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dynamic_cast Operator

Converts the operand expression to an object of type type-id.

dynamic_cast < type-id > ( expression )

The type-id must be a pointer or a reference to a previously defined class type or a "pointer to void". The type of expression must be a pointer if type-id is a pointer, or an l-value if type-id is a reference.

See static_cast for an explanation of the difference between static and dynamic casting conversions, and when it is appropriate to use each.

There are two breaking changes in the behavior of dynamic_cast in managed code:

  • dynamic_cast to a pointer to the underlying type of a boxed enum will fail at runtime, returning 0 instead of the converted pointer.

  • dynamic_cast will no longer throw an exception when type-id is an interior pointer to a value type, with the cast failing at runtime. The cast will now return the 0 pointer value instead of throwing.

If type-id is a pointer to an unambiguous accessible direct or indirect base class of expression, a pointer to the unique subobject of type type-id is the result. For example:

// dynamic_cast_1.cpp
// compile with: /c
class B { };
class C : public B { };
class D : public C { };

void f(D* pd) {
   C* pc = dynamic_cast<C*>(pd);   // ok: C is a direct base class
                                   // pc points to C subobject of pd 
   B* pb = dynamic_cast<B*>(pd);   // ok: B is an indirect base class
                                   // pb points to B subobject of pd
}

This type of conversion is called an "upcast" because it moves a pointer up a class hierarchy, from a derived class to a class it is derived from. An upcast is an implicit conversion.

If type-id is void*, a run-time check is made to determine the actual type of expression. The result is a pointer to the complete object pointed to by expression. For example:

// dynamic_cast_2.cpp
// compile with: /c /GR
class A {virtual void f();};
class B {virtual void f();};

void f() {
   A* pa = new A;
   B* pb = new B;
   void* pv = dynamic_cast<void*>(pa);
   // pv now points to an object of type A

   pv = dynamic_cast<void*>(pb);
   // pv now points to an object of type B
}

If type-id is not void*, a run-time check is made to see if the object pointed to by expression can be converted to the type pointed to by type-id.

If the type of expression is a base class of the type of type-id, a run-time check is made to see if expression actually points to a complete object of the type of type-id. If this is true, the result is a pointer to a complete object of the type of type-id. For example:

// dynamic_cast_3.cpp
// compile with: /c /GR
class B {virtual void f();};
class D : public B {virtual void f();};

void f() {
   B* pb = new D;   // unclear but ok
   B* pb2 = new B;

   D* pd = dynamic_cast<D*>(pb);   // ok: pb actually points to a D
   D* pd2 = dynamic_cast<D*>(pb2);   // pb2 points to a B not a D
}

This type of conversion is called a "downcast" because it moves a pointer down a class hierarchy, from a given class to a class derived from it.

In cases of multiple inheritance, possibilities for ambiguity are introduced. Consider the class hierarchy shown in the following figure.

For CLR types, dynamic_cast results in either a no-op if the conversion can be performed implicitly, or an MSIL isinst instruction, which performs a dynamic check and returns nullptr if the conversion fails.

The following sample uses dynamic_cast to determine if a class is an instance of particular type:

// dynamic_cast_clr.cpp
// compile with: /clr
using namespace System;

void PrintObjectType( Object^o ) {
   if( dynamic_cast<String^>(o) )
      Console::WriteLine("Object is a String");
   else if( dynamic_cast<int^>(o) )
      Console::WriteLine("Object is an int");
}

int main() {
   Object^o1 = "hello";
   Object^o2 = 10;

   PrintObjectType(o1);
   PrintObjectType(o2);
}
Class Hierarchy Showing Multiple Inheritance

Class hierarchy that shows multiple inheritance

A pointer to an object of type D can be safely cast to B or C. However, if D is cast to point to an A object, which instance of A would result? This would result in an ambiguous casting error. To get around this problem, you can perform two unambiguous casts. For example:

// dynamic_cast_4.cpp
// compile with: /c /GR
class A {virtual void f();};
class B {virtual void f();};
class D : public B {virtual void f();};

void f() {
   D* pd = new D;
   B* pb = dynamic_cast<B*>(pd);   // first cast to B
   A* pa2 = dynamic_cast<A*>(pb);   // ok: unambiguous
}

Further ambiguities can be introduced when you use virtual base classes. Consider the class hierarchy shown in the following figure.

