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Posted 15 Dec 2007


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Simply Object-Oriented C

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15 Dec 2007CPOL5 min read
This document describes a method by which features of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) can be used in straight C, including Standard/ANSI C, and some variants of pre-ANSI C.


This document describes a method by which features of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) can be used in straight C, including Standard/ANSI C, and some variants of pre-ANSI C. The following compilers have been tested:

  • Visual Studio 6.x +
  • GCC
  • LCC
  • Turbo C 2.0

OOP constructs are implanted via C macros so that source code is easily readable. Knowledge of OOP is assumed as well as rudimentary knowledge of C++.


This can serve as an academic exercise for the reader who wants to see how object-oriented features can be built by-hand into a non-object-oriented language. It can also have a practical purpose in scenarios where the C compiler needs to be used as as an intermediate step of a domain-specific language, or when the target device has limited compiler support.

Defining a class

To use this framework, each file should include the SOOC.h file.

Every class in the SOOC system is derived from another class. If a class does not require a base class, the special class called Object is used as the base class. The definition of each class file is in a separate header file.

Since the best way to learn is by example, one is shown here.

In this example, the class Animal is derived from Object. The class contains one data member, a 31 character string called _species, two virtual methods called Talk and IsDomesticated, and two non-virtual methods called Report and SaySpecies.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the class definition in C++ and in SOOC:

//  CLASS Animal

class Animal

  // Data members
  char m_species[32];  

  // Virtual methods
  virtual void Talk();
  virtual int 

  // Non-virtual methods
  void Report();
  void SaySpecies();
#undef  CLASS
#define CLASS        Animal
#define BASECLASS    Object

  /* Data members */
  char m_species[32];
  /* Virtual methods */
    VIRTUAL_METHOD( IsDomesticated )
  /* Non-virtual methods */
    NONVIRTUAL_METHOD( void, Report )( CLASS* this );
    NONVIRTUAL_METHOD( void, SaySpecies )( CLASS* this );

Difference from C++

  • Unlike in C++, the virtual methods Talk and IsDomesticated do not specify an argument list. In SOOC, the argument list is specified when the method is implemented, and must be compatible with the parameters specified when the method is called.
  • Unlike in C++, the this argument is explicitly specified as the first argument of the non-virtual method. Note that the special macro CLASS, as defined at the top of the class, is used to reference the class name in a more generic way.

The macro pairs BEGIN_VIRTUAL_METHODS, END_VIRTUAL_METHODS, BEGIN_NONVIRTUAL_METHODS, and END_NONVIRTUAL_METHODS are required even if no virtual or non-virtual methods are specified.

Implementing a class

The implementation of each class file is defined in a separate source file. To continue with the above example, by implementing the class:

  strcpy( this->m_species, 
          "Animal" );
void Animal::SaySpecies()
  ...some implementation...
void Animal::Report()
  ...some implementation...
void Animal::Talk()
  ...some implementation...
int Animal::IsDomesticated()
  ...some implementation...

    strcpy( this->m_species, "Animal" );
  BEGIN_NONVIRTUAL_METHOD( void, SaySpecies )( CLASS* this )
    ...some implementation...
  BEGIN_NONVIRTUAL_METHOD( void, Report )( CLASS* this )
    ...some implementation...
  BEGIN_VIRTUAL_METHOD( void, Talk )( CLASS* this )
    ...some implementation...
  BEGIN_VIRTUAL_METHOD( int, IsDomesticated )( CLASS* this )
    ...some implementation...
    OVERRIDE( Animal, Talk )
    OVERRIDE( Animal, IsDomesticated )


Difference from C++

  • Every class must implement an explicit constructor and a destructor, even if they are empty.
  • The implementation of each method must indicate if it is implementing a virtual or a non-virtual method.

Note the BEGIN_OVERRIDES / END_OVERRIDES macros toward the end of the class. They list the virtual methods that this class overrides. The macro OVERRIDE takes two parameters, the name of the class in which the method is defined, and the name of the method being overridden.

Inheriting from a class

Here, a class named Who which will be derived from Animal. The top of the definition for the Who class looks like this:

#undef CLASS
#define CLASS Who
#define BASECLASS Animal

The Overrides section of the implementation file looks like this:

    OVERRIDE( Animal, IsDomesticated )

Note that this indicates that the method from the Animal class is being overridden.

