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C++ Inheritance Basics

Jess
Software Engineer / Flatiron School grad
・2 min read

Classes can be related in two ways: by inheritance and by composition. These are referred to as "is-a" vs "has-a" relationships. Inheritance is an "is-a" relationship and it is useful because it allows you to take functionality from an already existing class and reuse it without duplicating code. For example, if you have a class Animal, you can create a class Dog which *is a*n animal, and Dog can inherit properties from Animal. Animal is known as the base class, and Dog is known as the derived class. You can create many animals (cat, bird, etc) which can inherit from Animal without having to recreate properies for each class.

Below is an example of the base class Animal and the derived class Dog, which inherits the members from Animal.

The syntax to inherit from a class is
class derivedClassName : memberAccessModifier baseClassName.

The memberAccessModifier can bepublic, private, or protected and it affects how the derived class inherits members of the base class. private is default and means the derived class can't directly access the private members of the base class. public means public members of the base class will be public in the derived class, and protected means public and protected members of the base class will be protected in the derived class.

#include <iostream>
#include <string>

class Animal
{
private:
    int mLegs;
    std::string mName;
public:
    Animal(int legs, std::string name)
    {
        mLegs = legs;
        mName = name;
    }

    void printInfo()
    {
        std::cout << "My name is " << mName << " and I have " << mLegs << " legs.\n";
    }


};

class Dog : public Animal
{
private:
    std::string mMood;
public:
    Dog(int legs, std::string name, std::string mood = "happy") : Animal(legs, name) {
        mMood = mood;
    }
    void printInfo()
    {
        Animal::printInfo();

        std::cout << "My mood is " << mMood << "!\n";
    }
};

int main() {
    Dog a(4, "Gremlin");
    a.printInfo();

    return 0;
}

// output
// My name is Gremlin and I have 4 legs.
// My mood is happy!
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Notice the syntax for the Dog constructor.
Dog(int legs, std::string name, std::string mood = "happy") : Animal(legs, name) {...}

Since the number of legs and name are set in the constructor, you need to specify which members will be set from the base class constructor.

You can also see how Dog has a member variable mMood, which the base class Animal does not. printInfo is also being overriden inside the Dog class so that it can print info from the base class as well as the member variable (mMood) that only it has. Inside the body of printInfo in the Dog class is a call to printInfo in the base class: Animal::printInfo().


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