Readings: Effective C++

42 minute read

Title: Effective C++ Third Edition. 55 Specific Ways to Improve Your Program and Designs

Author: Scott Meyers

General Review

Personal notes for effective C++. Although this book is based on the legacy C++ versions, it still cover key principles of the language. It also highlights corner cases that could be detrimental to the project.

Chapter 1

Item 1: View C++ as a federation of languages

C++ can be broken down into 4 sub languages:

  1. C: Working with C part of C++
  2. Object-Oriented C++: Working with classes and OOP principles in C++
  3. Template C++: Working with generic programming in C++
  4. STL: Working with C++ STL library.

Rules for effective C++ will on the sub language.

Item 2: Prefer consts, enums, and inlines to #define

This item mainly discuss effective methods to declare constants and alternative to macro functions.

When we use #define, the compiler will replace the reference to the macro with the defined value.

Declaring constants with #define


  • The macro will not enter the symbol table which will result in confusing error messages. Where you do not know where is the source of the error.
  • Less efficient as the preprocessor will create a copy of the value each time the macro is referenced


  • Bad:

    #define ASPECT_RATIO 1.653
  • Good:

    const double AspectRatio = 1.653;

Declaring constants for class

When declaring constant that should only exist within a class scope, use static const.

class GamePlayer {
  static const int NumTurns = 5;


  • Using static will ensure that there is at most one copy of the constant

Inline function

Use inline functions instead of #define macros.

Item 3: Use const whenever possible

const pointers

  • const char * p: When const is on the left of a pointer, it means that the data is const. You cannot change the value that the pointer is pointing to. However, you are allowed to change pointer.

    int i = 1;
    int j = 2;
    const int * ptr = &i;
    *ptr = 3; // compilation error
    ptr = &i; // ok
  • char * const p: When const is on the right of a pointer, it means that the pointer is const and you cannot change the variable to a new pointer. However, you are allowed to change the value the pointer points to.

    int i = 1;
    int j = 2;
    int * const ptr = &i;
    *ptr = 3; // ok 
    ptr = &j; // compilation error

const STL iterator

  • Mimicks the behaviour of a pointer
  • const std:xxx<T>iterator iter same as T* const: Can change the value the iterator points to but cannot change the iterator to a new iterator.
  • std:xxx<T>const_iterator iter same as const T*: Cannot change the value the iterator points to but can change the iterator to a new iterator.

Function return const

const Rational oeprator* (const Rational& lhs, const& rhs)

Generally it is not appropriate to return const type as the value can be easily copied when assigning to a new variable but it prevent the following human error:

(a*b) = c

const Member Functions

Should use const member function to state which function would modify an object and which would not.

Functions can also be overloaded using const.

class TextBlock {
  const char& operator[](const std::size_t pos) const; // for const objects
  char& operator[](const std::size_t pos); // for non-const objects

Avoid duplicate code in const and non-const member functions by casting non-const *this to const *this. This is ok as we are adding tightening the non-const by adding const constraint.

const char& operator[](const std::size_t pos) const{...};
char& operator[](const std::size_t pos) {
          static_cast<cosnt TextBlock&>(*this)[position]

Use mutable to allow data member to be modified in const member functions. Usually useful when implementing caching functions.

mutable bool lengthIsValid;

std::size_t length() const {
  if(!lengthIsValid) {
    lengthIsValid = true; // modifying data member in const function
  return textLength;

Item 4: Make sure that objects are initialized before they’re used

Initializing member variables

Order of class initialization:

  1. Base class initialized before derived class
  2. Data member are initialized in the order in which they are declared.

Bad example:

class ABEntry {
  std::string theName;
  std::string theAddress;
  std::list<Phonenumber> thePhones;
  int numTimesCosulted;
  ABEntry(const std::string& name, const std::string& address,
      const std::list<Phonenumber>& phones) {
    theName = name;           // these are all assignments
    theAddress = address;
    thePhones = phones;
    numTimesCosulted = ;
  • Data members are initialized before the body of constructor.
  • Inefficient as the default constructors are called on the non-integral types and then copy assignment constructor called in constructor.

Good example (using initialization list):

class ABEntry {
  std::string theName;
  std::string theAddress;
  std::list<Phonenumber> thePhones;
  int numTimesCosulted;
  ABEntry(const std::string& name, const std::string& address,
      const std::list<Phonenumber>& phones) :
  • More efficient with a single copy constructor than a default constructor followed by copy assignment constructor.
  • Might be required when initializing for const or reference data members.

Non-local static objects in different translation unit

  • static object are objects that exists when it constructed to the end of program. Does not exist on the stack or heap. They are destoryed when
  • non-local static object are static objects outside of a function.
  • translation unit: source code that give rise to single object file.

Problem of depending on a non-local static object in different translation unit:

// some.cpp
class FileSystem {
  std::size_t numDisk() const;
extern FileSystem tfs;

// other.cpp
class Directory {
  Directory(params) {
    std::size_t disks = tfs.numDisks();

Directory tmpDir(params);
  • Relative order initialization of non-local static object in different translation unit is undefined. tmpDir could be initialized before tfs.

Solution (reference-returning functions):

// some.cpp
class FileSystem {
  FileSystem& tfs() {
    static FileSystem fs;
    return fs;
  std::size_t numDisk() const;
extern FileSystem tfs;

// other.cpp
class Directory {
  Directory(params) {
    std::size_t disks = tfs().numDisks();

Directory tmpDir(params);
  • This will guarantee that the static object is always initialized.
  • If you do not call the method you will never incur the cost of constructing.
  • Caveats:
    • Does not work well with multi-threading. Need to call the reference-returning functions in master thread before forking child thread so that all child thread will have the same reference.

Chapter 2

Item 5: Know what functions C++ silently writes and calls

class Empty {
  Empty(){} // default constructor
  Empty(const Empty& rhs){} // copy constructor
  Empty& operator=(const Empty& rhs){} // copy assignment constructor
  ~Empty() {} // destructor

By default, the compile will generate the following constructors inline:

  1. Generated default constructor and destructor:
    • Default constructor:
       Empty e1; // defa
    • Create a default constructor that calls the base class’ constructor/destructor
    • Call the default constructor/destructor of data members
    • Exception: When any constructor (default/non-default) is declared, the compiler will not create a default constructor but will still create copy constructor and copy assignment constructor.
  2. Generated copy constructor:
    • Copy constructor:
        NamedObject<int> no1("Smallest Prime Number", 2);
        NamedObject<int> no2(no1); // copy constructor invoked
    • The generated copy constructor will call the copy constructor on each data member and base class.
  3. Generated copy assignment:
    • Copy assignment constructor:
        Empty e1;
        Empty e2;
        e2 = e1; // copy assignment constructor
    • Call the copy assignment constructor for each data member and base class.
    • Caveats: If the data member is a reference to an object it will not work as c++ does not allow changing reference of a reference variable. You will need to define your own copy assignment constructor if you have a reference variable.
        int a = 2;
        int b = 4;
        int& ref = a;
        // cannot change ref to point to b instead

Item 6: Explicitly disallow the use of compiler-generated functions you do not want.

In some cases you would want to disable the compiler from generating copy assignment constructor and copy constructor (ie: Wanting an object to be unique).

Method 1: Declare copy assignment constructor and copy constructor as private and do not define them.

class HomeForSale {
  HomeForSale(const HomeForSale&);
  HomeForSale& HomeForSale=(const HomeForSale&);
  • Making private: Prevent calling of constructor outside of class
  • Not defining constructor: Throw link time error when member functions try to call constructor.
  • This method is widely use

Method 2: Set assignment constructor and copy constructor private in base class.

class Uncopyable {
  Uncopyable(const Uncopyable&);
  Uncopyabl& operator=(const Uncopyable&);
class HomeForSale : private Uncopyable {}

This result in compilation error when trying to use copy assignment/ copy constructor. It will call the base counter part which are private.

Item 7: Declare destructor virtual in polymorphic base classes.


class TimeKeeper {

class AtomicClock : public TimeKeeper {...}

Problems with non-virtual destructor:

  • When a pointer to a derived class is cast to a base class, only the base class destructor would be called instead of the derived class.
  • This results in the data members of the base class being destructed but the data members of derived class being untouched.
  • Result in partially destructed objects and memory leaks

Solution: Use virtual destructor for all base classes.

Virtual function under the hood:

  • Object requires to store information at runtime to determine which virtual method to be called. ie:
    class B{
      virtual foo();
    class D1 : B {
      virtual foo();
    class D2 : B {
      virtual foo();
    int i;
    cin >> i;
    B* b =  i > 5 ? new D1() : new D2();
    // We will only know at run time which virtual method to call.
  • Each object has a virtual table pointer(vptr) that points to an array of pointer virtual table (vtbl)
  • Each vtbl will point to a function that should be invoked.
  • Drawbacks Storing virtual table and pointer will increase space

Creating an abstract class:

  • Use pure virtual destructor
  • Need to add definition to the destructor of the abstract class as the base class destructor(abstract class) would be called after the derived class destructor.
clas AWOV {
  virtual ~AWOV() = 0;
AWOV::~AWOV() {} // define virtual destructor

Item 8: Prevent exceptions from leaving destructor

Throwing exceptions in destructor could result in multiple active exceptions (destructing vector of objs) which would lead to undefined behaviour.

Instead, abstract out the logic to a separate public function to allow clients to call and handle it. If the client did not call it, execute the function in the destructor but catch all exceptions to prevent UB.

Item 9: Never call virtual functions during construction or destruction

Understanding base class construction. When a derived class is constructed.

  1. It will first call the base class constructor
    • If the base class constructor is not explicitly constructed, the base class default constructor will be called
    • Call base class constructor by:
      class D : B {
         D() : B() {} 
         D(&D) : B(D) {...}
  2. Only base class data members will be initialized. Derived class data members will not be initialized yet.
  3. Virtual functions in base class will not point to derived class’ function during base class constructor
    • Why: derived class data members will not initialized. Calling the derived class function before data member initialization will lead to UB.

Calling pure virtual function in base class constructor/destructor

  1. Results in link error: base class calls the pure virtual function that is not defined
  2. Could bypass link error by calling the function through another function
class Transaction {
  virtual void logTransaction() const = 0;
  void init()
    logTransaction() // call to virtual function

Solution: Pass polymorphic data through method args instead of virtual function

class Transaction {
  explicit Transaction(const std::string& logInfo);
  void logTransaction(const std::string& logInfo) const;

class BuyTransaction : public Transaction {
  : Transaction(createLogString(parameters)) // should not access data members before derived class constructor


Item 10: Have assignment operator return a reference to *this

By convention, we should return a reference to the current object for all assignment operators

Widget& operator(const Widget& rhs){
  return *this

This will allow you to chain assignment operators

int x,y,z;
x = y = z = 15;
  • Assignment operations are right associative: x=(y=(z=15))

Item 11: Handle assignment to self in operator=

Non-direct ways for potential self-assignment:

  • Different pointer to same reference
    a[i] = a[j]
    *px = *py
  • Base class reference/pointer could point to a derived class
    Base& rb;
    Drirved* pd;
    rb = *pd; // could be the same

Without handling self: Deleting self will result to the rhs to be deleted as well

Widget::operator=(const Widget& rhs)
  delete pb;
  pb = new Bitmap(*rhs.pb) // rhs.pb already deleted
  return *this

