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Virtual keyword

posted Nov 30, 2014, 9:31 PM by Javad Taghia   [ updated Nov 30, 2014, 9:31 PM ]

Virtual base classes, used in virtual inheritance, is a way of preventing multiple "instances" of a given class appearing in an inheritance hierarchy when using multiple inheritance.

Consider the following scenario:

class A { public: void Foo() {} };
class B : public A {};
class C : public A {};
class D : public B, public C {};

The above class hierarchy results in the "dreaded diamond" which looks like this:

  A
 / \
B   C
 \ /
  D

An instance of D will be made up of B, which includes A, and C which also includes A. So you have two "instances" (for want of a better expression) of A.

When you have this scenario, you have the possibility of ambiguity. What happens when you do this:

D d;
d.Foo(); // is this B's Foo() or C's Foo() ??

Virtual inheritance is there to solve this problem. When you specify virtual when inheriting your classes, you're telling the compiler that you only want a single instance.

class A { public: void Foo() {} };
class B : public virtual A {};
class C : public virtual A {};
class D : public B, public C {};

This means that there is only one "instance" of A included in the hierarchy. Hence

D d;
d.Foo(); // no longer ambiguous

Hope that helps as a mini summary. For more information, have a read of this and this. A good example is also available here.

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