A customer encountered the following problem:

class Shape
{
public:
    virtual bool Is2D() { return false; }
};

class Shape2D : public Shape
{
public:
    virtual bool Is2D() { return true; }
};

Shape *FindShape(Cookie cookie);

void BuyPaint(Cookie cookie)
{
    Shape2D *shape = static_cast<Shape2D *>(FindShape(cookie));
    if (shape->Is2D()) {
       .. do all sorts of stuff ...
    }
}

The Buy­Paint function converts the cookie back to a Shape object, and then checks if the object is a Shape2D object by calling Is­2D. If so, then it does some more stuff to figure out what type of paint to buy.

(Note to nitpickers: The actual scenario was not like this, but I presented it this way to illustrate the point. If you say "You should've used RTTI" or "You should've had a BuyPaint method on the Shape class", then you're missing the point.)

The programmers figured they'd save some typing by casting the result of Find­Shape to a Shape2D right away, because after all, since Is­2D is a virtual method, it will call the right version of the function, either Shape::Is­2D or Shape2D::Is­2D, depending on the actual type of the underlying object.

But when compiler optimizations were turned on, they discovered that the call to Is­2D was optimized away, and the Buy­Paint function merely assumed that it was always operating on a Shape2D object. It then ended up trying to buy paint even for one-dimensional objects like points and lines.

Compiler optimization bug? Nope. Code bug due to reliance on undefined behavior.

The C++ language says (9.3.1) "If a nonstatic member function of a class X is called for an object that is not of type X, or of a type derived from X, the behavior is undefined." In other words, if you are invoking a method on an object of type X, then you are promising that it really is of type X, or a class derived from it.

The code above violates this rule, because it is invoking the Is­2D method on a Shape2D*, which therefore comes with the promise "This really is a Shape2D object (or something derived from it)." But this is a promise the code cannot deliver on, because the object returned by Find­Shape might be a simple Shape.

The compiler ran with the (false) promise and said, "Well, since you are guaranteeing that the object is at least a Shape2D, and since I have studied your code and determined that no classes which further derive from Shape2D override the Is­2D method, I have therefore proved that the final overrider is Shape2D::Is­2D and can therefore inline that method."

Result: The compiler inlines Shape2D::Is­2D, which returns true, so the "if" test can be optimized out. The compiler can assume that Buy­Paint is always called with cookies that represent two-dimensional objects.

The fix is to do the annoying typing that the original authors were trying to avoid:

void BuyPaint(Cookie cookie)
{
    Shape *shape = FindShape(cookie);
    if (shape->Is2D()) {
      Shape2D *shape2d = static_cast<Shape2D *>(shape);
       .. do all sorts of stuff (with shape2d) ...
    }
}