo()
    {
        p1 = 0; //well formed, p1 is protected in B
        p2 = 0; //well formed, p2 is protected in B
        p3 = 0; //ill formed, p3 is private in A
    }
};

B b;
b.p1 = 1; //ill formed, p1 is protected
b.p2 = 1; //ill formed, p2 is protected
b.p3 = 1; //ill formed, p3 is inaccessible

Note that although protected inheritance is allowed, the actual use of it is rare. One instance of how protected inheritance is used in application is in partial base class specialization (usually referred to as "controlled polymorphism").

When OOP was relatively new, (public) inheritance was frequently said to model an "IS-A" relationship. That is, public inheritance is correct only if an instance of the derived class is also an instance of the base class.

This was later refined into the Liskov Substitution Principle: public inheritance should only be used when/if an instance of the derived class can be substituted for an instance of the base class under any possible circumstance (and still make sense).

Private inheritance is typically said to embody a completely different relationship: "is implemented in terms of" (sometimes called a "HAS-A" relationship). For example, a Stack class could inherit privately from a Vector class. Private inheritance bears a much greater similarity to aggregation than to public inheritance.

Protected inheritance is almost never used, and there's no general agreement on what sort of relationship it embodies.

# Friendship

The friend keyword is used to give other classes and functions access to private and protected members of the class, even through they are defined outside the class`s scope.

class Animal{
private:
    double weight;
    double height;
public:
    friend void printWeight(Animal animal);
    friend class AnimalPrinter;
    // A common use for a friend function is to overload the operator<< for streaming. 
    friend std::ostream& operator<<(std::ostream& os, Animal animal);
};

void printWeight(Animal animal)
{
    std::cout << animal.weight << "\n";
}

class AnimalPrinter
{
public:
    void print(const Animal& animal)
    {
        // Because of the `friend class AnimalPrinter;" declaration, we are
        // allowed to access private members here.
        std::cout << animal.weight << ", " << animal.height << std::endl;
    }
}

std::ostream& operator<<(std::ostream& os, Animal animal)
{
    os << "Animal height: " << animal.height << "\n";
    return os;
}

int main() {
    Animal animal = {10, 5};
    printWeight(animal);

    AnimalPrinter aPrinter;
    aPrinter.print(animal);

    std::cout << animal;
}

10
10, 5
Animal height: 5

# Virtual Inheritance

When using inheritance, you can specify the virtual keyword:

struct A{};
struct B: public virtual A{};

When class B has virtual base A it means that A will reside in most derived class of inheritance tree, and thus that most derived class is also responsible for initializing that virtual base:

struct A
{
    int member;
    A(int param)
    {
        member = param;
    }
};

struct B: virtual A
{
    B(): A(5){}
};

struct C: B
{
    C(): /*A(88)*/ {}
};

void f()
{
    C object; //error since C is not initializing it's indirect virtual base `A`
}

If we un-comment /*A(88)*/ we won't get any error since C is now initializing it's indirect virtual base A.

Also note that when we're creating variable object, most derived class is C, so C is responsible for creating(calling constructor of) A and thus value of A::member is 88, not 5 (as it would be if we were creating object of type B).

It is useful when solving the diamond problem.:


 A                                        A   A
 / \                                       |   |
B   C                                      B   C
 \ /                                        \ /
  D                                          D
virtual inheritance                   normal inheritance

B and C both inherit from A, and D inherits from B and C, so there are 2 instances of A in D! This results in ambiguity when you're accessing member of A through D, as the compiler has no way of knowing from which class do you want to access that member (the one which B inherits, or the one that is inherited byC?).

Virtual inheritance solves this problem: Since virtual base resides only in most derived object, there will be only one instance of A in D.

struct A
{
    void foo() {}
};

struct B : public /*virtual*/ A {};
struct C : public /*virtual*/ A {};

struct D : public B, public C
{
    void bar()
    {
        foo(); //Error, which foo? B::foo() or C::foo()? - Ambiguous
    }
};

Removing the comments resolves the ambiguity.

