A very convenient tecnique in c++ programming is the one known with many names: "d-pointer" (found in Qt/KDE contexts), shadow pointer, "pimpl", opaque pointer. Basically the idea is to hide all the private details of a class in a forward declared private pointer, which will be the only real private member of the class. Since this member will never change, this will guarantee binary compatibility among different versions of a library.

But there are other advantages in using d-pointers: one is compilation speedup during development (usually if you change a private member of a class, the header changes, and you have to recomplile all units using that header, while with d-pointer you change only the .cpp file), and another is code cleanup: you will have very compact header files, describing your class public interface without private stuff pollution. Also, sometimes you may want to add your d-pointer definition in a separate header file, ending up with three well defined files:

  • myclass.h: class declaration, only public stuff, without private stuff
  • myclass_p.hpp: private class declaration: only private stuff, no implementations
  • myclass.cpp: only implementations

The classical approach is to create a plain raw pointer to a forward declared class, initialize it in the constructor, and delete it on the destructor. A nice addition is to have the private class be a nested type, so that you can avoid polluting your IDE class list.

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