Kyle Reese Kyle Reese - 3 months ago 13
C++ Question

Interface vs Implementation in C++. What does this mean?

I am learning the concepts of inheritance, especially about access-specifiers, here I am confused about the

protected
access specifier. The members under protected can be accessible by the base class member functions and derived class member functions. There is a chance of messing up
implementation
of base class if we declare protected as access specifier. Its always better to declare data members under
private
rather than protected as only the
interface
is exposed and not the
implementation
section. We are declaring only the variables in the private section of a class and how it becomes
implementation
? Implementation will be done in the
member functions
right? The terms are confusing, can anyone clarify and explain me the terms?

Answer

Interface and implementation are not ideas specific to C++ and it sounds like you're confused about what interfaces vs. implementations are in general, so hopefully by explaining what they are it will be easier to understand it in C++.

This SO question (though not exactly what you're asking) has a good definition for what an interface is:

An interface is a contract: the guy writing the interface says, "hey, I accept things looking that way", and the guy using the interface says "Ok, the class I write looks that way".

An interface is an empty shell, there are only the signatures of the methods, which implies that the methods do not have a body. The interface can't do anything. It's just a pattern.

And in his example the interface is (translated to C++):

class MotorVehicle
{
public:
    virtual void run() const = 0;
    virtual int getFuel() const = 0;
}

And then the implementation is:

class Car : public MotorVehicle
{
    int fuel;

public:
    void run() const override
    {
        printf("Wrroooooooom\n");
    }


    int getFuel() const override
    {
        return this->fuel;
    }
}

The implementation is the actual substance behind the idea, the actual definition of how the interface will do what we expect it to. Another example: in terms of algorithms we talk about a Depth First Search (DFS) and it has a clearly defined behavior, but how we code, or implement, that algorithm can vary. We could use recursion or a stack data structure, for instance.

Now as regards access specifiers: it is not bad to use protected access. We talk about inheritance as an "is-a" relationship. When we say Cat inherits from Animal, we also say Cat is an Animal. So for the Cat to use some of the instance variables of the Animal is perfectly normal because it should belong to the Cat anyway.

You're worried that something the subclass does will mess up what the superclass does by changing the instance variables. You can certainly do that by throwing in meaningless data from the subclass, but usually you don't do that. You use the instance variables as the superclass intended them to be used (otherwise you would indeed screw up the functionality), which should be documented. If you are still thinking that someone should really not use your instance variables then that's what the private specifier is for.

One last thing: overriding superclass methods should also prevent misuse of superclass variables. By accessing and writing to protected variables you might change the behavior of superclass methods to something undesired, but then those methods should be overridden to do the new thing that your subclass is intending to do.