6.1 Class definitions

The prototype declaration of a class is as follows:

Class types

--class type--|class forward definition-----------------------------------
            ----class definition-----

--class forward definition-class--------------------------------------

--class definition-|---------class -|--------|------------------------
               -packed--       -heritage- -|component list--end --

--heritage -(- class type identifier|---------------------)------------
                             - implemented interfaces-

--implemented interfaces--, -interface identifier-------------------------

 --            ------------------|-----------------
   component list -visibility specifier--||--field definition ---|
   ------const declaration part------|
    | |---type declaration part----| |
    | |--variable declaration part--| |
    | |class variable declaration part| |
    | |----method definition-----| |
    | -----property definition------ |

--class variable declaration part class variable declaration part-------------

--field definition- identifier list- :- type- ;--|--------------------------

 --              ------------            ---- --
   method definition - class -| -pfruoncctediounreh heaedaedrer --|;
                           -constructor header-|
                           -desctuctor header-|
   ---| virtual----|------------- ;--|-call modifiers-;--|
    | -dynamic -- -;- abstract --|
    |---------override ---------|
    -message -|integer constant--
              --string constant---

--class visibility specifier--|--------|-private-------------------------
                     |-strict-- -protected-- |
                     -------published -------

Remark: In MacPas mode, the Object keyword is replaced by the class keyword for compatibility with other pascal compilers available on the Mac. That means that in MacPas mode, the reserved word ’class’ in the above diagram may be replaced by the reserved word ’object’.

In a class declaration, as many private, protected, published and public blocks as needed can be used: the various blocks can be repeated, and there is no special order in which they must appear.

Methods are normal function or procedure declarations. As can be seen, the declaration of a class is almost identical to the declaration of an object. The real difference between objects and classes is in the way they are created (see further in this chapter).

The visibility of the different sections is as follows:

All fields and methods that are in a private block, can only be accessed in the module (i.e. unit) that contains the class definition. They can be accessed from inside the classes’ methods or from outside them (e.g. from other classes’ methods)
Strict Private 
All fields and methods that are in a strict private block, can only be accessed from methods of the class itself. Other classes or descendent classes (even in the same unit) cannot access strict private members.
Is the same as Private, except that the members of a Protected section are also accessible to descendent types, even if they are implemented in other modules.
Strict Protected 
Is the same as Protected, except that the members of a Protected section are also accessible to other classes implemented in the same unit. Strict protected members are only visible to descendent classes, not to other classes in the same unit.
sections are always accessible.
From a language perspective, this is the same as a Public section, but the compiler generates also type information that is needed for automatic streaming of these classes if the compiler is in the {$M+} state. Fields defined in a published section must be of class type. Array properties cannot be in a published section.

In the syntax diagram, it can be seen that a class can list implemented interfaces. This feature will be discussed in the next chapter.

Classes can contain Class methods: these are functions that do not require an instance. The Self identifier is valid in such methods, but refers to the class pointer (the VMT).

Remark: Like with functions and pointer types, sometimes a forward definition of a class is needed. A class forward definition is simply the name of the class, with the keyword Class, as in the following example:

  TClassB = Class;  
  TClassA = Class  
    B : TClassB;  
  TClassB = Class  
   A : TClassA;  

When using a class forward definition, the class must be defined in the same unit, in the same section (interface/implementation). It must not necessarily be defined in the same type section.

It is also possible to define class reference types:

Class reference type

--       -       -----------------------------------------------
  class of classtype

Class reference types are used to create instances of a certain class, which is not yet known at compile time, but which is specified at run time. Essentially, a variable of a class reference type contains a pointer to the definition of the speficied class. This can be used to construct an instance of the class corresponding to the definition, or to check inheritance. The following example shows how it works:

  TComponentClass = Class of TComponent;  
Function CreateComponent(AClass: TComponentClass;  
                         AOwner: TComponent): TComponent;  
  // ...  
  // ...  

This function can be passed a class reference of any class that descends from TComponent. The following is a valid call:

  C : TComponent;  

On return of the CreateComponent function, C will contain an instance of the class TEdit. Note that the following call will fail to compile:

  C : TComponent;  

because TStream does not descend from TComponent, and AClass refers to a TComponent class. The compiler can (and will) check this at compile time, and will produce an error.

References to classes can also be used to check inheritance:

  TMinClass = Class of TMyClass;  
  TMaxClass = Class of TMyClassChild;  
Function CheckObjectBetween(Instance : TObject) : boolean;  
  If not (Instance is TMinClass)  
     or ((Instance is TMaxClass)  
          and (Instance.ClassType<>TMaxClass)) then  
    Raise Exception.Create(SomeError)  

The above example will raise an exception if the passed instance is not a descendent of TMinClass or a descendent of TMaxClass.

More about instantiating a class can be found in section 6.3, page 294.