Should place delete self as last statement

Widget& Widget::operator=(const Widget& rhs)
  if(this == &rhs) return *this;
  delete pb;
  pb = new Bitmap(*rhs.pb) // if exception thrown here, pb will point to a deleted addr
  return *this;

Instead should:

Widget& Widget::operator=(const Widget& rhs)
  Bitmap* pOrig = pb;
  pb = new Bitmap(*rhs.pb);
  delete pOrig; // only delete after pb points to a valid address
  return *this;

Copy-and-swap solution

Make a copy of the rhs then swap it to the current file

Widget& Widget::operator=(const Widget& rhs) {
  Widget temp(rhs); // make a copy
  swap(temp); // swap to *this
  return *this;

Item 12: Copy all parts of an object

  1. Only copy-constructor and copy assignment operator should copy an object
  2. All local data members should be initialized in the copy constructors
  3. Invoke the copying function of base class too. Failing to do will result in the base class member data to not be initialized
  D(const D& rhs) 
  : B(rhs),
  D::operator=(const D& rhs)
    m_data = rhs.m_data
    return *this

Bad practices:

  • Do not call the copy assignment from copy constructor
  • Do not call the copy constructor from copy assignment
  • Use a third init() method instead

Chapter 3: Resource Management

The contents of this chapter is slightly outdated as it still refers to auto_ptr (deprecated) and not the new unique_ptr.

Item 13: Use objects to manage resource

The main takeaway for this item is to use object to manage heap based resource instead of raw pointers (just T*)

Drawbacks of raw pointers

  1. Whenever you dynamically allocate memory, you will need to manually deallocate it.
  2. Your instruction to deallocate memory might not happen when there is an early return, exception, break in a loop.
  3. This will result in a memory leak

Resource Acquisition Is Initialization (RAII)

Using an object that acquires a resource (dynamically allocated resource) instead of managing raw pointers.

Key Ideas:

  • All object’s (on stack) destructor will be called once it goes out of scope
  • Tying a resource to an object will allow the destructor of the object to clean up the resource
  • std provides smart pointers that acts as a wrapper to objects
    • auto_ptr (deprecated) and shared_ptr

Smart Pointers

  • All resource are assigned to a managing object
  • Destructor of objects are called automatically when it is destroyed
  • Drawbacks:
    • Only calls delete on the pointer instead of delete[]. If the resource is a dynamically allocated array, only the first pointer will be deleted but everything else. Compiles but leads to UB

auto_ptr (deprecated)

  • wraps around a pointer and calls the destructor of the pointer once it goes out of scope
    void f() {
      std::auto_ptr<Foo> f(new Foo());
  • Drawbacks:
    • Does not exhibit normal copy constructor and copy assignment behaviour. The objects are “moved” instead of being copied
      std::auto_ptr<Foo> f1(new Foo()); // f1 points to the new Foo
      std::auto_ptr<Foo> f2(f1)         // f2 points to the previous new Foo
                                        // f1 now points to null
      f1 = f2;                          // f1 points to the previous new Foo but
                                        // f2 points to null
    • Will not work in STL containers as it require elements to exhibit normal copying behaviour.


  • Uses reference-counting to determine if the resource can be deleted.
    • Every time the object (shared_ptr) is copied/assigned it will increase the reference.
    • Call destructor on the pointer once the counter goes to 0.
  • Caveats: Cannot break cycles. If two objects that are unused has a reference to each other, the counter will never go 0.
    • Unlike Java GC, there is no mark, sweep, merge steps to determine if an two objects are stuck in a cyclic reference

Item 14: Think carefully about copying behaviour in resource-managing class

You can implement your own RAII to manage heap resource. However, based on your requirements, you might want to handle copying separately.

  • Prohibit Copying
    • If a resource should not be copied (Lock) for a mutex, use Uncopyable
  • Reference Counting
    • If the resource should be destroyed once all references to has been deleted.
    • Use a shared_ptr data member.
    • If we do not want to delete the underlying resource (unlocking a mutex instead of deleting), we can provide shared_ptr with a deleter funtcion. This will cause the shared_ptr to call the function instead of the destructor of the resource.
    • Copying the underlying resource (more than one of the resource could exists), we should perform a deep copy of the data in the heap instead of just copying the pointer.

Item 15: Provide access to raw resource in resource-managing classes

There are times you would need to access the underlying heap based resource from an RAII. You can use the following approach:

  • Explicit conversion:
    • Provide a raii.get() function to get the underlying heap based resource
    • Overload pointer dereferencing operator (->)
    • Drawbacks: might be intrusive to the code
  • Implicit conversion:
    • Allow casting from raii to the underlying heap based resource pointer.
    • Allow clients to easily use api that require heap based resource pointer without having to call explicit conversion
      class RAII {
      Foo f;                              // heap based resource
      operator Foo() const{return f;}     // Overload casting operator to return
                                          // the underlying resource when casted to it
      void Bar(Foo f);                      // Require heap based resource
      RAII r;
      Bar(r); // cast RAII to Foo
    • Drawbacks: allowed accidental casting from RAII to the underlying resource.

Item 16: Use the same form in corresponding uses of new and delete

We should always use delete[] iff new T[] was used and delete iff new T was used.

The reason is that when we call delete[] or delete on address we do not validate what the address contains and call the destructor on the memory. When we call new or new T[] the heap will look like (depends on compiler):

Single  Object: | Object |
Array         : | n | Object | Object | Object |   
  • Calling delete[] on a single object will result in the first k bytes being assumed to be the size of the array (but is actually part of the Object) and the destructor will be called on the next contiguous n' location in memory.
  • Calling delete on an array will result in the address for the size of the array to be deleted and part of the first object to deleted.

