C++ Coding Standard

Adapted from http://www.possibility.com/Cpp/CppCodingStandard.html

For the C coding standards click here


  1. Resources- Take a Look!
  2. Names
  3. Formatting
  4. Classes
  5. Documentation
  6. Complexity Management
  7. Miscellaneous

Resources- Take a Look!


Include Units in Names

If a variable represents time, weight, or some other unit then include the unit in the name so developers can more easily spot problems. For example:
uint32 mTimeoutMsecs;
uint32 mMyWeightLbs;
Better yet is to make a variable into a class so bad conversions can be caught.

Class Names



   class NameOneTwo
   class Name

Class Names

Class Library Names


John Johnson's complete data structure library could use JJ as a prefix, so classes would be:
   class JjLinkList

Method Names



   class NameOneTwo
      int                   DoIt();
      void                  HandleError();

Method Names

Class Attribute Names



   class NameOneTwo
      int                   VarAbc();
      int                   ErrorNumber();
      int                   aVarAbc;
      int                   aErrorNumber;
      String*               apName;

Method Argument Names



   class NameOneTwo
      int                   StartYourEngines(
                               Engine& rSomeEngine, 
                               Engine& rAnotherEngine);

C++ File Extensions

In short: Use the .hh extension for header files and .cc for source files.

C Function Names



   some_bloody_function() {

Make Names Fit

Names are the heart of programming. In the past people believed knowing someone's true name gave them magical power over that person. If you can think up the true name for something, you give yourself and the people coming after power over the code. Don't laugh!

A name is the result of a long deep thought process about the ecology it lives in. Only a programmer who understands the system as a whole can create a name that "fits" with the system. If the name is appropriate everything fits together naturally, relationships are clear, meaning is derivable, and reasoning from common human expectations works as expected.

If you find all your names could be Thing and DoIt then you should probably revisit your design.

No All Upper Case Abbreviations



   class FluidOz             // NOT FluidOZ
   class NetworkAbcKey       // NOT NetworkABCKey

Variable Names on the Stack



   int NameOneTwo::HandleError(int errorNumber) {
      int            error= OsErr();
      Time           time_of_error;
      ErrorProcessor error_processor;

Pointer Variables


  String *pName= new String;

  String *pName, name, address; // note, only pName is a pointer.

Reference Variables and Functions Returning References



   class Test
      void               DoSomething(StatusInfo& rStatus);

      StatusInfo&        rStatus();
      const StatusInfo&  Status() const;

      StatusInfo&        arStatus;

Global Variables



    Logger  gLog;
    Logger* gpLog;

Global Constants


It's tradition for global constants to named this way. You must be careful to not conflict with other global #defines and enum labels.


    const int A_GLOBAL_CONSTANT= 5;

Static Variables



   class Test
      static StatusInfo msStatus;

Type Names



   typedef uint16  ModuleType;
   typedef uint32  SystemType;

Enum Names

Labels All Upper Case with '_' Word Separators

This is the standard rule for enum labels.


   enum PinStateType {

Enums as Constants without Class Scoping

Sometimes people use enums as constants. When an enum is not embedded in a class make sure you use some sort of differentiating name before the label so as to prevent name clashes.


   enum PinStateType  {          If PIN was not prepended a conflict 
                               would occur as OFF and ON are probably
      PIN_OFF,                  already defined.

Enums with Class Scoping

Just name the enum items what you wish and always qualify with the class name: Aclass::PIN_OFF.

Make a Label for an Error State

It's often useful to be able to say an enum is not in any of its valid states. Make a label for an uninitialized or error state. Make it the first label if possible.



#define and Macro Names


This makes it very clear that the value is not alterable and in the case of macros, makes it clear that you are using a construct that requires care.

Some subtle errors can occur when macro names and enum labels use the same name.


#define MAX(a,b) blah
#define IS_ERR(err) blah

Required Methods for a Class

To be good citizens almost all classes should implement the following methods. If you don't have to define and implement any of the "required" methods they should still be represented in your class definition as comments.


The Law of The Big Three

A class with any of (destructor, assignment operator, copy constructor) generally needs all 3. For more information see http://www.parashift.com/c++-faq-lite/coding-standards.html#[25.9].


An example using default values:
class Planet
  // The following is the default constructor if
  // no arguments are supplied:
  Planet(int radius= 5);
  // Use compiler-generated copy constructor, assignment, and destructor.
  // Planet(const Planet&);
  // Planet& operator=(const Planet&);
  // ~Planet();


Braces {} Policy

Brace Placement

Of the three major brace placement strategies the recommended one is here:

When Braces are Needed

All if, while and do statements must either have braces or be on a single line.

Always Uses Braces Form

All if, while and do statements require braces even if there is only a single statement within the braces. For example:
if (1 == somevalue) {
   somevalue = 2;


It ensures that when someone adds a line of code later there are already braces and they don't forget. It provides a more consistent look. This doesn't affect execution speed. It's easy to do.

One Line Form

if (1 == somevalue) somevalue = 2;


It provides safety when adding new lines while maintainng a compact readable form.

Add Comments to Closing Braces

Adding a comment to closing braces can help when you are reading code because you don't have to find the begin brace to know what is going on.
while(1) {
   if (valid) {
   } // if valid
   else {
   } // not valid

} // end forever

Parens () with Key Words and Functions Policy



    if (condition) {

    while (condition) {

    strcpy(s, s1);

    return 1;

A Line Should Not Exceed 78 Characters


If Then Else Formatting


It's up to the programmer. Different bracing styles will yield slightly different looks. One common approach is:
   if (condition) {
   } else if (condition) {
   } else {
If you have else if statements then it is usually a good idea to always have an else block for finding unhandled cases. Maybe put a log message in the else even if there is no corrective action taken.

Condition Format

Always put the constant on the left hand side of an equality/inequality comparison. For example:

if ( 6 == errorNum ) ...

One reason is that if you leave out one of the = signs, the compiler will find the error for you. A second reason is that it puts the value you are looking for right up front where you can find it instead of buried at the end of your expression. It takes a little time to get used to this format, but then it really gets useful.

switch Formatting


   switch (...)
      case 1:

      case 2:
         int v;


Use of goto,continue,break and ?:


Goto statements should be used sparingly, as in any well-structured code. The goto debates are boring so we won't go into them here. The main place where they can be usefully employed is to break out of several levels of switch, for, and while nesting, although the need to do such a thing may indicate that the inner constructs should be broken out into a separate function, with a success/failure return code.

   for (...) {
      while (...) {
         if (disaster) {
            goto error;
   clean up the mess 

When a goto is necessary the accompanying label should be alone on a line and to the left of the code that follows. The goto should be commented (possibly in the block header) as to its utility and purpose.

Continue and Break

Continue and break are really disguised gotos so they are covered here.

Continue and break like goto should be used sparingly as they are magic in code. With a simple spell the reader is beamed to god knows where for some usually undocumented reason.

The two main problems with continue are:

Consider the following example where both problems occur:

while (TRUE) {
   // A lot of code
   if (/* some condition */) {
   // A lot of code 
   if ( i++ > STOP_VALUE) break;
Note: "A lot of code" is necessary in order that the problem cannot be caught easily by the programmer.

From the above example, a further rule may be given: Mixing continue with break in the same loop is a sure way to disaster.


The trouble is people usually try and stuff too much code in between the ? and :. Here are a couple of clarity rules to follow:


   (condition) ? funct1() : func2();


      ? long statement
      : another long statement;

One Statement Per Line

There should be only one statement per line unless the statements are very closely related.

The reasons are:

  1. The code is easier to read. Use some white space too. Nothing better than to read code that is one line after another with no white space or comments.

One Variable Per Line

Related to this is always define one variable per line:
char **a, *x;

char **a = 0;  // add doc
char  *x = 0;  // add doc
The reasons are:
  1. Documentation can be added for the variable on the line.
  2. It's clear that the variables are initialized.
  3. Declarations are clear which reduces the probablity of declaring a pointer when you meant to declare just a char.

Alignment of Declaration Blocks



   DWORD       aDword
   DWORD      *apDword
   char       *apChar
   char        aChar

   aDword   = 0;
   apDword  = NULL;
   apChar   = NULL;
   aChar    = 0;


Naming Class Files

Class Definition in One File

Each class definition should be in its own file where each file is named directly after the class's name:

Implementation in One File

In general each class should be implemented in one source file:
   ClassName.cc   // or whatever the extension is: cpp, c++

But When it Gets Really Big...

If the source file gets too large or you want to avoid compiling templates all the time then add additional files named according to the following rule:
section is some name that identifies why the code is chunked together. The class name and section name are separated by '_'.

Class Layout

A common class layout is critical from a code comprehension point of view and for automatically generating documentation. C++ programmers, through a new set of tools, can enjoy the same level generated documentation Java programmers take for granted.

Class and Method Documentation

It is recommended a program like Doxygen be used to document C++ classes, method, variables, functions, and macros. The documentation can be extracted and put in places in a common area for all programmers to access. This saves programmers having to read through class headers. Documentation generation should be integrated with the build system where possible.

Required Methods Placeholders

This template has placeholders for required methods . You can delete them or implement them.

