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Compiler's Optimization Techniques - Virtual Inheritance - Part 2

, 8 Jun 2012 CPOL
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This post is continuation to Part -1 of this article, hence kindly skim through the first part if not already, before you  begin with part - 2 for better understanding.As mentioned in the earlier part, in this post we get more insight into object layout , implicit pointer conversions,  pointer offse

This post is continuation to Part -1 of this article, hence kindly skim through the first part if not already, before you  begin with part - 2 for better understanding.

As mentioned in the earlier part, in this post we get more insight into object layout , implicit pointer conversions,  pointer offsetting and virtual base class pointers in the case of multiple inheritance. And in the process we get good understanding of Virtual Inheritance. And a disclaimer before we proceed, the examples considered here are just hypothetical cases and not to disparage anyone.

Further extending the inheritance hierarchy mentioned in part -1, consider that now the company has decided to introduce an open source mobile OS, based on existing "Mobile_OS" of the company but enhancing it further to favor open source development with a strong eco-system of contributors and names it "Android".

 class Mobile_OS   
 {   
   public:   
    float iKernalVersion;   
    float iReleaseVersion;   
    char* strVendor ;
    virtual float GetKernalVersion();   
    virtual float GetReleaseVerison();   
    Mobile_OS();   
    ~ Mobile_OS();   
 };  
 class Android : public Mobile_OS   
  {   
   private:   
     char* strVendor;   
     char* strProjectCode ;    
   public:   
     int iAndroidCustomRomVersion ;   
     float GetKernalVersion();   
     float GetReleaseVerison();   
     Android ();   
     ~ Android ();   
  };

The memory layout of Android class will be exactly same as of "WindowsPhone" class mentioned earlier, since both of these two classes are derived from the same base "Mobile_OS"

The design looks good till this point, with reusable modules and well defined class hierarchy. Now consider, the same company which had produced Windows and Android phones has now plans to come up with "Tablet" devices, with a hybrid operating system, based on superior features of both windows and android phones and making itself a unique OS by adding exclusive unique features and calls it " Hybrid_Tablet "

Do you foresee any problems with this design ?

Yes, we run into issues of data redundancy and inconsistency by deriving a " Hybrid_Tablet " from " WindowsPhone" and "Android" classes.

What caused issues of data redundancy and inconsistency ?

The cause of these issues is rooted in the fact that, both "WindowsPhone" and "Android" classes are derived from a common base "Mobile_OS" and hence both of these two classes persist its own instance of  "Mobile_OS" class leading to issues of data redundancy and inconsistency.

How expensive is this fault ?

It depends on size of the base class, in our case it is the size of "Mobile_OS" class. Even if the developer cautiously resolves issues of data inconsistency by object reference for class data access,  there is no solution to curb data redundancy. And if the base class is huge with many data members this design decision proves expensive.

What is the solution ?

The only solution to problems like above is to use Virtual Inheritance.

In a system of classes, belonging to a single hierarchy, if a class is derived from multiple base classes which are in-turn derived from a single base class, the concept of Virtual Inheritance is used to ensure that there is only a single copy of the common base class in the most derived class.

Deploying virtual inheritance in the current issue, we can ensure that the "Hybrid_Tablet" will have only a single instance of "Mobile_OS" which is commonly shared between "WindowsPhone" and "Android".

To inform the compiler to use single instance of "Mobile_OS" in " Hybrid_Tablet" the two base classes of " Hybrid_Tablet" which are "WindowsPhone" and "Android" should be derived virtually from "Mobile_OS" as shown below.

 class Mobile_OS   
 {   
  public:   
   float iKernalVersion;   
   float iReleaseVersion;   
   char* strVendor ;   
   virtual float GetKernalVersion();   
   virtual float GetReleaseVerison();   
   Mobile_OS();   
   ~ Mobile_OS();   
 };   
 class WindowsPhone : public virtual Mobile_OS     
 {   
  private:   
   char* strCodeName ;   
   char* iHardwarePlatform ;    
  public:   
   int iCustomRomVersion ;   
   float GetKernalVersion();   
   float GetReleaseVerison();   
   WindowsPhone();   
   ~ WindowsPhone();   
 };   
 class Android : public virtual Mobile_OS    
  {    
   private:    
    char* strVendor;    
    char* strProjectCode ;    
   public:    
    int iAndroidCustomRomVersion ;    
    float GetKernalVersion();    
    float GetReleaseVerison();    
    Android ();    
    ~ Android ();    
  };

Memory Layout of an object in case of Virtual Inheritance

In the case of non virtual inheritance, it is most certainly accepted design practice that both base class and derived class will have the same starting address since in a derived class the base instance is placed first. For more details please refer Part -1

In the case of virtual inheritance, embedded base virtually floats within the derived object without having a definite fixed displacement. Hence there is an overhead of maintaining this information within the derived virtual object. and this is achieved by maintaining "Virtual Base Table Pointer" and  "Virtual Base Pointer Table" as shown in the diagram below.

The instance of each virtually derived class will have a hidden pointer "vbptr" which is an acronym for " Virtual Base Table Pointer" which points to "Virtual Base Pointers Table" of a class. The Virtual Base Pointers Table contains displacement of the virtual base within the derived class from the address point of "vbptr" in number of bytes.

In the above example "Android::vbptr" points to "Virtual Base Pointers Table" which has two entries. which are displacement values for virtual base, and the acronyms stand for,

 And_Dt_And_vbptr_And = In Android Instance Distance of Android vbptr to Android  
 And_Dt_And_vbptr_Mos = In Android Instance Distance of Android vbptr to Mobile_OS

Memory Layout of Most Derived class in virtual inheritance.

Now, coming back to our original issue of  designing a " Hybrid_Tablet" by deriving from multiple base classes which are derived from common base class, can be addressed using virtual inheritance. And this is achieved by,

  1. Deriving "WindowsPhone" and "Android" virtually from "Mobile_OS", and
  2. Deriving " Hybrid_Tablet" from "WindowsPhone" and "Mobile_OS".
 class Hybrid_Tablet : public WindowsPhone, public Android  
 {  
  Private:  
        ..................  
        ..................  
  public:  
        ..................  
        ..................  
 };

As mentioned earlier, in virtual inheritance the position of base class instance is arbitrary within derived class, and in this case, we can see that, instance of  "Hybrid_Tablet" has only a single instance of "Mobile_OS", "WindowsPhone" and "Android" and reference to "Mobile_OS" is maintained with the help of "Virtual Base Table Pointer" one for each class and which points to a single "Virtual Base Pointers Table"of "Hybrid_Tablet" class. as shown below.

 Hbt_Dt_Wnp_vbptr_Wnp = In Hybrid_Tablet Instance Distance of WindowsPhone to WindowsPhone  
 Hbt_Dt_Wnp_vbptr_Mos = In Hybrid_Tablet Instance Distance of WindowsPhone to Mobile_OS  
 Hbt_Dt_And_vbptr_And = In Hybrid_Tablet Instance Distance of Android to Android  
 Hbt_Dt_And_vbptr_Mos = In Hybrid_Tablet Instance Distance of Android to Mobile_OS

With this, I hope this article delineates moderately deeper insight of virtual inheritance and its implementation details. Kindly mail me if you have any queries or suggestions. Also, please let me know if you are further interested in digging deeper into virtual inheritance in understanding "Data Access" and "Function Calling" mechanisms, I can write a post on that as well.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Vijay Rajanna
Engineer
India India
I am Vijay hailing from Bangalore, the silicon valley of India. I posses extensive expertise working in mobility domain. I have a natural propensity for "Research and Innovation".
 
My areas of interest include Pervasive computing, Cognitive sensors, HCI, and Multimedia. Being strongly resolute with an everlasting fervor for learning, over the years I have learnt to come out of comfort zone to experiment with state of the art technologies and to contribute to developer community.
 
I blog about innovations and latest technologies from mobility domain, about development environments and programming languages across different platforms.
 
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