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James A. Freeman, David M. Skapura

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This question attempts to collect the few pearls among the dozens of bad C++ books that are published every year.

Unlike many other programming languages, which are often picked up on the go from tutorials found on the Internet, few are able to quickly pick up C++ without studying a well-written C++ book. It is way too big and complex for doing this. In fact, it is so big and complex, that there are very many very bad C++ books out there. And we are not talking about bad style, but things like sporting glaringly obvious factual errors and promoting abysmally bad programming styles.

Please edit the accepted answer to provide quality books and an approximate skill level — preferably after discussing your addition in the C++ chat room. (The regulars might mercilessly undo your work if they disagree with a recommendation.) Add a short blurb/description about each book that you have personally read/benefited from. Feel free to debate quality, headings, etc. Books that meet the criteria will be added to the list. Books that have reviews by the Association of C and C++ Users (ACCU) have links to the review.

Note: FAQs and other resources can be found in the C++ tag info and under . There is also a similar post for C: The Definitive C Book Guide and List


Introductory, no previous programming experience

  • Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++ (Bjarne Stroustrup) (updated for C++11/C++14) An introduction to programming using C++ by the creator of the language. A good read, that assumes no previous programming experience, but is not only for beginners.

Introductory, with previous programming experience

  • C++ Primer * (Stanley Lippman, Josée Lajoie, and Barbara E. Moo) (updated for C++11) Coming at 1k pages, this is a very thorough introduction into C++ that covers just about everything in the language in a very accessible format and in great detail. The fifth edition (released August 16, 2012) covers C++11. [Review]

  • A Tour of C++ (Bjarne Stroustrup) (EBOOK) The “tour” is a quick (about 180 pages and 14 chapters) tutorial overview of all of standard C++ (language and standard library, and using C++11) at a moderately high level for people who already know C++ or at least are experienced programmers. This book is an extended version of the material that constitutes Chapters 2-5 of The C++ Programming Language, 4th edition.

  • Accelerated C++ (Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo) This basically covers the same ground as the C++ Primer, but does so on a fourth of its space. This is largely because it does not attempt to be an introduction to programming, but an introduction to C++ for people who've previously programmed in some other language. It has a steeper learning curve, but, for those who can cope with this, it is a very compact introduction into the language. (Historically, it broke new ground by being the first beginner's book to use a modern approach at teaching the language.) [Review]

  • Thinking in C++ (Bruce Eckel) Two volumes; is a tutorial style free set of intro level books. Downloads: vol 1, vol 2. Unfortunately they’re marred by a number of trivial errors (e.g. maintaining that temporaries are automatically const), with no official errata list. A partial 3rd party errata list is available at (, but it’s apparently not maintained.

* Not to be confused with C++ Primer Plus (Stephen Prata), with a significantly less favorable review.

Best practices

  • Effective C++ (Scott Meyers) This was written with the aim of being the best second book C++ programmers should read, and it succeeded. Earlier editions were aimed at programmers coming from C, the third edition changes this and targets programmers coming from languages like Java. It presents ~50 easy-to-remember rules of thumb along with their rationale in a very accessible (and enjoyable) style. For C++11 and C++14 the examples and a few issues are outdated and Effective Modern C++ should be preferred. [Review]

  • Effective Modern C++ (Scott Meyers) This is basically the new version of Effective C++, aimed at C++ programmers making the transition from C++03 to C++11 and C++14.

  • Effective STL (Scott Meyers) This aims to do the same to the part of the standard library coming from the STL what Effective C++ did to the language as a whole: It presents rules of thumb along with their rationale. [Review]


  • More Effective C++ (Scott Meyers) Even more rules of thumb than Effective C++. Not as important as the ones in the first book, but still good to know.