Ordering is: public, protected, private

Notice that the public interface is placed first in the class, protected next, and private last. The reasons are: It makes sense then to have the interface first. Placing implementation, the private section, first is a historical accident as the first examples used the private first layout. Over time emphasis has switched deemphasizing a class's interface over implementation details.


The life cycle section is for methods that control the life cycle of an object. Typically these methods include constructors, destructors, and state machine methods.


Place all operators in this section.


Place the bulk of a class's non access and inquiry method methods here. A programmer will look here for the meat of a class's interface.


Place attribute accessors here.


These are the Is* methods. Whenever you have a question to ask about an object it can be asked via in Is method. For example: IsOpen() will indicate if the object is open. A good strategy is instead of making a lot of access methods you can turn them around to be questions about the object thus reducing the exposure of internal structure. Without the IsOpen() method we might have had to do: if (STATE_OPEN == State()) which is much uglier.

What should go in public/protected/private?

Public Section

Only put an object's interface in the public section. DO NOT expose any private data items in the public section. At least encapsulate access via access methods. Ideally your method interface should make most access methods unnecessary. Do not put data in the public interface.

Protected and Private Section

What should go into the protected section versus the private section is always a matter of debate.

All Protected

Some say there should be no private section and everything not in the public section should go in the protected section. After all, we should allow all our children to change anything they wish.

All Private

Another camp says by making the public interface virtual any derived class can change behavior without mucking with internals.

Wishy Washy

Rationally decide where elements should go and put them there. Not very helpful.

And the Winner Is...

Keeping everything all private seems the easiest approach. By making the public methods virtual flexibility is preserved.

Method Layout

The approach used is to place a comment block before each method that can be extracted by a tool and be made part of the class documentation. Here we'll use Doxygen . See the Doxygen documentation for a list of attributes supported by the document generator.

Method Header

Follow Doxygen's way.

Use of Namespaces

Namespaces are now commonly implemented by compilers. They should be used if you are sure your compiler supports them completely.

Naming Policy

There are two basic strategies for naming: root that name at some naming authority, like the company name and division name; try and make names globally independent.

Don't Globally Define using

Don't place "using namespace" directive at global scope in a header file. This can cause lots of magic invisible conflicts that are hard to track. Keep using statements to implementation files.

Use Header File Guards

Include files should protect against multiple inclusion through the use of macros that "guard" the files.

When Not Using Namespces

#ifndef filename_h
#define filename_h


The new line after the endif if is required by some compilers.

When Using Namespaces

If namespaces are used then to be completely safe:
#ifndef namespace_filename_h
#define namespace_filename_h

  1. Replace filename with the name of the file being guarded. This should usually be the name of class contained in the file. Use the exact class name. Some standards say use all upper case. This is a mistake because someone could actually name a class the same as yours but using all upper letters. If the files end up be included together one file will prevent the other from being included and you will be one very confused puppy. It has happened!

  2. Most standards put a leading _ and trailing _. This is no longer valid as the C++ standard reserves leading _ to compiler writers.

  3. When the include file is not for a class then the file name should be used as the guard name.

  4. Compilers differ on how comments are handled on preprocessor directives. Historically many compilers have not accepted comments on preprocessor directives.

  5. Historically many compilers require a new line after last endif.

Different Accessor Styles

Why Accessors?

Access methods provide access to the physical or logical attributes of an object. Accessing an object's attributes directly as we do for C structures is greatly discouraged in C++. We disallow direct access to attributes to break dependencies, the reason we do most things. Directly accessing an attribute exposes implementation details about the object.

To see why ask yourself:

If any of the above changed code would break. An object makes a contract with the user to provide access to a particular attribute; it should not promise how it gets those attributes. Accessing a physical attribute makes such a promise.

Accessors Considered Somewhat Harmful

At least in the public interface having accessors many times is an admission of failure, a failure to make an object's interface complete. At the protected or private level accessors are fine as these are the implementation levels of a class.

Implementing Accessors

There are three major idioms for creating accessors.


   class X
      int    GetAge() const     { return aAge; }
      void   SetAge(int age)    { aAge= age; }
      int aAge;
The problem with Get/Set is twofold: One benefit, that it shares with the One Method Name, is when used with messages the set method can transparently transform from native machine representations to network byte order.

One Method Name

   class X
      int    Age() const     { return aAge; }
      void   Age(int age)    { aAge= age; }
      int aAge;
Similar to Get/Set but cleaner. Use this approach when not using the Attributes as Objects approach.

Attributes as Objects

   class X
      int              Age() const     { return aAge; }
      int&             rAge()          { return aAge; } 

      const String&    Name() const    { return aName; }
      String&          rName()         { return aName; }
      int              aAge;
      String           aName;
The above two attribute examples shows the strength and weakness of the Attributes as Objects approach.

