When should your destructor be virtual? [duplicate]

  1. You need virtual destructor when at
    least one of class methods is

This is because the reason for virtual method is that you want to use polymorphism. Meaning you will call a method on the base class pointer and you want the most derived implementation – this is the whole point of polymorphism.

Now if you did not have virtual destructor and through the pointer to base class you call destructor you end up calling base class destructor. In this case you want polymorphism to work on your destructor as well, e.g. through calling destructor on your base class you want to end up calling destructor of your most derived class not your base class.

class A
   virtual void f() {}
   ~A() {}

class B : public A
   void f() {}
   ~B() {}

A * thing = new B();
thing->f(); // calls B's f()
delete thing; // calls ~A(), not what you wanted, you wanted ~B()

having ~A() virtual turns on polymorphism

virtual ~A() {}

So when you now call

delete thing;

~B() will be called.

You would declare virtual destructors when you design class as an interface e.g. you expect it to be extended or implemented. A good practice in that case is to have a interface class (in the sense of Java interfaces) with virtual methods and virtual destructor and then have concrete implementation classes.

You can see that STL classes don’t have virtual destructors so they are not supposed to be extended (e.g. std::vector, std::string …). If you extend std::vector and you call destructor on base class via pointer or reference you will definitely not call your specialized class destructor which may lead to memory leaks.

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