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Thinking in C++ Vol 2 - Practical Programming
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8: Runtime Type Identification

Runtime type identification (RTTI) lets you find the dynamic type of an object when you have only a pointer or a reference to the base type.

This can be thought of as a secondary feature in C++, pragmatism to help out when you get into rare difficult situations. Normally, you ll want to intentionally ignore the exact type of an object and let the virtual function mechanism implement the correct behavior for that type. On occasion, however, it s useful to know the exact runtime (that is, most derived) type of an object for which you only have a base pointer. With this information, you may perform a special-case operation more efficiently or prevent a base-class interface from becoming ungainly. It happens enough that most class libraries contain virtual functions to produce runtime type information. When exception handling was added to C++, that feature required information about the runtime type of objects, so it became an easy next step to build in access to that information. This chapter explains what RTTI is for and how to use it.

Thinking in C++ Vol 2 - Practical Programming
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire