CS253: Software Development with C++

Spring 2018

Operator Functions

See this page as a slide show

CS253 Operator Functions

The List

Yes, = is an operator, just like + is. Sure, = usually alters its left operand, whereas + doesn’t, but C++ doesn’t care about that.

What can’t you do?

You cannot:

Spell it out

    Fraction a, b;
    a = 1.2 + b;

Use previous work

If you have a class that represents a number, e.g., class Fraction, you should define these methods:

The smart programmer will have operator+= do the real work, have operator+ and preincrement call it, and have postincrement call preincrement.

More re-use

For that matter, define operator-= in terms of operator+= (if negation is cheap for your class). Then, as before, you can have operator- and predecrement call operator-=, and have postdecrement call predecrement.


When possible, implement operator overloading as methods (as part of the class). When the method is called, the left operand is *this, and the right operand is the argument.

    Fraction a, b; a += b;

That will call c.operator+=(b).

    Fraction a, b, c
    a = b - c;

That will call a.operator=(b.operator-(c)).

Non-member functions

Sometimes, you can’t use a method:

    Fraction a, b;
    a = 1.2 + b;

If operator+ were a method, it would have to be a method of double. That wouldn’t work, so it must be a non-member function, a free function:

    Fraction operator+(double, const Fraction &);

Of course, you still need the method that handles Fraction+double. Function overloading is your friend.


Java doesn’t allow operator overloading, supposedly because it’s too confusing. There is something to be said for that.

Resist the urge to redefine every 💣⸸꩜※🕱 operator possible. Only define those that:

Example of abuse

A misguided programmer might define a-b, where a and b are strings, to mean “return a, except remove all the characters that are also in b”.

string operator-(string a, const string &b) {
    size_t pos;
    while ((pos = a.find_first_of(b)) != string::npos)
        a.erase(pos, 1);
    return a;

int main() {
    const string name = "Jane Fonda";
    cout << name-"aeiou" << '\n';
Jn Fnd

Dubious. Call it remove_chars(), instead.

User: Guest

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Modified: 2018-04-24T16:55

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