How many times have you needed to initialize something related to a specific class? What if your class is using the singleton pattern and you need to create that single instance? How about registering the class with a “class-factory?” Prior to Delphi 2010, there were several options available to you, none of which were really in keeping with the OOP notion of encapsulation. You could put all the code into the initialization section of the unit in which the class lived, add a regular class method and call it explicitly, or manually integrate the init code into your application’s startup. By moving all this code into a class constructor, the mere act of “touching” the class will cause the class constructor to run in keeping with the above rules.
Better control over smart-linking
Loosely coupled with improved encapsulation is the notion that by moving any initialization code into the class constructor you have a little more control over what code is linked into your application. You can now take advantage of the fact that as long as the class type isn’t referenced referenced anywhere in your code, none of the code related to the class type is linked in, including the VMT, virtual methods, RTTI, etc.. If you had placed this init code into the initialization section of its containing unit, then at least the VMT, virtual methods and RTTI would have been linked into your application. Even though none of your code references it. The new enhanced RTTI throws an interesting wrinkle to this theory, but that will have to be covered later.
Better language compatibility with Delphi Prism
As Delphi Prism gains popularity, more people will need to maintain some of their code in a manner that they can compile with either compiler. There are still many language constructors that both compilers have that the other doesn’t, but this is a continuing effort to close that gap where it makes sense. Expect to see more work in this area, in both compilers.
In my next post, we’ll “pop the hood” (or bonnet, for our good friends across the pond) and take a peek at how they work and exactly when they are invoked. I will say that many people tend to read way, way too much into this simple statement describing when a class constructor is invoked; “Called automatically to initialize the class before the first instance is created or any static members are referenced.” The only temporal reference in that statement is “…before…”. I will leave you to consider the implications of that word, lest many of you begin to talk about “threading issues” and “code-bloat.” Class constructors and destructors are to classes as initialization and finalization are to units.