CPSC 427a: Object-Oriented Programming

Michael J. Fischer

Lecture 21
November 15, 2011

Linear Container Design

Overview of linear container example We’ve seen three closely related designs for linear containers:

Common to all three examples is the use of a linked list of Cell objects to implement various kinds of containers store data objects of type Exam.

Differences in functionality

18c-Virtual implements a FIFO class Stack and a LIFO class Queue of unordered Exams.

20a-Multiple and 20b-Multiple add a key() method to Exam and implement two new data structures that make use of the key:

Class structure

The class structure of the three implementations are similar as are the main programs. All have have the following classes:

In 18c-Virtual, Item and Exam are synonymous.

In 20a-Multiple and 20b-Multiple-template, Item is derived from Exam and extends the comparison operators < and ==.

Template structure

20b-Multiple-template adds a template parameter class T to represent the application-specific user object type.

In the sample application, main() instantiates the template as List<Item> and PQueue<Item>.

As before, Item is derived from Exam, so to create containers for a new user type MyData would require rewriting Item appropriately.

Further extensions

Can we make Item a template class, e.g.,

template <class T>  
class Item : public T, public Ordered<KeyType> { ... };

Then the user with application-specific class MyData could just use Item<MyData> wherever 20b-Multiple-template uses Item.

Two problems

Two problems must be overcome to make this approach work:

  1. Type KeyType appropriate to MyData must be defined somewhere.
  2. Item contains an Exam-specific constructor
    Item(const char* init, int sc) : Exam(init, sc){}
    that would have to be eliminated in favor of something that would work in general.

Defining KeyType

Problem 1 can be solved by putting a typedef for KeyType into class MyClass. This type name can be used as follows:

template <class T>  
class Item : public T, public Ordered<typename T::KeyType>  
{ ... };

Constructing the data elements

Problem 2 is not so easily solved. Some possibilities:


This second idea is implemented in example 21a-Multiple-template.

A consequence of this design is that main() now mentions only the user type (Exam), not Item, effectively isolating the user interface from the underlying implementation, e.g.,

List<Exam> L;  
L.put( new Exam("Ned", 29) );  
L.put( new Exam("Leo", 37) );  
L.put( new Exam("Max", 18) );

Storage management

A basic design question has to do with ownership of dynamic storage.

In STL, the user retains ownership of arguments, and a container such as vector manages copies of the elements.

In these linear container examples, ownership transfers to the container.

STL and Polymorphism

Derivation from STL containers Common wisdom on the internet says not to inherit from STL containers.

For example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Template_Library says, “STL containers are not intended to be used as base classes (their destructors are deliberately non-virtual); deriving from a container is a common mistake.”

This reflects Rule 35 of Sutter and Alexandrescu, “Avoid inheriting from classes that were not designed to be base classes.”

Replacing authority with understanding

C++ is a complicated and powerful language.

Some constructs such as classes are used for several different purposes.

What is appropriate in one context may not be in another.

Simple rules will not make you a good C++ programmer. Thought, understanding, and experience will.

Two kinds of derivation

C++ supports two distinct kinds of derivation:

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

We say B is derived from A, and B inherits members from A.

Each B object has an A object embedded within it.

The derivation is simple if no members of A are virtual; otherwise it is polymorphic.

How are they the same?

With both kinds of derivation, a function of the base class A can be overridden by a function in B.

In both cases, one can create and delete objects of class B.

Both A’s and B’s destructor are called when a B object is deleted.

#include <iostream>  
class A { public:  
  ~A() { std::cout << "A’s destructor called" << std::endl; }  
class B: public A { public:  
  ~B() { std::cout << "B’s destructor called" << std::endl; }  
int main() { B bobj; }

Output: B’s destructor called

A’s destructor called

What is simple derivation good for?

Some uses for simple derivation.

With simple derivation, the derived class is the public interface.

Often protected or private derivation is used to hide the base class from the users of the derived class.

What are the problems with simple derivation?

What is polymorphic derivation good for?

Some uses for polymorphic derivation.

What are the problems of polymorphic derivation?

Every polymorphic base class (containing even one virtual function) adds a runtime type tag to each instance.

This costs in both time and space.

Contrasts between simple and polymorphic derivation

Simple derivation:

Polymorphic derivation:

Containment as an alternative to simple derivation

Often the same class can be implemented using either containment or derivation.


class A { ... f() ... };  
class B: public A { ... g() { f() ... } };

A’s public member functions are inherited by B.


class A { ... f() ... };  
class B { private: A a; ... g() { a.f() ... }  
   public: f() { return a.f(); } };

Access to A’s public member functions requires a “pass-through” function for delegation.

Argument for containment

Containment is a more distant relationship than derivation.

Less coupling between classes is safer and less error-prone.

Using containment, derived class is explicit about what is exported.

For more info, see http://www.gotw.ca/publications/mill06.htm.

STL container as a base class

We apply these concepts to STL base classes.

Base classes are simple, not polymorphic (no virtual functions, no virtual destructor).

This means that they should only be used with simple derivation. They are not suitable as base classes for polymorphic derivation.

Often containment is preferable, but the large number of member functions they support makes it cumbersome to get the same degree of functionality in the derived class as comes “for free” with derivation.

Can I turn an STL container into a polymorphic base class?

Yes, sort of. Here’s the idea.

#include <iostream>  
#include <vector>  
using namespace std;  
class MyVectorInt : public vector<int> {  
  MyVectorInt() : vector<int>() {}  
   virtual ~MyVectorInt() {  
      cout << "Base class destructor is called" << endl; }  
class Derived : public MyVectorInt {  
   ~Derived() {  
      cout << "Derived destructor is called" << endl; }  

A polymorphic base class

MyVectorInt is a polymorphic base class with virtual destructor and can be used as such.

int main() {  
  MyVectorInt* p;  // a polymorphic pointer  
  Derived* obj = new Derived();  // a derived object  
  p = obj;         // ok to assign  
  delete p;        // ok to delete; destructors called  

Dynamic cast

It is always okay to cast a pointer to a derived class into a pointer to the base class, as in the previous example.

The reverse is only semantically meaningful if the allocated type of the object actually is the type to which it is being cast. In that case, one can use a dynamic_cast to effect the converstion.

  MyVectorInt* p;  
  Derived* q;  
  q = dynamic_cast<Derived*>(p);

dynamic_cast returns NULL if p is pointing to something that does not have dynamic type Derived*.