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How are virtual functions and vtable implemented?

栈溢出 Aquarius_Girl 557℃ 0评论

1.原始问题:How are virtual functions and vtable implemented?

We all know what virtual functions are in C++, but how are they implemented at a deep level?

Can the vtable be modified or even directly accessed at runtime?

Does the vtable exist for all classes, or only those that have at least one virtual function?

Do abstract classes simply have a NULL for the function pointer of at least one entry?

Does having a single virtual function slow down the whole class? Or only the call to the function that is virtual? And does the speed get affected if the virtual function is actually overwritten or not, or does this have no effect so long as it is virtual.

2.被采纳答案

3.How are virtual functions implemented at a deep level?

From “Virtual Functions in C++”

Whenever a program has a virtual function declared, a v – table is constructed for the class. The v-table consists of addresses to the virtual functions for classes that contain one or more virtual functions. The object of the class containing the virtual function contains a virtual pointer that points to the base address of the virtual table in memory. Whenever there is a virtual function call, the v-table is used to resolve to the function address. An object of the class that contains one or more virtual functions contains a virtual pointer called the vptr at the very beginning of the object in the memory. Hence the size of the object in this case increases by the size of the pointer. This vptr contains the base address of the virtual table in memory. Note that virtual tables are class specific, i.e., there is only one virtual table for a class irrespective of the number of virtual functions it contains. This virtual table in turn contains the base addresses of one or more virtual functions of the class. At the time when a virtual function is called on an object, the vptr of that object provides the base address of the virtual table for that class in memory. This table is used to resolve the function call as it contains the addresses of all the virtual functions of that class. This is how dynamic binding is resolved during a virtual function call.

4.Can the vtable be modified or even directly accessed at runtime?

Universally, I believe the answer is “no”. You could do some memory mangling to find the vtable but you still wouldn’t know what the function signature looks like to call it. Anything that you would want to achieve with this ability (that the language supports) should be possible without access to the vtable directly or modifying it at runtime. Also note, the C++ language spec does not specify that vtables are required – however that is how most compilers implement virtual functions.

5.Does the vtable exist for all objects, or only those that have at least one virtual function?

I believe the answer here is “it depends on the implementation” since the spec doesn’t require vtables in the first place. However, in practice, I believe all modern compilers only create a vtable if a class has at least 1 virtual function. There is a space overhead associated with the vtable and a time overhead associated with calling a virtual function vs a non-virtual function.

6.Do abstract classes simply have a NULL for the function pointer of at least one entry?

The answer is it is unspecified by the language spec so it depends on the implementation. Calling the pure virtual function results in undefined behavior if it is not defined (which it usually isn’t) (ISO/IEC 14882:2003 10.4-2). In practice it does allocate a slot in the vtable for the function but does not assign an address to it. This leaves the vtable incomplete which requires the derived classes to implement the function and complete the vtable. Some implementations do simply place a NULL pointer in the vtable entry; other implementations place a pointer to a dummy method that does something similar to an assertion.

Note that an abstract class can define an implementation for a pure virtual function, but that function can only be called with a qualified-id syntax (ie., fully specifying the class in the method name, similar to calling a base class method from a derived class). This is done to provide an easy to use default implementation, while still requiring that a derived class provide an override.

7.Does having a single virtual function slow down the whole class or only the call to the function that is virtual?

This is getting to the edge of my knowledge, so someone please help me out here if I’m wrong!

I believe that only the functions that are virtual in the class experience the time performance hit related to calling a virtual function vs. a non-virtual function. The space overhead for the class is there either way. Note that if there is a vtable, there is only 1 per class, not one per object.

8.Does the speed get affected if the virtual function is actually overridden or not, or does this have no effect so long as it is virtual?

I don’t believe the execution time of a virtual function that is overridden decreases compared to calling the base virtual function. However, there is an additional space overhead for the class associated with defining another vtable for the derived class vs the base class.

9.Additional Resources:

http://www.codersource.net/published/view/325/virtual_functions_in.aspx (via way back machine)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_table
http://www.codesourcery.com/public/cxx-abi/abi.html#vtable

10.其他高票答案

10.1.第1个答案

  • Can the vtable be modified or even directly accessed at runtime?

Not portably, but if you don’t mind dirty tricks, sure!

WARNING: This technique is not recommended for use by children, adults under the age of 969, or small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. Side effects may include demons which fly out of your nose, the abrupt appearence of Yog-Sothoth as a required approver on all subsequent code reviews, or the retroactive addition of IHuman::PlayPiano() to all existing instances]

In most compiler’s I’ve seen, the vtbl * is the first 4 bytes of the object, and the vtbl contents are simply an array of member pointers there (generally in the order they were declared, with the base class’s first). There are of course other possible layouts, but that’s what I’ve generally observed.

class A {
  public:
  virtual int f1() = 0;
};
class B : public A {
  public:
  virtual int f1() { return 1; }
  virtual int f2() { return 2; }
};
class C : public A {
  public:
  virtual int f1() { return -1; }
  virtual int f2() { return -2; }
};

A *x = new B;
A *y = new C;
A *z = new C;

Now to pull some shenanigans…

Changing class at runtime:

std::swap(*(void **)x, *(void **)y);
// Now x is a C, and y is a B! Hope they used the same layout of members!

Replacing a method for all instances (monkeypatching a class)

This one’s a little trickier, since the vtbl itself is probably in read-only memory.

int f3(A*) { return 0; }

mprotect(*(void **)x,8,PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE|PROT_EXEC);
// Or VirtualProtect on win32; this part's very OS-specific
(*(int (***)(A *)x)[0] = f3;
// Now C::f1() returns 0 (remember we made x into a C above)
// so x->f1() and z->f1() both return 0

The latter is rather likely to make virus-checkers and the link wake up and take notice, due to the mprotect manipulations. In a process using the NX bit it may well fail.