# Accessing class members

To access member variables and member functions of an object of a class, the . operator is used:

struct SomeStruct {
  int a;
  int b;
  void foo() {}
};

SomeStruct var;
// Accessing member variable a in var.
std::cout << var.a << std::endl;
// Assigning member variable b in var.
var.b = 1;
// Calling a member function.
var.foo();

When accessing the members of a class via a pointer, the -> operator is commonly used. Alternatively, the instance can be dereferenced and the . operator used, although this is less common:

struct SomeStruct {
  int a;
  int b;
  void foo() {}
};

SomeStruct var;
SomeStruct *p = &var;
// Accessing member variable a in var via pointer.
std::cout << p->a << std::endl;
std::cout << (*p).a << std::endl;
// Assigning member variable b in var via pointer.
p->b = 1;
(*p).b = 1;
// Calling a member function via a pointer.
p->foo();
(*p).foo();

When accessing static class members, the :: operator is used, but on the name of the class instead of an instance of it. Alternatively, the static member can be accessed from an instance or a pointer to an instance using the . or -> operator, respectively, with the same syntax as accessing non-static members.

struct SomeStruct {
  int a;
  int b;
  void foo() {}

  static int c;
  static void bar() {}
};
int SomeStruct::c;

SomeStruct var;
SomeStruct* p = &var;
// Assigning static member variable c in struct SomeStruct.
SomeStruct::c = 5;
// Accessing static member variable c in struct SomeStruct, through var and p.
var.a = var.c;
var.b = p->c;
// Calling a static member function.
SomeStruct::bar();
var.bar();
p->bar();

# Background

The -> operator is needed because the member access operator . has precedence over the dereferencing operator *.

One would expect that *p.a would dereference p (resulting in a reference to the object p is pointing to) and then accessing its member a. But in fact, it tries to access the member a of p and then dereference it. I.e. *p.a is equivalent to *(p.a). In the example above, this would result in a compiler error because of two facts: First, p is a pointer and does not have a member a. Second, a is an integer and, thus, can't be dereferenced.

The uncommonly used solution to this problem would be to explicitly control the precedence: (*p).a

Instead, the -> operator is almost always used. It is a short-hand for first dereferencing the pointer and then accessing it. I.e. (*p).a is exactly the same as p->a.

The :: operator is the scope operator, used in the same manner as accessing a member of a namespace. This is because a static class member is considered to be in that class' scope, but isn't considered a member of instances of that class. The use of normal . and -> is also allowed for static members, despite them not being instance members, for historical reasons; this is of use for writing generic code in templates, as the caller doesn't need to be concerned with whether a given member function is static or non-static.

# Private inheritance: restricting base class interface

Private inheritance is useful when it is required to restrict the public interface of the class:

class A {
public:
    int move();
    int turn();
};

class B : private A {
public:
    using A::turn; 
};

B b;
b.move();  // compile error
b.turn();  // OK

This approach efficiently prevents an access to the A public methods by casting to the A pointer or reference:

B b; 
A& a = static_cast<A&>(b); // compile error

In the case of public inheritance such casting will provide access to all the A public methods despite on alternative ways to prevent this in derived B, like hiding:

class B : public A {
private:
    int move();  
};

or private using:

class B : public A {
private:
    using A::move;  
};

then for both cases it is possible:

B b;
A& a = static_cast<A&>(b); // OK for public inheritance
a.move(); // OK

# Nested Classes/Structures

A class or struct can also contain another class/struct definition inside itself, which is called a "nested class"; in this situation, the containing class is referred to as the "enclosing class". The nested class definition is considered to be a member of the enclosing class, but is otherwise separate.

struct Outer {
    struct Inner { };
};

From outside of the enclosing class, nested classes are accessed using the scope operator. From inside the enclosing class, however, nested classes can be used without qualifiers:

struct Outer {
    struct Inner { };

    Inner in;
};

// ...

Outer o;
Outer::Inner i = o.in;

As with a non-nested class/struct, member functions and static variables can be defined either within a nested class, or in the enclosing namespace. However, they cannot be defined within the enclosing class, due to it being considered to be a different class than the nested class.

// Bad.
struct Outer {
    struct Inner {
        void do_something();
    };

    void Inner::do_something() {}
};


// Good.
struct Outer {
    struct Inner {
        void do_something();
    };

};

void Outer::Inner::do_something() {}

As with non-nested classes, nested classes can be forward declared and defined later, provided they are defined before being used directly.

class Outer {
    class Inner1;
    class Inner2;

    class Inner1 {};

    Inner1 in1;
    Inner2* in2p;

  public:
    Outer();
    ~Outer();
};

class Outer::Inner2 {};

Outer::Outer() : in1(Inner1()), in2p(new Inner2) {}
Outer::~Outer() {
    if (in2p) { delete in2p; }
}

Prior to C++11, nested classes only had access to type names, static members, and enumerators from the enclosing class; all other members defined in the enclosing class were off-limits.

As of C++11, nested classes, and members thereof, are treated as if they were friends of the enclosing class, and can access all of its members, according to the usual access rules; if members of the nested class require the ability to evaluate one or more non-static members of the enclosing class, they must therefore be passed an instance:

class Outer {
    struct Inner {
        int get_sizeof_x() {
            return sizeof(x); // Legal (C++11): x is unevaluated, so no instance is required.
        }

        int get_x() {
            return x; // Illegal: Can't access non-static member without an instance.
        }

        int get_x(Outer& o) {
            return o.x; // Legal (C++11): As a member of Outer, Inner can access private members.
        }
    };

    int x;
};

Conversely, the enclosing class is not treated as a friend of the nested class, and thus cannot access its private members without explicitly being granted permission.

class Outer {
    class Inner {
        // friend class Outer;

        int x;
    };

    Inner in;

  public:
    int get_x() {
        return in.x; // Error: int Outer::Inner::x is private.
        // Uncomment "friend" line above to fix.
    }
};

Friends of a nested class are not automatically considered friends of the enclosing class; if they need to be friends of the enclosing class as well, this must be declared separately. Conversely, as the enclosing class is not automatically considered a friend of the nested class, neither will friends of the enclosing class be considered friends of the nested class.

class Outer {
    friend void barge_out(Outer& out, Inner& in);

    class Inner {
        friend void barge_in(Outer& out, Inner& in);

        int i;
    };

    int o;
};

void barge_in(Outer& out, Outer::Inner& in) {
    int i = in.i;  // Good.
    int o = out.o; // Error: int Outer::o is private.
}

void barge_out(Outer& out, Outer::Inner& in) {
    int i = in.i;  // Error: int Outer::Inner::i is private.
    int o = out.o; // Good.
}

As with all other class members, nested classes can only be named from outside the class if they have public access. However, you are allowed to access them regardless of access modifier, as long as you don't explicitly name them.

class Outer {
    struct Inner {
        void func() { std::cout << "I have no private taboo.\n"; }
    };

  public:
    static Inner make_Inner() { return Inner(); }
};

// ...

Outer::Inner oi; // Error: Outer::Inner is private.

auto oi = Outer::make_Inner(); // Good.
oi.func();                     // Good.
Outer::make_Inner().func();    // Good.

You can also create a type alias for a nested class. If a type alias is contained in the enclosing class, the nested type and the type alias can have different access modifiers. If the type alias is outside the enclosing class, it requires that either the nested class, or a typedef thereof, be public.

class Outer {
    class Inner_ {};

  public:
    typedef Inner_ Inner;
};

typedef Outer::Inner  ImOut; // Good.
typedef Outer::Inner_ ImBad; // Error.

// ...

Outer::Inner  oi; // Good.
Outer::Inner_ oi; // Error.
ImOut         oi; // Good.

As with other classes, nested classes can both derive from or be derived from by other classes.

struct Base {};

struct Outer {
    struct Inner : Base {};
};

struct Derived : Outer::Inner {};

This can be useful in situations where the enclosing class is derived from by another class, by allowing the programmer to update the nested class as necessary. This can be combined with a typedef to provide a consistent name for each enclosing class' nested class:

class BaseOuter {
    struct BaseInner_ {
        virtual void do_something() {}
        virtual void do_something_else();
    } b_in;

  public:
    typedef BaseInner_ Inner;

    virtual ~BaseOuter() = default;

    virtual Inner& getInner() { return b_in; }
};

void BaseOuter::BaseInner_::do_something_else() {}

// ---

class DerivedOuter : public BaseOuter {
    // Note the use of the qualified typedef; BaseOuter::BaseInner_ is private.
    struct DerivedInner_ : BaseOuter::Inner {
        void do_something() override {}
        void do_something_else() override;
    } d_in;

  public:
    typedef DerivedInner_ Inner;

    BaseOuter::Inner& getInner() override { return d_in; }
};

void DerivedOuter::DerivedInner_::do_something_else() {}

// ...

// Calls BaseOuter::BaseInner_::do_something();
BaseOuter* b = new BaseOuter;
BaseOuter::Inner& bin = b->getInner();
bin.do_something();
b->getInner().do_something();

// Calls DerivedOuter::DerivedInner_::do_something();
BaseOuter* d = new DerivedOuter;
BaseOuter::Inner& din = d->getInner();
din.do_something();
d->getInner().do_something();

In the above case, both BaseOuter and DerivedOuter supply the member type Inner, as BaseInner_ and DerivedInner_, respectively. This allows nested types to be derived without breaking the enclosing class' interface, and allows the nested type to be used polymorphically.

# Member Types and Aliases

A class or struct can also define member type aliases, which are type aliases contained within, and treated as members of, the class itself.

struct IHaveATypedef {
    typedef int MyTypedef;
};

struct IHaveATemplateTypedef {
    template<typename T>
    using MyTemplateTypedef = std::vector<T>;
};

Like static members, these typedefs are accessed using the scope operator, ::.

IHaveATypedef::MyTypedef i = 5; // i is an int.

IHaveATemplateTypedef::MyTemplateTypedef<int> v; // v is a std::vector<int>.

As with normal type aliases, each member type alias is allowed to refer to any type defined or aliased before, but not after, its definition. Likewise, a typedef outside the class definition can refer to any accessible typedefs within the class definition, provided it comes after the class definition.

template<typename T>
struct Helper {
    T get() const { return static_cast<T>(42); }
};

struct IHaveTypedefs {
//    typedef MyTypedef NonLinearTypedef; // Error if uncommented.
    typedef int MyTypedef;
    typedef Helper<MyTypedef> MyTypedefHelper;
};

IHaveTypedefs::MyTypedef        i; // x_i is an int.
IHaveTypedefs::MyTypedefHelper hi; // x_hi is a Helper<int>.

typedef IHaveTypedefs::MyTypedef TypedefBeFree;
TypedefBeFree ii;                  // ii is an int.

Member type aliases can be declared with any access level, and will respect the appropriate access modifier.

class TypedefAccessLevels {
    typedef int PrvInt;

  protected:
    typedef int ProInt;

  public:
    typedef int PubInt;
};

TypedefAccessLevels::PrvInt prv_i; // Error: TypedefAccessLevels::PrvInt is private.
TypedefAccessLevels::ProInt pro_i; // Error: TypedefAccessLevels::ProInt is protected.
TypedefAccessLevels::PubInt pub_i; // Good.

class Derived : public TypedefAccessLevels {
    PrvInt prv_i; // Error: TypedefAccessLevels::PrvInt is private.
    ProInt pro_i; // Good.
    PubInt pub_i; // Good.
};

This can be used to provide a level of abstraction, allowing a class' designer to change its internal workings without breaking code that relies on it.

class Something {
    friend class SomeComplexType;

    short s;
    // ...

  public:
    typedef SomeComplexType MyHelper;

    MyHelper get_helper() const { return MyHelper(8, s, 19.5, "shoe", false); }

    // ...
};

// ...

Something s;
Something::MyHelper hlp = s.get_helper();

In this situation, if the helper class is changed from SomeComplexType to some other type, only the typedef and the friend declaration would need to be modified; as long as the helper class provides the same functionality, any code that uses it as Something::MyHelper instead of specifying it by name will usually still work without any modifications. In this manner, we minimise the amount of code that needs to be modified when the underlying implementation is changed, such that the type name only needs to be changed in one location.

