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Thinking in C++
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Order of constructor calls

The second interesting facet of constructors and virtual functions concerns the order of constructor calls and the way virtual calls are made within constructors.

All base-class constructors are always called in the constructor for an inherited class. This makes sense because the constructor has a special job: to see that the object is built properly. A derived class has access only to its own members, and not those of the base class. Only the base-class constructor can properly initialize its own elements. Therefore it’s essential that all constructors get called; otherwise the entire object wouldn’t be constructed properly. That’s why the compiler enforces a constructor call for every portion of a derived class. It will call the default constructor if you don’t explicitly call a base-class constructor in the constructor initializer list. If there is no default constructor, the compiler will complain.

The order of the constructor calls is important. When you inherit, you know all about the base class and can access any public and protected members of the base class. This means you must be able to assume that all the members of the base class are valid when you’re in the derived class. In a normal member function, construction has already taken place, so all the members of all parts of the object have been built. Inside the constructor, however, you must be able to assume that all members that you use have been built. The only way to guarantee this is for the base-class constructor to be called first. Then when you’re in the derived-class constructor, all the members you can access in the base class have been initialized. “Knowing all members are valid” inside the constructor is also the reason that, whenever possible, you should initialize all member objects (that is, objects placed in the class using composition) in the constructor initializer list. If you follow this practice, you can assume that all base class members and member objects of the current object have been initialized.

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