C++ Object Model

A Simple Object Model

Tuan Nguyen
Jan 23 · 3 min read

Our first object model is admittedly very simple. It might be used for a C++ implementation designed to minimize the complexity of the compiler at the expense of space and runtime efficiency. In this simple model, an object is a sequence of slots, where each slot points to a member. The members are assigned a slot in the order of their declarations. There is a slot for each data or function member.

Simple Object Model

In this simple model, the members themselves are not placed within the object. Only pointers addressing the members are placed within the object. Doing this avoids problems from members’ being quite different types and requiring different amounts (and sometimes different types of) storage. Members within an object are addressed by their slot’s index. For example, _x’s index is 6 and _point_count’s index is 7. The general size of a class object is the size of a pointer multiplied by the number of members declared by the class.

A Table — Driven Object Model

For an implementation to maintain a uniform representation for the objects of all classes, an alternative object model might factor out all member specific information, placing it in a data member and member function pair of tables. The class object contains the pointers to the two-member tables. The member function table is a sequence of slots, with each slot addressing a member. The data member table directly holds the data.

Member Table Object Model

Although this model is not used in practice within C++, the concept of a member function table has been the traditional implementation supporting efficient runtime resolution of virtual functions.

The C++ Object Model

Stroustrup’s original (and still prevailing) C++ Object Model is derived from the simple object model by optimizing for space and access time. Nonstatic data members are allocated directly within each class object. Static data members are stored outside the individual class object. Static and nonstatic function members are also hoisted outside the class object. Virtual functions are supported in two steps:

  1. A table of pointers to virtual functions is generated for each class (this is called the virtual table).
  2. A single pointer to the associated virtual table is inserted within each class object (traditionally, this has been called the vptr). The setting, resetting, and not setting of the vptr is handled automatically through code generated within each class constructor, destructor, and copy assignment operator. The type_info object associated with each class in support of runtime type identification (RTTI) is also addressed within the virtual table, usually within the table’s first slot.

The following figure illustrates the general C++ Object Model for our Point class. The primary strength of the C++ Object Model is its space and runtime efficiency. Its primary drawback is the need to recompile unmodified code that makes use of an object of a class for which there has been an addition, removal, or modification of the nonstatic class data members. (The two table model, for example, offers more flexibility by providing an additional level of indirection. But it does this at the cost of space and runtime efficiency.)

C++ Object Model

Originally published at


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