This can also be combined with decltype, if one so desires.

class SomethingElse {
    AnotherComplexType<bool, int, SomeThirdClass> helper;

  public:
    typedef decltype(helper) MyHelper;

  private:
    InternalVariable<MyHelper> ivh;

    // ...

  public:
    MyHelper& get_helper() const { return helper; }

    // ...
};

In this situation, changing the implementation of SomethingElse::helper will automatically change the typedef for us, due to decltype. This minimises the number of modifications necessary when we want to change helper, which minimises the risk of human error.

As with everything, however, this can be taken too far. If the typename is only used once or twice internally and zero times externally, for example, there's no need to provide an alias for it. If it's used hundreds or thousands of times throughout a project, or if it has a long enough name, then it can be useful to provide it as a typedef instead of always using it in absolute terms. One must balance forwards compatibility and convenience with the amount of unnecessary noise created.

This can also be used with template classes, to provide access to the template parameters from outside the class.

template<typename T>
class SomeClass {
    // ...

  public:
    typedef T MyParam;
    MyParam getParam() { return static_cast<T>(42); }
};

template<typename T>
typename T::MyParam some_func(T& t) {
    return t.getParam();
}

SomeClass<int> si;
int i = some_func(si);

This is commonly used with containers, which will usually provide their element type, and other helper types, as member type aliases. Most of the containers in the C++ standard library, for example, provide the following 12 helper types, along with any other special types they might need.

template<typename T>
class SomeContainer {
    // ...

  public:
    // Let's provide the same helper types as most standard containers.
    typedef T                                     value_type;
    typedef std::allocator<value_type>            allocator_type;
    typedef value_type&                           reference;
    typedef const value_type&                     const_reference;
    typedef value_type*                           pointer;
    typedef const value_type*                     const_pointer;
    typedef MyIterator<value_type>                iterator;
    typedef MyConstIterator<value_type>           const_iterator;
    typedef std::reverse_iterator<iterator>       reverse_iterator;
    typedef std::reverse_iterator<const_iterator> const_reverse_iterator;
    typedef size_t                                size_type;
    typedef ptrdiff_t                             difference_type;
};

Prior to C++11, it was also commonly used to provide a "template typedef" of sorts, as the feature wasn't yet available; these have become a bit less common with the introduction of alias templates, but are still useful in some situations (and are combined with alias templates in other situations, which can be very useful for obtaining individual components of a complex type such as a function pointer). They commonly use the name type for their type alias.

template<typename T>
struct TemplateTypedef {
    typedef T type;
}

TemplateTypedef<int>::type i; // i is an int.

This was often used with types with multiple template parameters, to provide an alias that defines one or more of the parameters.

template<typename T, size_t SZ, size_t D>
class Array { /* ... */ };

template<typename T, size_t SZ>
struct OneDArray {
    typedef Array<T, SZ, 1> type;
};

template<typename T, size_t SZ>
struct TwoDArray {
    typedef Array<T, SZ, 2> type;
};

template<typename T>
struct MonoDisplayLine {
    typedef Array<T, 80, 1> type;
};

OneDArray<int, 3>::type     arr1i; // arr1i is an Array<int, 3, 1>.
TwoDArray<short, 5>::type   arr2s; // arr2s is an Array<short, 5, 2>.
MonoDisplayLine<char>::type arr3c; // arr3c is an Array<char, 80, 1>.

# Multiple Inheritance

Aside from single inheritance:

class A {};
class B : public A {};

You can also have multiple inheritance:

class A {};
class B {};
class C : public A, public B {};

C will now have inherit from A and B at the same time.

Note: this can lead to ambiguity if the same names are used in multiple inherited classs or structs. Be careful!

*Ambiguity in Multiple Inheritance *

Multiple inheritance may be helpful in certain cases but, sometimes odd sort of problem encounters while using multiple inheritance.

