c++ - what - when to use struct vs class




When should you use a class vs a struct in C++? (17)

When would you choose to use struct and when to use class in C++?

I use struct when I define functors and POD. Otherwise I use class.

// '()' is public by default!
struct mycompare : public std::binary_function<int, int, bool>
{
    bool operator()(int first, int second)
    { return first < second; }
};

class mycompare : public std::binary_function<int, int, bool>
{
public:
    bool operator()(int first, int second)
    { return first < second; }
};

In what scenarios is it better to use a struct vs a class in C++?


Class.

Class members are private by default.

class test_one {
    int main_one();
};

Is equivalent to

class test_one {
  private:
    int main_one();
};

So if you try

int two = one.main_one();

We will get an error: main_one is private because its not accessible. We can solve it by initializing it by specifying its a public ie

class test_one {
  public:
    int main_one();
};

Struct.

A struct is a class where members are public by default.

struct test_one {
    int main_one;
};

Means main_one is private ie

class test_one {
  public:
    int main_one;
};

I use structs for data structures where the members can take any value, it's easier that way.


All class members are private by default and all struct members are public by default. Class has default private bases and Struct has default public bases. Struct in case of C cannot have member functions where as in case of C++ we can have member functions being added to the struct. Other than these differences, I don't find anything surprising about them.


An advantage of struct over class is that it save one line of code, if adhering to "first public members, then private". In this light, I find the keyword class useless.

Here is another reason for using only struct and never class. Some code style guidelines for C++ suggest using small letters for function macros, the rationale being that when the macro is converted to an inline function, the name shouldn't need to be changed. Same here. You have your nice C-style struct and one day, you find out you need to add a constructor, or some convenience method. Do you change it to a class? Everywhere?

Distinguishing between structs and classes is just too much hassle, getting into the way of doing what we should be doing - programming. Like so many of C++'s problems, it arises out of the strong desire for backwards compatability.


As everyone else notes there are really only two actual language differences:

  • struct defaults to public access and class defaults to private access.
  • When inheriting, struct defaults to public inheritance and class defaults to private inheritance. (Ironically, as with so many things in C++, the default is backwards: public inheritance is by far the more common choice, but people rarely declare structs just to save on typing the "public" keyword.

But the real difference in practice is between a class/struct that declares a constructor/destructor and one that doesn't. There are certain guarantees to a "plain-old-data" POD type, that no longer apply once you take over the class's construction. To keep this distinction clear, many people deliberately only use structs for POD types, and, if they are going to add any methods at all, use classes. The difference between the two fragments below is otherwise meaningless:

class X
{
  public:

  // ...
};

struct X
{
  // ...
};

(Incidentally, here's a thread with some good explanations about what "POD type" actually means: What are POD types in C++?)


Differences between a class and a struct in C++ are that structs have default public members and bases and classes have default private members and bases. Both classes and structs can have a mixture of public, protected and private members, can use inheritance and can have member functions.

I would recommend using structs as plain-old-data structures without any class-like features, and using classes as aggregate data structures with private data and member functions.


From the C++ FAQ Lite:

The members and base classes of a struct are public by default, while in class, they default to private. Note: you should make your base classes explicitly public, private, or protected, rather than relying on the defaults.

struct and class are otherwise functionally equivalent.

OK, enough of that squeaky clean techno talk. Emotionally, most developers make a strong distinction between a class and a struct. A struct simply feels like an open pile of bits with very little in the way of encapsulation or functionality. A class feels like a living and responsible member of society with intelligent services, a strong encapsulation barrier, and a well defined interface. Since that's the connotation most people already have, you should probably use the struct keyword if you have a class that has very few methods and has public data (such things do exist in well designed systems!), but otherwise you should probably use the class keyword.


I never use "struct" in C++.

I can't ever imagine a scenario where you would use a struct when you want private members, unless you're willfully trying to be confusing.

It seems that using structs is more of a syntactic indication of how the data will be used, but I'd rather just make a class and try to make that explicit in the name of the class, or through comments.

E.g.

class PublicInputData {
    //data members
 };

I use struct only when I need to hold some data without any member functions associated to it (to operate on the member data) and to access the data variables directly.

Eg: Reading/Writing data from files and socket streams etc. Passing function arguments in a structure where the function arguments are too many and function syntax looks too lengthy.

Technically there is no big difference between class and struture except default accessibility. More over it depends on programming style how you use it.


I use structs when I need to create POD type or functor.


One place where a struct has been helpful for me is when I have a system that's receiving fixed format messages (over say, a serial port) from another system. You can cast the stream of bytes into a struct that defines your fields, and then easily access the fields.

typedef struct
{
    int messageId;
    int messageCounter;
    int messageData;
} tMessageType;

void processMessage(unsigned char *rawMessage)
{
    tMessageType *messageFields = (tMessageType *)rawMessage;
    printf("MessageId is %d\n", messageFields->messageId);
}

Obviously, this is the same thing you would do in C, but I find that the overhead of having to decode the message into a class is usually not worth it.


Structs (PODs, more generally) are handy when you're providing a C-compatible interface with a C++ implementation, since they're portable across language borders and linker formats.

If that's not a concern to you, then I suppose the use of the "struct" instead of "class" is a good communicator of intent (as @ZeroSignal said above). Structs also have more predictable copying semantics, so they're useful for data you intend to write to external media or send across the wire.

Structs are also handy for various metaprogramming tasks, like traits templates that just expose a bunch of dependent typedefs:

template <typename T> struct type_traits {
  typedef T type;
  typedef T::iterator_type iterator_type;
  ...
};

...But that's really just taking advantage of struct's default protection level being public...


Technically both are the same in C++ - for instance it's possible for a struct to have overloaded operators etc.

However :

I use structs when I wish to pass information of multiple types simultaneously I use classes when the I'm dealing with a "functional" object.

Hope it helps.

#include <string>
#include <map>
using namespace std;

struct student
{
    int age;
    string name;
    map<string, int> grades
};

class ClassRoom
{
    typedef map<string, student> student_map;
  public :
    student getStudentByName(string name) const 
    { student_map::const_iterator m_it = students.find(name); return m_it->second; }
  private :
    student_map students;
};

For instance, I'm returning a struct student in the get...() methods over here - enjoy.


The only time I use a struct instead of a class is when declaring a functor right before using it in a function call and want to minimize syntax for the sake of clarity. e.g.:

struct Compare { bool operator() { ... } };
std::sort(collection.begin(), collection.end(), Compare()); 

They are pretty much the same thing. Thanks to the magic of C++, a struct can hold functions, use inheritance, created using "new" and so on just like a class

The only functional difference is that a class begins with private access rights, while a struct begins with public. This is the maintain backwards compatibility with C.

In practice, I've always used structs as data holders and classes as objects.


To answer my own question (shamelessly), As already mentioned, access privileges are the only difference between them in C++.

I tend to use a struct for data-storage only. I'll allow it to get a few helper functions if it makes working with the data easier. However as soon as the data requires flow control (i.e. getters/setters that maintain or protect an internal state) or starts acquring any major functionality (basically more object-like), it will get 'upgraded' to a class to better communicate intent.


they're the same thing with different defaults (private by default for class, and public by default for struct), so in theory they're totally interchangeable.

so, if I just want to package some info to move around, I use a struct, even if i put a few methods there (but not many). If it's a mostly-opaque thing, where the main use would be via methods, and not directly to the data members, i use a full class.





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