oop - interface vs class c#

Interface vs Base class (20)


  • Defines the contract between 2 modules. Cannot have any implementation.
  • Most languages allow you to implement multiple interfaces
  • Modifying an interface is a breaking change. All implementations need to be recompiled/modified.
  • All members are public. Implementations have to implement all members.
  • Interfaces help in Decoupling. You can use mock frameworks to mock out anything behind an interface
  • Interfaces normally indicate a kind of behavior
  • Interface implementations are decoupled / isolated from each other

Base classes

  • Allows you to add some default implementation that you get for free by derivation
  • Except C++, you can only derive from one class. Even if could from multiple classes, it is usually a bad idea.
  • Changing the base class is relatively easy. Derivations do not need to do anything special
  • Base classes can declare protected and public functions that can be accessed by derivations
  • Abstract Base classes can't be mocked easily like interfaces
  • Base classes normally indicate type hierarchy (IS A)
  • Class derivations may come to depend on some base behavior (have intricate knowledge of parent implementation). Things can be messy if you make a change to the base implementation for one guy and break the others.

When should I use an interface and when should I use a base class?

Should it always be an interface if I don't want to actually define a base implementation of the methods?

If I have a Dog and Cat class. Why would I want to implement IPet instead of PetBase? I can understand having interfaces for ISheds or IBarks (IMakesNoise?), because those can be placed on a pet by pet basis, but I don't understand which to use for a generic Pet.

Let's take your example of a Dog and a Cat class, and let's illustrate using C#:

Both a dog and a cat are animals, specifically, quadruped mammals (animals are waaay too general). Let us assume that you have an abstract class Mammal, for both of them:

public abstract class Mammal

This base class will probably have default methods such as:

  • Feed
  • Mate

All of which are behavior that have more or less the same implementation between either species. To define this you will have:

public class Dog : Mammal
public class Cat : Mammal

Now let's suppose there are other mammals, which we will usually see in a zoo:

public class Giraffe : Mammal
public class Rhinoceros : Mammal
public class Hippopotamus : Mammal

This will still be valid because at the core of the functionality Feed() and Mate() will still be the same.

However, giraffes, rhinoceros, and hippos are not exactly animals that you can make pets out of. That's where an interface will be useful:

public interface IPettable
    IList<Trick> Tricks{get; set;}
    void Bathe();
    void Train(Trick t);

The implementation for the above contract will not be the same between a cat and dog; putting their implementations in an abstract class to inherit will be a bad idea.

Your Dog and Cat definitions should now look like:

public class Dog : Mammal, IPettable
public class Cat : Mammal, IPettable

Theoretically you can override them from a higher base class, but essentially an interface allows you to add on only the things you need into a class without the need for inheritance.

Consequently, because you can usually only inherit from one abstract class (in most statically typed OO languages that is... exceptions include C++) but be able to implement multiple interfaces, it allows you to construct objects in a strictly as required basis.

Source: http://jasonroell.com/2014/12/09/interfaces-vs-abstract-classes-what-should-you-use/

C# is a wonderful language that has matured and evolved over the last 14 years. This is great for us developers because a mature language provides us with a plethora of language features that are at our disposal.

However, with much power becomes much responsibility. Some of these features can be misused, or sometimes it is hard to understand why you would choose to use one feature over another. Over the years, a feature that I have seen many developers struggle with is when to choose to use an interface or to choose to use an abstract class. Both have there advantages and disadvantages and the correct time and place to use each. But how to we decide???

Both provide for reuse of common functionality between types. The most obvious difference right away is that interfaces provide no implementation for their functionality whereas abstract classes allow you to implement some “base” or “default” behavior and then have the ability to “override” this default behavior with the classes derived types if necessary.

This is all well and good and provides for great reuse of code and adheres to the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principle of software development. Abstract classes are great to use when you have an “is a” relationship.