For example: Two base classes have functions with same name which is not overridden in derived class and if you write code to access that function using object of derived class, compiler shows error because, it cannot determine which function to call. Here is a code for this type of ambiguity in multiple inheritance.

class base1
{
  public:
     void funtion( )
     { //code for base1 function }  
};
class base2
{
    void function( )
     { // code for base2 function } 
};

class derived : public base1, public base2
{
    
};

int main()
{
    derived obj;
    
  // Error because compiler can't figure out which function to call 
  //either function( ) of base1 or base2 .   
    obj.function( )  
}

But, this problem can be solved using scope resolution function to specify which function to class either base1 or base2:

int main()
{
    obj.base1::function( );  // Function of class base1 is called. 
    obj.base2::function( );  // Function of class base2 is called.
}

# Static class members

A class is also allowed to have static members, which can be either variables or functions. These are considered to be in the class' scope, but aren't treated as normal members; they have static storage duration (they exist from the start of the program to the end), aren't tied to a particular instance of the class, and only one copy exists for the entire class.

class Example {
    static int num_instances;      // Static data member (static member variable).
    int i;                         // Non-static member variable.

  public:
    static std::string static_str; // Static data member (static member variable).
    static int static_func();      // Static member function.

    // Non-static member functions can modify static member variables.
    Example() { ++num_instances; }
    void set_str(const std::string& str);
};

int         Example::num_instances;
std::string Example::static_str = "Hello.";

// ...

Example one, two, three;
// Each Example has its own "i", such that:
//  (&one.i != &two.i)
//  (&one.i != &three.i)
//  (&two.i != &three.i).
// All three Examples share "num_instances", such that:
//  (&one.num_instances == &two.num_instances)
//  (&one.num_instances == &three.num_instances)
//  (&two.num_instances == &three.num_instances)

Static member variables are not considered to be defined inside the class, only declared, and thus have their definition outside the class definition; the programmer is allowed, but not required, to initialise static variables in their definition. When defining the member variables, the keyword static is omitted.

class Example {
    static int num_instances;               // Declaration.

  public:
    static std::string static_str;          // Declaration.

    // ...
};

int         Example::num_instances;         // Definition.  Zero-initialised.
std::string Example::static_str = "Hello."; // Definition.

Due to this, static variables can be incomplete types (apart from void), as long as they're later defined as a complete type.

struct ForwardDeclared;

class ExIncomplete {
    static ForwardDeclared fd;
    static ExIncomplete    i_contain_myself;
    static int             an_array[];
};

struct ForwardDeclared {};

ForwardDeclared ExIncomplete::fd;
ExIncomplete    ExIncomplete::i_contain_myself;
int             ExIncomplete::an_array[5];

Static member functions can be defined inside or outside the class definition, as with normal member functions. As with static member variables, the keyword static is omitted when defining static member functions outside the class definition.

// For Example above, either...
class Example {
    // ...

  public:
    static int static_func() { return num_instances; }

    // ...

    void set_str(const std::string& str) { static_str = str; }
};

// Or...

class Example { /* ... */ };

int  Example::static_func() { return num_instances; }
void Example::set_str(const std::string& str) { static_str = str; }

If a static member variable is declared const but not volatile, and is of an integral or enumeration type, it can be initialised at declaration, inside the class definition.

enum E { VAL = 5 };

struct ExConst {
    const static int ci = 5;              // Good.
    static const E ce = VAL;              // Good.
    const static double cd = 5;           // Error.
    static const volatile int cvi = 5;    // Error.

    const static double good_cd;
    static const volatile int good_cvi;
};

const double ExConst::good_cd = 5;        // Good.
const volatile int ExConst::good_cvi = 5; // Good.

As of C++11, static member variables of LiteralType types (types that can be constructed at compile time, according to constexpr rules) can also be declared as constexpr; if so, they must be initialised within the class definition.

struct ExConstexpr {
    constexpr static int ci = 5;                      // Good.
    static constexpr double cd = 5;                   // Good.
    constexpr static int carr[] = { 1, 1, 2 };        // Good.
    static constexpr ConstexprConstructibleClass c{}; // Good.
    constexpr static int bad_ci;                      // Error.
};

constexpr int ExConstexpr::bad_ci = 5;                // Still an error.

