CS11 Intro C++: Lecture 8

Copying Objects: The Rule of Three

Define a destructor, a copy-constructor, a copy-assignment operator.

class FloatArray {
  int count;
  float *elems;
  FloatArray(int n);
  // Copy-constructor
  FloatArray(const FloatArray &f);

  // Destructor

  // Copy-assignment operator
  FloatArray & operator=(const FloatArray &f);

Resource perspective

FloatArray filterAbove(const FloatArray &input, float value) {
  FlatArray result;
  for (int i = 0; i < input.size(); i++) {
    if (input.getValue(i) <= value)
  return result;

FloatArray data = /* ... */;
FlatArray filtered = filterAbove(data, 10.0);

filterAbove() call evaluates to a temporary FloatArray object, which is then pass to the FloatArray copy-constructor to initialize filtered. The temporary obj will then be destructed after copying.

C++11 requires compilers to perform copy-elision; i.e. eliminate copy-constructor invocations where possible. Good compilers will likely construct result directly into filtered.

  • filtered is an lvalue
    • It can appear on the left-hand side of an assignment
    • It persists across multiple statements
  • filterAbove() is an rvalue
    • It is a temporary object that will be destructed at the end of statement execution

Therefore, we can recycle rvalue for lvalue rather than destructed it by moving it. C++11 and later support this approach with move-construction and move-assignment.

Move Construction

FloatArray && is called an rvalue reference: temporary object by evaluating an expression, not const because of that.

FloatArray(FloatArray &&f) {
  size = f.size;
  elems = f.elems;
  f.elems = nullptr;
  // by assigning null pointer here, elems are not destructed
  // when it goes out of scope. Also, this is the reason why
  // the args cannot be const as well.

FloatArray filtered = filterAbove(data, 10.0);

Move Assignment

FloatArray & FloatArray::operator=(FloatArray &&f) {
  if (this == &f)
    return *this; // handle self-assignment

  size = f.size;
  delete[] elems; // free any memory the LHS obj is using
  elems = f.elems;
  f.elems = nullptr;
  return *this;

filtered = filterAbove(data, 10.0);

Copy and Move Operators

  • Copy operators (construction/assignment) are about correctness
  • Move operators are about performance
    • The compiler will generate only if:
      • the class has no user-declared copy constructor
      • the class has no user-declared copy-assignment operator
      • the class has no user-declared destructor
    • It will be incorrect if the class have any of these even the compiler generates it.

The Rule of Five

If the class defins any of the following:

  • A destructor, a copy-constructor, a copy-assignment operator (The Rule of Three)
  • A move-constructor, a move-assignment operator

and move semantics are desirable, the class need to have all five.

Member Initializer Lists

Member initializer list: a more succinct mechanism for specifying initial values in constructors.

// Can specify only a subset of the data members
FloatArray(int n) : count{n} {
                     // ↑ Can optionally specify
                     // initialization of data-members here
  elems = new float[n];
  for (init i = 0; i < n; i++)
    elems[i] = 0;

// Move-constructor becomes very short
FloatArray(FloatArray &&f) : count{f.count}, elems{f.elems} {
  f.elems = nullptr;

Delagating Constructors

class Point {
  double x_coord, y_coord;
  // Must specify a constructor body
  Point(double x, double y) : x{x_coord}, y{y_coord} { }
  Point() : Point{0, 0} { } // Delegates to Point(x, y)
  // ...

In these cases, can only specify a target constructor in the member initializer list. (Not allowed to specify any other member initializers)