Notes On: C++


We will be using the g++ compiler throughout


Starting up

The most basic program written in C is shown below, with annotations:

#include                             // Include input/output library

int main() {                                   // `main` function declaration and block
    std::cout << "Hello world!" << std::endl;  // Print to terminal with streams
    return 0;                                  // Return statement

To compile the program, we use the following commands in terminal:

> g++ -o hello
> ./hello

Here is a quick run-down of the syntax:


To comment code, i.e. blocks of text which are to be ignored by the compiler, use

// Two forward-slashes for inline, single-line comments

or, alternatively

 *  Multi-line comment.

Get into the habit of commenting your code while you write it. Just do it!


Variables are case-sensitive. A variable declaration looks like:

  [= ]


To use strings in your code, use the following syntax:

std::string this_is_a_string = "I am the string";

Be sure to include the <string> library in the head of your file.


Use arrays to store data of the same type. Use the schema:

 [  ];

Remember that indexes in arrays start at zero. The size of the array must be fixed at compile time.

To set a value into an array:

int array[5];

for( int i = 0; i < 5; i++ ) {
    array[i] = i;                    // [0,1,2,3,4]

To get a value from an array:

std::cout << array[0] << std::endl;  // 0


There are two types of operators:

The main operators are:

Take note that double half = 1/2; returns zero as it is performing integer arithmetic. When defining a double, use a decimal point: double half = 1.0/2.0;.

Printing to terminal

We use the stream operators << and >> to pass and receive data from the terminal. To print to the terminal, use:

std::cout << "This text will be printed to terminal. ";
std::cout << "I'm printed on the same line!";
std::cout << std::endl;  // End line

To read input from the terminal, use std::cin:

int a;
std::cout << "Enter an integer: ";
std::cin >> a;

When printing to the terminal, it is good practice to format your output into columns. To do this, use the std::cout.width() command, for example:

double pi   = 3.141592654;
double log2 = 0.301029996;

std::cout.precision(5);  // Set output precision for numbers

std::cout << "pi =";
std::cout << pi << std::endl;

Will produce:

                pi =     3.1415
              log2 =     0.3010

Command Line Arguments

To read command line arguments, passed to the executable via the terminal, add extra parameters to the main() function:

int main( int argc, char *argv[] ) {
    std::cout << "This program was called with \"" << argv[0] << "\"" << std::endl;

    if( argc > 1 ) {
        for( int count = 1; count < argc; count++ ) {
            std::cout << "argv[" << count << "] = " << argv[count] << std::endl;
    } else {
        std::cout << "The command has no other arguments" << std::endl;

Conditional Structures

The usual conditional structures are available in C++

if statement:

if( condition ) {
    // Do something
} else if( another condition ) {
    // Do something else
} else {
    // Do another thing

switch statement:

switch( identifier ) {
    case value1:

    case value2:

    case value3:

    // Add as many cases as required ...


Iterative Structures

Again, the usual iterative structures are available.

`for` loop:

for( initialiser; condition; update ) {
    // Do something over and over

while loop:

while( condition ) {
    // Do something

do-while loop:

do {
    // Do something at least once
} while( condition );


The schema for a function is as follows:

  ([ [,...]]) {
    // Do something

Be sure to prototype the function if your function definitions are positioned after the main() function.

The additional datatype void can be given to a function if it does not return anything.

Place an ampersand & before a parameter name of a function to pass the value by reference, rather than value. More on this in the Pointers section later.

Note that arrays passed to functions are passed by reference by default.

Dynamic Arrays

Dynamic arrays allocate memory for an array at run-time, rather than compile time. Use the schema:

 * = new [  ];

Note that the size does not have to be specified at compile time. Be sure to check that allocation of memory was successful, and delete the array when it is no longer required.

int N;
std::cout << "Enter the size of the array: ";
std::cin >> N;

double *array = new double[ N ];

if( !array ) {
    std::cout << "Could not allocate memory for array" << std::endl;

delete[] array;

File Input and Output

There are several functions available in the <fstream> library which allow for reading and writing text files.

The following code gives an example on how to write to a file:



std::ofstream outputFile;                           // Declare file stream "output.txt" );                    // Open file

if( !outputFile.good() ) {                          // Check if file is good
    std::cout << "Can not open file" << std::endl;
} else {
    outputFile << "Line 1" << std::endl;
    outputFile << "Line 2" << std::endl;

outputFile.close();                                 // Close file

The following code gives an example on how to read a file:



std::ifstream inputFile;                            // Declare file stream "input.txt" );                      // Open file

if( !inputFile.good() ) {                           // Check if file is good
    std::cout << "Can not open file" << std::endl;
} else {
    while( !inputFile.eof() ) {                     // Run through file until End of File
        std::string line;                           // Declare line string
        getline( inputFile, line );                 // Write the line to variable
        std::cout << line << std::endl;             // Print out line to terminal

inputFile.close();                                  // Close file

There are various file access modes which can be specified to ensure files are used properly. Seperate multiple modes with the pipe | symbol.

