paxos1977 paxos1977 - 17 days ago 6
C++ Question

Why should I prefer to use member initialization list?

I've heard on good authority that I should prefer using member initialization lists in my code, but I don't understand why this is said.

What does using member initialization lists with my constructors do that can't be done within the constructor body?

Answer

For POD class members, it makes no difference, it's just a matter of style. For class members which are classes, then it avoids an unnecessary call to a default constructor. Consider:

class A
{
public:
    A() { x = 0; }
    A(int x_) { x = x_; }
    int x;
};

class B
{
public:
    B()
    {
        a.x = 3;
    }
private:
    A a;
};

In this case, the constructor for B will call the default constructor for A, and then initialize a.x to 3. A better way would be for B's constructor to directly call A's constructor in the initializer list:

B()
  : a(3)
{
}

This would only call A's A(int) constructor and not its default constructor. In this example, the difference is negligible, but imagine if you will that A's default constructor did more, such as allocating memory or opening files. You wouldn't want to do that unnecessarily.

Furthermore, if a class doesn't have a default constructor, or you have a const member variable, you must use an initialize list:

class A
{
public:
    A(int x_) { x = x_; }
    int x;
}

class B
{
public:
    B() : a(3), y(2)  // 'a' and 'y' MUST be initialized in an initializer list;
    {                 // it is an error not to do so
    }
private:
    A a;
    const int y;
};