2CPP11 - Method Overloading


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This is an intermediate conversion course for C++, suitable for second year computing students who may have learned Java or another language in first year.

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2CPP11 - Method Overloading

  1. 1. METHOD OVERLOADING Michael Heron
  2. 2. Introduction • One of the facilities available in modern programming languages is that of method overloading. • The ability to have more than one method with the same name in a particular code space. • This facility can be use to great effect to permit consistency of an interface across objects. • We’ll talk about that today.
  3. 3. Method Overloading • It is not the name of the method which uniquely identifies a method in C++. • It’s the method signature. • It is the combination of: • The name of the method • The type and order of parameters. • This allows us to reuse the same name for a function many times. • We’ve already seen this to a degree with constructor methods.
  4. 4. Method Overloading • This allows us to re-use the same method name when doing so makes logical sense. • We don’t need two method names: • add_two_ints (int x, int y); • add_two_floats (float x, float y) • We just need one: • add_two_nums (int x, int y); • add_two_floats (float x, float y);
  5. 5. Method Overloading • This allows us to reduce the cognitive burden needed to use our coded objects. • The fewer methods people have to memorize, the better. • This comes at a danger: • Overload methods only when it makes sense to do so. • When the output is the same, just the parameters differ. • Don’t use it when there are side-effects to choosing particular combinations of parameters. • As far as possible, their execution should be identical.
  6. 6. Guidelines for Method Overloading • Like anything in programming, you can do this well or you can do it badly. • We’re going to aim to do it well. • There are some guidelines for overloading methods properly. • Use a consistent return type • Ensure consistent parameter names • Ensure consistent parameter orders • Use internal function redirection • Don’t overdo them
  7. 7. Use A Consistent Return Type • One of the benefits of method overloading is that it reduces cognitive burden. • This benefit is lost when overloaded methods have inconsistent return types. • As with most guidelines, this is not an iron-cast rule. • Sometimes it makes sense, such as methods that perform arithmetic. • You don’t want to get an int back when you passed in floats.
  8. 8. Ensure Consistent Parameter Names • If you call a parameter ‘name’ in one overloaded method, don’t call it ‘obName in another’ • This is something that is not such an issue for external parties, but has an impact of ease of maintenance. • Keep the names of your parameters the same. • Refactor the code to ensure this if necessary.
  9. 9. Ensure Consistent Parameter Ordering • The meaning of parameters should remain consistent across overloaded methods: • void do_stuff (int x, int y, int z); • void do_stuff (int y, int x); • Mixing and matching the order of parameters is a sure-fire way to increase both cognitive burden and user frustration. • Including your own frustration later!
  10. 10. Use Internal Function Redirection • As far as is possible, your overloaded methods should be public interfaces only. • Internally they should act as ‘wrappers’ around some internal ‘worker’ method. • The wrappers do only the minimal work required to redirect calls on to the proper method. • Supplying default values for missing info, doing type conversion, etc.
  11. 11. Don’t Overdo It • Combinatorial explosion ensures we can’t provide implementations for all combinations of all parameters. • Or indeed, that we should attempt it. • It would be crazy to overload all of the possible combinations of provided and missing info. • Instead, we provide overloaded methods for those combinations that are most likely to make up the majority of calls. • We can provide a ‘all you can eat’ version too for those with more specialised requirements.
  12. 12. Why Overload Methods? • Provides a consistent interface for your objects. • Reduces cognitive burden on learning new objects. • Don’t need to learn five methods that do much the same thing. • This is a feature in many older languages. • Makes code more readable. • Makes code more maintainable.
  13. 13. Method Overloading Vs Polymorphism • Method overloading is often characterised as a kind of polymorphism. • It’s not really polymorphic, but opinions vary. • It’s closest match is to the idea of ad-hoc polymorphism • The set of possible support options is finite. • It is a tightly restricted version of parametric polymorphism. • Treating all variables without any reference to a specific type. • C#, Java and C++ all offer facilities to do this. • But method overloading isn’t it.
  14. 14. Method Overloading Vs Polymorphism • Method overloading can be written in such a way as to make use of polymorphism. • But at its core, it does not adapt to the type of parameters it is given. • The choice as to which method to invoke is done at compile time. • Think of overloading not as a polymorphic facility but as syntactical sleight of hand.
  15. 15. Variadic Functions • There are several functions in C and C++ that make use of variable argument lists. • The printf function in C is probably the best example of this. • As is the format method of Strings in Java. • In general this is not a good idea… • But it does allow for some functionality that is otherwise awkward to implement. • This isn’t quite method overloading… • … but close enough to discuss anyway.
  16. 16. Varargs Function using namespace std; int add_nums (int count, ...) { va_list arg; int sum; va_start (arg, count); for (int i = 0; i < count; i++) { sum += va_arg (arg, int); } va_end (arg); return sum; } int main(int argc, char** argv) { cout << add_nums (2, 2, 3) << endl; }
  17. 17. Why Use Varargs? • Syntactically nicer to user. • You don’t need to create arrays when you invoke a function. • When overloading doesn’t meet our needs. • Overloading does not always play well with varargs. • Easier to read and understand the code. • No messy collection manipulation.
  18. 18. Why Not Use Varargs? • Badly designed functions lead to insecure code. • Type conversions must be handled manually. • Type checking can only be done at runtime in many cases. • Ideally you want problems to be flagged up by the compiler at compile-time. • Doesn’t play nicely with overloading.
  19. 19. Varargs in Java • Java 1.5 made available the varargs system for the first time. • It’s syntatically much easier to do. • Works in largely the same way. • It’s an autoboxing feature – it creates the array for you. • Varargs can be used only in the final argument position.
  20. 20. Varargs in Java void sum_numbers (object ... nums) { int total; Integer num; for (Object o : nums) { num = (Integer)o; total += o.intValue(); } return total; }
  21. 21. Summary • Functions have unique signatures that identify them. • The signature is the name, and then types and order of parameters. • Overloading functions means that you can produce more readable and more maintainable code. • Variadic functions can be created to deal with situations where array manipulation would be awkward or costly.