Sample Question - Should I use nested classes in this case?

I am working on a collection of classes used for video playback and recording. I have one main class which acts like the public interface, with methods like play(), stop(), pause(), record()...etc. Then I have workhorse classes which do the video decoding and video encoding.

I just learned about the existence of nested classes in C++, and I'm curious to know what programmers think about using them. I'm a little wary and not really sure what the benefits/drawbacks are, but they seem (according to the book I'm reading) to be used in cases such as mine.

The book suggests that in a scenario like mine, a good solution would be to nest the workhorse classes inside the interface class, so there are no separate files for classes the client is not meant to use, and to avoid any possible naming conflicts? I don't know about these justifications. Nested classes are a new concept to me. Just want to see what programmers think about the issue.

Nirmal Minz, India
16 March 2012

5  Answer(s) About: Journal of Dharma

I would be a bit reluctant to use nested classes here. What if you created an abstract base class for a "multimedia driver" to handle the back-end stuff (workhorse), and a separate class for the front-end work? The front-end class could take a pointer/reference to an implemented driver class (for the appropriate media type and situation) and perform the abstract operations on the workhorse structure.

My philosophy would be to go ahead and make both structures accessible to the client in a polished way, just under the assumption they would be used in tandem.

I would reference something like a QTextDocument in Qt. You provide a direct interface to the bare metal data handling, but pass the authority along to an object like a QTextEdit to do the manipulation.

Sebastine Payyappilly, India
16 March 2012


You would use a nested class to create a (small) helper class that's required to implement the main class. Or for example, to define an interface (a class with abstract methods).

In this case, the main disadvantage of nested classes is that this makes it harder to re-use them. Perhaps you'd like to use your VideoDecoder class in another project. If you make it a nested class of VideoPlayer, you can't do this in an elegant way.

Instead, put the other classes in separate .h/.cpp files, which you can then use in your VideoPlayer class. The client of VideoPlayer now only needs to include the file that declares VideoPlayer, and still doesn't need to know about how you implemented it.

Thomas Jacobs, India
16 March 2012


One way of deciding whether or not to use nested classes is to think whether or not this class plays a supporting role or it's own part.

If it exists solely for the purpose of helping another class then I generally make it a nested class. There are a whole load of caveats to that, some of which seem contradictory but it all comes down to experience and gut-feeling.

Carl Olson, India
16 March 2012


One reason to avoid nested classes is if you ever intend to wrap the code with swig ( for use with other languages. Swig currently has problems with nested classes, so interfacing with libraries that expose any nested classes becomes a real pain.

Peter Tyler, India
16 March 2012



Administrator, India
3 April 2012

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