If a const or constexpr static member variable is odr-used (informally, if it has its address taken or is assigned to a reference), then it must still have a separate definition, outside the class definition. This definition is not allowed to contain an initialiser.

struct ExODR {
    static const int odr_used = 5;
};

// const int ExODR::odr_used;

const int* odr_user = & ExODR::odr_used; // Error; uncomment above line to resolve.

As static members aren't tied to a given instance, they can be accessed using the scope operator, ::.

std::string str = Example::static_str;

They can also be accessed as if they were normal, non-static members. This is of historical significance, but is used less commonly than the scope operator to prevent confusion over whether a member is static or non-static.

Example ex;
std::string rts = ex.static_str;

Class members are able to access static members without qualifying their scope, as with non-static class members.

class ExTwo {
    static int num_instances;
    int my_num;

  public:
    ExTwo() : my_num(num_instances++) {}

    static int get_total_instances() { return num_instances; }
    int get_instance_number() const { return my_num; }
};

int ExTwo::num_instances;

They cannot be mutable, nor would they need to be; as they aren't tied to any given instance, whether an instance is or isn't const doesn't affect static members.

struct ExDontNeedMutable {
    int immuta;
    mutable int muta;

    static int i;

    ExDontNeedMutable() : immuta(-5), muta(-5) {}
};
int ExDontNeedMutable::i;

// ...

const ExDontNeedMutable dnm;
dnm.immuta = 5; // Error: Can't modify read-only object.
dnm.muta = 5;   // Good.  Mutable fields of const objects can be written.
dnm.i = 5;      // Good.  Static members can be written regardless of an instance's const-ness.

Static members respect access modifiers, just like non-static members.

class ExAccess {
    static int prv_int;

  protected:
    static int pro_int;

  public:
    static int pub_int;
};

int ExAccess::prv_int;
int ExAccess::pro_int;
int ExAccess::pub_int;

// ...

int x1 = ExAccess::prv_int; // Error: int ExAccess::prv_int is private.
int x2 = ExAccess::pro_int; // Error: int ExAccess::pro_int is protected.
int x3 = ExAccess::pub_int; // Good.

As they aren't tied to a given instance, static member functions have no this pointer; due to this, they can't access non-static member variables unless passed an instance.

class ExInstanceRequired {
    int i;

  public:
    ExInstanceRequired() : i(0) {}

    static void bad_mutate() { ++i *= 5; }                         // Error.
    static void good_mutate(ExInstanceRequired& e) { ++e.i *= 5; } // Good.
};

Due to not having a this pointer, their addresses can't be stored in pointers-to-member-functions, and are instead stored in normal pointers-to-functions.

struct ExPointer {
           void nsfunc() {}
    static void  sfunc() {}
};

typedef void (ExPointer::* mem_f_ptr)();
typedef void (*f_ptr)();

mem_f_ptr p_sf = &ExPointer::sfunc; // Error.
    f_ptr p_sf = &ExPointer::sfunc; // Good.

Due to not having a this pointer, they also cannot be const or volatile, nor can they have ref-qualifiers. They also cannot be virtual.

struct ExCVQualifiersAndVirtual {
    static void   func()                {} // Good.
    static void  cfunc() const          {} // Error.
    static void  vfunc() volatile       {} // Error.
    static void cvfunc() const volatile {} // Error.
    static void  rfunc() &              {} // Error.
    static void rvfunc() &&             {} // Error.

    virtual static void vsfunc()        {} // Error.
    static virtual void svfunc()        {} // Error.
};

As they aren't tied to a given instance, static member variables are effectively treated as special global variables; they're created when the program starts, and destroyed when it exits, regardless of whether any instances of the class actually exist. Only a single copy of each static member variable exists (unless the variable is declared thread_local (C++11 or later), in which case there's one copy per thread).

Static member variables have the same linkage as the class, whether the class has external or internal linkage. Local classes and unnamed classes aren't allowed to have static members.

