Pointers to Members


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Declarations of pointers to members are special cases of pointer declarations. They are declared using the following sequence:

[storage-class-specifiers] [cv-qualifiers] type-specifiers [ms-modifier]qualified-name ::* [cv-qualifiers] identifier  
[= & qualified-name :: member-name];  

  1. The declaration specifier:

    • An optional storage class specifier.

    • Optional const and/or volatile specifiers.

    • The type specifier: the name of a type. This is the type of the member to be pointed to, not the class.

  2. The declarator:

    • An optional Microsoft specific modifier. For more information, see Microsoft-Specific Modifiers.

    • The qualified name of the class containing the members to be pointed to. See Names and Qualified Names.

    • The :: operator.

    • The * operator.

    • Optional const and/or volatile specifiers.

    • The identifier naming the pointer to member.

    • An optional initializer:

The = operator.

The & operator.

The qualified name of the class.

The :: operator.

The name of a nonstatic member of the class of the appropriate type.

As always, multiple declarators (and any associated initializers) are allowed in a single declaration.

A pointer to a member of a class differs from a normal pointer because it has type information for the type of the member and for the class to which the member belongs. A normal pointer identifies (has the address of) only a single object in memory. A pointer to a member of a class identifies that member in any instance of the class. The following example declares a class, Window, and some pointers to member data.

// pointers_to_members1.cpp  
class Window  
   Window();                               // Default constructor.  
   Window( int x1, int y1,                 // Constructor specifying  
   int x2, int y2 );                       //  window size.  
bool SetCaption( const char *szTitle ); // Set window caption.  
   const char *GetCaption();               // Get window caption.  
   char *szWinCaption;                     // Window caption.  
// Declare a pointer to the data member szWinCaption.  
char * Window::* pwCaption = &Window::szWinCaption;  
int main()  

In the preceding example, pwCaption is a pointer to any member of class Window that has type char*. The type of pwCaption is char * Window::*. The next code fragment declares pointers to the SetCaption and GetCaption member functions.

const char * (Window::*pfnwGC)() = &Window::GetCaption;  
bool (Window::*pfnwSC)( const char * ) = &Window::SetCaption;  

The pointers pfnwGC and pfnwSC point to GetCaption and SetCaption of the Window class, respectively. The code copies information to the window caption directly using the pointer to member pwCaption:

Window wMainWindow;  
Window *pwChildWindow = new Window;  
char   *szUntitled    = "Untitled -  ";  
int    cUntitledLen   = strlen( szUntitled );  
strcpy_s( wMainWindow.*pwCaption, cUntitledLen, szUntitled );  
(wMainWindow.*pwCaption)[cUntitledLen - 1] = '1';     //same as  
//wMainWindow.SzWinCaption [cUntitledLen - 1] = '1';  
strcpy_s( pwChildWindow->*pwCaption, cUntitledLen, szUntitled );   
(pwChildWindow->*pwCaption)[cUntitledLen - 1] = '2'; //same as //pwChildWindow->szWinCaption[cUntitledLen - 1] = '2';  

The difference between the .* and –>* operators (the pointer-to-member operators) is that the .* operator selects members given an object or object reference, while the –>* operator selects members through a pointer. (For more about these operators, see Expressions with Pointer-to-Member Operators.)

The result of the pointer-to-member operators is the type of the member — in this case, char *.

The following code fragment invokes the member functions GetCaption and SetCaption using pointers to members:

// Allocate a buffer.  
enum {  
    sizeOfBuffer = 100  
char szCaptionBase[sizeOfBuffer];  
// Copy the main window caption into the buffer  
//  and append " [View 1]".  
strcpy_s( szCaptionBase, sizeOfBuffer, (wMainWindow.*pfnwGC)() );  
strcat_s( szCaptionBase, sizeOfBuffer, " [View 1]" );  
// Set the child window's caption.  
(pwChildWindow->*pfnwSC)( szCaptionBase );  

The address of a static member is not a pointer to a member. It is a regular pointer to the one instance of the static member. Because only one instance of a static member exists for all objects of a given class, the ordinary address-of (&) and dereference (*) operators can be used.

Invoking a virtual function through a pointer-to-member function works as if the function had been called directly; the correct function is looked up in the v-table and invoked.

The key to virtual functions working, as always, is invoking them through a pointer to a base class. (For more information about virtual functions, see Virtual Functions.)

The following code shows how to invoke a virtual function through a pointer-to-member function:

// virtual_functions.cpp  
// compile with: /EHsc  
#include <iostream>  
using namespace std;  
class Base  
virtual void Print();  
void (Base ::* bfnPrint)() = &Base :: Print;  
void Base :: Print()  
cout << "Print function for class Base\n";  
class Derived : public Base  
void Print();  // Print is still a virtual function.  
void Derived :: Print()  
cout << "Print function for class Derived\n";  
int main()  
    Base   *bPtr;  
    Base    bObject;  
Derived dObject;  
bPtr = &bObject;    // Set pointer to address of bObject.  
bPtr = &dObject;    // Set pointer to address of dObject.  
//Output: Print function for class Base  
Print function for class Derived  

C++ Abstract Declarators