When we want a Derived Class to override a member function of Base class, then we should make that member function in Base class virtual. So that if someone uses the Derived class object using Base class’s pointer or reference to call the overridden member function, then function of derived class should be called.

Suppose draw() is a virtual member function in Base class i.e. Shape and in the Derived class i.e Line this draw() function is overridden.

We assign the Line’s object in to Shape’s pointer and then calls the draw() member function from it. Like this,

As we have declared the draw() function as virtual in Base class hence ptr->draw() will call the Derived class i.e. Line’s draw() function.

But if draw() function is not virtual then same ptr->draw() will call the Base class i.e. Shape’s draw function().

By making it virtual we signals the compiler that don’t do the linking of this function call with actual function address at compile time i.e. leave it for run time. At run time just check what’s the actual object inside pointer or reference and call the correct virtual member function.

But how does that help? Why someone will do that?

Lets look in into an another case,

Suppose we have a base class MessageCoverter that provides a member function, which coverts the passed message into a specific format. In our application we use this class object to convert messages to required format.

Message Converter Class,

MessageSender Class that uses this MessageConverter class,

In assigned the object of MessageConverter to MessageSender for converting messages before sending i.e.

Message Sent :: [START]Hello World[END]

Till now every things work fine. Now suppose a new requirement comes, i.e. I need to convert the message in an another format in some scenarios and I am not allowed to change either MessageConverter or MessageSender class.
In this we will create a another class that will extend the MessageConverter class and will override the convert member function with new one i.e.

Now we will use this NewMessageConverter class with MessageSender class to convert the messages like this,

But wait a minute, lets look at the output first,

Message Sent :: [START]Hello World[END]

It’s still showing the message in old format, it means new message conversion logic is not being used i.e. NewMessageConvertter class’s convert message is not called instead it’s Base class i.e. MessageConverter’s convert() member function is called.
That happened because MessageSender calls convert() function using MemberConverter pointer and convert() function was not declared virtual in the Base class i.e. MessageConverter.
Therefore, compiler linked this convert() function call with with MessageConverter’s convert() function while linking. It will not wait for run time linking.

How to make MessageSender call actual Derived class i.e. NewMessageConverter’s member function convert() instead of base class’s function?

Make convert() function virtual in Base class i.e. MessageSender class i.e.

Output will now be,

Message Sent :: <START> Hello World <END>

So, conclusion is,

If you have Derived class object in Base class’s pointer or reference and you want to call the Derived class’s overridden member function from it then make that member function virtual in base class.


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