I have always wondered why we code

virtual void MyFunction() = 0; 

and not

pure virtual void MyFunction();

Is there a reference for the basis of this decision?

  • 2
    No opinions? Ok then. Because that's how the C++ language is defined.
    – gnasher729
    May 20, 2015 at 15:20
  • 4
    Note that a "pure" function often means something unrelated. May 20, 2015 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


From The Design and Evolution of C++ - Bjarne Stroustrup - Addison-Wesley (ISBN 0-201-54330-3) - chapter 13.2.3:

The curious = 0 syntax was chosen over the obvious alternative of introducing a new keyword pure or abstract because at the time I saw no chance of getting a new keyword accepted. Had I suggested pure, Release 2.0 would have shipped without abstract classes. Given a choice between a nicer syntax and abstract classes, I chose abstract classes. Rather than risking delay and incurring the certain fights over pure, I used the tradition C and C++ convention of using 0 to represent not there.

Anyway looking at the C++ standard (§ 9.2 - Class members) = 0 is called pure-specifier.

  • 11
    that's cool. Reminds me of why PHP has so many different ugly function names: because the first interpreter used strlen as hash function and distribution should be good (i-programmer.info/news/98-languages/…)
    – Aitch
    May 20, 2015 at 9:21
  • 10
    The introduction of context-sensitive keywords in C++11 has reduces the damage that adding keywords causes. It should be possible to make pure a contextual keyword you put at the end of a function definition, so virtual void MyFunction() pure instead of = 0, to go along with final and override.
    – Yakk
    May 20, 2015 at 13:56
  • 23
    As an aside, nearly everywhere a "pure function" is understood to be a function whose output only depends on its input, and which has no side-effects. May 20, 2015 at 15:33
  • 2
    Pretty much any question of "why does C++ do X?" can be answered by that book. It should be required reading for any serious C++ programmer.
    – user53141
    May 20, 2015 at 15:39
  • 4
    @Random832 it's "pure virtual" (as in "100% virtual and 0% anything else"), not just "pure". May 20, 2015 at 19:36

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