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Polymorphism – implemented in C++ with virtual functions – means “different forms.” In object-oriented programming, you have the same face (the common interface in the base class) and different forms using that face: the different versions of the virtual functions.

You’ve seen in this chapter that it’s impossible to understand, or even create, an example of polymorphism without using data abstraction and inheritance. Polymorphism is a feature that cannot be viewed in isolation (like const or a switch statement, for example), but instead works only in concert, as part of a “big picture” of class relationships. People are often confused by other, non-object-oriented features of C++, like overloading and default arguments, which are sometimes presented as object-oriented. Don’t be fooled: If it isn’t late binding, it isn’t polymorphism.

To use polymorphism, and thus object-oriented techniques, effectively in your programs you must expand your view of programming to include not just members and messages of an individual class, but also the commonality among classes and their relationships with each other. Although this requires significant effort, it’s a worthy struggle, because the results are faster program development, better code organization, extensible programs, and easier code maintenance.

Polymorphism completes the object-oriented features of the language, but there are two more major features in C++: templates (Chapter XX), and exception handling (Chapter XX). These features provide you as much increase in programming power as each of the object-oriented features: abstract data typing, inheritance, and polymorphism.

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