When using an int type, which is not a real object, the int is set directly because rAge() returns a reference. The object can do no checking of the value or do any representation reformatting. For many simple attributes, however, these are not horrible restrictions. A way around this problem is to use a class wrapper around base types like int.

When an object is returned as reference its = operator is invoked to complete the assignment. For example:

   X x;
   x.rName()= "test";
This approach is also more consistent with the object philosophy: the object should do it. An object's = operator can do all the checks for the assignment and it's done once in one place, in the object, where it belongs. It's also clean from a name perspective.

When possible use this approach to attribute access.

Initialize all Variables


Think About What Work to do in Constructors

Should you do work that can fail in constructors? If you have a compiler that does not support exceptions (or thread safe exceptions if it matters to you) then the answer is definitely no.

Do Work in Open

Do not do any real work in an object's constructor. Inside a constructor initialize variables only and/or do only actions that can't fail.

Create an Open() method for an object which completes construction. Open() should be called after object instantiation.


   class Device
      Device()    { /* initialize and other stuff */ }
      int Open()  { return FAIL; }

   Device dev;
   if (FAIL == dev.Open()) exit(1);

Use Open Reasons

  1. It is difficult to write exception safe code in constructor. It's possible to throw an exception and not destruct objects allocated in the constructor. Use of auto_ptr can help prevent this problem.
  2. Some compilers do not support thread safe exceptions on all platforms.
  3. Virtual methods are not available in base classes. If the base class is expecting a virtual method implemented by derived classes to be available during construction then initialization must follow construction. This is common in frameworks.
  4. Larger scale state machines may dictate when initialization should occur. An object may contain numerous other objects that may have complex initialization conditions. In this case we could wait to construct objects but then we always have to worry about null pointers.
  5. If deletion is needed to free resources we still may want to keep the state around for debugging or statistics or as a supplier of information for other objects.

Do Work in Constructor

With exceptions work done in the constructor can signal failure so it is fine to perform real work in the constructor. This is the guru endorced approach as a matter of fact.

The constructor code must still be very careful not to leak resources in the constructor. It's possible to throw an exception and not destruct objects allocated in the constructor.

There is a pattern called Resource Acquisition as Initialization that says all initialization is performed in the constructor and released in the destructor. The idea is that this is a safer approach because it should reduce resource leaks.

Be Careful Throwing Exceptions in Destructors

An object is presumably created to do something. Some of the changes made by an object should persist after an object dies (is destructed) and some changes should not. Take an object implementing a SQL query. If a database field is updated via the SQL object then that change should persist after the SQL objects dies. To do its work the SQL object probably created a database connection and allocated a bunch of memory. When the SQL object dies we want to close the database connection and deallocate the memory, otherwise if a lot of SQL objects are created we will run out of database connections and/or memory.

The logic might look like:

   delete connection;
   delete buffer;

Let's say an exception is thrown while deleting the database connection. Will the buffer be deleted? No. Exceptions are basically non-local gotos with stack cleanup. The code for deleting the buffer will never be executed creating a gaping resource leak.

Special care must be taken to catch exceptions which may occur during object destruction. Special care must also be taken to fully destruct an object when it throws an exception.


Comments Should Tell a Story

Consider your comments a story describing the system. Expect your comments to be extracted by a robot and formed into a man page. Class comments are one part of the story, method signature comments are another part of the story, method arguments another part, and method implementation yet another part. All these parts should weave together and inform someone else at another point of time just exactly what you did and why.

Document Decisions

Comments should document decisions. At every point where you had a choice of what to do place a comment describing which choice you made and why.

Use Headers

Use a document extraction system like Doxygen . Other sections in this document describe how to use ccdoc to document a class and method.

These headers are structured in such a way as they can be parsed and extracted. They are not useless like normal headers. So take time to fill them out. If you do it right once no more documentation may be necessary.

Make Gotchas Explicit

Explicitly comment variables changed out of the normal control flow or other code likely to break during maintenance. Embedded keywords are used to point out issues and potential problems. Consider a robot will parse your comments looking for keywords, stripping them out, and making a report so people can make a special effort where needed. For a complete list of Gotcha Keywords, please refer to Doxygen . Here are some useful ones:

Gotcha Keywords

Gotcha Formatting


   // :TODO: tmh 960810: possible performance problem
   // We should really use a hash table here but for now we'll
   // use a linear search.

   // :KLUDGE: tmh 960810: possible unsafe type cast
   // We need a cast here to recover the derived type. It should
   // probably use a virtual method or template.

Commenting function declarations

Functions headers should be in the file where they are declared. This means that most likely the functions will have a header in the .hh file. However, functions like main() with no explicit prototype declaration in the .hh file, should have a header in the .cn file.