For example: A golden retriever “is a” type of dog. So is a poodle. They both can bark, as all dogs can. However, you might want to state that the poodle park is significantly different than the “default” dog bark. Therefor, it could make sense for you to implement something as follows:

public abstract class Dog
      public virtual void Bark()
        Console.WriteLine("Base Class implementation of Bark");

public class GoldenRetriever : Dog
   // the Bark method is inherited from the Dog class

public class Poodle : Dog
  // here we are overriding the base functionality of Bark with our new implementation
  // specific to the Poodle class
  public override void Bark()
     Console.WriteLine("Poodle's implementation of Bark");

// Add a list of dogs to a collection and call the bark method.

void Main()
    var poodle = new Poodle();
    var goldenRetriever = new GoldenRetriever();

    var dogs = new List<Dog>();

    foreach (var dog in dogs)

// Output will be:
// Poodle's implementation of Bark
// Base Class implementation of Bark


As you can see, this would be a great way to keep your code DRY and allow for the base class implementation be called when any of the types can just rely on the default Bark instead of a special case implementation. The classes like GoldenRetriever, Boxer, Lab could all could inherit the “default” (bass class) Bark at no charge just because they implement the Dog abstract class.

But I’m sure you already knew that.

You are here because you want to understand why you might want to choose an interface over an abstract class or vice versa. Well one reason you may want to choose an interface over an abstract class is when you don’t have or want to prevent a default implementation. This is usually because the types that are implementing the interface not related in an “is a” relationship. Actually, they don’t have to be related at all except for the fact that each type “is able” or has “the ablity” to do something or have something.

Now what the heck does that mean? Well, for example: A human is not a duck…and a duck is not a human. Pretty obvious. However, both a duck and a human have “the ability” to swim (given that the human passed his swimming lessons in 1st grade :) ). Also, since a duck is not a human or vice versa, this is not an “is a” realationship, but instead an “is able” relationship and we can use an interface to illustrate that:

// Create ISwimable interface
public interface ISwimable
      public void Swim();

// Have Human implement ISwimable Interface
public class Human : ISwimable

     public void Swim()
        //Human's implementation of Swim
        Console.WriteLine("I'm a human swimming!");

// Have Duck implement ISwimable interface
public class Duck: ISwimable
     public void Swim()
          // Duck's implementation of Swim
          Console.WriteLine("Quack! Quack! I'm a Duck swimming!")

//Now they can both be used in places where you just need an object that has the ability "to swim"

public void ShowHowYouSwim(ISwimable somethingThatCanSwim)

public void Main()
      var human = new Human();
      var duck = new Duck();

      var listOfThingsThatCanSwim = new List<ISwimable>();


      foreach (var something in listOfThingsThatCanSwim)

 // So at runtime the correct implementation of something.Swim() will be called
 // Output:
 // Quack! Quack! I'm a Duck swimming!
 // I'm a human swimming!

Using interfaces like the code above will allow you to pass an object into a method that “is able” to do something. The code doesn’t care how it does it…All it knows is that it can call the Swim method on that object and that object will know which behavior take at run-time based on its type.

Once again, this helps your code stay DRY so that you would not have to write multiple methods that are calling the object to preform the same core function (ShowHowHumanSwims(human), ShowHowDuckSwims(duck), etc.)

Using an interface here allows the calling methods to not have to worry about what type is which or how the behavior is implemented. It just knows that given the interface, each object will have to have implemented the Swim method so it is safe to call it in its own code and allow the behavior of the Swim method be handled within its own class.


So my main rule of thumb is use an abstract class when you want to implement a “default” functionality for a class hierarchy or/and the classes or types you are working with share a “is a” relationship (ex. poodle “is a” type of dog).

On the other hand use an interface when you do not have an “is a” relationship but have types that share “the ability” to do something or have something (ex. Duck “is not” a human. However, duck and human share “the ability” to swim).

Another difference to note between abstract classes and interfaces is that a class can implement one to many interfaces but a class can only inherit from ONE abstract class (or any class for that matter). Yes, you can nest classes and have an inheritance hierarchy (which many programs do and should have) but you cannot inherit two classes in one derived class definition (this rule applies to C#. In some other languages you are able to do this, usually only because of the lack of interfaces in these languages).

Also remember when using interfaces to adhere to the Interface Segregation Principle (ISP). ISP states that no client should be forced to depend on methods it does not use. For this reason interfaces should be focused on specific tasks and are usually very small (ex. IDisposable, IComparable ).

Another tip is if you are developing small, concise bits of functionality, use interfaces. If you are designing large functional units, use an abstract class.

Hope this clears things up for some people!

