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C++ Programming Tutorials


Friendship and inheritance
Friend functions
In principle, private and protected members of a class cannot be accessed from outside the same class in which they are declared. However, this rule does not affect friends.

Friends are functions or classes declared as such.

If we want to declare an external function as friend of a class, thus allowing this function to have access to the private and protected members of this class, we do it by declaring a prototype of this external function within the class, and preceding it with the keyword friend:

// friend functions
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

class CRectangle {
int width, height;
public:
void set_values (int, int);
int area () {return (width * height);}
friend CRectangle duplicate (CRectangle);
};

void CRectangle::set_values (int a, int b) {
width = a;
height = b;
}

CRectangle duplicate (CRectangle rectparam)
{
CRectangle rectres;
rectres.width = rectparam.width*2;
rectres.height = rectparam.height*2;
return (rectres);
}

int main () {
CRectangle rect, rectb;
rect.set_values (2,3);
rectb = duplicate (rect);
cout << rectb.area();
return 0;
}
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The duplicate function is a friend of CRectangle. From within that function we have been able to access the members width and height of different objects of type CRectangle, which are private members. Notice that neither in the declaration of duplicate() nor in its later use in main() have we considered duplicate a member of class CRectangle. It isn't! It simply has access to its private and protected members without being a member.

The friend functions can serve, for example, to conduct operations between two different classes. Generally, the use of friend functions is out of an object-oriented programming methodology, so whenever possible it is better to use members of the same class to perform operations with them. Such as in the previous example, it would have been shorter to integrate duplicate() within the class CRectangle.

Friend classes
Just as we have the possibility to define a friend function, we can also define a class as friend of another one, granting that second class access to the protected and private members of the first one.

// friend class
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

class CSquare;

class CRectangle {
int width, height;
public:
int area ()
{return (width * height);}
void convert (CSquare a);
};

class CSquare {
private:
int side;
public:
void set_side (int a)
{side=a;}
friend class CRectangle;
};

void CRectangle::convert (CSquare a) {
width = a.side;
height = a.side;
}

int main () {
CSquare sqr;
CRectangle rect;
sqr.set_side(4);
rect.convert(sqr);
cout << rect.area();
return 0;
}
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In this example, we have declared CRectangle as a friend of CSquare so that CRectangle member functions could have access to the protected and private members of CSquare, more concretely to CSquare::side, which describes the side width of the square.

You may also see something new at the beginning of the program: an empty declaration of class CSquare. This is necessary because within the declaration of CRectangle we refer to CSquare (as a parameter in convert()). The definition of CSquare is included later, so if we did not include a previous empty declaration for CSquare this class would not be visible from within the definition of CRectangle.

Consider that friendships are not corresponded if we do not explicitly specify so. In our example, CRectangle is considered as a friend class by CSquare, but CRectangle does not consider CSquare to be a friend, so CRectangle can access the protected and private members of CSquare but not the reverse way. Of course, we could have declared also CSquare as friend of CRectangle if we wanted to.

Another property of friendships is that they are not transitive: The friend of a friend is not considered to be a friend unless explicitly specified.

NEXT >> Inheritance between classes

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