Abstract Classes

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An abstract class is a class with at least one pure virtual function. A virtual function is specified as pure by setting it equal to zero.

An abstract class can be used only as a base class for other classes. No objects of an abstract class can be created. An abstract class cannot be used as an argument type or as a function return type. However, you can declare pointers to an abstract class. References to an abstract class are allowed, provided that a temporary object is not needed in the initialization. For example,

class shape {       // abstract class
   point center;
.
.
.
public:
   where() { return center; }
   move(point p) { center = p; draw(); }
   virtual void rotate(int) = 0; // pure virtual function
   virtual void draw() = 0;      // pure virtual function
   virtual void hilite() = 0;    // pure virtual function
.
.
.
}
shape x;// ERROR: attempt to create an object of an abstract class
   shape* sptr;// pointer to abstract class is OK
   shape f();// ERROR: abstract class cannot be a return type
int g(shape s);// ERROR: abstract class cannot be a function argument type
shape& h(shape&);// reference to abstract class as return
 // value or function argument is OK

Suppose that D is a derived class with the abstract class B as its immediate base class. Then for each pure virtual function pvf in B, if D does not provide a definition for pvf, pvf becomes a pure member function of D, and D will also be an abstract class.

For example, using the class shape previously outlined,

class circle : public shape {// circle derived from abstract class
   int radius;// private
public:
   void rotate(int) { }// virtual function defined: no action
            //  to rotate a circle
   void draw();      // circle::draw must be defined somewhere
}

Member functions can be called from a constructor of an abstract class, but calling a pure virtual function directly or indirectly from such a constructor provokes a runtime error.

See Also