Also if you can think of any better examples or want to point something out, please do so in the comments below!

@Joel: Some languages (e.g., C++) allow multiple-inheritance.

An inheritor of a base class should have an "is a" relationship. Interface represents An "implements a" relationship. So only use a base class when your inheritors will maintain the is a relationship.

Another option to keep in mind is using the "has-a" relationship, aka "is implemented in terms of" or "composition." Sometimes this is a cleaner, more flexible way to structure things than using "is-a" inheritance.

It may not make as much sense logically to say that Dog and Cat both "have" a Pet, but it avoids common multiple inheritance pitfalls:

public class Pet
    void Bathe();
    void Train(Trick t);

public class Dog
    private Pet pet;

    public void Bathe() { pet.Bathe(); }
    public void Train(Trick t) { pet.Train(t); }

public class Cat
    private Pet pet;

    public void Bathe() { pet.Bathe(); }
    public void Train(Trick t) { pet.Train(t); }

Yes, this example shows that there is a lot of code duplication and lack of elegance involved in doing things this way. But one should also appreciate that this helps to keep Dog and Cat decoupled from the Pet class (in that Dog and Cat do not have access to the private members of Pet), and it leaves room for Dog and Cat to inherit from something else--possibly the Mammal class.

Composition is preferable when no private access is required and you don't need to refer to Dog and Cat using generic Pet references/pointers. Interfaces give you that generic reference capability and can help cut down on the verbosity of your code, but they can also obfuscate things when they are poorly organized. Inheritance is useful when you need private member access, and in using it you are committing yourself to highly coupling your Dog and Cat classes to your Pet class, which is a steep cost to pay.

Between inheritance, composition, and interfaces there is no one way that is always right, and it helps to consider how all three options can be used in harmony. Of the three, inheritance is typically the option that should be used the least often.

Conceptually, an Interface is used to formally and semi-formally define a set of methods that an object will provide. Formally means a set of method names and signatures, semi-formally means human readable documentation associated with those methods. Interfaces are only descriptions of an API (after all, API stands for Application Programmer Interface), they can't contain any implementation, and it's not possible to use or run an Interface. They only make explicit the contract of how you should interact with an object.

Classes provide an implementation, they can declare that they implement zero, one or more Interfaces. If a Class is intended to be inherited, the convention is to prefix the Class name with "Base".

There is a distinction between a Base Class and an Abstract Base Classes (ABC). ABCs mix interface and implementation together. Abstract outside of computer programming means "summary", that is "Abstract == Interface". An Abstract Base Class can then describe both an interface, as well as an empty, partial or complete implementation that is intended to be inherited.

Opinions on when to use Interfaces versus Abstract Base Classes versus just Classes is going to vary wildly based on both what you are developing, and which language you are developing in. Interfaces are often associated only with statically typed languages such as Java or C#, but dynamically typed languages can also have Interfaces and Abstract Base Classes. In Python for example, the distinction is made clear between a Class, which declares that it implements an Interface, and an object, which is an instance of a Class, and is said to provide that Interface. It's possible in a dynamic language that two objects that are both instances of the same Class, can declare that they provide completely different interfaces. In Python this is only possible for object attributes, while methods are shared state between all objects of a Class. However in Ruby, objects can have per-instance methods, so it's possible that the Interface between two objects of the same Class can vary as much as the programmer desires (however, Ruby doesn't have any explicit way of declaring Interfaces).

In dynamic languages the Interface to an object is often implicitly assumed, either by introspecting an object and asking it what methods it provides (Look Before You Leap) or preferably by simply attempting to use the desired Interface on an object and catching exceptions if the object doesn't provide that Interface (Easier to Ask Forgiveness than Permission). This can lead to "false positives" where two Interfaces have the same method name but are semantically different, however the trade-off is that your code is more flexible since you don't need to over specify up-front to anticipate all possible uses of your code.

Don't use a base class unless you know what it means, and that it applies in this case. If it applies, use it, otherwise, use interfaces. But note the answer about small interfaces.

Public Inheritance is overused in OOD and expresses a lot more than most developers realize or are willing to live up to. See the Liskov Substitutablity Principle

In short, if A "is a" B then A requires no more than B and delivers no less than B, for every method it exposes.

