1 Voodoonris

When Derived Class Has User Defined Assignment Operator

Short Answer: Yes you will need to repeat the work in D

Long answer:

If your derived class 'D' contains no new member variables then the default versions (generated by the compiler should work just fine). The default Copy constructor will call the parent copy constructor and the default assignment operator will call the parent assignment operator.

But if your class 'D' contains resources then you will need to do some work.

I find your copy constructor a bit strange:

Normally copy constructors chain so that they are copy constructed from the base up. Here because you are calling the assignment operator the copy constructor must call the default constructor to default initialize the object from the bottom up first. Then you go down again using the assignment operator. This seems rather inefficient.

Now if you do an assignment you are copying from the bottom up (or top down) but it seems hard for you to do that and provide a strong exception guarantee. If at any point a resource fails to copy and you throw an exception the object will be in an indeterminate state (which is a bad thing).

Normally I have seen it done the other way around.
The assignment operator is defined in terms of the copy constructor and swap. This is because it makes it easier to provide the strong exception guarantee. I don't think you will be able to provide the strong guarantee by doing it this way around (I could be wrong).

Even if you derive a class D from from X this does not affect this pattern.
Admittedly you need to repeat a bit of the work by making explicit calls into the base class, but this is relatively trivial.

Assignment Operators

What is “self assignment”?

Self assignment is when someone assigns an object to itself. For example,

Obviously no one ever explicitly does a self assignment like the above, but since more than one pointer or reference can point to the same object (aliasing), it is possible to have self assignment without knowing it:

This is only valid for copy assignment. Self-assignment is not valid for move assignment.

Why should I worry about “self assignment”?

If you don’t worry about self assignment, you’ll expose your users to some very subtle bugs that have very subtle and often disastrous symptoms. For example, the following class will cause a complete disaster in the case of self-assignment:

If someone assigns a object to itself, line #1 deletes both and since and are the same object. But line #2 uses , which is no longer a valid object. This will likely cause a major disaster.

The bottom line is that you the author of class are responsible to make sure self-assignment on a object is innocuous. Do not assume that users won’t ever do that to your objects. It is your fault if your object crashes when it gets a self-assignment.

Aside: the above has a second problem: If an exception is thrown while evaluating (e.g., an out-of-memory exception or an exception in ’s copy constructor), will be a dangling pointer — it will point to memory that is no longer valid. This can be solved by allocating the new objects before deleting the old objects.

This is only valid for copy assignment. Self-assignment is not valid for move assignment.

Okay, okay, already; I’ll handle self-assignment. How do I do it?

You should worry about self assignment every time you create a class. This does not mean that you need to add extra code to all your classes: as long as your objects gracefully handle self assignment, it doesn’t matter whether you had to add extra code or not.

We will illustrate the two cases using the assignment operator in the previous FAQ:

  1. If self-assignment can be handled without any extra code, don’t add any extra code. But do add a comment so others will know that your assignment operator gracefully handles self-assignment:

    Example 1a:

    Example 1b:

  2. If you need to add extra code to your assignment operator, here’s a simple and effective technique:

    Or equivalently:

By the way: the goal is not to make self-assignment fast. If you don’t need to explicitly test for self-assignment, for example, if your code works correctly (even if slowly) in the case of self-assignment, then do not put an test in your assignment operator just to make the self-assignment case fast. The reason is simple: self-assignment is almost always rare, so it merely needs to be correct - it does not need to be efficient. Adding the unnecessary statement would make a rare case faster by adding an extra conditional-branch to the normal case, punishing the many to benefit the few.

In this case, however, you should add a comment at the top of your assignment operator indicating that the rest of the code makes self-assignment is benign, and that is why you didn’t explicitly test for it. That way future maintainers will know to make sure self-assignment stays benign, or if not, they will need to add the test.

This is only valid for copy assignment. Self-assignment is not valid for move assignment.

I’m creating a derived class; should my assignment operators call my base class’s assignment operators?

Yes (if you need to define assignment operators in the first place).

If you define your own assignment operators, the compiler will not automatically call your base class’s assignment operators for you. Unless your base class’s assignment operators themselves are broken, you should call them explicitly from your derived class’s assignment operators (again, assuming you create them in the first place).

However if you do not create your own assignment operators, the ones that the compiler create for you will automatically call your base class’s assignment operators.


Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *