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34.1 Creating a Class

We use in the following text a polynomial class to demonstrate the use of object oriented programming within Octave. This class was chosen as it is simple, and so doesn’t distract unnecessarily from the discussion of the programming features of Octave. However, even still a small understand of the polynomial class itself is necessary to fully grasp the techniques described.

The polynomial class is used to represent polynomials of the form

a0 + a1 * x + a2 * x^2 + … + an * x^n

where a0, a1, etc. are real scalars. Thus the polynomial can be represented by a vector

a = [a0, a1, a2, …, an];

We therefore now have sufficient information about the requirements of the class constructor for our polynomial class to write it. All object oriented classes in Octave, must be contained with a directory taking the name of the class, prepended with the @ symbol. For example, with our polynomial class, we would place the methods defining the class in the @polynomial directory.

The constructor of the class, must have the name of the class itself and so in our example the constructor with have the name @polynomial/polynomial.m. Also ideally when the constructor is called with no arguments to should return a value object. So for example our polynomial might look like

## -*- texinfo -*-
## @deftypefn  {Function File} {} polynomial ()
## @deftypefnx {Function File} {} polynomial (@var{a})
## Create a polynomial object representing the polynomial
##
## @example
## a0 + a1 * x + a2 * x^2 + @dots{} + an * x^n
## @end example
##
## @noindent
## from a vector of coefficients [a0 a1 a2 @dots{} an].
## @end deftypefn

function p = polynomial (a)
  if (nargin == 0)
    p.poly = [0];
    p = class (p, "polynomial");
  elseif (nargin == 1)
    if (strcmp (class (a), "polynomial"))
      p = a;
    elseif (isvector (a) && isreal (a))
      p.poly = a(:).';
      p = class (p, "polynomial");
    else
      error ("polynomial: expecting real vector");
    endif
  else
    print_usage ();
  endif
endfunction

Note that the return value of the constructor must be the output of the class function called with the first argument being a structure and the second argument being the class name. An example of the call to this constructor function is then

p = polynomial ([1, 0, 1]);

Note that methods of a class can be documented. The help for the constructor itself can be obtained with the constructor name, that is for the polynomial constructor help polynomial will return the help string. Also the help can be obtained by restricting the search for the help to a particular class, for example help @polynomial/polynomial. This second method is the only means of getting help for the overloaded methods and functions of the class.

The same is true for other Octave functions that take a function name as an argument. For example type @polynomial/display will print the code of the display method of the polynomial class to the screen, and dbstop @polynomial/display will set a breakpoint at the first executable line of the display method of the polynomial class.

To check where a variable is a user class, the isobject and isa functions can be used. For example:

p = polynomial ([1, 0, 1]);
isobject (p)
  ⇒ 1
isa (p, "polynomial")
  ⇒ 1
Built-in Function: isobject (x)

Return true if x is a class object.

See also: class, typeinfo, isa, ismethod.

The available methods of a class can be displayed with the methods function.

Function File: methods (obj)
Function File: methods ("classname")
Function File: mtds = methods (…)

Return a cell array containing the names of the methods for the object obj or the named class classname. obj may be an Octave class object or a Java object.

See also: fieldnames.

To inquire whether a particular method is available to a user class, the ismethod function can be used.

Built-in Function: ismethod (x, method)

Return true if x is a class object and the string method is a method of this class.

See also: isobject.

For example:

p = polynomial ([1, 0, 1]);
ismethod (p, "roots")
  ⇒ 1

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