Here is the basic and simple definiton of interface and base class:

  • Base class = object inheritance.
  • Interface = functional inheritance.


I have a rough rule-of-thumb

Functionality: likely to be different in all parts: Interface.

Data, and functionality, parts will be mostly the same, parts different: abstract class.

Data, and functionality, actually working, if extended only with slight changes: ordinary (concrete) class

Data and functionality, no changes planned: ordinary (concrete) class with final modifier.

Data, and maybe functionality: read-only: enum members.

This is very rough and ready and not at all strictly defined, but there is a spectrum from interfaces where everything is intended to be changed to enums where everything is fixed a bit like a read-only file.

I usually don't implement either until I need one. I favor interfaces over abstract classes because that gives a little more flexibility. If there's common behavior in some of the inheriting classes I move that up and make an abstract base class. I don't see the need for both, since they essentially server the same purpose, and having both is a bad code smell (imho) that the solution has been over-engineered.

I've found that a pattern of Interface > Abstract > Concrete works in the following use-case:

1.  You have a general interface (eg IPet)
2.  You have a implementation that is less general (eg Mammal)
3.  You have many concrete members (eg Cat, Dog, Ape)

The abstract class defines default shared attributes of the concrete classes, yet enforces the interface. For example:

public interface IPet{

    public boolean hasHair();

    public boolean walksUprights();

    public boolean hasNipples();

Now, since all mammals have hair and nipples (AFAIK, I'm not a zoologist), we can roll this into the abstract base class

public abstract class Mammal() implements IPet{

     public walksUpright(){
         throw new NotSupportedException("Walks Upright not implemented");

     public hasNipples(){return true}

     public hasHair(){return true}

And then the concrete classes merely define that they walk upright.

public class Ape extends Mammal(){

    public walksUpright(return true)

public class Catextends Mammal(){

    public walksUpright(return false)

This design is nice when there are lots of concrete classes, and you don't want to maintain boilerplate just to program to an interface. If new methods were added to the interface, it would break all of the resulting classes, so you are still getting the advantages of the interface approach.

In this case, the abstract could just as well be concrete; however, the abstract designation helps to emphasize that this pattern is being employed.

Interfaces and base classes represent two different forms of relationships.

Inheritance (base classes) represent an "is-a" relationship. E.g. a dog or a cat "is-a" pet. This relationship always represents the (single) purpose of the class (in conjunction with the "single responsibility principle").

Interfaces, on the other hand, represent additional features of a class. I'd call it an "is" relationship, like in "Foo is disposable", hence the IDisposable interface in C#.

Interfaces should be small. Really small. If you're really breaking down your objects, then your interfaces will probably only contain a few very specific methods and properties.

Abstract classes are shortcuts. Are there things that all derivatives of PetBase share that you can code once and be done with? If yes, then it's time for an abstract class.

Abstract classes are also limiting. While they give you a great shortcut to producing child objects, any given object can only implement one abstract class. Many times, I find this a limitation of Abstract classes, and this is why I use lots of interfaces.

Abstract classes may contain several interfaces. Your PetBase abstract class may implement IPet (pets have owners) and IDigestion (pets eat, or at least they should). However, PetBase will probably not implement IMammal, since not all pets are mammals and not all mammals are pets. You may add a MammalPetBase that extends PetBase and add IMammal. FishBase could have PetBase and add IFish. IFish would have ISwim and IUnderwaterBreather as interfaces.

Yes, my example is extensively over-complicated for the simple example, but that's part of the great thing about how interfaces and abstract classes work together.


I like to think of interfaces as a way to characterize a class. A particular dog breed class, say a YorkshireTerrier, may be a descended of the parent dog class, but it is also implements IFurry, IStubby, and IYippieDog. So the class defines what the class is but the interface tells us things about it.

The advantage of this is it allows me to, for example, gather all the IYippieDog's and throw them into my Ocean collection. So now I can reach across a particular set of objects and find ones that meet the criteria I am looking at without inspecting the class too closely.

I find that interfaces really should define a sub-set of the public behavior of a class. If it defines all the public behavior for all the classes that implement then it usually does not need to exist. They do not tell me anything useful.

