Thursday, March 19, 2009

Delphi interfaces and implementation

One of the things that makes Delphi unique is the division of all source code files ("unit"s) into several sections: interface, implementation, initialization and finalization.

Everything that other units need to know, is put into the interface section at the top. This reduces the time it takes to understand how to use a file significantly - you don't have to scroll through implementation details. The interface section contains const, function declarations and types, but no statements. Class members are declared, but methods are not implemented here.

The implementation section contains the implementation of all the items from the interface section. The initialization section contains statements that should be run before the application starts, which are local to this unit, and the finalization section can clean up resources in a similar way.

Delphi's compiler contains many neat features to enable faster compilation. For instance, a change in the implementation section, or a change of a typed const in the interface section, will not enforce recompilation of other source code files. Only significant changes in the interface section will make other parts of the source code recompile.

You can benefit a lot from these sections, if you manage to keep the interface section small, making sure that it has few lines of code. If a file has one function, and nothing else, in its interface section, it is much easier to use than if you have a huge class type with lots of private and protected members in the interface section. Unfortunately, this also means that the full benefits are not achieved if you do OOP the traditional way. Sometimes, it even makes sense to write a small unit, which has a very simple interface section, but where all implementation is about making calls to another unit that has a very difficult interface section.


unit SimpleApi;


function CalculateSomething (parameter:string):string;


SysUtils, ComplexApi; // Which other source files are used/linked

function CalculateSomething (parameter:string):string;
Result:=object.CalculateSomething (parameter);
FreeAndNil (object);

// This is where you could write code to initialize
// something for this unit at application start

// This is where you could write code to clean up stuff
// after the application has stopped running


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