10.2.第2个答案

11.Does having a single virtual function slow down the whole class?

Or only the call to the function that is virtual? And does the speed get affected if the virtual function is actually overwritten or not, or does this have no effect so long as it is virtual.

Having virtual functions slows down the whole class insofar as one more item of data has to be initialized, copied, … when dealing with an object of such a class. For a class with half a dozen members or so, the difference should be neglible. For a class which just contains a single char member, or no members at all, the difference might be notable.

Apart from that, it is important to note that not every call to a virtual function is a virtual function call. If you have an object of a known type, the compiler can emit code for a normal function invocation, and can even inline said function if it feels like it. It’s only when you do polymorphic calls, via a pointer or reference which might point at an object of the base class or at an object of some derived class, that you need the vtable indirection and pay for it in terms of performance.

struct Foo { virtual ~Foo(); virtual int a() { return 1; } };
struct Bar: public Foo { int a() { return 2; } };
void f(Foo& arg) {
  Foo x; x.a(); // non-virtual: always calls Foo::a()
  Bar y; y.a(); // non-virtual: always calls Bar::a()
  arg.a();      // virtual: must dispatch via vtable
  Foo z = arg;  // copy constructor Foo::Foo(const Foo&) will convert to Foo
  z.a();        // non-virtual Foo::a, since z is a Foo, even if arg was not
}

The steps the hardware has to take are essentially the same, no matter whether the function is overwritten or not. The address of the vtable is read from the object, the function pointer retrieved from the appropriate slot, and the function called by pointer. In terms of actual performance, branch predictions might have some impact. So for example, if most of your objects refer to the same implementation of a given virtual function, then there is some chance that the branch predictor will correctly predict which function to call even before the pointer has been retrieved. But it doesn’t matter which function is the common one: it could be most objects delegating to the non-overwritten base case, or most objects belonging to the same subclass and therefore delegating to the same overwritten case.

12.how are they implemented at a deep level?

I like the idea of jheriko to demonstrate this using a mock implementation. But I’d use C to implement something akin to the code above, so that the low level is more easily seen.

12.1.parent class Foo

typedef struct Foo_t Foo;   // forward declaration
struct slotsFoo {           // list all virtual functions of Foo
  const void *parentVtable; // (single) inheritance
  void (*destructor)(Foo*); // virtual destructor Foo::~Foo
  int (*a)(Foo*);           // virtual function Foo::a
};
struct Foo_t {                      // class Foo
  const struct slotsFoo* vtable;    // each instance points to vtable
};
void destructFoo(Foo* self) { }     // Foo::~Foo
int aFoo(Foo* self) { return 1; }   // Foo::a()
const struct slotsFoo vtableFoo = { // only one constant table
  0,                                // no parent class
  destructFoo,
  aFoo
};
void constructFoo(Foo* self) {      // Foo::Foo()
  self->vtable = &vtableFoo;        // object points to class vtable
}
void copyConstructFoo(Foo* self,
                      Foo* other) { // Foo::Foo(const Foo&)
  self->vtable = &vtableFoo;        // don't copy from other!
}

12.2.derived class Bar

typedef struct Bar_t {              // class Bar
  Foo base;                         // inherit all members of Foo
} Bar;
void destructBar(Bar* self) { }     // Bar::~Bar
int aBar(Bar* self) { return 2; }   // Bar::a()
const struct slotsFoo vtableBar = { // one more constant table
  &vtableFoo,                       // can dynamic_cast to Foo
  (void(*)(Foo*)) destructBar,      // must cast type to avoid errors
  (int(*)(Foo*)) aBar
};
void constructBar(Bar* self) {      // Bar::Bar()
  self->base.vtable = &vtableBar;   // point to Bar vtable
}

12.3.function f performing virtual function call

void f(Foo* arg) {                  // same functionality as above
  Foo x; constructFoo(&x); aFoo(&x);
  Bar y; constructBar(&y); aBar(&y);
  arg->vtable->a(arg);              // virtual function call
  Foo z; copyConstructFoo(&z, arg);
  aFoo(&z);
  destructFoo(&z);
  destructBar(&y);
  destructFoo(&x);
}

So you can see, a vtable is just a static block in memory, mostly containing function pointers. Every object of a polymorphic class will point to the vtable corresponding to its dynamic type. This also makes the connection between RTTI and virtual functions clearer: you can check what type a class is simply by looking at what vtable it points at. The above is simplified in many ways, like e.g. multiple inheritance, but the general concept is sound.

If arg is of type Foo* and you take arg->vtable, but is actually an object of type Bar, then you still get the correct address of the vtable. That’s because the vtable is always the first element at the address of the object, no matter whether it’s called vtable or base.vtable in a correctly-typed expression.

12.4.第3个答案

Each object has a vtable pointer that points to an array of member functions.

12.5.第4个答案

This answer has been incorporated into the Community Wiki answer

  • Do abstract classes simply have a NULL for the function pointer of at least one entry?

The answer for that is that it is unspecified – calling the pure virtual function results in undefined behavior if it is not defined (which it usually isn’t) (ISO/IEC 14882:2003 10.4-2). Some implementations do simply place a NULL pointer in the vtable entry; other implementations place a pointer to a dummy method that does something similar to an assertion.

Note that an abstract class can define an implementation for a pure virtual function, but that function can only be called with a qualified-id syntax (ie., fully specifying the class in the method name, similar to calling a base class method from a derived class). This is done to provide an easy to use default implementation, while still requiring that a derived class provide an override.

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