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Thinking in C++
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As a guideline, you shouldn’t use a default argument as a flag upon which to conditionally execute code. You should instead break the function into two or more overloaded functions if you can. A default argument should be a value you would ordinarily put in that position. It’s a value that is more likely to occur than all the rest, so client programmers can generally ignore it or use it only if they want to change it from the default value.

The default argument is included to make function calls easier, especially when those functions have many arguments with typical values. Not only is it much easier to write the calls, it’s easier to read them, especially if the class creator can order the arguments so the least-modified defaults appear latest in the list.

An especially important use of default arguments is when you start out with a function with a set of arguments, and after it’s been used for a while you discover you need to add arguments. By defaulting all the new arguments, you ensure that all client code using the previous interface is not disturbed.

Thinking in C++
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire