Inside the C++ Object Model by Stanley B. Lippman

By Stanley B. Lippman

This booklet is aimed toward the beginner/intermediate C++ programmer who desires to comprehend the semantic implications of the C++ item version and the way the version impacts their courses.

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There's a story that Jerry Schwarz, the architect of the iostream library, tells about his first attempt to support a scalar test of an iostream class object such as if ( cin ) ... For cin to evaluate to a true/false scalar value, Jerry first defined an operator int() conversion operator. This worked fine in well-behaved instances such as this example, but it behaved in a somewhat surprising manner under the following programmer error: // oops: meant cout, not cin cin << intVal; The programmer, of course, meant cout not cin.

Although it is easy (from a distance, anyway) to be amused by tales of the Schwarz Error, conversion operators in practice are difficult to use in a predictable, well-behaved manner. In this case, programmers are, I think, warranted in their concern. Introduction of conversion operators should be made judiciously, tested rigorously, and, at the first sign of unusual program activity, brought in for questioning. The problem, however, is more in the nature of the compiler's taking your intentions far too literally than of its actually doing something behind your back—although it is often difficult to convince a programmer bitten by a Schwarz Error of this.

The size of class Y (and Z) at this point is 5 bytes. On most machines, aggregate structures have an alignment constraint so that they can be efficiently loaded from and stored to memory. On my correspondent's machine, alignment of an aggregate is on a 4-byte boundary. So class Y (and Z) requires 3 bytes of padding. The result is a final size of 8. The empty virtual base class has become a common idiom of OO design under C++ (it provides a virtual interface without defining any data). In response, some recent compilers provide special handling of the empty virtual base class (see [SUN94a]).

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