Item 17: Store newed objects in smart pointers in standalone statement

To guarantee that there will be no resource leak when using smart pointers, we will need to make sure that no exceptions are thrown between heap based resource being allocated and smart pointer being constructed.

The easy solution is to store new object in smart pointer in a standalone statement that guarantees no exceptions thrown

Negative example:

processWidget(shared_ptr<Widget>(new Widget), foo());
  • We will need to perform the following argument evaluations:
    • Execute new Widget
    • Construct shared_ptr
    • Call foo
  • In cpp, the compiler is allowed to reorder the evaluations of arguments
  • Compiler can reorder to: Execute new Widget -> Call foo -> Construct shared_ptr
    • If there is an exception in foo, the new Widget would be leaked and will not be cleaned up by shared_ptr

Chapter 4: Design and Declarations

Item 18: Make interfaces easy to use correctly and hard to use incorrectly

Good API design should prevent any client errors by making it easy to use and hard for the clients to use incorrectly. We can do so with the following methods:

  • Strongly typed parameters:
    • When a function takes in multiple parameters of similar type, client could easily make mistakes by using the wrong ordering of parameters
    • If there is a small range of allowed argument for a parameter, use class function as a constructor.
      struct Month {static Month::Jan(){return Month(1)}};
      struct Day {};
      struct Year {};
      Date d(Month::Mar(), Day(30), Year(1995))
  • Return const to prevent invalid assignment
  • Return smart pointers
    • Do not rely on client calling delete
    • shared_ptr: Allow you to add your own deleter to perform clean up once the references go to 0
  • Interface should be consistent with standard library interfaces

Item 19: Treat class design as type design

This item mainly state the various questions we should ask ourselves when designing a new type.

Item 20: Prefer pass-by-reference-to-const to pass-by-value


  • Make a copy of the actual argument. Calls the copy constructor of all the data members and base class
  • By default all arguments are passed by value
  • Object Slicing: Derived object slice off derived class data members when copying.
    • Pass a derived class to a function that takes in the base class
    • Causes the only the base class copy constructor to be called on the derived object
  • Applies to user defined type with small constructor
    • Compiler treats user-defined type differently from built-in types
    • The constructor overhead of user-defined types might change
  • Exceptions:
    • Built-in types: same overhead as passing a pointer
    • stl iterator: act as pointers
    • function objects


  • When we pass by reference we are essentially passing a pointer as an argument to the function
  • Use const so that the caller will know that argument would not be mutated

Item 21: Don’t try to return a reference when you must return an object

When returning an object as reference from the local stack (function body), the object will destructed once it returns. The reference that the function returns will point to an object that is destructed.


  • Returning reference of object on stack:
    • Objects would be destructed at the end of the function
    • Reference to destructed object will still be returned -> leads to UB
  • Returning reference of to object on heap:
    • Easily lead to memory leak as we do not know who should delete the object

Item 22: Declare data members private

This items argues why data members should be private and does not cover any c++ specific points.


  • Syntactic consistency
  • Encapsulation: allow you to easily change the implementation of the data member.
    • ie: changing the data member from a member variable to a combination of member variables

Item 23: Prefer non-member non-friend functions to member functions

This item mainly applies to member functions that does not actually require to be a member function (utility functions)

Member function drawbacks:

  • Reduces encapsulation as it exposes internal data members
  • Does not allow separation of utility functions.
    • If a client imports a class, it will have to import all utility functions instead of what they just need

Solution: Create multiple header files that contains different type of utility functions on the same class

Item 24: Declare non-member functions when type conversion should apply to all parameters

How type conversion works:

  1. Given a type T1 and the object can only be constructed from type T2
    • type coversion will work if there is conversion from T2 -> T1.
  2. A temporary T2 object will be created from T1 with T2(T1)
  3. T2 will be provided as argument to the object’s constructor

How operators work:

  1. For operators (*, +, …), the compiler will try to look for valid operator declared in the namespace scope to perform the operator on the 2 parameter
  2. Type conversion will be used if the operator is not explicit

For operators that should perform implicit conversion on lhs/rhs, use non-members so that both the parameters can be converted.

class Rational {

const Rational operator*(const Rational& lhs, const Rational& rhs)

Rational oneForth(1,4);
Rational result;
result = oneForth* 2 // convert 2 to Rational
result = 2* operator // convert 2 to Rational

Item 25: Consider support for a non-throwing swap

  • Swap operations should not throw exceptions as many operations rely on swap operations to prevent memory leak

Chapter 5: Implementations

Item 26: Postpone variable definition as long as possible

This item argues that we should defer any variable definition to as long as possible. This includes:

  • Defining the variable right before it is needed:
    • Prevent unneccassary calls to the constructor if an exception is thrown or returned before it is used.
      string encrypted;
      if (...) throw exception; // encrypted is constructed and destructed
  • Do not define a variable with default constructor then assign it to a new value afterwards
    • Prevent extra call to constructor then copy assignment when you could just have a single call to copy constructor
      string encrypted;
      encrypted = password;
      string encrypted(password);

Item 27: Minimize casting

Types of cast

  • C-style: (T) expression
  • Function style: T(expression). Call the type’s cast function
  • C++ style:
    • const_cast<T>(expression): cast away the const from an object
    • dynamic_cast<T>(expression): cast from a base class to a derived class. Determine polymorphic type in runtime
    • reinterpret_cast<T>(expression): casting a pointer to an int (for low level)
    • static_cast<T>(expression): for implicit conversion (ie int to double)

Problems with casting:

  • Casting a pointer of a derived class to a base class could result in additional cost of getting the base class pointer.
    • In C++ the pointer for a derived class &d might differ in address from the pointer of a base class from that derived class pointer
      Derived d;
      Base* b = &d;
  • When casting a derived object to base object with static_cast. C++ will create a temporary copy of the base object and call the function on it.
    • Solution is to call base class function directly Base::foo() in the derived class function
  • dynamic_cast is slow: under the hood performs string matching to the class name
    • if you find yourself doing multiple if(auto t = dynamic_cast<T>(ptr)) a lot should use virtual functions instead

Item 28: Avoid returning “handles” to object internals

We should avoid returning a handler (reference, pointer, iterator) to an internal data structure in member functions.


  • If the return type is not const, it will allow the client side to modify internal data member using the member function.
  • Result in dangling handles, if a temporary object is created and only the handler is assigned to a variable. The temporary object will destroyed but the handler will be left dangling.

Item 29: Strive for exception-safe code

Goals of exception-safe function

  • Leak no resource: should not leak any resource
  • Don’t allow data structure to become corrupted: A function should not be in an invalid state no matter what

Types of exception-safe guarantees

  • Basic guarantees
    • When an exception is thrown a program will be in a valid state. Might be a the same state before exception is thrown
  • Strong guarantees
    • State changes are atomic. When an exception is thrown a program will revert to the previous state before the exception is thrown
  • Nothrow guarantees
    • function does not throw any exception

It is ok to only offer basic guarantee (depend on basic guarantee code) but should not be non exception-safe.

How to achieve exception-safe

The general way to achieve exception-safe is to use the Pimpl idiom with copy and swap

  • Use pimpl to allow the underlying data member to be easily copied to a temp copy
  • Perform necessary changes to the temp copy
  • Swap the temp copy to replace the current copy
struct  PMImpl {
  std::shared_ptr<Image> bgImage;
  int imageChanges;

class PrettyMenu {
  Mutex mutex;
  std::shared_ptr<PMImpl> pImpl;
  void changeBackGround(std::istream& imgSrc) {
    using std::swap;
    Lock ml(&mutex);                                  // use RAII to prevent resouce leak
    std::shared_ptr<PMImpl> pNew(new PMImpl(*pImpl)); // create a temporary copy of impl
    pNew->bgImage.reset(new Image(imgSrc));

    swap(pImpl, pNew);                                // only change state if no exception
  • Caveats: Pimpl + copy and swap will only work when there are no side effects to outside the local data state.

Item 30: Understand the ins and out of inlining

Overhead of a function call:

  • Saving the current registers on the current function stack
  • Pushing the new function argument into the new function stack
  • Increment the stack pointer
  • Jump to the new instruction of the new function
  • When the function is done, need to restore the previous function stack

inline functions:

  • Request the compiler to replace the call to function with the block of code
  • For small function body will increase instruction cache hit rate.
  • Types of inline request
    • implicit: define the function within the class
      class Person {
        int age() const { return theAge; } // an implicit request
    • explicit: using inline keyword before the function.


  • Constructors and destructors might seem like good inline functions but under the hood, they are long functions that have code to construct the data members
  • How the function is called matters: Function pointer to inline function would cause the inline function to be generated out of line.
    inline void f() {...}
    void (*pf)() = f;
    f();  // inlined
    pf(); // most probably wont be inlined
  • DLL: if a library uses inline function, the client must recompile the library instead of just relinking a non-inline function

Item 31: Minimize compilation dependencies between files


  • There could be a cascading compilation dependencies when the declaration and definitions are coupled together.
    • A client only cares about the public functions and not the private data members.
    • Coupling the declaration and definitions (private data members) would result in the client having to recompile when there is a change in private data member’s code.
      #include <string>
      #include "date.h"
      #include "address.h"
      class Person {
      Person(const std::string& name, const Date& birtday, const Address& addr);
      std::string name() const;
      std::string birthDate() const;
      std::string theName;
      Date theBirthDate;
      Address theAddress


  • pimpl
    • Only declares functions and no data members
    • Implement by forwarding the function call to the impl
  • Forward declare types
    • Forward declare custom type so that if the client doesn’t need the custom type, they do not need to depend on it.
    • If the client need the custom type they will just include the custom type header file instead of relying on your header file.
    • Separate forward declaration to *fwd.h to a separate header file that just forward declares.
  • interface
    • Having an abstract base class that does not contain any data members. Having a pointer to abstract class with factory function will allow the client not having to include unneccassary dependencies.

Chapter 6: Inheritance and Object-Oriented Design

Item 32: Make sure public inheritance models “is-a”

Public Inheritance: the derived class will have access to all public members (function and data) of the base class. The derived class does not have access to private data members (need to access through public function of base class).

Take aways: All derived class should “is-a” base class. This would allow the compiler to prevent the derived class from having properties it should not have at compile time.

Item 33: Avoid hiding inherited names

Unlike other PL like Java, overriding a function would hide all functions in the base class with the same name (does not distinguish between function signature)

class Base {
  int x;
  virtual void mf1() = 0;
  virtual void mf1(int);

  virtual void mf2();

  void mf3();
  void mf3(double);
class Derived: public Base {
  virtual void mf1();
  void mf3();
  void mf4();

Derived d;
int x;

d.mf1();  // calls Derived::mf1
d.mf1(x); // error! Base class mf1(int) got hidden

Rationale: C++ chose to hide all function names irregardless of function signature as it

Solution: use using

class Derived: public Base {
  using Base::mf1;
  using Base::mf3;
  virtual void mf1();
  void mf3();
  void mf4();
  • Use this method if you inherit a base class and you want to redeclare or override some but not all functions

Forward functions

class Derived : private Base {
  virtual void mf1() 
  { Base::mf1(); }

Item 35: Consider alternative to virtual functions

This item mainly talks about alternate design pattern we could use to acheive polymorphism over virtual functions. Aka Non-Virtual Interface (NVI) Idiom.

