Differences between C++ Classes and Structs

Probably the most frequently asked interview question that I have received is one that explores the difference between C++ classes and structs. Such a question was asked by a Northrop Grumman recruiter during a career fair at UC Irvine. I was also asked this sort of question during an on-site interview at Heavy Iron Studios. Recently, it has been asked during a phone interview with Amazon.com.

My answer typically states that members of a class are private by default, whereas members of a struct are public by default. Inheritance between classes is also private by default, and inheritance between structs is public by default. The interviewer was usually satisfied with this answer, which Dr. Raymond Klefstad fed to my first computer science class. Lately, I was interested in the nontrivial cases that bring me uncertainty: a struct inheriting from a class and a class inheriting from a struct.

Code to test the behavior for these cases is presented below:

class A
      int a;

struct B : A { };

struct C
      int c;

class D : C { };

int main()
   B b;
   D d;
   b.a = 1;
   d.c = 2;

Although a recent version of the GNU project C++ compiler treats the assignment of 2 into d.c in the above example as a compile-time error, a programmer who is more interested in standards compliance should refer to the C++ standard. After all, compilers do not determine standard behavior; standards prescribe standard behavior for compilers. The GNU project C++ compiler is consistent with 11.2.2 of ISO/IEC 14882-2003, which states that the kind of inheritance is determined by the derived class being declared as a class or struct when an access specificer for the base class is absent. The standard also clarifies the second part of the answer to the above interview question.

78 Responses to “Differences between C++ Classes and Structs”

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  1. ariock Says:

    Hi, in terms of language this satisfy my well, however in terms of memory bytes, is there or not a difference between a struct and a class?
    what if I use a write() call passing a pointer to a struct, or if I pass a pointer to a class?
    What if my class has virtual inheritance?
    (Suppose I want to send my class over the network, and it contains no dynamic pointer ie: class a { int a,b,c; long d; char e[25]}; )

  2. Steve Says:

    There isn’t a difference in memory used between C++ structs and classes. Using write() on a C++ struct has the same effect as using write() on a C++ class. Structs can use virtual inheritance as well.

    I really do not recommend sending objects with, I assume, write(). Serializing objects into components that allow the desired objects and their relationships to other objects to be reconstructed at the other side of the network connection is a preferred method.

  3. pqnelson Says:

    Interesting, but if I may ask, how exactly does C++ struct inheritance work? I mean, if we were to use some generic code, like

    struct A {
    int x;

    struct B : A {
    int y;

    How would the corresponding code appear in C? How does this C++ version look in memory compared to how the C version appears in memory?

  4. Srikanth Says:

    class D : C { };

    this code has the class inheriting from a struct, in private access, since the default access specifier is private for classes. This code compiles well for unix CC complier, also no probs with vc++.

  5. Mahesh Says:

    Structures Are Diffrent from Class in various ways :-

    1. Structures didnot support data hiding, but classes can.
    2. Priovate functions totally hidden in classes.
    3. There is also differnce in memory allocation.

  6. Pete Says:

    Mahesh, that is wrong.
    All 3 of your points are wrong when considering structs in C++.
    It sounds like you are comparing C structs with C++ classes.
    But in C++ struct’s and classes both support private member data, private member functions, and have no difference in memory allocation.
    Try it if you don’t believe it. Or just look it up in the spec.



  8. Rupert Says:

    in C++ between a struct and object (class) of same size and with same members, which is faster to run?

  9. baskar Says:

    what are uses of class in c++.because in structure do all work like class.so what is need of class.please tell the resion

  10. qwerty Says:

    Rupert: what do you mean by “which is faster to run?” Instances of classes and structs are all “objects.” Furthermore, as has been stated multiple times in this post, the only difference is the default visibility of members.

    class C {
    int pub;
    int priv;

    is identical in every respect (except the default behavior when they are inherited) to

    struct S {
    int pub;
    int priv;

    If you have a pointer ‘s’ to an object of type S and a pointer ‘c’ to an object of type C then “s->pub = 0;” and “c->pub = 0;” then not only is the behavior identical, but the generated assembly is identical.

  11. Waqas Rasheed Says:

    Sir, Please send me technical differences between classes and structures
    using c++.net

  12. Manigandan Says:

    struct A
    int x;

    struct C : A {};
    class D : public B{};

    class B
    public :
    int y;

    int main()
    A a;
    B b;
    a.x = 10;
    b.y = 20;
    C c;
    D d;
    c.x = 40;
    d.y =50;

    What’s wrong in this code?
    I am getting the following error.

    #g++ struct.cpp
    struct.cpp:7: error: expected class-name before ‘{‘ token
    struct.cpp: In function `int main()’:
    struct.cpp:24: error: ‘class D’ has no member named ‘y’

  13. Manigandan Says:

    Sorry. I found it. class D declaring has to come after class B.

  14. vijayendra Says:

    i didnt satisfied wiith the answer given…
    it should be more technical.there isnt any difference on case of memory..

  15. gaurav Says:

    what is the difference between a C++ structure and a class?

    What comes to my mind are
    1) structures in c++ doesnot provide datahiding where as a class provides datahiding

    2)classes support polymorphism, whereas structures donot

  16. Bin Says:

    Can you show me more why structures do not supoort data hiding? I was told it can also have functions, just because all the data are public. And also why structures can not support polymorphism? No virtual function?

  17. Gregory Kramida Says:

    It is the general convention to treat objects (of a certain class) as pointers, and in truth, every object is a pointer.

    1. A struct may not have constructors, even if they can have initialization functions. A class of objects has constructors, which you use to create objects.

    2. Every object is, in reality, a pointer. This is why the assignment operator that you overload for a class returns a reference to your object (ClassName&) rather than the entire thing (ClassName). Thus, since you can do “SomeClass a = SomeClass(foo);”, it is obvious that a is right away a declared pointer.

  18. Gregory Kramida Says:

    The physical differences between C++ structs and classes are minimal, but C structs, however, have much less to them… which is what gaurav was talking about.

    Here is a link where the topic is explored deeply and analysis results are clearly stated:


  19. Sadanand Teggi Says:

    Finally you did’t specified that, even C++ struct and C++ classes are almost same, except default behavior of data members, then when should i use struct and when should i use class?? I can use only struct then why classes??

    Please give me relevant details …

  20. Frans Says:

    What it really comes down to is coding standards if your company has any, and readabilty. Most C++ people that are use to seeing classes instead of structs.

    Other than that they can both serve as the same identical object. Both can do pure virtual functions/inheritance/ and anything else you have used a class for.

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