Abstract Class Inheritance in C++

Abstract classes and inheritance are fundamental concepts in object-oriented programming (OOP). In C++, abstract classes are used to define common interfaces and enforce behavior contracts for derived classes. In this article, we will explore the best practices and guidelines for inheriting from an abstract class in C++.

Table of contents:

Understanding Abstract Classes

Abstract classes are classes that cannot be instantiated and are intended to serve as base classes for derived classes. They define a common interface and establish a contract by declaring pure virtual functions. A pure virtual function is a function declared in the abstract class without providing a definition. Derived classes are required to implement these functions to provide specific behavior.

class AbstractClass {
    virtual void someFunction() = 0; // Pure virtual function
    virtual void anotherFunction() = 0; // Pure virtual function

Best Practices for Inheriting from Abstract Classes

When inheriting from an abstract class in C++, it is crucial to follow certain best practices to ensure correct and efficient code implementation. Let’s dive into these best practices:

Understand the Purpose of Abstract Classes

Before inheriting from an abstract class, it is essential to grasp its purpose and the behavior it intends to enforce. Abstract classes define a common interface and establish contracts for derived classes. Understanding the intended use of the abstract class helps in creating appropriate derived classes that fulfill those contracts.

Respect the Liskov Substitution Principle

The Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP) states that objects of a superclass should be replaceable with objects of its subclass without affecting the correctness of the program. In the context of abstract class inheritance, this means that a derived class should maintain the same behavior and adhere to the contracts defined by the abstract class. It should be a suitable substitute for the abstract class in any situation.

Implement All Pure Virtual Functions

Abstract classes contain pure virtual functions that must be implemented in derived classes. Failure to provide implementations for these functions will result in a compilation error. When inheriting from an abstract class, make sure to provide definitions for all pure virtual functions. These implementations should fulfill the contract specified by the abstract class and provide the required behavior.

Override Virtual Functions Appropriately

In addition to pure virtual functions, abstract classes may also have virtual functions. Virtual functions can be overridden in derived classes to provide specific implementations. However, overriding virtual functions is not mandatory unless you want to change the default behavior. Evaluate whether your derived class needs to override virtual functions and provide appropriate implementations when necessary.

Follow the Rule of Three/Five/Zero

The Rule of Three/Five/Zero states that if your class requires a custom destructor, copy constructor, or copy assignment operator, you should provide all three (or alternatively, implement the move constructor and move assignment operator if using C++11 or later).

This ensures proper resource management and prevents issues when objects are copied or destroyed. When inheriting from an abstract class, ensure that you adhere to this rule to maintain consistency and prevent unexpected behavior.

Use Access Specifiers Appropriately

Access specifiers (public, protected, private) define the visibility of inherited members in the derived class. It is crucial to use access specifiers appropriately to control access to these members. Follow the principle of encapsulation and provide access levels based on the intended usage of members. Public inheritance allows derived classes to access public members of the abstract class, while private inheritance hides them.

Prefer Composition over Inheritance

In some scenarios, it might be more appropriate to use composition (using objects of the abstract class as members) rather

than inheritance. Composition offers more flexibility, reduces dependencies, and can lead to cleaner designs. Consider whether composition is a better choice for your specific situation before opting for inheritance.

Document and Communicate Expectations

When inheriting from an abstract class, documenting the expectations and constraints set by the abstract class is crucial. Clearly communicate the purpose, contract, and behavior of the abstract class to other developers who may inherit from it. Providing comprehensive documentation ensures that developers understand and follow the guidelines, leading to consistent and maintainable code.


Inheriting from an abstract class in C++ is a powerful technique that enables code reuse, establishes contracts, and enforces behavior. By following the best practices discussed in this article, you can ensure that your derived classes correctly implement the abstract class contracts, adhere to the Liskov Substitution Principle, and create well-structured and maintainable code.

Remember to understand the purpose of abstract classes, implement all pure virtual functions, override virtual functions when necessary, follow the Rule of Three/Five/Zero, use access specifiers appropriately, consider composition over inheritance, and document expectations to achieve the best results when inheriting from an abstract class in C++.

Happy coding!


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