  • Exceptional C++ (Herb Sutter) Presented as a set of puzzles, this has one of the best and thorough discussions of the proper resource management and exception safety in C++ through Resource Acquisition is Initialization (RAII) in addition to in-depth coverage of a variety of other topics including the pimpl idiom, name lookup, good class design, and the C++ memory model. [Review]

  • More Exceptional C++ (Herb Sutter) Covers additional exception safety topics not covered in Exceptional C++, in addition to discussion of effective object oriented programming in C++ and correct use of the STL. [Review]

  • Exceptional C++ Style (Herb Sutter) Discusses generic programming, optimization, and resource management; this book also has an excellent exposition of how to write modular code in C++ by using nonmember functions and the single responsibility principle. [Review]

  • C++ Coding Standards (Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu) “Coding standards” here doesn't mean “how many spaces should I indent my code?” This book contains 101 best practices, idioms, and common pitfalls that can help you to write correct, understandable, and efficient C++ code. [Review]

  • C++ Templates: The Complete Guide (David Vandevoorde and Nicolai M. Josuttis) This is the book about templates as they existed before C++11. It covers everything from the very basics to some of the most advanced template metaprogramming and explains every detail of how templates work (both conceptually and at how they are implemented) and discusses many common pitfalls. Has excellent summaries of the One Definition Rule (ODR) and overload resolution in the appendices. A second edition is scheduled for 2017. [Review]


  • Modern C++ Design (Andrei Alexandrescu) A groundbreaking book on advanced generic programming techniques. Introduces policy-based design, type lists, and fundamental generic programming idioms then explains how many useful design patterns (including small object allocators, functors, factories, visitors, and multimethods) can be implemented efficiently, modularly, and cleanly using generic programming. [Review]

  • C++ Template Metaprogramming (David Abrahams and Aleksey Gurtovoy)

  • C++ Concurrency In Action (Anthony Williams) A book covering C++11 concurrency support including the thread library, the atomics library, the C++ memory model, locks and mutexes, as well as issues of designing and debugging multithreaded applications.

  • Advanced C++ Metaprogramming (Davide Di Gennaro) A pre-C++11 manual of TMP techniques, focused more on practice than theory. There are a ton of snippets in this book, some of which are made obsolete by typetraits, but the techniques, are nonetheless useful to know. If you can put up with the quirky formatting/editing, it is easier to read than Alexandrescu, and arguably, more rewarding. For more experienced developers, there is a good chance that you may pick up something about a dark corner of C++ (a quirk) that usually only comes about through extensive experience.

Reference Style - All Levels

  • The C++ Programming Language (Bjarne Stroustrup) (updated for C++11) The classic introduction to C++ by its creator. Written to parallel the classic K&R, this indeed reads very much alike it and covers just about everything from the core language to the standard library, to programming paradigms to the language's philosophy. [Review]

  • C++ Standard Library Tutorial and Reference (Nicolai Josuttis) (updated for C++11) The introduction and reference for the C++ Standard Library. The second edition (released on April 9, 2012) covers C++11. [Review]

  • The C++ IO Streams and Locales (Angelika Langer and Klaus Kreft) There's very little to say about this book except that, if you want to know anything about streams and locales, then this is the one place to find definitive answers. [Review]

C++11/14 References:

  • The C++ Standard (INCITS/ISO/IEC 14882-2011) This, of course, is the final arbiter of all that is or isn't C++. Be aware, however, that it is intended purely as a reference for experienced users willing to devote considerable time and effort to its understanding. As usual, the first release was quite expensive ($300+ US), but it has now been released in electronic form for $60US.

  • The C++14 standard is available, but seemingly not in an economical form – directly from the ISO it costs 198 Swiss Francs (about $200 US). For most people, the final draft before standardization is more than adequate (and free). Many will prefer an even newer draft, documenting new features that are likely to be included in C++17.

  • Overview of the New C++ (C++11/14) (PDF only) (Scott Meyers) (updated for C++1y/C++14) These are the presentation materials (slides and some lecture notes) of a three-day training course offered by Scott Meyers, who's a highly respected author on C++. Even though the list of items is short, the quality is high.