Template Method Pattern

This pattern is not related to c++’s template programming. The essence of this pattern is to declare all virtual function private and create a public wrapper function that would call the virtual functions.

As virtual function are private in base class, derived class can only redefine the function but cannot call it.

Advantage: allows the base class to inject context into the call of virtual functions. Ie perform before virtual call tasks (lock mutex) or after virtual call task (unlock mutex)

class GameCharacter {
  int healthValue() const
    // perform before task
    int ret = doHealthVal();
    // peform after task
    return ret;
  virtual int doHealthValue() const {

Strategy Pattern via std::function

For polymorphism that is independent of the class (ie health is independent of GameCharacter), have a member variable that stores a call back function to execute the polymorphic task.

The constructor or member function of the class will take in std::function as an argument and have another member function that wraps around the call back function.

Advantage: separate the health calculation and game character logic. Allow for change in polymorphic function in runtime.

class GameCharacter;
int defaultHealthCalc(ocnst GameCharacter& gc);

class GameCharacter {
  typedef std::function<int (const GameCharacter&)>  HealthCalcFunc;
  explicit GameCharacter(HealthCalcFunc hcf = defaultHealthCalc) : healthFunc(hcf) {}
  int healthVal() const
  { return healthFunc(*this); }

Item 36: Never redefine an inherited non-virtual function

This item argues that a derived class should never redefine a non-virtual function from a base class.

Practical Reason: non-virtual functions are statically bound. This means that the correct non-virtual function to be invoked is determined statically (compile time?) by the Type of the object/pointer. This would mean that the non-virtual function for a derived class could behave differently when it is called directly to the object or type cast to a reference of the base class. Ie

clas B {
  void mf();
class D : public B {
  void mf();

D x;
B *pB = &x;
D *pD = &x;
pB->mf(); // calls B::mf()
pD->mf(); // calls D::mf()

Theoretical reason: If a derived class is needs to redefine a non-virtual function, this means that the derived class no longer is-a base class and violates Item 32 principles.

Item 37: Never redefine a function’s inherited default parameter value.


  • Static Type: The type you declare it in the program
  • Static Bound: The property of the object is determined by the static type
  • Dynamic Type: The type of object it currently refers to
  • Dynamic Bound: The property of the object(function/default param) is determined from the dynamic type

Problem: default parameters are statically typed.

This means that if the derived class default parameter differs from the base class default parameter, calling the virtual function on a derived class cast as base class, the derived class function would be invoked but with the base class default value.

class Shape {
  enum ShapeColor {Red, Green, Blue};
  virtual void draw(ShapeColor color = Red) const = 0;
class Rectangle : public Shape {
  enum ShapeColor {Red, Green, Blue};
  virtual void draw(ShapeColor color = Green) const;
Shape *pr = new Rectangle;
pr->draw(); // Invokes Rectangle::call(Shape::Red);

Why c++ implement this: C++ chose to implement this behaviour to allow for runtime efficiency. At runtime you do not need to find what polymorphic default parameter to use.


  1. All class basee and derived class use the same default parameter.
    • This is bad as there would be a lot of code duplication and dependencies. Changing the default value in one class would result in all classes default value being changed
  2. Use NVI idiom. Wrap the virtual function with a non-virtual function and the non-virtual function can define a default parameter that would be invoked for all classes’ virtual function.

Item 38: Model “has-a” or “is-implemented-in-terms-of” through composition

Composition is a very technique any SWE uses when designing an object. This item provides an interesting mental model on when to use composition. I have never heard of this technique before and it seems pretty good.


  • Application domain: objects that corresponds to things in a real world (ie people, vehicles and etc)
  • Implementation domain: purely implementation objects (mutex, buffers, etc)

When to use composition:

  • has-a relationship in application domain should use composition over inheritance. Person has a name data member instead of inheriting from name
  • is-implemented-in-terms-of relationship in implementation domain should use composition. When implementing a set with set with a underlying linked list data structure, you do not inherit a linked list but instead have a linked list data member and member functions that calls linked list functions.

Item 39: Use private inheritance judiciously

This item cover the subtle but important characteristics about private inheritance. I was always under the impression that the purpose of private inheritance was solely for access to private data members.

Private inheritance behaviour:

  • Compiler does not convert private derived class to base class
    class B {};
    class D : private B{};
    void foo(B* ptr);
    D* d = new D;
    foo(d); // compilation error
  • All members (data and functions) inherited from private base class becomes private members of the derived class

Purpose of private inheritance: Another form of “is-implemented-in-terms-of” implementation.

  • All public interface of private base becomes private members of derived means that derived “is-not-a” base class
  • Unlike composition in Item 38, private inheritance allows derived class to have access to the private data member of the underlying implementation of. This allows for more flexibility if you need the underlying implementation of data.
  • Allow for redefining virtual function of the implement of base class.
  • Unlike composition, private inheritance allow for empty class optimisation.
    • If a derived class privately inherit an empty base class, there would not be any additional space overhead.

Item 40: Use multiple inheritance judiciously

Unlike Java, C++ allows for multiple inheritance. However, there are a few benefits and drawbacks of multiple inheritance.

Ambiguity: When a derived class inherits from two different base class with the same member name. Note that there will still be ambiguity even if one of the member is accessible while the other is not. This is due to the compiler identifying the corresponding member before checking for access (similar to item 33).

Solution: Call the specify the correct base class member you would like to refer to. Ie ie.BoroowableItem::checkOut() instead of ie.checkOut()

Multiple Inheritance Diamond

When you inherit from two base class which in turn inherit from the same base class.

Problem: This would result in two separate instance of an ancestor class from a single class.

Solution: use virtual inheritance. This would result in only one instance of the common ancestor to be instantiated.

Multiple inheritance use case: Easily implement interface and utilise existing classes implementation (is-implementation-in-terms-of).

