C++ Access Modifiers

C++ Access Modifiers

In this tutorial, we will learn about the access modifiers for C++ classes with the help of examples. The access modifiers of C++ are public, private, and protected.

One of the main features of object-oriented programming languages such as C++ is data hiding.

Data hiding refers to restricting access to data members of a class. This is to prevent other functions and classes from tampering with the class data.

However, it is also important to make some member functions and member data accessible so that the hidden data can be manipulated indirectly.

The access modifiers of C++ allows us to determine which class members are accessible to other classes and functions, and which are not.

For example,

class Patient {

    private:
        int patientNumber;
        string diagnosis;

    public:

      void billing() {
          // code
      }

      void makeAppointment() {
          // code
      }
}; 

 

Here, the variables patientNumber and diagnosis of the Patient class are hidden using the private keyword, while the member functions are made accessible using the public keyword.


Types of C++ Access Modifiers

In C++, there are 3 access modifiers:

  • public
  • private
  • protected

public Access Modifier

  • The public keyword is used to create public members (data and functions).
  • The public members are accessible from any part of the program.

Example 1: C++ public Access Modifier

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

// define a class
class Sample {

    // public elements
   public:
    int age;

    void displayAge() {
        cout << "Age = " << age << endl;
    }
};

int main() {

    // declare a class object
    Sample obj1;

    cout << "Enter your age: ";

    // store input in age of the obj1 object
    cin >> obj1.age;

    // call class function
    obj1.displayAge();

    return 0;
}

Output:

Enter your age: 20
Age = 20

In this program, we have created a class named Sample, which contains a public variable age and a public function displayAge().

In main(), we have created an object of the Sample class named obj1. We then access the public elements directly by using the codes obj.age and obj.displayAge().


private Access Modifier

  • The private keyword is used to create private members (data and functions).
  • The private members can be accessed only from within the class.
  • However, friend classes and friend functions can access private members.

Example 2: C++ private Access Specifier

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

// define a class
class Sample {

    // private elements
   private:
    int age;

    // public elements
   public:
    void displayAge(int a) {
        age = a;
        cout << "Age = " << age << endl;
    }
};

int main() {

    int ageInput;

    // declare an object
    Sample obj1;

    cout << "Enter your age: ";
    cin >> ageInput;

    // call function and pass ageInput as argument
    obj1.displayAge(ageInput);

    return 0;
}

Output:

Enter your age: 20
Age = 20

In main(), the object obj1 cannot directly access the class variable age.

// error
cin >> obj1.age;

We can only indirectly manipulate age through the public function displayAge(), since this function assigns age to the argument passed into it i.e. the function parameter int a.


protected Access Modifier

Before we learn about the protected access specifier, make sure you know about inheritance in C++.

  • The protected keyword is used to create protected members (data and function).
  • The protected members can be accessed within the class and from the derived class.

Example 3: C++ protected Access Specifier

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

// declare parent class
class Sample {
    // protected elements
   protected:
    int age;
};

// declare child class
class SampleChild : public Sample {

   public:
    void displayAge(int a) {
        age = a;
        cout << "Age = " << age << endl;
    }

};

int main() {
    int ageInput;

    // declare object of child class
    SampleChild child;

    cout << "Enter your age: ";
    cin >> ageInput;

    // call child class function
    // pass ageInput as argument
    child.displayAge(ageInput);

    return 0;
}

Output:

Enter your age: 20
Age = 20

Here, ChildSample is an inherited class that is derived from Sample. The variable age is declared in Sample with the protected keyword.

This means that ChildSample can access age since Sample is its parent class.

We see this as we have assigned the value of age in ChildSample even though age is declared in the Sample class.


Summary: public, private, and protected

  • public elements can be accessed by all other classes and functions.
  • private elements cannot be accessed outside the class in which they are declared, except by friend classes and functions.
  • protected elements are just like the private, except they can be accessed by derived classes.
Specifiers Same Class Derived Class Outside Class
public Yes Yes Yes
private Yes No No
protected Yes Yes No

Note: By default, class members in C++ are private, unless specified otherwise.