STL Classes

STL stands for Standard Template Library, and is a collection of templated containers and associated algorithms for manipulating those containers. Each container is a C++ class. For example, the <vector> (templated) class:



std::vector< double > aVector;  // Empty vector

Instances of the <vector> object can be created in various ways, including the example above. Others include:

std::vector< double > bVector( size );       // Vector of size `size`
std::vector< double > cVector( size, 1.0 );  // Set a value on creation
std::vector< double > dVector( bVector );    // Copy a vector

The <vector> class has many member functions:

std::vector< double > aVector( 5 );

aVector.size();            // Returns the size of the vector
aVector.push_back( 7.0 );  // Add an element to the vector
aVector.pop_back();        // Remove last element of vector
aVector.resize( 10 );      // Resize vector
aVector.clear();           // Clear the vector completely


An iterators is an object which marks a position in a container object and allows such a container to be traversed. Each STL container can use iterators to access its contents. An iterator is specific to the type of container it is associated with. An iterator for a std::vector< double > would be declared as

std::vector< double >::iterator it;

They can be dereferenced to access the value at the position they mark, either as

std::cout << *it << std::endl;


double &value = *it;
std::cout << value << std::endl;

The begin() and end() member functions return an iterator marking the beginning and end of the vector, respectively. There are several member functions to note:

it.begin();                 // Return iterator marking the beginning of the vector
it.end();                   // Return iterator marking the end of the vector
aVector.insert( it, 7.0 );  // Insert value at position of iterator
aVector.erase( it );        // Erase value at position of iterator


Templates allows for generalisation of routines or classes to many data types, usually reducing code size.

template< typename T >
void f( T x, T y );

The T is an alias for a datatype which is specified when we call the routine:

f< int >( x, y );

Classes and Objects

A class is a programming construct which encapsulates and manipulates data. An instance of a class is called an object which has real memory allocated to it.


Encapsulation can be achieved via various access specifiers:


All members are publicly accessible from outside the class.

struct Person {
    std::string name;
    std::string address;
    unsigned int age;


Person me; = "Tom";

Person other = me;  // Copies everything from me into other


Use the class keyword and place statements within curly braces. Remember to put a semi-colon at the end of the definition! For example:

class Point {
        double getX();
        double getY();
        void setX( double val );
        void setY( double val );
        double norm();

        double x_;
        double y_;

By setting member variables to be private, and provide public getter and setter methods, we can validate the input to ensure data integrity. Member functions are defined outside the class construct, and we precede them with the class name and scope operator.

void Point::setX( double val ) {
    x_ = val;

void Point::setY( double val ) {
    y_ = val;

double Point::getX () {
    return x_;

double Point::getY () {
    return y_;

double Point::norm () {
    return std::sqrt( x_ * x_ + y_ * y_ );


A constructor is called when a class is first instantiated, always has the same name as the class, and has a return type of void. Constructors may, for example, initialise data members to a suitable initial value, and/or allocate any dynamic memory.

There are two special constructors:

class Point {
        Point();                       // default constructor
        Point( double x, double y );
        Point( const Point& source );  // copy constructor
        ~Point();                      // destructor

        double getX();

Initialisation Lists

Initialisation lists are a more efficient way of setting the starting values for member variables in an object.

Point::Point( double x, double y ) : x_( x ), y_( y ) {}

Accessing Member Functions

Use the dot operator to call and access member functions of a class. For example,

int main () {
    Point a;

    a.setX( 1.1 );
    a.setY( 2.2 );

    Point c = a;

    std::cout << "(" << c.getX() << ", " << c.getY() << ")" << std::endl;

    Point b( 3.2, 5.6 );
    std::cout << "distance from origin: " << c.norm() << std::endl;


Inheritance allows the creation of classes which are derived from other classes – they become a specialisation of another class. The specialised class is called the derived class. The class from which it inherits is called the base class.

A derived class extends the functionality of a base class. All members of the base class which are public or protected are available in the derived class. Additional members can be added to the derived class to extend the functionality of the base class.

class BaseClass { ... };

class DerivedClass : public BaseClass { ... };

Note that the access specifier can only be public or private. The constructor of the derived class can only initialise members which the derived class can access. A derived class could never initialise private members of the base class. Thus, we must use the constructor of the base class to initialise those members.

Operator Overloading

Operator overloading is the definition of standard operators in the context of a class. Depending on the function of the class, most operators can be overloaded so that they make sense for the class. Such as overloading the + operator for the Vector class to perform component-wise vector addition. Use the following schema to overload an operator:

 ::operator ({}) {}

For example, here is how to overload the == operator to test if two Points are equal

class Point {
    bool operator==( const Point &source ) {
        if( ( x_ == source.x_ ) && ( y_ == source.y_ ) ) {
            return true;
        return false;

Then to use this overloaded operator:

Point a, b;
if( a == b ) { ... }

When overloading the assignment = operator ensure to return a reference to the original object:

Point& Point::operator=( const Point &source ) {
    x_ = source.x_;
    y_ = source.y_;
    return *this;

This means we can do this:

Point a, b, c, d;
a = b = c = d;


Be careful, when overloading the assignment operator, not to perform self-assignment. Check first that the memory address of the operand source is not the same as that of this.

Non-Member Operators

We have seen we can do this:

bool Complex::operator==( double val );

Complex a;
if( a == 5.0 ) { ... }

But, even though this makes sense, we can't do

if( 5.0 == a ) { ... }

However, we can define an operator on classes outside a class:

class Complex {
    bool operator==( double value );
bool operator==( double value, const Complex &source ) {
    return ( source == value );
if( 5.0 == a ) { ... }

static Members

static members are variables or routines which are shared among all instances of a class. There is only one unique copy.

The typedef Keyword

C++ allows the definition of our own types based on other existing data types. Use the schema:

typedef ExistingType NewTypename;

The explicit Keyword

In C++, the compiler is allowed to make one implicit conversion to resolve the parameters to a function. The compiler can use single parameter constructors to convert from one type to another in order to get the right type for a parameter. Prefixing the explicit keyword to the constructor prevents the compiler from using that constructor for implicit conversions.

class Foo {
        Foo (int foo) : foo_ (foo) {}
        int GetFoo() {
            return foo_;

        int foo_;


void DoBar( Foo foo ) {
    int i = foo.GetFoo();


int main() {
    DoBar( 42 );