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17.1.2 Example class

A good example of a class is the mathematical notion of a set (of integers). A particular object from this class would represent a particular set of integers. The interface for the class would probably include the following methods:

  1. Add -- adds an integer to a set object.
  2. Member -- tests for membership of an integer in a set object.
  3. Empty -- tests for emptiness of a set object.
  4. Union -- unions a set object with a set object.

A more complete class would also contain methods for removing elements, intersecting sets etc. The important thing to notice is that to use this class you need to know only how to use the methods. The black box approach means that we don't (and shouldn't) know how the set class is actually implemented, i.e., how data is structured within a set object. Only the methods themselves need to know how to manipulate the data that represents a set object.

The benefit of OOP comes when you actually use the classes, so suppose you implement this set class and then use it in your code for some database program. If you found that the set implementation was a bit inefficient (in terms of memory or speed), then, since you programmed in this OOP way, you wouldn't have to recode the whole database program, just the set class! You can change the way the set data is structured in an object as much and as often as you like, so long as each implementation has the same interface (and gives the same results!).


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