  • Publicly inherit an abstract class (interface)
  • Privately inherit a base class. Reuse the implementation of the base class.

Virtual Inheritance Drawbacks:

  • There is an overhead when accessing data members of virtual base classes (details depends on compiler).
  • Derived class needs to be aware of all virtual ancestor no matter how far away (additional overhead)

Drawbacks mitigation: Avoid adding data members to the virtual base class (similar to Java interface). This would prevent additional overhead of accessing virtual base class data members.

Chapter 7: Template and Generic Programming

Introduction Templates were initially created to allow for type-safe containers (vector). However, it has evolved to be a turing complete stack. The compile will execute and run the metaprogram in compile time and complete the execution when the program exits.

Item 41: Understand implicit interfaces and compile time polymorphism.

Traditionally we use explicit interface and runtime polymorphism.

  • Explicit interface:
    • Interface of a class/struct.
    • Users will be able to look up the type and view the function signature
  • Runtime polymorphism:
    • Only at runtime we will know what virtual function to call using virtual pointer.

Metaprogramming allows for implicit interface and compile time polymorphism.

How it works: at compile time, the compiler will take the function template and the template argument (the actual type to be supplied) and synthesize/instantiate a function with that type.

Implicit interface

Instead of having an explicit interface stating the member functions and variables. With templates, you will state the functions that you would like use for the generic type and the compiler will check if the supplied template at compile time support these functions (technically it should be expressions).

template<typename T>
void doProcessing(T& w) {
  if(w.size() > 10 && w != someNastyWidge) {
    T temp(w);
  • Compiler will only compile if w has .size(),, .normalize() and .swap()

Compile time polymorphism

At compile time, the compiler will synthesize the function template for that specific supplied type. This will let the correct function for each type to be called instead of relying on virtual functions.

For example:

  • The same function template (Foo) will be synthesized for string and int. It will call the respective int/string member function and thus allowing for polymorphism.

Item 42: Understand the two meaning of typename

I am still a bit confused with this item.

Different types in a template:

  • dependent name: when a named type is dependent on a template type. ie T::foo
  • nested dependent name: a dependent type that is nested inside a class.
  • non-dependent name: any type that is not dependent on the template type. ie int

Problem with nested dependent: when using nested dependent type, we do not know if T::foo is another type or is a static variable. To solve this, use typename at the front.

template<typename C>
void Foo(const C& cont) {
  typename C::const_iterator iter;

Item 43: Know how to access names in templatized base class


  • When a template class inherits a base template class, the compiler will not let you call the base class function in the derived class.
  • Why: the compiler prevents this as the base template class could have a total specialisation which could result in the base class having a completely different interface.


  • Call the base class function with this->
  • Employ using declaration technique. using Base<T>::foo;
  • Call the base class function directly Base::foo(...). Not ideal as it would not work for virtual functions.

Note: If there is full template specialisation that removes the function and the techniques above were used, there will compilation error. However, this would occur later when the template is synthesized.

Item 44: Factor parameter-independent code out of templates

I do not really understand the examples for the this item but I believe I understand the main takeaways of it.

All templates in C++ are just templates for functions/class. Thus, having more than necessary template parameters could result in more than necessary synthesized template class or functions.

Refactor out any template parameter that are independent of the code (usually non types parameters) and pass the template parameter as a function parameter instead. This will allow lesser synthesisation of templates that just differ by that parameter.

Item 45: Use member function template to accept “all compatible types”

Problem: If you would like to cast a template class of type U to the same template class but of type T.

Solution: Use a member function that takes in any type. This would allow you to perform implicit type conversion from U to T inside the template class.

template<class T>
class shared_ptr {
  shared_ptr(shared_ptr const& r);
  template<class Y>
  shared_ptr(shared_ptr<Y> const& r); // allow for implicit type conversion
  shared_ptr& operator=(shared_ptr const& r); // copy assignment
  template<class Y> 
    shared_ptr& operator=(shared_ptr<Y> const& r); // copy assignment

Note: You will need to declare the normal copy constructor and assignment to allow as the compiler can still create its own constructors

Item 46: Define non-member functions inside templates when type conversion are desired.

If a function needs to take 2 parameter with the same template type but the 2 provided arguments do not have the same type will lead to compilation error.

Why error: Unlike normal functions, template arguments deduction never perform implicit type conversion. The function does not know which type to keep and which type to convert

Solution: use friend function to set the first argument as the main type and typecast the others which would call the template function with the same types now.

template<typename T>
const Rationale<T> doMultiply(const Rationale<T>& lhs, const Rationale<T>& rhs) {
  return Rationale<T>(lhs.numerator* rhs.numerator, lhs.denomerator*rhs.denomerator);

template<typename T>
class Rationale {
  // rhs will be cast to type T
  friend const Rationale operator*(const Rationale& lhs, const Rationale& rhs) {
    doMultiply(lhs, rhs)

Item 47: Use traits classes for information about types

(klement: Revisited this item a few months later after initially reading it. I did not understand this item fully the previous time.)

Problem: when different types with the same API should be handled differently in a template function.

  • Example: std::advance for the different types of iterators

Solutions: use traits to get the tag for the different types and from the tag, use tag dispatch to invoke the correct overloaded function.


