Why is the size of an empty class not zero in C++?

Predict the output of following program?

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#include<iostream>
using namespace std;
  
class Empty {};
  
int main()
{
  cout << sizeof(Empty);
  return 0;
}

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Output:

1

Size of an empty class is not zero. It is 1 byte generally. It is nonzero to ensure that the two different objects will have different addresses. See the following example.

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#include<iostream>
using namespace std;
  
class Empty { };
  
int main()
{
    Empty a, b;
  
    if (&a == &b)
      cout << "impossible " << endl;
    else
      cout << "Fine " << endl;
  
   return 0;
}

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Output:

Fine

For the same reason (different objects should have different addresses), “new” always returns pointers to distinct objects. See the following example.



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#include<iostream>
using namespace std;
  
class Empty { };
  
int main()
{
    Empty* p1 = new Empty;
    Empty* p2 = new Empty;
  
    if (p1 == p2)
        cout << "impossible " << endl;
    else
        cout << "Fine " << endl;
  
    return 0;
}

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Output:

Fine

Now guess the output of following program (This is tricky)

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#include<iostream>
using namespace std;
  
class Empty { };
  
class Derived: Empty { int a; };
  
int main()
{
    cout << sizeof(Derived);
    return 0;
}

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Output (with GCC compiler. See this):

4 

Note that the output is not greater than 4. There is an interesting rule that says that an empty base class need not be represented by a separate byte. So compilers are free to make optimization in case of empty base classes. As an excercise, try the following program on your compiler.

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// Thanks to Venki for suggesting this code.
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
   
class Empty
{};
   
class Derived1 : public Empty
{};
   
class Derived2 : virtual public Empty
{};
   
class Derived3 : public Empty
{    
    char c;
};
   
class Derived4 : virtual public Empty
{
    char c;
};
   
class Dummy
{
    char c;
};
   
int main()
{
    cout << "sizeof(Empty) " << sizeof(Empty) << endl;
    cout << "sizeof(Derived1) " << sizeof(Derived1) << endl;
    cout << "sizeof(Derived2) " << sizeof(Derived2) << endl;
    cout << "sizeof(Derived3) " << sizeof(Derived3) << endl;
    cout << "sizeof(Derived4) " << sizeof(Derived4) << endl;    
    cout << "sizeof(Dummy) " << sizeof(Dummy) << endl;
   
    return 0;
}

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Source:
http://www2.research.att.com/~bs/bs_faq2.html

Please write comments if you find anything incorrect, or you want to share more information about the topic discussed above.

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