  • The C++ Core Guidelines (C++11/14/17/…) (edited by Bjarne Stroustrup and Herb Sutter) is an evolving online document consisting of a set of guidelines for using modern C++ well. The guidelines are focused on relatively higher-level issues, such as interfaces, resource management, memory management and concurrency affecting application architecture and library design. The project was announced at CppCon'15 by Bjarne Stroustrup and others and welcomes contributions from the community. Most guidelines are supplemented with a rationale and examples as well as discussions of possible tool support. Many rules are designed specifically to be automatically checkable by static analysis tools.

  • The C++ Super-FAQ (Marshall Cline, Bjarne Stroustrup and others) is an effort by the Standard C++ Foundation to unify the C++ FAQs previously maintained individually by Marshall Cline and Bjarne Stroustrup and also incorporating new contributions. The items mostly address issues at an intermediate level and are often written with a humorous tone. Not all items might be fully up to date with the latest edition of the C++ standard yet.

  • (C++03/11/14/17/…) (initiated by Nate Kohl) is a wiki that summarizes the basic core-language features and has extensive documentation of the C++ standard library. The documentation is very precise but is easier to read than the official standard document and provides better navigation due to its wiki nature. The project documents all versions of the C++ standard and the site allows filtering the display for a specific version. The project was presented by Nate Kohl at CppCon'14.

Classics / Older

Note: Some information contained within these books may not be up-to-date or no longer considered best practice.

  • The Design and Evolution of C++ (Bjarne Stroustrup) If you want to know why the language is the way it is, this book is where you find answers. This covers everything before the standardization of C++.

  • Ruminations on C++ - (Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo) [Review]

  • Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms (James Coplien) A predecessor of the pattern movement, it describes many C++-specific “idioms”. It's certainly a very good book and might still be worth a read if you can spare the time, but quite old and not up-to-date with current C++.

  • Large Scale C++ Software Design (John Lakos) Lakos explains techniques to manage very big C++ software projects. Certainly a good read, if it only was up to date. It was written long before C++98, and misses on many features (e.g. namespaces) important for large scale projects. If you need to work in a big C++ software project, you might want to read it, although you need to take more than a grain of salt with it. The first volume of a new edition is expected in 2015.

  • Inside the C++ Object Model (Stanley Lippman) If you want to know how virtual member functions are commonly implemented and how base objects are commonly laid out in memory in a multi-inheritance scenario, and how all this affects performance, this is where you will find thorough discussions of such topics.

  • The Annotated C++ Reference Manual (Bjarne Stroustrup, Margaret A. Ellis) This book is quite outdated in the fact that it explores the 1989 C++ 2.0 version - Templates, exceptions, namespaces and new casts were not yet introduced. Saying that however this is book goes through the entire C++ standard of the time explaining the rationale, the possible implementations and features of the language. This is not a book not learn programming principles and patterns on C++, but to understand every aspect of the C++ language.


The PIMPL Idiom (Pointer to IMPLementation) is a technique for implementation hiding in which a public class wraps a structure or class that cannot be seen outside the library the public class is part of.

This hides internal implementation details and data from the user of the library.

When implementing this idiom why would you place the public methods on the pimpl class and not the public class since the public classes method implementations would be compiled into the library and the user only has the header file?

To illustrate, this code puts the Purr() implementation on the impl class and wraps it as well.

Why not implement Purr directly on the public class?

// header file:
class Cat {
        class CatImpl;  // Not defined here
        CatImpl *cat_;  // Handle

        Cat();            // Constructor
        ~Cat();           // Destructor
        // Other operations...

// CPP file:
#include "cat.h"

class Cat::CatImpl {
...     // The actual implementation can be anything

Cat::Cat() {
    cat_ = new CatImpl;

Cat::~Cat() {
    delete cat_;

Cat::Purr(){ cat_->Purr(); }

I think most people refer to this as the Handle Body idiom. See James Coplien's book Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms (Amazon link). It's also known as the Cheshire Cat because of Lewis Caroll's character that fades away until only the grin remains.

