A class is a highly structured data type in Object Pascal dialects such as Delphi or the ObjFPC dialect. Classes are able to contain variables, constructors, destructors, functions, procedures, and properties using access scopes.
Classes are able to inherit and to be inherited by other classes. For run-time purposes, any class not specifying a parent class automatically inherits from TObject, as it has required components for all classes. Because of TObject's dependency, any subclass's destructor must have the override directive. Additionally, any of your class's constructors must specify inherited in their body. A class can have several constructors, but only one destructor.
Object Pascal does not support multiple inheritance: apart from the implicit inheritance by TObject, classes can have only one ancestor class. Polymorphism is implemented with method directives. Here is a simple class declaration; let's explain it.
type TMyClass = class private FSomeVar: integer; public constructor Create; overload; constructor Create(Args: array of integer); overload; destructor Destroy; override; function GetSomeVar: integer; procedure SetSomeVar(newvalue: integer); published property SomeVar: integer read GetSomeVar write SetSomeVar default 0; end;
Between the keywords 'class' and 'end' we find member declarations, both variables and methods. Some methods (functions and/or procedures) are preceded by scope modifiers (private, public, published) and followed by directives (overload, override) and a strange property thing. Let's explain them all.
Notes on inheritance
In Object Pascal, derived classes inherit all members of the base class, even those not overloaded with the same name. Example:
type //base class MyClass = class procedure Proc1; end; //derived class YourClass = class(MyClass) procedure Proc1; //same name of MyClass procedure end; var a: MyClass; b: YourClass; begin a := MyClass.Create; b := YourClass.Create; a.Proc1; // uses procedure in MyClass b.Proc1; // uses procedure in YourClass MyClass(b).Proc1; // uses procedure in MyClass
Scope modifiers tell the compiler who can call a method:
- private: the member can be called/accessed only by other methods in the same class;
- public: the member can be called/accessed by any other part of the program;
- protected: the member can be called/accessed from other classes in the same unit and from derived classes, but not from further derivated classes.
- published: the variable is public, and it will appear in the IDE's Object Inspector.
Scope modifiers cannot be changed in derived classes: members will maintain their visibility (or lack thereof) forever, everywhere.
A property is a variable that is accessed through methods. The variable SomeVar in the example above will be read and written in the code like a simple variable, but under the hood the compiler will call the methods specified in the property declaration. This allows to calculate it on the fly, or run boundary checks, input validation, formatting or just a placeholder for future extensions. Some rules apply:
- Either read or write methods, at least one of them, must be present;
- The read method (if present) cannot have parameters;
- The write method (if present) must have exactly one parameter;
- Both read and write methods cannot be dynamic: if they are virtual they cannot be overload.
default sets a starting value for the property: it's optional and can be omitted. Another option is stored false:
property SomeVar: Integer read GetSomeVar write SetSomeVar stored false;
This way the write method will be called, but the value will NOT be saved in the variable.
The self argument is passed by default to every (non static) method: it's an alias to the specific class instance which the method belongs to. This way every class can identify itself and have access to its members without ambiguity.
Class methods can be changed, overloaded, made static and more. A method can have more than one directive. Directives rule the whole polymorphism system in Object Pascal; they can change the call model, too.
virtual, dynamic, override
these three directives are mutually exclusive. virtual means that the method can be overwritten by the derived class. dynamic means the same thing, but the implementation differs: virtual members addresses are stored in a table, while dynamic members do not use tables and do not occupy RAM, but their resolution mechanism is slower.
A derived class can implement its own version of a virtual method, but the base method is still available; if the new method is marked override it hides the base virtual method, which cannot be called anymore. This holds true in case of dynamic methods, too. However you cannot override a method if it's not virtual or dynamic.
A static method or variable is common to every instance of the class; one class instance can write a static variable member and every other instance will retain (and read, if accessed) the new value. For this reason, the compiler does NOT pass the 'self' parameter to static methods: it would be nonsense. Moreover, static methods cannot be virtual (but see class methods below).
A method declared abstract is declared, but not implemented in the base class. Derived classes will be forced to provide their own implementation.
function MultiSum(a, b: integer): integer; overload; function MultiSum(a, b: AnsiString): AnsiString; overload;
With the overload directive you can declare many methods - functions or procedures - with the same name but different type and parameters.
The class needs the constructor to be implemented in the implementation section of the unit:
implementation constructor TMyClass.Create; begin inherited; SomeVar := 6; end; end.
The destructor and all procedures and functions of the class must also be implemented in the implementation section.
Instances of the class can then be declared as variables:
var classInstance: TMyClass;
Before using an instance, it must be created with:
begin classInstance := TMyClass.Create; ... end;
Classes compared to other structured types
|Encapsulation (combining data and methods + hiding visibility)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Class constructor and destructor||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Polymorphism (virtual methods)||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Memory allocation||Stack||Stack||Stack||Heap (Only)|
||Managed Types only||Managed Types only||Managed Types only||All fields|
||all fields zeros||all fields zeros||all fields zeros||returns nil|
|Operator overload (global)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Operator overload (in type only)||No||Yes||No||No|
|Virtual constructors, class reference||No||No||No||Yes|
|Variant part (case) as c/c++ union||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Bitpacked (really packing)||Yes||Yes||No||No|
Modified from https://forum.lazarus.freepascal.org/index.php/topic,30686.30.html (original author: ASerge).
extended class syntax Examples
|simple data types|
|complex data types|