C++ has two notions of polymorphism, compile-time and runtime. Compile-time polymorphism (aka generic programming) is implemented in terms of templates, and allows the provision of code that can work on many different types of objects. On the other hand, runtime polymorphism involves the use of virtual member functions. Whereever generic programming can solve a task, it is preferred over runtime polymorphism, as virtual member functions introduce procedure call overhead, and inhibit optimisation. Furthermore, the use of a copyable, assignable and serialisable class like shared_ptr introduces additional overheads.

Nevertheless, there are situations that cannot be solve with compile-time polymorphism, for example a container containing objects of varying types. The smart, modern way to do runtime polymorphism is via a smart pointer, such as shared_ptr, found in TR1. To use shared_ptr in a DCAS fashion, your object heirarchy must implement the following interface (provided as an abstract base class PolyBase), and the PolyPackBase .

  template <class T>
  struct PolyBase: public PolyBaseMarker
    typedef T Type;
    virtual Type type() const=0;
    virtual PolyBase* clone() const=0;
    /// cloneT is more user friendly way of getting clone to return the
    /// correct type. Returns NULL if \a U is invalid
    template <class U> U* cloneT() const;
    virtual ~PolyBase() {}

  template <class T>
  struct PolyPackBase: virtual public PolyBase<T>
    virtual void pack(pack_t&, const string&) const=0;
    virtual void unpack(unpack_t&, const string&)=0;

Any type may be acceptable for the type identifier system, but needs to be orderable if using the Factory class. Typically, ints, enums or strings are used for the type class. A nice implementation is to use the typeName function to return a string representation of the type:

  string type() const {return typeName<T>();}

The create() method is a static factory method that allows you to create an object of the type specified. This is not part of the PolyBase interface, but needs to be provided by the base class of the object heirarchy. Its signature is

  static object* create(const Type&);

The Factory class may used for this purpose: If the base class of your class heirarchy is object, and you are using strings for your runtime type identifier, then declare a factory object as

Factory<object,string> factory;
static object* object::create(const string& n)
{return factory.create(n);}

The only other thing required is to register the type heirarchy. This is most conveniently and safely done at factory construction time, and indeed the Factory class requires you provide a custom default constructor, but type registration can happen at any time via the Factory::registerType<T>() method, which registers type T. The factory method requires that all objects in teh class heirarchy are default constructible, but other than that makes no assumptions other than it must have a type() method.

To assist in deriving classes from PolyBase, the Poly template is provided.

template <class This, class Base=object> struct Poly;
The first template argument This is the class you're currently defining, and Base is the base class you are deriving from, which may be object, or may be another class higher in the hierarchy. This provides an implementation of the clone method. For each of the serialisation descriptors, there is a similar template, so PolyPack, PolyXML and PolyJson.
template <class T, class Type>
struct PolyPack: virtual public PolyPackBase<Type>
  void pack(pack_t& x, const string& d) const;
  void unpack(unpack_t& x, const string& d);
These can be used in a “mixin” fashion by means of multiple inheritance, eg.

template <class T>
struct Object: 
  public Poly<T,object>, 
  public PolyPack<T,string>, 
  public PolyXML<T,string> 
  string type() const {return typeName<T>();}

One thing to be very careful of is your inheritance heirarchy. Multiple inheritance can easily cause a "no unique final overrider", because the implementations of the various virtual function come in from different classes that are mixed in. In the examples directory, are two different solutions to this problem - the first is providing a custom implementation template class, by manually copying the mixin definitions, and the second actually uses the mixin definitions through inheritance, but annotates each class with the base template after the class is defined. The two solutions are shown in UML in figure 3.

Figure 3: Diagram of the two different example polymorph implementations for a non-flat class heirarchy.