The example code should be distributed across two sets of source files. Then only Cat.h is the file that is shipped with the product.

CatImpl.h is included by Cat.cpp and CatImpl.cpp contains the implementation for CatImpl::Purr(). This won't be visible to the public using your product.

Basically the idea is to hide as much as possible of the implementation fom prying eyes. This is most useful where you have a commercial product that is shipped as a series of libraries that are accessed via an API that the customer's code is compiled against and linked to.

We did this with the rewrite of IONAs Orbix 3.3 product in 2000.

As mentioned by others, using his technique completely decouples the implementation from the interface of the object. Then you won't have to recompile everything that uses Cat if you just want to change the implementation of Purr().

This technique is used in a methodology called design by contract.

What are your favorite C++ coding style idioms? I'm asking about style or coding typography such as where you put curly braces, are there spaces after keywords, the size of indents, etc. This is opposed to best-practices or requirements such as always deleting arrays with delete[].

Here is an example of one of my favorites: In C++ Class initializers, we put the separators at the front of the line, rather than the back. This makes it easier to keep this up to date. It also means that source code control diffs between versions are cleaner.

TextFileProcessor( class ConstStringFinder& theConstStringFinder ) 

    : TextFileProcessor_Base( theConstStringFinder )

    , m_ThreadHandle  ( NULL )
    , m_startNLSearch (    0 )
    , m_endNLSearch   (    0 )
    , m_LineEndGetIdx (    0 )
    , m_LineEndPutIdx (    0 )
    , m_LineEnds      ( new const void*[ sc_LineEndSize ] )

Template and Hook

This is a way to handle as much as possible in a framework and give a door or hook for customization by users of a framework. Also known as Hotspot and Template Method.

class Class {
  void PrintInvoice();     // Called Template (boilerplate) which uses CalcRate()
  virtual void CalcRate() = 0;  // Called Hook

class SubClass : public Class {
  virtual void CalcRate();      // Customized method

Described by Wolfgang Pree in his book Design Patterns for Object-Oriented Software Development.

I'd suggest PIMPL or as James Coplien originally called it "Handle Body".

This idiom allows you to completely decouple interface from implementation. When working on the rewrite and re-release of a major CORBA middleware component, this idiom was used to completely decouple the API from the implementation.

This practically eliminated any possibility reverse engineering.

An excellent resource for C++ idioms is James Coplien's excellent book "Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms". Highly recommended!

Edit: As pointed out below by Neil, this book is quite out of date with many of his recommendations actually being incorporated into the C++ standard itself. However, I still find it to be a source of useful info, esp. in the form of his PLoP paper on C++ idioms where many idioms were recast into patterm form.

I see the word thrown around often, and I may have used it myself in code and libraries over time, but I never really got it. In most write-ups I came across, they just went on expecting you to figure it out.

What is a Class Factory? Can someone explain the concept?

Heres's a little additional information that may help better understand some of the other technically correct, but shorter answers.

In the strictest sense a Class Factory is a function or method that creates or selects a class and returns it, based on some condition determined from input parameters or global context. This is required when the type of object needed can't be determined until runtime. Implementation can be done directly when classes are themselves objects in the language being used, such as Python.

Since the primary use of any class is to create instances of itself, in languages such as C++ where classes are not objects that can be passed around and manipulated, a similar result can often be achieved by simulating "virtual constructors", where you call a base-class constructor but get back an instance of some derived class. This must be simulated because constructors can't really be virtual in C++, which is why such object—not class—factories are usually implemented as standalone functions or static methods.

Virtual functions are normally resolved "late" by the actual type of object referenced, but in the case of constructors, the object doesn't exist yet, so the type must be determined by some other means.

The best implementations are those that handle new candidate classes automatically when they are added rather than having only a certain finite set currently hardcoded into the factory (although the trade-off is often acceptable if the factory is the only place requiring modification).