Class instantiation

As in C++, a class may be instantiated on the stack or the free-store (heap). Unlike in C++, the class constructor and destructor must be invoked manually. This is done using a special CONSTRUCT and DESTRUCT macro. The following is an example of instantiating the Animal class on the stack:

Animal animal; 
CONSTRUCT( Animal, &animal );
...use the instance... 
DESTRUCT( &animal );

The following is an example of instantiating a class on the free-store. This is done using the special NEW macro:

Cat* pCat = NEW( Cat );
CONSTRUCT( Cat, pCat );
...use the instance...
DELETE( pCat );

Note that, in the case where the class is instantiated dynamically, the DELETE macro, rather than the DESTRUCT macro, is used. The DELETE macro internally destructs the instance and then deletes the memory associated with it.

Data member access

The class Cat derives from Who. Its constructor sets the m_species data member of the Animal class. However, unlike in C++, the namespace of data-members aren't automatically inherited. That is, if this were C++, from the body of a Cat method, one would be able to access the m_species data-member as if it were defined in the Cat class. However, in SOOC, the name of the class in which the data member is defined must be specifically referenced. Example:

    strcpy( ((Animal*)this)->m_species, "Cat" );

Because m_species is defined in the Animal class, the Cat class instance specified by the this variable is cast to the Animal class first.

Method access

Methods are invoked using the CALL and VCALL macros, depending on whether the method is non-virtual or virtual. The following is an example of calling the GetName method on the pCat instance where GetName is a method defined in the base class Who:

CALL( Who, GetName )( (Who*)pCat, name );

The VCALL macros requires a few more parameters. In this example, the VCALL macro is used to call the Talk method of the pCat instance. Recall that the Talk method was defined in the Animal class and it returns void. This information must be supplied when making the method call because the prototype for the virtual methods are not specified in the definition of the method. The call looks like this:

VCALL( RVOID, Animal, Talk, pCat )( pCat );

The parameters to VCALL are as follows:

  1. The return type of the method. RVOID, RLONG, etc.
  2. The class in which the virtual method is defined.
  3. The method to be called.
  4. The instance being operated on.

The second set of parenthesis, in this case (pCat), indicates the parameters to the function. In this case, only the this pointer is passed.

Usage set-up

Before the classes can be used, one source file, typically the one that defines the main function, will include the list of classes within the special declaration macros BEGIN_DECLARE_APPLICATION_CLASSES and END_DECLARE_APPLICATION_CLASSES. Example:


The class must be listed in the derivation order.


This concludes the description of the SOOC library. See the included sample code for more information on how classes are instantiated, used, defined, and implemented.


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


About the Author

Kenneth Kasajian
United States United States
My interests mostly revolve around making machines do work for people. I'm a computer programmer, software architect, development manager, program manager and a computer programmer. I said programmer twice because I believe you need to be able to do the work yourself if you're going to direct others. I started my career creating software for abstract art, followed by work in embedded systems and HMI. In the 90s I created a successful product called Visual DLL and helped develop the Sales Force Automation product, Arsenal. I've often been involved in online communities, creating games, utilities, and collaboration software. I'm passionate about agile requirements management, acceptance testing through executable specification, and anything that will make developers more productive. My current role is Principal Scientist where I get to work on different technologies with an awesome team, to solve real-world practical problems. I'm Armenian, so talking is in my nature -- if you see me online or offline, say hi and we'll geek out about the latest tools and libraries. If you learned something cool recently (and you should if you're a lifelong learner), then I'd like to hear about it.

Comments and Discussions

Questiongood work Pin
wu.yudong22-Dec-14 21:18
Memberwu.yudong22-Dec-14 21:18 
AnswerRe: good work Pin
Kenneth Kasajian24-Dec-14 9:19
MemberKenneth Kasajian24-Dec-14 9:19 
GeneralRe: good work Pin
wu.yudong24-Dec-14 15:53
Memberwu.yudong24-Dec-14 15:53 
GeneralObject-Oriented CPP Pin
The Wizard of Doze10-Feb-08 0:29
MemberThe Wizard of Doze10-Feb-08 0:29 
GeneralRe: Object-Oriented CPP Pin
Kenneth Kasajian10-Feb-08 6:21
MemberKenneth Kasajian10-Feb-08 6:21 
GeneralA good exercise Pin
Shawn Poulson17-Dec-07 2:08
MemberShawn Poulson17-Dec-07 2:08 
GeneralRe: A good exercise Pin
Kenneth Kasajian17-Dec-07 20:29
MemberKenneth Kasajian17-Dec-07 20:29 
GeneralRe: A good exercise Pin
Shawn Poulson18-Dec-07 1:28
MemberShawn Poulson18-Dec-07 1:28 
GeneralRe: A good exercise Pin
Kenneth Kasajian19-Dec-07 12:25
MemberKenneth Kasajian19-Dec-07 12:25 

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