# Non-static member functions

A class can have non-static member functions, which operate on individual instances of the class.

class CL {
  public:
    void member_function() {}
};

These functions are called on an instance of the class, like so:

CL instance;
instance.member_function();

They can be defined either inside or outside the class definition; if defined outside, they are specified as being in the class' scope.

struct ST {
    void  defined_inside() {}
    void defined_outside();
};
void ST::defined_outside() {}

They can be CV-qualified and/or ref-qualified, affecting how they see the instance they're called upon; the function will see the instance as having the specified cv-qualifier(s), if any. Which version is called will be based on the instance's cv-qualifiers. If there is no version with the same cv-qualifiers as the instance, then a more-cv-qualified version will be called if available.

struct CVQualifiers {
    void func()                   {} // 1: Instance is non-cv-qualified.
    void func() const             {} // 2: Instance is const.

    void cv_only() const volatile {}
};

CVQualifiers       non_cv_instance;
const CVQualifiers      c_instance;

non_cv_instance.func(); // Calls #1.
c_instance.func();      // Calls #2.

non_cv_instance.cv_only(); // Calls const volatile version.
c_instance.cv_only();      // Calls const volatile version.

Member function ref-qualifiers indicate whether or not the function is intended to be called on rvalue instances, and use the same syntax as function cv-qualifiers.

struct RefQualifiers {
    void func() &  {} // 1: Called on normal instances.
    void func() && {} // 2: Called on rvalue (temporary) instances.
};

RefQualifiers rf;
rf.func();              // Calls #1.
RefQualifiers{}.func(); // Calls #2.

CV-qualifiers and ref-qualifiers can also be combined if necessary.

struct BothCVAndRef {
    void func() const& {} // Called on normal instances.  Sees instance as const.
    void func() &&     {} // Called on temporary instances.
};

They can also be virtual; this is fundamental to polymorphism, and allows a child class(es) to provide the same interface as the parent class, while supplying their own functionality.

struct Base {
    virtual void func() {}
};
struct Derived {
    virtual void func() {}
};

Base* bp = new Base;
Base* dp = new Derived;
bp.func(); // Calls Base::func().
dp.func(); // Calls Derived::func().

For more information, see here.

# Unnamed struct/class

Unnamed struct is allowed (type has no name)

void foo()
{
    struct /* No name */ {
        float x;
        float y;
    } point;
    
    point.x = 42;
}

or

struct Circle
{
    struct /* No name */ {
        float x;
        float y;
    } center; // but a member name
    float radius;
};

and later

Circle circle;
circle.center.x = 42.f;

but NOT anonymous struct (unnamed type and unnamed object)

struct InvalidCircle
{
    struct /* No name */ {
        float centerX;
        float centerY;
    }; // No member either.
    float radius;
};

Note: Some compilers allow anonymous struct as extension.

  • **lamdba** can be seen as a special **unnamed `struct`**.
  • `decltype` allows to retrieve the type of **unnamed `struct`**:
    decltype(circle.point) otherPoint;
    
    
  • **unnamed `struct`** instance can be parameter of template method:
    void print_square_coordinates()
    {
        const struct {float x; float y;} points[] = {
            {-1, -1}, {-1, 1}, {1, -1}, {1, 1}
        };
    
        // for range relies on `template <class T, std::size_t N> std::begin(T (&)[N])`
        for (const auto& point : points) { 
            std::cout << "{" << point.x << ", " << point.y << "}\n";
        }
    
        decltype(points[0]) topRightCorner{1, 1};
        auto it = std::find(points, points + 4, topRightCorner);
        std::cout << "top right corner is the "
                  << 1 + std::distance(points, it) << "th\n";
    }
    
    
  • # Syntax

    • variable.member_var = constant;
    • variable.member_function();
    • variable_pointer->member_var = constant;
    • variable_pointer->member_function();

    # Remarks

    Note that the only difference between the struct and class keywords is that by default, the member variables, member functions, and base classes of a struct are public, while in a class they are private. C++ programmers tend to call it a class if it has constructors and destructors, and the ability to enforce its own invariants; or a struct if it's just a simple collection of values, but the C++ language itself makes no distinction.