oop c# with - When to use an interface instead of an abstract class and vice versa?





11 Answers

An abstract class can have shared state or functionality. An interface is only a promise to provide the state or functionality. A good abstract class will reduce the amount of code that has to be rewritten because it's functionality or state can be shared. The interface has no defined information to be shared

real time example

This may be a generic OOP question. I wanted to do a generic comparison between an interface and an abstract class on the basis of their usage.

When would one want to use an interface and when would one want to use an abstract class?




OK, having just "grokked" this myself - here it is in layman's terms (feel free to correct me if I am wrong) - I know this topic is oooooold, but someone else might stumble across it one day...

Abstract classes allow you to create a blueprint, and allow you to additionally CONSTRUCT (implement) properties and methods you want ALL its descendants to possess.

An interface on the other hand only allows you to declare that you want properties and/or methods with a given name to exist in all classes that implement it - but doesn't specify how you should implement it. Also, a class can implement MANY interfaces, but can only extend ONE Abstract class. An Interface is more of a high level architectural tool (which becomes clearer if you start to grasp design patterns) - an Abstract has a foot in both camps and can perform some of the dirty work too.

Why use one over the other? The former allows for a more concrete definition of descendants - the latter allows for greater polymorphism. This last point is important to the end user/coder, who can utilise this information to implement the A.P.I(nterface) in a variety of combinations/shapes to suit their needs.

I think this was the "lightbulb" moment for me - think about interfaces less from the author's perpective and more from that of any coder coming later in the chain who is adding implementation to a project, or extending an API.




When to do what is a very simple thing if you have the concept clear in your mind.

Abstract classes can be Derived whereas Interfaces can be Implemented. There is some difference between the two. When you derive an Abstract class, the relationship between the derived class and the base class is 'is a' relationship. e.g., a Dog is an Animal, a Sheep is an Animal which means that a Derived class is inheriting some properties from the base class.

Whereas for implementation of interfaces, the relationship is "can be". e.g., a Dog can be a spy dog. A dog can be a circus dog. A dog can be a race dog. Which means that you implement certain methods to acquire something.

I hope I am clear.







Classes may inherit from only one base class, so if you want to use abstract classes to provide polymorphism to a group of classes, they must all inherit from that class. Abstract classes may also provide members that have already been implemented. Therefore, you can ensure a certain amount of identical functionality with an abstract class, but cannot with an interface.

Here are some recommendations to help you to decide whether to use an interface or an abstract class to provide polymorphism for your components.

  • If you anticipate creating multiple versions of your component, create an abstract class. Abstract classes provide a simple and easy way to version your components. By updating the base class, all inheriting classes are automatically updated with the change. Interfaces, on the other hand, cannot be changed once created in that way. If a new version of an interface is required, you must create a whole new interface.
  • If the functionality you are creating will be useful across a wide range of disparate objects, use an interface. Abstract classes should be used primarily for objects that are closely related, whereas interfaces are best suited for providing common functionality to unrelated classes.
  • If you are designing small, concise bits of functionality, use interfaces. If you are designing large functional units, use an abstract class.
  • If you want to provide common, implemented functionality among all implementations of your component, use an abstract class. Abstract classes allow you to partially implement your class, whereas interfaces contain no implementation for any members.

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http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/scsyfw1d%28v=vs.71%29.aspx




I think the most succinct way of putting it is the following:

Shared properties => abstract class.
Shared functionality => interface.

And to put it less succinctly...

Abstract Class Example:

public abstract class BaseAnimal
{
    public int NumberOfLegs { get; set; }

    protected BaseAnimal(int numberOfLegs)
    {
        NumberOfLegs = numberOfLegs;
    }
}

public class Dog : BaseAnimal
{
    public Dog() : base(4) { }
}

public class Human : BaseAnimal 
{
    public Human() : base(2) { }
}

Since animals have a shared property - number of legs in this case - it makes sense to make an abstract class containing this shared property. This also allows us to write common code that operates on that property. For example:

public static int CountAllLegs(List<BaseAnimal> animals)
{
    int legCount = 0;
    foreach (BaseAnimal animal in animals)
    {
        legCount += animal.NumberOfLegs;
    }
    return legCount;
}

Interface Example:

public interface IMakeSound
{
    void MakeSound();
}

public class Car : IMakeSound
{
    public void MakeSound() => Console.WriteLine("Vroom!");
}

public class Vuvuzela : IMakeSound
{
    public void MakeSound() => Console.WriteLine("VZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!");        
}

Note here that Vuvuzelas and Cars are completely different things, but they have shared functionality: making a sound. Thus, an interface makes sense here. Further, it will allow programmers to group things that make sounds together under a common interface -- IMakeSound in this case. With this design, you could write the following code:

List<IMakeSound> soundMakers = new List<ImakeSound>();
soundMakers.Add(new Car());
soundMakers.Add(new Vuvuzela());
soundMakers.Add(new Car());
soundMakers.Add(new Vuvuzela());
soundMakers.Add(new Vuvuzela());

foreach (IMakeSound soundMaker in soundMakers)
{
    soundMaker.MakeSound();
}

Can you tell what that would output?

Lastly, you can combine the two.

Combined Example:

public interface IMakeSound
{
    void MakeSound();
}

public abstract class BaseAnimal : IMakeSound
{
    public int NumberOfLegs { get; set; }

    protected BaseAnimal(int numberOfLegs)
    {
        NumberOfLegs = numberOfLegs;
    }

    public abstract void MakeSound();
}

public class Cat : BaseAnimal
{
    public Cat() : base(4) { }

    public override void MakeSound() => Console.WriteLine("Meow!");
}

public class Human : BaseAnimal 
{
    public Human() : base(2) { }

    public override void MakeSound() => Console.WriteLine("Hello, world!");
}

Here, we're requiring all BaseAnimals make a sound, but we don't know its implementation yet. In such a case, we can abstract the interface implementation and delegate its implementation to its subclasses.

One last point, remember how in the abstract class example we were able to operate on the shared properties of different objects and in the interface example we were able to invoke the shared functionality of different objects? In this last example, we could do both.




For me, I would go with interfaces in many cases. But I prefer abstract classes in some cases.

Classes in OO generaly refers to implementation. I use abstract classes when I want to force some implementation details to the childs else I go with interfaces.

Of course, abstract classes are useful not only in forcing implementation but also in sharing some specific details among many related classes.




in java you can inherit from one (abstract) class to "provide" functionality and you can implement many interfaces to "ensure" functionality




One interesting location where interfaces fare better than abstract classes is when you need to add extra functionality to a group of (related or unrelated) objects. If you cannot give them a base abstract class (e.g., they are sealed or already have a parent), you can give them a dummy (empty) interface instead, and then simply write extension methods for that interface.




An abstract class can have implementations.

An interface doesn't have implementations, it simply defines a kind of contract.

There can also be some language-dependent differences: for example C# does not have multiple inheritance, but multiple interfaces can be implemented in a class.




Basic thumb rule is: For "Nouns" use Abstract class and for "Verbs" use interface

E.g: car is an abstract class and drive, we can make it an interface.




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