Wednesday, April 23, 2008

OOPS Concepts by Example

I assume that you are familar with the following OOP
concepts; classes, objects, attributes, methods, types. If not, then this article might not be
in your realm. I'd suggest starting with the basic concepts of C++ before you attempt to
understand the more indepth concepts that I'll be discussing in this article. When we
speak of OOP concepts, the conversation usually revolves around encapsulation,
inheritance and polymorphism. This is what I will attempt to describe in this article.
Let us start by defining inheritnace. A very good website for finding computer science
definitions is The definitions in this article are stolen from that
Definition: Inheritance
Inheritance is the concept that when a class of object is defined, any subclass that is
defined can inherit the definitions of one or more general classes. This means for the
programmer that an object in a subclass need not carry its own definition of data and
methods that are generic to the class (or classes) of which it is a part. This not only
speeds up program development; it also ensures an inherent validity to the defined
subclass object (what works and is consistent about the class will also work for the
The simple example in C++ is having a class that inherits a data member from its parent
class A
integer d;
class B : public A
The class B in the example does not have any direct data member does it? Yes, it does. It
inherits the data member d from class A. When one class inherits from another, it
acquires all of its methods and data. We can then instantiate an object of class B and call
into that data member.
void func()
B b;
b.d = 10;
Copyright 2001-2002 Randy Charles Morin
Inheritance is a very easy concept to understand. Polymorphism on the other hand is
much harder. Polymorphism is about an objects ability to provide context when methods
or operators are called on the object.
Definition: Polymorphism
In object-oriented programming, polymorphism (from the Greek meaning "having
multiple forms") is the characteristic of being able to assign a different meaning to a
particular symbol or "operator" in different contexts.
The simple example is two classes that inherit from a common parent and implement the
same virtual method.
class A
virtual void f()=0;
class B
virtual void f()
{std::cout << "Hello from B" << std::endl;};
class C
virtual void f()
{std::cout << "Hello from C" << std::endl;};
f I have an object A, then calling the method f() will produce different results depending
on the context, the real type of the object A.
func(A & a)
The least understood of the three concepts is encapsulation. Sometimes, encapsulation is
also called protection or information hiding. In fact, encapsulation, protection and
information hiding are three overlapping concepts.
Definition: Encapsulation
Encapsulation is the inclusion within a program object of all the resources need for
the object to function - basically, the method and the data. The object is said to
"publish its interfaces." Other objects adhere to these interfaces to use the object
without having to be concerned with how the object accomplishes it. The idea is
"don't tell me how you do it; just do it." An object can be thought of as a selfcontained
atom. The object interface consists of public methods and instantiate data.
Protection and information hiding are techniques used to accomplish encapsulation of an
object. Protection is when you limit the use of class data or methods. Information hiding
Copyright 2001-2002 Randy Charles Morin
is when you remove data, methods or code from a class's public interface in order to
refine the scope of an object. So how are these three concepts implemented in C++?
You'll remember that C++ classes have a public, protected and private interface. Moving
methods or data from public to protected or to private, you are hiding the information
from the public or protected interface. If you have a class A with one public integer data
member d, then the C++ definition would be...
class A
integer d;
f you moved that data member from the public scope of the private scope, then you
would be hiding the member. Better said, you are hiding the member from the public
class A
integer d;
t is important to note that information hiding are not the same as encapsulation. Just
because you protect or hide methods or data, does not mean you are encapsulating an
object. But the ability to protect or hide methods or data, provide the ability to
encapsulate an object. You might say that encapsulating is the proper use of protection
and information hiding. As an example, if I used information hiding to hide members that
should clearly be in the public interface, then I am using information hiding techniques,
but I am not encapsulating the class. In fact, I am doing the exact opposite (unencapsulating
the class). Do not get the idea that encapsulation is only information
hiding. Encapsulation is a lot more. Protection is another way of encapsulating a class.
Protection is about adding methods and data to a class. When you add methods or data to
a class, then you are protecting the methods or data from use without first having an
object of the class. In the previous example, the data member d cannot be used except as
a data member of an object of class A. It is being protected from use outside of this
scenario. I have also heard many computer scientist use information hiding and
protection interchangeably. In this case, the scientist takes the meaning of protection and
assign it to information hiding. This is quite acceptable. Although I'm no historian, I
believe the definition of information hiding has taken some turns over the years. But I do
believe it is stabilizing on the definition I presented here.
Another OOP concept related to encapsulation that is less widely used but gaining ground
is abstration.
Definition: Abstraction
Through the process of abstraction, a programmer hides all but the relevant data about
an object in order to reduce complexity and increase efficiency. In the same way that
abstraction sometimes works in art, the object that remains is a representation of the
original, with unwanted detail omitted. The resulting object itself can be referred to as
Copyright 2001-2002 Randy Charles Morin
an abstraction, meaning a named entity made up of selected attributes and behavior
specific to a particular usage of the originating entity.
The example presented is quite simple. Human's are a type of land animal and all land
animals have a number of legs. The C++ definition of this concept would be...
class LandAnimal
virtual int NumberOfLegs()=0;
class Human : public LandAnimal
virtual int NumberOfLegs()
{return 2;};
The method NumberOfLegs in LangAnimal is said to be a pure virtual function. An
abstract class is said to be any class with at least one pure virtual function. Here I have
created a class LandAnimal that is abstract. It can be said that the LandAnimal class was
abstracted from the commonality between all types of land animals, or at least those that I
care about. Other land animals can derive there implementation from the same class.
class Elephant : public LandAnimal
virtual int NumberOfLegs()
{return 4;};
Although I cannot create an instance of the class LandAnimal, I can pass derived
instances of the class to a common function without having to implement this function for
each type of LandAnimal.
bool HasTwoLegs(LandAnimal & x)
return (x.NumberOfLegs()==2);
There is also a less rigid definition of abstraction that would include classes that without
pure virtual functions, but that should not be directly instantiated. A more rigid definition
of abstraction is called purely abstract classes. A C++ class is said to be purely abstract, if
the class only contains pure virtual functions. The LandAnimal class was such a class.
Purely abstract classes are often called interfaces, protocol classes and abstract base
More Concepts
Another growing concept in OOP is dynamic and static binding. Most languages provide
one or the other. C++ provides both. A method that is not virtual is said to be statically
bound, whereas virtual methods are said to be dynamically bound. Non-virtual methods
are statically bound, because the binding of the method is performed at compile and link
time and cannot be changed. Virtual methods are dynamically bound, because the binding
of the method is actually performed at run-time. When you call a virtual method, a small
lookup is performed in the object virtual table (a.k.a. vtable) to find the address of the
method being called. By manipulating an objects vtable at run-time, the target address
Copyright 2001-2002 Randy Charles Morin
can be altered. Four other growing OOP concepts are persistance, concurrency, reflection
and object composition. I will not discuss these here, but maybe in a later article. Hope
this article proves informative and thank you for your time.

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