In the world of object-oriented programming, C++ stands out as one of the most powerful and versatile languages. One of its key features is the ability to work with abstract classes and pure virtual functions. In this article, we will delve into the concept of pure virtual functions in C++ and understand their significance. We will also explore how they help in achieving abstraction and polymorphism within our code. So, let’s begin by understanding what pure virtual functions are.

Understanding Virtual Functions

Virtual functions in C++ are a mechanism that allows a function to be overridden in a derived class while preserving the base class’s interface. When a virtual function is defined in a base class, it can be redefined in a derived class, enabling the derived class to provide its implementation.

The Concept of Pure Virtual Functions

A pure virtual function is a special kind of virtual function that has no implementation in the base class. To declare a function as pure virtual, we use the “= 0” syntax at the end of the function declaration. This indicates that the function does not have a definition in the base class and must be implemented in any derived class before objects of that derived class can be instantiated.

Declaring and Implementing Pure Virtual Functions

To declare a pure virtual function, we use the following syntax:

class Base {
    virtual void pureVirtualFunction() = 0;

Abstract Classes

A class that contains at least one pure virtual function is known as an abstract class. An abstract class cannot be instantiated, which means we cannoΜ₯t create objects directly from it. Instead, we can use pointers or references to abstract classes. Any class that inherits from an abstract class must provide implementations for all pure virtual functions to become concrete and be instantiable.

Example of Pure Virtual Function

Let’s consider an example to solidify our understanding. Suppose we are building a simple shape hierarchy with a base class Shape and two derived classes, Circle and Rectangle. Since each shape has a different way of calculating its area, we can use a pure virtual function to achieve this.

#include <iostream>

class Shape {
    virtual double area() const = 0;

class Circle : public Shape {
    double radius;

    Circle(double r) : radius(r) {}
    double area() const override {
        return 3.14159 * radius * radius;

class Rectangle : public Shape {
    double length;
    double width;

    Rectangle(double l, double w) : length(l), width(w) {}
    double area() const override {
        return length * width;

int main() {
    Circle c(5.0);
    Rectangle r(4.0, 6.0);

    std::cout << "Area of Circle: " << c.area() << std::endl;
    std::cout << "Area of Rectangle: " << r.area() << std::endl;

    return 0;

Benefits of Pure Virtual Functions

Pure virtual functions provide several advantages in C++:

  • Abstraction: Pure virtual functions allow us to create abstract classes that define the interface for derived classes to follow.
  • Polymorphism: They enable polymorphic behavior by allowing objects of derived classes to be treated as objects of the base class.
  • Flexibility: By using pure virtual functions, we can create frameworks that can be extended with new derived classes without modifying existing code.


Pure virtual functions are a crucial feature of C++, allowing developers to build robust and flexible object-oriented systems. By understanding the concept of pure virtual functions, you can take full advantage of abstraction and polymorphism in your C++ projects.


Q1: Can we have a pure virtual destructor in C++?

A: Yes, a destructor can be declared as pure virtual, which makes the class abstract and allows it to be used as a base class.

Q2: How do we call a pure virtual function?

A: Since a pure virtual function has no implementation, it cannot be directly called. It must be overridden in a derived class, and then the derived class’s object can invoke the function.

Q3: Can we define a pure virtual function in the base class itself?

A: No, a pure virtual function cannot have a definition in the base class. Its implementation must be provided by the derived class.

Q4: Can a pure virtual function have arguments?

A: Yes, a pure virtual function can have arguments, just like any other regular function. The derived class must provide implementations that match the function’s signature.

Q5: Is it possible to have a non-pure virtual function in an abstract class?

A:Yes, an abstract class can have regular virtual functions with implementations, in addition to pure virtual functions. The presence of at least one pure virtual function makes the class abstract.

more related content on Object Oriented Programming

And get notified everytime we publish a new blog post.