Include Statement Documentation

Include statements should be documented, telling the user why a particular file was included. If the file includes a class used by the class then it's useful to specify a class relationship:


#ifndef XX_h
#define XX_h


Using Use Cases

A use case is a generic description of an entire transaction involving several objects. A use case can also describe the behaviour of a set of objects, such as an organization. A use case model thus presents a collection of use cases and is typically used to specify the behavior of a whole application system together with one or more external actors that interact with the system.

An individual use case may have a name (although it is typically not a simple name). Its meaning is often written as an informal text description of the external actors and the sequences of events between objects that make up the transaction. Use cases can include other use cases as part of their behaviour.

Requirements Capture

Use cases attempt to capture the requirements for a system in an understandable form. The idea is by running through a set of use case we can verify that the system is doing what it should be doing.

Have as many use cases as needed to describe what a system needs to accomplish.

The Process

Unified Modeling Language

The Unified Modeling Language is too large to present here. Fortunately you can see it at Rational's web site. Since you do need a modeling language UML is a safe choice. It combines features from several methods into one unified language. Remember all languages and methods are open to local customization. If their language is too complex then use the parts you and your project feel they need and junk the rest.

OPEN Method

OPEN stands for Object-oriented Process, Environment and Notation and is a worthy if not superior competitor to UML. It is another group effort composed of basically all the people not in the UML group :-) Their web site has a good comparison of OPEN and UML.

My guess is UML will win out for marketing reasons. But it is good to have some competition going.

Open/Closed Principle

The Open/Closed principle states a class must be open and closed where: The Open/Closed principle is a pitch for stability. A system is extended by adding new code not by changing already working code. Programmers often don't feel comfortable changing old code because it works! This principle just gives you an academic sounding justification for your fears :-)

In practice the Open/Closed principle simply means making good use of our old friends abstraction and polymorphism. Abstraction to factor out common processes and ideas. Inheritance to create an interface that must be adhered to by derived classes. In C++ we are talking about using abstract base classes . A lot.

Design by Contract

The idea of design by contract is strongly related to LSP . A contract is a formal statement of what to expect from another party. In this case the contract is between pieces of code. An object and/or method states that it does X and you are supposed to believe it. For example, when you ask an object for its volume that's what you should get. And because volume is a verifiable attribute of a thing you could run a series of checks to verify volume is correct, that is, it satisfies its contract.

The contract is enforced in languages like Eiffel by pre and post condition statements that are actually part of the language. In other languages a bit of faith is needed.

Design by contract when coupled with language based verification mechanisms is a very powerful idea. It makes programming more like assembling spec'd parts.

Complexity Management


Layering is the primary technique for reducing complexity in a system. A system should be divided into layers. Layers should communicate between adjacent layers using well defined interfaces. When a layer uses a non-adjacent layer then a layering violation has occurred.

A layering violation simply means we have dependency between layers that is not controlled by a well defined interface. When one of the layers changes code could break. We don't want code to break so we want layers to work only with other adjacent layers.

Sometimes we need to jump layers for performance reasons. This is fine, but we should know we are doing it and document appropriately.


Delegation is the idea of a method using another object's method to do the real work. In some sense the top layer method is a front for the other method. Delegation is a form of dependency breaking. The top layer method never has to change while it's implementation can change at will.

Delegation is an alternative to using inheritance for implementation purposes. One can use inheritance to define an interface and delegation to implement the interface.

Some people feel delegation is a more robust form of OO than using implementation inheritance. Delegation encourages the formation of abstract class interfaces and HASA relationships. Both of which encourage reuse and dependency breaking.


   class TestTaker
      void WriteDownAnswer()   { mPaidTestTaker.WriteDownAnswer(); } 
      PaidTestTaker  mPaidTestTaker;
In this example a test taker delegates actually answering the question to a paid test taker. Not ethical but a definite example of delegation!

Minimize Dependencies with Abstract Base Classes

One of the most important strategies in C++ is to remove dependencies among different subsystems. Abstract base classes (ABCs) are a solid technique for dependency removal.

An ABC is an abstraction of a common form such that it can be used to build more specific forms. An ABC is a common interface that is reusable across a broad range of similar classes. By specifying a common interface as long as a class conforming to that interface is used it doesn't really matter what is the type of the derived type. This breaks code dependencies. New classes, conforming to the interface, can be substituted in at will without breaking code. In C++ interfaces are specified by using base classes with virtual methods.

The above is a bit rambling because it's a hard idea to convey. So let's use an example: We are doing a GUI where things jump around on the screen. One approach is to do something like:

   class Frog
      void Jump();
   class Bean
      void Jump();
The GUI folks could instantiate each object and call the Jump method of each object. The Jump method of each object contains the implementation of jumping behavior for that type of object. Obviously frogs and beans jump differently even though both can jump.

Unfortunately the owner of Bean didn't like the word Jump so they changed the method name to Leap. This broke the code in the GUI and one whole week was lost.

Then someone wanted to see a horse jump so a Horse class was added:

   class Horse
      void Jump();
The GUI people had to change their code again to add Horse.

Then someone updated Horse so that its Jump behavior was slightly different. Unfortunately this caused a total recompile of the GUI code and they were pissed.

Someone got the bright idea of trying to remove all the above dependencies using abstract base classes. They made one base class that specified an interface for jumping things:

   class Jumpable
      virtual void Jump() = 0;
Jumpable is a base class because other classes need to derive from it so they can get Jumpable's interface. It's an abstract base class because one or more of its methods has the = 0 notation which means the method is a pure virtual method. Pure virtual methods must be implemented by derived classes. The compiler checks.

Not all methods in an ABC must be pure virtual, some may have an implementation. This is especially true when creating a base class encapsulating a process common to a lot of objects. For example, devices that must be opened, diagnostics run, booted, executed, and then closed on a certain event may create an ABC called Device that has a method called LifeCycle which calls all other methods in turn thus running through all phases of a device's life. Each device phase would have a pure virtual method in the base class requiring implementation by more specific devices. This way the process of using a device is made common but the specifics of a device are hidden behind a common interface.

Back to Jumpable. All the classes were changed to derive from Jumpable:

   class Frog : public Jumpable
      virtual void Jump() { ... }

   etc ...
We see an immediate benefit: we know all classes derived from Jumpable must have a Jump method. No one can go changing the name to Leap without the compiler complaining. One dependency broken.

Another benefit is that we can pass Jumpable objects to the GUI, not specific objects like Horse or Frog:

   class Gui
      void MakeJump(Jumpable*);

   Gui gui;
   Frog* pFrog= new Frog;
Notice Gui doesn't even know it's making a frog jump, it just has a jumpable thing, that's all it cares about. When Gui calls the Jump method it will get the implementation for Frog's Jump method. Another dependency down. Gui doesn't have to know what kind of objects are jumping.

We also removed the recompile dependency. Because Gui doesn't contain any Frog objects it will not be recompiled when Frog changes.


Wow! Great stuff! Yes but there are a few downsides:

Overhead for Virtual Methods

Virtual methods have a space and time penalty. It's not huge, but should be considered in design.

Make Everything an ABC!

Sometimes people overdo it, making everything an ABC. The rule is make an ABC when you need one not when you might need one. It takes effort to design a good ABC, throwing in a virtual method doesn't an ABC make. Pick and choose your spots. When some process or some interface can be reused and people will actually make use of the reuse then make an ABC and don't look back.

Liskov's Substitution Principle (LSP)

This principle states:
   All classes derived from a base class should be interchangeable
   when used as a base class.
The idea is users of a class should be able to count on similar behavior from all classes that derive from a base class. No special code should be necessary to qualify an object before using it. If you think about it violating LSP is also violating the Open/Closed principle because the code would have to be modified every time a derived class was added. It's also related to dependency management using abstract base classes

For example, if the Jump method of a Frog object implementing the Jumpable interface actually makes a call and orders pizza we can say its implementation is not in the spirit of Jump and probably all other objects implementing Jump. Before calling a Jump method a programmer would now have to check for the Frog type so it wouldn't screw up the system. We don't want this in programs. We want to use base classes and feel comfortable we will get consistent behaviour.

LSP is a very restrictive idea. It constrains implementors quite a bit. In general people support LSP and have LSP as a goal.

Follow the Law of Demeter

The Law of Demeter states that you shouldn't access a contained object directly from the containing object, you should use a method of the containing object that does what you want and accesses any of its objects as needed.


The purpose of this law is to break dependencies so implementations can change without breaking code. If an object wishes to remove one of its contained objects it won't be able to do so because some other object is using it. If instead the service was through an interface the object could change its implementation anytime without ill effect.


As for most laws the Law of Demeter should be ignored in certain cases. If you have a really high level object that contains a lot of subobjects, like a car contains thousands of parts, it can get absurd to created a method in car for every access to a subobject.


   class SunWorkstation
      void          UpVolume(int amount) { mSound.Up(amount); }

      SoundCard     mSound;

      GraphicsCard  mGraphics;

   SunWorksation sun;

   Do   : sun.UpVolume(1);
   Don't: sun.mSound.Up(1);


Be Const Correct

C++ provides the const key word to allow passing as parameters objects that cannot change to indicate when a method doesn't modify its object. Using const in all the right places is called "const correctness." It's hard at first, but using const really tightens up your coding style. Const correctness grows on you.

For more information see Const Correctness in the C++ FAQ.

Use Streams

Programmers transitioning from C to C++ find stream IO strange preferring the familiarity of good old stdio. Printf and gang seem to be more convenient and are well understood.

Type Safety

Stdio is not type safe, which is one of the reasons you are using C++, right? Stream IO is type safe. That's one good reason to use streams.

Standard Interface

When you want to dump an object to a stream there is a standard way of doing it: with the << operator. This is not true of objects and stdio.

Interchangeablity of Streams

One of the more advanced reasons for using streams is that once an object can dump itself to a stream it can dump itself to any stream. One stream may go to the screen, but another stream may be a serial port or network connection. Good stuff.

Streams Got Better

Stream IO is not perfect. It is however a lot better than it used to be. Streams are now standardized, acceptably efficient, more reliable, and now there's lots of documentation on how to use streams.

Check Thread Safety

Some stream implementations are not yet thread safe. Make sure that yours is.

But Not Perfect

For an embedded target tight on memory streams do not make sense. Streams inline a lot of code so you might find the image larger than you wish. Experiment a little. Streams might work on your target.

Use #if Not #ifdef

Use #if MACRO not #ifdef MACRO. Someone might write code like:
#ifdef DEBUG
Someone else might compile the code with turned-of debug info like:
cc -c lurker.cc -DDEBUG=0
Alway use #if, if you have to use the preprocessor. This works fine, and does the right thing, even if DEBUG is not defined at all (!)
If you really need to test whether a symbol is defined or not, test it with the defined() construct, which allows you to add more things later to the conditional without editing text that's already in the program:
#if !defined(USER_NAME)
 #define USER_NAME "john smith"

Commenting Out Large Code Blocks

Sometimes large blocks of code need to be commented out for testing.

Using #if 0

The easiest way to do this is with an #if 0 block:
      great looking code

      #if 0
      lots of code
      more code

You can't use /**/ style comments because comments can't contain comments and surely a large block of your code will contain a comment, won't it?

Don't use #ifdef as someone can unknowingly trigger ifdefs from the compiler command line.

Use Descriptive Macro Names Instead of 0

The problem with #if 0is that even day later you or anyone else has know idea why this code is commented out. Is it because a feature has been dropped? Is it because it was buggy? It didn't compile? Can it be added back? It's a mystery.

Use Descriptive Macro Names Instead of #if 0




Add a Comment to Document Why

Add a short comment explaining why it is not implemented, obsolete or temporarily disabled.

Don't Over Use Operators

C++ allows the overloading of all kinds of weird operators. Unless you are building a class directly related to math there are very few operators you should override. Only override an operator when the semantics will be clear to users.


Short Methods


No Magic Numbers

A magic number is a bare naked number used in source code. It's magic because no-one has a clue what it means including the author inside 3 months. For example:

if      (22 == foo) { start_thermo_nuclear_war(); }
else if (19 == foo) { refund_lotso_money(); }
else if (16 == foo) { infinite_loop(); }
else                { cry_cause_im_lost(); }
In the above example what do 22 and 19 mean? If there was a number change or the numbers were just plain wrong how would you know? Instead of magic numbers use a real name that means something. You can use #define or constants or enums as names. Which one is a design choice. For example:
#define   PRESIDENT_WENT_CRAZY  (22)
const int WE_GOOFED= 19;
enum {

if      (PRESIDENT_WENT_CRAZY == foo) { start_thermo_nuclear_war(); }
else if (WE_GOOFED            == foo) { refund_lotso_money(); }
else if (THEY_DIDNT_PAY       == foo) { infinite_loop(); }
else                                  { happy_days_i_know_why_im_here(); }
Now isn't that better? The const and enum options are preferable because when debugging the debugger has enough information to display both the value and the label. The #define option just shows up as a number in the debugger which is very inconvenient. The const option has the downside of allocating memory. Only you know if this matters for your application.

Error Return Check Policy

To Use Enums or Not to Use Enums

C++ allows constant variables, which should deprecate the use of enums as constants. Unfortunately, in most compilers constants take space. Some compilers will remove constants, but not all. Constants taking space precludes them from being used in tight memory environments like embedded systems. Workstation users should use constants and ignore the rest of this discussion.

In general enums are preferred to #define as enums are understood by the debugger.

Be aware enums are not of a guaranteed size. So if you have a type that can take a known range of values and it is transported in a message you can't use an enum as the type. Use the correct integer size and use constants or #define. Casting between integers and enums is very error prone as you could cast a value not in the enum.

A C++ Workaround

C++ allows static class variables. These variables are available anywhere and only the expected amount of space is taken.


class Variables
   static const int   A_VARIABLE;
   static const int   B_VARIABLE;
   static const int   C_VARIABLE;


Don't Turn C++ into Pascal

Don't change syntax via macro substitution. It makes the program unintelligible to all but the perpetrator.

Replace Macros with Inline Functions

In C++ macros are not needed for code efficiency. Use inlines.


#define  MAX(x,y)	(((x) > (y) ? (x) : (y))	// Get the maximum

The macro above can be replaced for integers with the following inline function with no loss of efficiency:

   inline int 
   max(int x, int y)
      return (x > y ? x : y);

Be Careful of Side Effects

Macros should be used with caution because of the potential for error when invoked with an expression that has side effects.



Always Wrap the Expression in Parenthesis

When putting expressions in macros always wrap the expression in parenthesis to avoid potential communitive operation abiguity.


#define ADD(x,y) x + y

must be written as 

#define ADD(x,y) ((x) + (y))

Make Macro Names Unique

Like global variables macros can conflict with macros from other packages.
  1. Prepend macro names with package names.
  2. Avoid simple and common names like MAX and MIN.

The Bull of Boolean Types

Any project using source code from many sources knows the pain of multiple conflicting boolean types. The new C++ standard defines a native boolean type. Until all compilers support bool, and existing code is changed to use it, we must still deal with the cruel world.

The form of boolean most accurately matching the new standard is:

   typedef int     bool;
   #define TRUE    1
   #define FALSE   0


   const int TRUE  = 1;
   const int FALSE = 0;
Note, the standard defines the names true and false not TRUE and FALSE. The all caps versions are used to not clash if the standard versions are available.

Even with these declarations, do not check a boolean value for equality with 1 (TRUE, YES, etc.); instead test for inequality with 0 (FALSE, NO, etc.). Most functions are guaranteed to return 0 if false, but only non-zero if true. Thus,

   if (TRUE == func()) { ... 
must be written

   if (FALSE != func()) { ... 

Usually Avoid Embedded Assignments

There is a time and a place for embedded assignment statements. In some constructs there is no better way to accomplish the results without making the code bulkier and less readable.

   while (EOF != (c = getchar())) 
      process the character

The ++ and -- operators count as assignment statements. So, for many purposes, do functions with side effects. Using embedded assignment statements to improve run-time performance is also possible. However, one should consider the tradeoff between increased speed and decreased maintainability that results when embedded assignments are used in artificial places. For example,

   a = b + c;
   d = a + r; 
should not be replaced by

   d = (a = b + c) + r; 
even though the latter may save one cycle. In the long run the time difference between the two will decrease as the optimizer gains maturity, while the difference in ease of maintenance will increase as the human memory of what's going on in the latter piece of code begins to fade.

Mixing C and C++

In order to be backward compatible with dumb linkers C++'s link time type safety is implemented by encoding type information in link symbols, a process called name mangling. This creates a problem when linking to C code as C function names are not mangled. When calling a C function from C++ the function name will be mangled unless you turn it off. Name mangling is turned off with the extern "C" syntax. If you want to create a C function in C++ you must wrap it with the above syntax. If you want to call a C function in a C library from C++ you must wrap in the above syntax. Here are some examples:

Calling C Functions from C++

extern "C" int strncpy(...);
extern "C" int my_great_function();
extern "C"
   int strncpy(...);
   int my_great_function();

Creating a C Function in C++

extern "C" void
a_c_function_in_cplusplus(int a)

__cplusplus Preprocessor Directive

If you have code that must compile in a C and C++ environment then you must use the __cplusplus preprocessor directive. For example:

#ifdef __cplusplus

extern "C" some_function();


extern some_function();



This section contains some miscellaneous do's and don'ts.

No Data Definitions in Header Files

Do not put data definitions in header files. for example:
 * aheader.h 
int x = 0;

  1. It's bad magic to have space consuming code silently inserted through the innocent use of header files.
  2. It's not common practice to define variables in the header file so it will not occur to devellopers to look for this when there are problems.
  3. Consider defining the variable once in a .cc file and use an extern statement to reference it.
  4. Consider using a singleton for access to the data.

Make Functions Reentrant

Functions should not keep static variables that prevent a function from being reentrant. Functions can declare variables static. Some C library functions in the past, for example, kept a static buffer to use a temporary work area. Problems happen when the function is called one or more times at the same time. This can happen when multiple tasks are used or say from a signal handler. Using the static buffer caused results to overlap and become corrupted.

The moral is make your functions reentrant by not using static variables in a function. Besides, every machine has lots of RAM now so we don't worry about buffer space any more :-)