This thought though goes counter to the idea that every class should have an interface and you should code to the interface. That's fine, but you end up with a lot of one to one interfaces to classes and it makes things confusing. I understand that the idea is it does not really cost anything to do and now you can swap things in and out with ease. However, I find that I rarely do that. Most of the time I am just modifying the existing class in place and have the exact same issues I always did if the public interface of that class needs changing, except I now have to change it in two places.

So if you think like me you would definitely say that Cat and Dog are IPettable. It is a characterization that matches them both.

The other piece of this though is should they have the same base class? The question is do they need to be broadly treated as the same thing. Certainly they are both Animals, but does that fit how we are going to use them together.

Say I want to gather all Animal classes and put them in my Ark container.

Or do they need to be Mammals? Perhaps we need some kind of cross animal milking factory?

Do they even need to be linked together at all? Is it enough to just know they are both IPettable?

I often feel the desire to derive a whole class hierarchy when I really just need one class. I do it in anticipation someday I might need it and usually I never do. Even when I do, I usually find I have to do a lot to fix it. That’s because the first class I am creating is not the Dog, I am not that lucky, it is instead the Platypus. Now my entire class hierarchy is based on the bizarre case and I have a lot of wasted code.

You might also find at some point that not all Cats are IPettable (like that hairless one). Now you can move that Interface to all the derivative classes that fit. You will find that a much less breaking change that all of a sudden Cats are no longer derived from PettableBase.

Modern style is to define IPet and PetBase.

The advantage of the interface is that other code can use it without any ties whatsoever to other executable code. Completely "clean." Also interfaces can be mixed.

But base classes are useful for simple implementations and common utilities. So provide an abstract base class as well to save time and code.

Previous comments about using abstract classes for common implementation is definitely on the mark. One benefit I haven't seen mentioned yet is that the use of interfaces makes it much easier to implement mock objects for the purpose of unit testing. Defining IPet and PetBase as Jason Cohen described enables you to mock different data conditions easily, without the overhead of a physical database (until you decide it's time to test the real thing).

Regarding C#, in some senses interfaces and abstract classes can be interchangeable. However, the differences are: i) interfaces cannot implement code; ii) because of this, interfaces cannot call further up the stack to subclass; and iii) only can abstract class may be inherited on a class, whereas multiple interfaces may be implemented on a class.

This is pretty .NET specific, but the Framework Design Guidelines book argues that in general classes give more flexibility in an evolving framework. Once an interface is shipped, you don't get the chance to change it without breaking code that used that interface. With a class however, you can modify it and not break code that links to it. As long you make the right modifications, which includes adding new functionality, you will be able to extend and evolve your code.

Krzysztof Cwalina says on page 81:

Over the course of the three versions of the .NET Framework, I have talked about this guideline with quite a few developers on our team. Many of them, including those who initially disagreed with the guidelines, have said that they regret having shipped some API as an interface. I have not heard of even one case in which somebody regretted that they shipped a class.

That being said there certainly is a place for interfaces. As a general guideline always provide an abstract base class implementation of an interface if for nothing else as an example of a way to implement the interface. In the best case that base class will save a lot of work.

Well, Josh Bloch said himself in Effective Java 2d:

Prefer interfaces over abstract classes

Some main points:

  • Existing classes can be easily retrofitted to implement a new interface. All you have to do is add the required methods if they don’t yet exist and add an implements clause to the class declaration.

  • Interfaces are ideal for defining mixins. Loosely speaking, a mixin is a type that a class can implement in addition to its “primary type” to declare that it provides some optional behavior. For example, Comparable is a mixin interface that allows a class to declare that its instances are ordered with respect to other mutually comparable objects.

  • Interfaces allow the construction of nonhierarchical type frameworks. Type hierarchies are great for organizing some things, but other things don’t fall neatly into a rigid hierarchy.

  • Interfaces enable safe, powerful functionality enhancements via the wrap- per class idiom. If you use abstract classes to define types, you leave the programmer who wants to add functionality with no alternative but to use inheritance.

Moreover, you can combine the virtues of interfaces and abstract classes by providing an abstract skeletal implementation class to go with each nontrivial interface that you export.

On the other hand, interfaces are very hard to evolve. If you add a method to an interface it'll break all of it's implementations.

PS.: Buy the book. It's a lot more detailed.