James Coplien's 1991 book Advanced C++: Programming Styles and Idioms has details on one way to implement such virtual generic constructors in C++. There are even better ways to do this using C++ templates, but that was not covered in the book which predates their being added to the standard language definition. In fact, C++ templates themselves are class factories since they instantiate a new class whenever they're used with different actual type argument(s). Update: I located a 1998 paper he wrote for EuroPLoP '98 titled C++ Idioms where, among other things, he revises and regroups the idioms in his book into design-pattern form à la the 1994 Design Patterns: Elements of Re-Usable Object-Oriented Software book.

See also the related answers here for the question Class factory in Python. Also see Abstract Factory, Template Style which is a 2001 Dr. Dobb's article also about implementing them with C++ Templates.

For one reason or another, I'm forced to provide both a copy constructor and an operator= for my class. I thought I didn't need operator= if I defined a copy ctor, but QList wants one. Putting that aside, I hate code duplication, so is there anything wrong with doing it this way?

Fixture::Fixture(const Fixture& f) {
    *this = f;

Fixture& Fixture::operator=(const Fixture& f) {
    m_shape         = f.m_shape;
    m_friction      = f.m_friction;
    m_restitution   = f.m_restitution;
    m_density       = f.m_density;
    m_isSensor      = f.m_isSensor;
    return *this;

And just out of curiosity, there's no way to switch it so that the bulk of the code is in the copy ctor and operator= somehow utilizes it? I tried return Fixture(f); but it didn't like that.

It appears I need to make it more clear that the copy constructor and assignment operator have been implicitly disabled by the class I am inheriting from. Why? Because it's an abstract base class that shouldn't be instantiated on its own. This class, however, is meant to stand alone.

Yes, this is good practice and should (almost) always be done. In addition toss in a destructor and default constructor (even if you make it private).

In James Coplien's 1991 book Advanced C++, this is described as part of "Orthodox Canonical Form". In it, he advocates for a default constructor, a copy constructor, the assignment operator and a destructor.

In general, you must use the orthodox canonical form if:

  • You want to support assignment of object of the class, or want to pass those objects as call-by-value parameters to a function, and
  • The object contains pointers to objects that are reference-counted, or the class destructor performs a delete on a data member of the object.

You should use the orthodox canonical form for any nontrivial class in a program, for the sake of uniformity across classes and to manage the increasing complexity of each class over the course of program evolution.

Coplien offers pages of reasons for this pattern and I couldn't do them justice here. However, a key item that has already been touched on is the ability to clean up the object that is being overwritten.

In some C++ code, I use integers to store lots of changing data. To analyze my program, I want to log certain changes to some of the variables, such as how often a certain value is assigned to, and how often that assignment is redundant (the new value is the same as the old value.)

If the type were a class Foo, I'd just derive a new LoggingFoo and add my logging data to the member function(s) I was interested in, and then call the parent member function. I'd have to update my code to use the new type, but as long as I was originally consistent with typedefs, that's a one-line change.

My problem is that the variable I want to add logging to is an int. You can't derive from built in types in C++ (can you?)

My question is whether there's a clever way to derive from the basic types (int, float, double, etc).

The solution may be to define a new class that effectively is an int.. it defines every operation an int can do and just applies that operation to a private int data member. This strategy will work, but perhaps others have already made such a class and I can just use a "fakeint.h" header file definition. Is there such a "proxy native class wrapper" type definitions already available somewhere before I implement them myself?

I do realize of course my proxy int can't be used interchangably with an int especially since existing function definitions all expect an int.. but for my app, this is all in an inner loop which is doing lots of simple native +-*^= operations, not used as function arguments or anything.

You can't derive a class from int, but you should be able to make a class (e.g. Integer) that is interchangeable with int by implementing Coplein's Concrete Data Type idiom from Advanced C++: Programming Styles and Idioms and then by overloading the type cast operator from Integer to int and defining a conversion operator from int to Integer.

here is another link that describes the basic Idioms from the book

and yet another link that I think is pretty close to what you are looking for

What is good book for industry level C++ programming? I am not looking for a beginners C++ book that talks about datatypes and control structures. I am looking for a more advanced book. For example, how to build system applications using C++. Any kind of guidance will be very helpful.