Class Hierarchy Showing Virtual Base Classes

Class hierarchy that shows virtual base classes

In this hierarchy, A is a virtual base class. See Virtual Base Classes for the definition of a virtual base class. Given an instance of class E and a pointer to the A subobject, a dynamic_cast to a pointer to B will fail due to ambiguity. You must first cast back to the complete E object, then work your way back up the hierarchy, in an unambiguous manner, to reach the correct B object.

Consider the class hierarchy shown in the following figure.

Class Hierarchy Showing Duplicate Base Classes

Class hierarchy that shows duplicate base classes

Given an object of type E and a pointer to the D subobject, to navigate from the D subobject to the left-most A subobject, three conversions can be made. You can perform a dynamic_cast conversion from the D pointer to an E pointer, then a conversion (either dynamic_cast or an implicit conversion) from E to B, and finally an implicit conversion from B to A. For example:

// dynamic_cast_5.cpp
// compile with: /c /GR
class A {virtual void f();};
class B : public A {virtual void f();};
class C : public A { };
class D {virtual void f();};
class E : public B, public C, public D {virtual void f();};

void f(D* pd) {
   E* pe = dynamic_cast<E*>(pd);
   B* pb = pe;   // upcast, implicit conversion
   A* pa = pb;   // upcast, implicit conversion
}

The dynamic_cast operator can also be used to perform a "cross cast." Using the same class hierarchy, it is possible to cast a pointer, for example, from the B subobject to the D subobject, as long as the complete object is of type E.

Considering cross casts, it is actually possible to do the conversion from a pointer to D to a pointer to the left-most A subobject in just two steps. You can perform a cross cast from D to B, then an implicit conversion from B to A. For example:

// dynamic_cast_6.cpp
// compile with: /c /GR
class A {virtual void f();};
class B : public A {virtual void f();};
class C : public A { };
class D {virtual void f();};
class E : public B, public C, public D {virtual void f();};

void f(D* pd) {
   B* pb = dynamic_cast<B*>(pd);   // cross cast
   A* pa = pb;   // upcast, implicit conversion
}

A null pointer value is converted to the null pointer value of the destination type by dynamic_cast.

When you use dynamic_cast < type-id > ( expression ), if expression cannot be safely converted to type type-id, the run-time check causes the cast to fail. For example:

// dynamic_cast_7.cpp
// compile with: /c /GR
class A {virtual void f();};
class B {virtual void f();};

void f() {
   A* pa = new A;
   B* pb = dynamic_cast<B*>(pa);   // fails at runtime, not safe;
   // B not derived from A
}

The value of a failed cast to pointer type is the null pointer. A failed cast to reference type throws a bad_cast Exception.   If expression does not point to or reference a valid object, a __non_rtti_object exception is thrown.

See typeid for an explanation of the __non_rtti_object exception.

The following sample creates the base class (struct A) pointer, to an object (struct C). This, plus the fact there are virtual functions, enables runtime polymorphism.

The sample also calls a non-virtual function in the hierarchy.

// dynamic_cast_8.cpp
// compile with: /GR /EHsc
#include <stdio.h>
#include <iostream>

struct A {
    virtual void test() {
        printf_s("in A\n");
   }
};

struct B : A {
    virtual void test() {
        printf_s("in B\n");
    }

    void test2() {
        printf_s("test2 in B\n");
    }
};

struct C : B {
    virtual void test() {
        printf_s("in C\n");
    }

    void test2() {
        printf_s("test2 in C\n");
    }
};

void Globaltest(A& a) {
    try {
        C &c = dynamic_cast<C&>(a);
        printf_s("in GlobalTest\n");
    }
    catch(std::bad_cast) {
        printf_s("Can't cast to C\n");
    }
}

int main() {
    A *pa = new C;
    A *pa2 = new B;

    pa->test();

    B * pb = dynamic_cast<B *>(pa);
    if (pb)
        pb->test2();

    C * pc = dynamic_cast<C *>(pa2);
    if (pc)
        pc->test2();

    C ConStack;
    Globaltest(ConStack);

   // will fail because B knows nothing about C
    B BonStack;
    Globaltest(BonStack);
}
in C
test2 in B
in GlobalTest
Can't cast to C

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