How are objects organized in memory?

For instance, I know that a function is a piece of code in memory, that expects parameters via the stack and/or the registers and handles it's own stack frame.

But objects are a much more complicated structure. How are they organized? Does each object have "links" to methods and passes address to itself to that method?

It would be great to see a good explanation of this topic.

UPD. I made the question more exact, and I'm mainly interested in statically typing languages.

  • 4
    It can vary wildly between different languages, especially between dynamically typed and statically typed languages. Can you narrow your question down to the OO languages you are most interested in? Jul 16, 2014 at 8:24
  • I've updated the question, so I think dynamically typed languages are harder to understand. Jul 16, 2014 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


If there is no dynamic dispatch (polymorphism), "methods" are just sugary functions, perhaps with an implicit additional parameter. Accordingly, instances of classes with no polymorphic behavior are essentially C structs for the purpose of code generation.

For classical dynamic dispatch in a static type system, there is basically one predominant strategy: vtables. Every instance gets one additional pointer that refers to (a limited representation of) its type, most importantly the vtable: An array of function pointers, one per method. Since the the full set of methods for every type (in the inheritance chain) is known at compile time, one can assign consecutive indices (0..N for N methods) to the methods and invoke the methods by looking up the function pointer in the vtable using this index (again passing the instance reference as additional parameter).

For more dynamic class-based languages, typically classes themselves are first-class objects and each object instead has a reference to its class object. The class object, in turn, owns the methods in some language-dependent manner (in Ruby, methods are a core part of the object model, in Python they're just function objects with tiny wrappers around them). The classes typically store references to their superclass(es) as well, and delegate the search for inherited methods to those classes to aid metaprogramming which adds and alters methods.

There are many other systems that aren't based on classes, but they differ significantly, so I'll only pick out one interesting design alternative: When you can add new (sets of) methods to all types at will anywhere in the program (e.g. type classes in Haskell and traits in Rust), the full set of methods isn't known while compiling. To resolve this, one creates a vtable per trait and passes them around when the trait implementation is required. That is, code like this:

void needs_a_trait(SomeTrait &x) { x.method2(1); }
ConcreteType x = ...;

is compiled down to this:

functionpointer SomeTrait_ConcreteType_vtable[] = { &method1, &method2, ... };
void needs_a_trait(void *x, functionpointer vtable[]) { vtable[1](x, 1); }
ConcreteType x = ...;
needs_a_trait(x, SomeTrait_ConcreteType_vtable);

This also means the vtable information isn't embedded in the object. If you want references to an "instance of a trait" that will behave correctly when, for example, stored in data structures that contain many different types, one can create a fat pointer (instance_pointer, trait_vtable). This is actually a generalization of the above strategy.


This is answer in the sense of the proverb "if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, while if you teach him to fish you feed him for life" as your question is very broad

1. research open information sources

Google for "assembly object oriented programming" lists pretty many different relevant resources.

e.g. Object Oriented Programming in Assembly, Ethan J. Eldridge, December 15, 2011 came as 3rd link and looks good

2. learn from existing hand-written code

You can see how it works by studying source codes written with some popular assembly languages with OOP explicitly declared e.g.

3. learn from code patterns generated by compilers

You can see how it works by studying intermediate assembly language files produced by OOP compilers of your choice. Both C++ and FreePascal compilers can be configured so that you can see what the transcription of the high level OOP code into the assembly language code looks like

4. solve the puzzle with your common sense

Now it is quite too late as you already know the hints from other answers. But before the internet was so easy to search and before there were sites where you can get your answer without any effort within several hours for free from some volunteer who learned it the hard way, the only working method available for free to anyone was

Ask yourself: "how would I implement it?"

Very often after several days of the background-thinking process running in your mind and after throwing away several paper draft designs you would find that the solution you came up with is very similar to the solution other programmers came up with and already implemented

Now is my answer opinion based, does not directly answer OP's question and senior high-rep users can freely downvote me

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