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C++ : Virtual Function

Tutorial by:Manisha Dubey      Date: 2016-06-18 01:42:55

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If there are member functions with same name in base class and derived class, virtual functions gives programmer capability to call member function of different class by a same function call depending upon different context. This feature in C++ programming is known as polymorphism which is one of the important feature of OOP.

If a base class and derived class has same function and if you write code to access that function using pointer of base class then, the function in the base class is executed even if, the object of derived class is referenced with that pointer variable. This can be demonstrated by an example.

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
class B
{
    public:
       void display()
         { cout<<"Content of base class.\n"; }
};

class D : public B
{
    public:
       void display()
         { cout<<"Content of derived class.\n"; }
};

int main()
{
    B *b;
    D d;
    b->display();

    b = &d;    /* Address of object d in pointer variable */
    b->display();
    return 0;
}

Note: An object(either normal or pointer) of derived class is type compatible with pointer to base class. So, b = &d; is allowed in above program.

Output

Content of base class.
Content of base class.

In above program, even if the object of derived class d is put in pointer to base class, display( ) of the base class is executed( member function of the class that matches the type of pointer ).

Virtual Functions

If you want to execute the member function of derived class then, you can declare display( ) in the base class virtual which makes that function existing in appearance only but, you can't call that function. In order to make a function virtual, you have to add keyword virtual in front of a function.

/* Example to demonstrate the working of virtual function in C++ programming. */

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
class B
{
    public:
     virtual void display()      /* Virtual function */
         { cout<<"Content of base class.\n"; }
};

class D1 : public B
{
    public:
       void display()
         { cout<<"Content of first derived class.\n"; }
};

class D2 : public B
{
    public:
       void display()
         { cout<<"Content of second derived class.\n"; }
};

int main()
{
    B *b;
    D1 d1;
    D2 d2;

/* b->display();  // You cannot use this code here because the function of base class is virtual. */

    b = &d1;
    b->display();   /* calls display() of class derived D1 */
    b = &d2;           
    b->display();   /* calls display() of class derived D2 */
    return 0;
}

Output

Content of first derived class.
Content of second derived class.

 

 
 

After the function of base class is made virtual, code b->display( ) will call the display( ) of the derived class depending upon the content of pointer.

In this program, display( ) function of two different classes are called with same code which is one of the example of polymorphism in C++ programming using virtual functions.

C++ Abstract class and Pure virtual Function

In C++ programming, sometimes inheritance is used only for the better visualization of data and you do not need to create any object of base class. For example: If you want to calculate area of different objects like: circle and square then, you can inherit these classes from a shape because it helps to visualize the problem but, you do not need to create any object of shape. In such case, you can declare shape as a abstract class. If you try to create object of a abstract class, compiler shows error.

Declaration of a Abstract Class

If expression =0 is added to a virtual function then, that function is becomes pure virtual function. Note that, adding =0 to virtual function does not assign value, it simply indicates the virtual function is a pure function. If a base class contains at least one virtual function then, that class is known as abstract class.

Example to Demonstrate the Use of Abstract class


#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

class Shape                    /* Abstract class */
{
    protected:
       float l;
    public:
       void get_data()          /* Note: this function is not virtual. */
       {
           cin>>l;
       }

       virtual float area() = 0; /* Pure virtual function */
};

class Square : public Shape
{
    public:
       float area()
       {   return l*l;  }
};

class Circle : public Shape
{
    public:
       float area()
       { return 3.14*l*l; }
};

int main()
{
    Square s;
    Circle c;
    cout<<"Enter length to calculate area of a square: ";
    s.get_data();
    cout<<"Area of square: "<<s.area();
    cout<<"\nEnter radius to calcuate area of a circle:";
    c.get_data();
    cout<<"Area of circle: "<<c.area();
    return 0;
}

In this program, pure virtual function virtual float area() = 0; is defined inside class Shape, so this class is an abstract class and you cannot create object of class Shape

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