Inheritance is a feature of Object Oriented Programming that allows programmers to create classes based on other classes. A class that inherits from another class will have the same behavior as the parent class unless it is overwritten.

Let’s say we have a class:

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class Greeter {
 public:
  void talk() {
    std::cout << greeting_ << std::endl;
  }

 protected:
  std::string greeting_ = "hello";
};

If an object of this class is created and the talk() method is called, hello will be printed.

We can now create a child class based on Greeter:

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class SpanishGreeter : public Greeter {
 public:
  SpanishGreeter() {
    greeting_ = "hola";
  }
};

Above, we can see that to inherit from a class, we use the format:

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class class-name : access-specifier parent-class {

SpanishGreeter inherits from Greeter. This means that it has the same methods and properties as Greeter. The only difference between these classes is that SpanishGreeter’s greeting is hola instead of hello. This means that calling talk() on SpanishGreeter will print hola.

In its simplest form, this is inheritance in C++.

Access scope

If you are not familiar with access scopes, this is a good time to get to know them. In Greeter you can see the keywords public and proteted being used:

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class Greeter {
 public:
  void talk() {
    std::cout << greeting_ << std::endl;
  }

 protected:
  std::string greeting_ = "hello";
};

There are 3 access modifiers: public, protected and private. In general, one rule I like to follow is: Everything should be private unless it can't. So, the important thing is to find when something can’t be private.

Here is a short description for each of them:

  • private - Can only be seen by the class
  • protected - Can be seen by the class and children classes
  • public - Can be seen by anyone

Looking at Greeter, we decided to make talk() public, because that method could be called from any code that instantiates the class. The greeting_ property, on the other hand is an implementation detail that doesn’t need to be known by callers. Making greeting_ protected makes it possible to overwrite its value on children classes; If it was private it wouldn’t be possible to modify it from SpanishGreeter.

Object construction

The constructor for the highest class in the hierarchy is executed first. For the example above, the constructor for Greeter is executed and then constructor for SpanishGreeter. This allows children classes to overwrite things in their constructor without those changes being reverted by the parent class.

Access specifier

I already showed the way to have a class inherit from another class, but I didn’t explain the access-specifier part:

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class class-name : access-specifier parent-class {

Although public inheritance is the most common, it’s good to understand what the other inheritance types are:

  • public - public and protected methods and properties of the parent class, become public and protected for the child class respectively.
  • protected - public and protected methods and properties of the parent class, become protected for the child class.
  • private - public and protected methods and properties of the parent class, become private for the child class.

I haven’t really seen protected or private used on the wild, but they are there in case they are needed.

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