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Thinking in C++
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The template solution

Although an object-based hierarchy with multiple inheritance is conceptually straightforward, it turns out to be painful to use. In his original book[61] Stroustrup demonstrated what he considered a preferable alternative to the object-based hierarchy. Container classes were created as large preprocessor macros with arguments that could be substituted with your desired type. When you wanted to create a container to hold a particular type, you made a couple of macro calls.

Unfortunately, this approach was confused by all the existing Smalltalk literature and programming experience, and it was a bit unwieldy. Basically, nobody got it.

In the meantime, Stroustrup and the C++ team at Bell Labs had modified his original macro approach, simplifying it and moving it from the domain of the preprocessor into the compiler. This new code-substitution device is called a template[62], and it represents a completely different way to reuse code. Instead of reusing object code, as with inheritance and composition, a template reuses source code. The container no longer holds a generic base class called Object, but instead it holds an unspecified parameter. When you use a template, the parameter is substituted by the compiler, much like the old macro approach, but cleaner and easier to use.

Now, instead of worrying about inheritance or composition when you want to use a container class, you take the template version of the container and stamp out a specific version for your particular problem, like this:

The compiler does the work for you, and you end up with exactly the container you need to do your job, rather than an unwieldy inheritance hierarchy. In C++, the template implements the concept of a parameterized type. Another benefit of the template approach is that the novice programmer who may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with inheritance can still use canned container classes right away (as we’ve been doing with vector throughout the book).

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