If you're looking for books on refining your craft in C++ as a language, you don't get much better than Scott Meyers' Effective C++ and More Effective C++ and Herb Sutter's Exceptional C++, More Exceptional C++ and Exceptional C++ Style. All are packed with invaluable information on bringing your facility with the language from the intermediate to the advanced level.

System-level programming is specific to operating system, so the books diverge based on your platform. Ones I've found very helpful (albeit not C++ specific) are: Windows System Programming, by Johnson M. Hart, Advanced Windows Debugging, by Mario Hewardt and Daniel Pravat, and Linux System Programming, by Robert Love.

All of these books (as well as Peter Alexander's excellent suggestion of Modern C++ Design) are available on O'Reilly's Safari service, which is a pretty cost-effective way of doing a lot of technical reading on the cheap and well worth checking out if you're considering going on a studying binge.

Lakos' Large Scale C++ Software Design is quite a good intermediate-advanced level book about C++ software architecture. It's a little out of date - predating widespread use of templates for example - but it is quite a good book on the subject.

Lakos worked for Mentor Graphics in the 1980s when first generation workstations were the technology du jour. This was an era when the difference in performance and memory footprint between C and C++ apps was regarded as significant. This 'old school' approach discusses efficient C++ systems architecture in some depth, which is a bit of a unique selling point for this book.

These are the best two books I have seen and read

Advanced C++ Programing Styles and Idioms

C++ Common Knowledge

Modern C++ Design by Andrei Alexandrescu is probably the most advanced C++ book out there. It's more about very advanced design patterns rather than building software.

I'm interested in the nuts and boltw of C++ and I wondered what actually changes when an object is instantiated. I'm particularly interested if the functions are then added to memory, if they are there from runtime or if they are never stored in memory at all.

If anyone could direct me to a good site on some of the core bolts of C and C++, I'd love that too.

Thanks, Jo

When an object is instantiated;

  1. Memory is allocated
  2. The constructor is executed
  3. The vtable is "set up"

Number 3 is the reason why constructors cannot call virtual functions in derived classes (when the constructor is executed the vtable is not yet "set up").

You can get the same effect using a letter/envelope idiom. See Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms for this and more.

What is the best way to vary what class is instantiated based off parameters to an initialization function in Python? For example, for a quadtree, if the number of elements is below a certain threshold, you want to return a leaf rather than a branch. Another example would be a graph which can either be backed by a adjacency matrix or list depending on what data it is initialized with.

The most obvious way I can think to do this is with a factory function that determines which subclass of the class in question should be initialized. Is there a better, more pythonic way of going about this?

In one particularly tricky instance of this problem, I had a data structure that could be backed by any kind of sequence or dict type. The backing/subclass used depended on the type of the data that it was fed. In a statically typed language, I could simply have used function overloading, but in Python I was left to either explicitly call isinstance, or use a bunch of "try...catch AttributeError"s. Both of these seem like quite bad practice. Using the factory function solution above, I don't see a clean way to do it though. (I realize this is sort of a different issue, but it is a big case that got me trying to figure this out.)

In his Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms book, James Coplien discusses how to simulate virtual constructors in C++ (pdf version). They have to be simulated because the language doesn't support them natively. This is where a call to a base class constructor results in a pointer to a subclass object being returned depending on the arguments passed (of course this only happens when you dynamically allocate and create an object using C++'s new operator).

I've found it possible to implement many of the concepts presented in Python, especially since, unlike in C++, classes are first class objects in Python and it has metaclasses.

Essentially the base class constructor becomes a factory function, and as in any factory function, it takes extra effort to make them the sense that they don't have to know about every possible subclass that might be derived later. While some limitations exist with this approach, many useful applications are possible (and yours sounds like it might be one of them to me).