  • Requirements: need to be able to extract the traits for all types (built in and user defined)
    • Nesting the trait within a built in type is not possible
  • Use Trait Classes (actually is a template struct)
    • For user-defined type, the default Trait Class will just echo back the nested typedef of the user defined type
      template<typename IterT>
      struct iterator_traits {
        // Echo back the nested iterator_category typedef
        typedef typename IterT::iterator_category iterator_category;
      • Calling iterator_traits<dequeu::iterator>::iterator_category will return the iterator_category defined in dequeu::iterator_category
    • For builtin types, there is partial/full Trait Class specialisation that will define a specialised template
      template<typename T>
      struct iterator_traits<T*>
        typedef randome_access_iterator_tag iterator_category;
      • Calling iterator_traits<int*>::iterator_category will return the iterator_category defined in partial template specialisation instead

Tag dispatch:

  • Using Trait Class we will be able to get the tag for each type and use overload resolution to invoke the correct class
    • Iterators example:
      • strct input_iterator_tag {}
      • struct output_iterator_tag {}
      • struct forward_iterator_tag: public input_iterator_tag {}
      • struct bidirectional_tag: public forward_iterator_tag {}
      • struct random_access_iterator_tag: public bidirectional_tag {}
  • Overloaded function that takes in an extra Tag parameter that will help with the overload resolution
    • ie void doAdvance(Iter& iter, Dist d, std::random_access_iterator_tag), void doAdvance(Iter& iter, Dist d, std::bidirectional_tag)
    • The tag parameter is an empty class that is used solely for overload resolution
  • Tags can be polymorphic to allow for the polymorphism in the tag dispatch
    • If some types have inheritance nature (ie forward iterator is a input iterator), there is not need to define two overloaded function for the parent and child type. Instead the compiler will automatically invoke the parent tagged function if the child tagged function is not present

Chapter 8 customizing new and delete

C++ allows you to define a callback function (new_handler) to be executed when it fails to allocate new memory.

Item 49: Understand the behaviour of new-handler

How it works

  1. Declare custom new_handler. This would apply to all new operations.
    • set_new_handler returns the previous new_handler.
  2. When new is called
    • Sufficient memory: nothing happens and the memory gets allocated
    • Insufficient memory:
    • Keep calling the latest function of set_new_handler(...) until there is an exception or sufficient memory allocated

As new will be recursively called, new_handler should have one of the following properties:

  • Make more memory available: Next new call would have sufficient memory
  • Install a different new-handler: Will not call the same function again and stuck in infinite loop
  • Deinstall new-handler: set set_new_handler(nullptr) so that no function would be called and will use the default exception
  • Throw an exception: of type bad_alloc
  • Not return: call abort or exit

Class specific new handler


  • Need to call set_new_handler(fooHanlder) and set_new_handler(oldHandler) after the new operation
  • Will need to handle when there is an exception when calling new


  • Treat new_handler as a resource and wrap it in a RAII.
  • Use Curiously Recurring Template Pattern (CRTP) to make a mixin base class that could be inheritted by multiple classes
  • (Klement: I do not really understand the solution proposed in the book but you can refer to it if you would to view the actual implementation)

Item 50: Understand when it makes sense to replace new and delete

This item lays down a few use cases for why we should use a custom new and delete

Use Cases:

  • Detect usage errors:
    • Custom new and delete can keep a list of newed and deleted memories. This would let you detect if delete an address from outside the list
    • Over allocate blocks so there is room to put signature before and after the memory. When you call delete, check the signature are still intact.
    • Caveats: alignment of memory is very important. On some systems, pointers need to be four-byte aligned and failure to do so could result in hardware exception. On other systems(Intel x86) doubles that are eight-byte aligned can be accessed much faster. Malloc will return pointers that are properly aligned but adding the signature before might misalign it.
      static cosnt int signature = 0xDEADBEEF;
      typedef usgined char Byte;
      void* operator new(std::stize_t size) throws(std::bad_alloc) {
        using namespace std;
        size_t realSize = size + 2 * sizeof(int);
        void *pMem = malloc(realSize);
        if (!pMem) throw bad_alloc();
        *(static_cast<int*>(pMem)) = signature;
        *(reinterpret_cast<int*>(static_cast<Byte*>(pMem) + realSize - sizof(int))) = signature;
        return static_cast<Byte*>(pMem) + sizeof(int);
  • Improve efficiency:
    • Default new need to worry about heap fragmentation (pocket of unused spaces within the heap).
    • Writing a thread-unsafe new and delete for single threaded systems.
  • Collect usage statistics:
    • Allow you to collect all kind of stats for new and delete usage
  • Cluster related objects near one another:
    • If certain objects are used closely with one another, you can allocate them near each other to utilise the cache spatial locality.

Item 51: adhere to convention when writing new and delete


  • right return value (pointer)
  • If failed to allocate memory keep calling the new-handling-function(item 49) if present else throw bad_alloc
  • Return a legitimate pointer if zero bytes requrested.


  • Handle when the derived class calls the base class custom operator new
      class Base {
        static void operator new(std::size_t size) throw(std::bad_alloc) {...}
        class Derived : public Base { ... };
        Derived* p = new Dervied // calls Base::operator new
  • If you want to customise the operator new for array, you will need write a custom operator new[]
    • You do not know the size and number of each element. Base[] might store Derived
    • size_t supplied might be more than required memory for all elements as dynamically allocated array might add meta data (item 16)

Item 52: Write placement delete if you write placement new

Definition placement new and delete: When new is called it usually calls the static void* operator new(std::size_t size) member function. However, we can declare our own new operator that accepts more than size_t parameter.

  • ie static void* operator new(size_t size, ostream& logstream)

Placement new with address:

  • static void* operator new(size_t size, void* ptr)
  • Allow you to construct an object on the given address instead of allocating new memory
  • Used in vectors

Item 53: Pay attention to compiler warnings

This item encourages you to pay attention to compiler warnings.

Item 54: Familiarize yourself with the standard library, including TR1.

This item briefly covers the useful standard libraries. However, the segment on TR1 is not very relevant as the majority of TR1 is already in the c++ standards.

Item 55: Familiarize yourself with boost

Briefly covers the different features of boost but I think the best way for you to familiarise yourself with boost is to use it in a project.