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Special member functions

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In the C++ programming language, special member functions[1] are functions which the compiler will automatically generate if they are used, but not declared explicitly by the programmer. The automatically generated special member functions are:

If a destructor is declared generation of a copy constructor is deprecated (C++11, proposal N3242[2]).
  • Move constructor if no copy constructor, copy assignment operator, move assignment operator and destructor are explicitly declared.
  • Copy assignment operator if no move constructor and move assignment operator are explicitly declared.
If a destructor is declared, generation of a copy assignment operator is deprecated.

In these cases the compiler generated versions of these functions perform a memberwise operation. For example, the compiler generated destructor will destroy each sub-object (base class or member) of the object.

The compiler generated functions will be public, non-virtual[3] and the copy constructor and assignment operators will receive const& parameters (and not be of the alternative legal forms).[4]


The following example depicts two classes: Explicit for which all special member functions are explicitly declared and Implicit for which none are declared.

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include <utility>

class Explicit {
  Explicit() { std::cout << "Default constructor " << message_ << '\n'; }

  explicit Explicit(std::string message) : message_(std::move(message)) {
    std::cout << "Non-default constructor " << message_ << '\n';

  Explicit(const Explicit& other) {
    std::cout << "Copy constructor " << message_ << '\n';
    *this = other;  // invoke copy assignment operator

  Explicit& operator=(const Explicit& other) {
    std::cout << "Copy assignment operator " << message_ << '\n';
    if (this != &other) {
      message_ = other.message_;
    return *this;

  Explicit(Explicit&& other) noexcept {
    std::cout << "Move constructor " << message_ << '\n';
    *this = std::move(other);  // invoke move assignment operator

  Explicit& operator=(Explicit&& other) noexcept {
    std::cout << "Move assignment operator " << message_ << '\n';
    if (this != &other) {
      message_ = std::move(other.message_);
    return *this;

  ~Explicit() { std::cout << "Destructor " << message_ << '\n'; }

  friend class Implicit;
  std::string message_;

class Implicit : public Explicit {
  void Spew() {
    std::cout << "Implicit(" << message_ << ", " << member_.message_ << ")\n";

  Explicit member_;


Here are the signatures of the special member functions:

Function syntax for class MyClass
Default constructor MyClass();
Copy constructor MyClass(const MyClass& other);
Move constructor MyClass(MyClass&& other) noexcept;
Copy assignment operator MyClass& operator=(const MyClass& other);
Move assignment operator MyClass& operator=(MyClass&& other) noexcept;
Destructor virtual ~MyClass();


In C++03 before the introduction of move semantics (in C++11) the special member functions[5] were:


  1. ^ ISO/IEC (2011). ISO/IEC 14882:2011 (3 ed.). ISO/IEC. pp. §12.
  2. ^ "Enforcing the Rule of Zero".
  3. ^ Except for the destructor if a base class already has a virtual destructor.
  4. ^ Similarly, the move constructor/assignment operators will receive && parameters instead of the alternatives.
  5. ^ ISO/IEC (1998). International Standard ISO/IEC 14882: Programming languages—C++ = Languages de programmation—C++ (1 ed.). ISO/IEC. pp. §12. OCLC 71718919.