Browse Definitions:
Definition

polymorphism

Contributor(s): Jack Ulsh

In object-oriented programming, polymorphism (from the Greek meaning "having multiple forms") is the characteristic of being able to assign a different meaning or usage to something in different contexts - specifically, to allow an entity such as a variable, a function, or an object to have more than one form. There are several different kinds of polymorphism.

1) A variable with a given name may be allowed to have different forms and the program can determine which form of the variable to use at the time of execution. For example, a variable named USERID may be capable of being either an integer (whole number) or a string of characters (perhaps because the programmer wants to allow a user to enter a user ID as either an employee number - an integer - or with a name - a string of characters). By giving the program a way to distinguish which form is being handled in each case, either kind can be recognized and handled.

2) A named function can also vary depending on the parameters it is given. For example, if given a variable that is an integer, the function chosen would be to seek a match against a list of employee numbers; if the variable were a string, it would seek a match against a list of names. In either case, both functions would be known in the program by the same name. This type of polymorphism is sometimes known as overloading.

In C++, for example, the operator known as the plus sign (+) - which is effectively a simple named function - can be assigned to operate on two objects such that it adds them together (perhaps the most common form of the + operation) or, as in boolean searching, a + can indicate a logical "and" (meaning that both words separated by the + operator must be present in order for a citation to be returned). In another context, the + sign could mean an operation to concatenate the two objects or strings of letters on either side of the + sign.

A given operator can also be given yet another meaning when combined with another operator. For example, in the C++ language, a "++" following a variable can mean "increment this value by 1". The meaning of a particular operator is defined as part of a class definition. Since the programmer can create classes, the programmer can also define how operators work for this class of objects; in effect, the programmer can redefine the computing language.

3) Polymorphism can mean, as in the ML language, a data type of "any," such that when specified for a list, a list containing any data types can be processed by a function. (For example, if a function simply determines the length of a list, it doesn't matter what data types are in the list.)

4) In PHP, polymorphism means that if B is a descendant of A and a function can accept A as a parameter, it can also accept B.

This was last updated in April 2005

Continue Reading About polymorphism

Join the conversation

1 comment

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

gud explanation
Cancel

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:

SearchCompliance

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

  • pure risk (absolute risk)

    Pure risk, also called absolute risk, is a category of threat that is beyond human control and has only one possible outcome if ...

  • risk assessment

    Risk assessment is the identification of hazards that could negatively impact an organization's ability to conduct business.

SearchSecurity

  • computer exploit

    A computer exploit, or exploit, is an attack on a computer system, especially one that takes advantage of a particular ...

  • cyberwarfare

    Cyberwarfare is computer- or network-based conflict involving politically motivated attacks by a nation-state on another ...

  • insider threat

    Insider threat is a generic term for a threat to an organization's security or data that comes from within.

SearchHealthIT

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR)

    Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are closely related practices that describe an organization's preparation for ...

  • business continuity plan (BCP)

    A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that consists of the critical information an organization needs to continue ...

  • call tree

    A call tree -- sometimes referred to as a phone tree -- is a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an ...

SearchStorage

  • SATA Express (SATAe)

    SATA Express (SATAe or Serial ATA Express) is a bus interface to connect storage devices to a computer motherboard, supporting ...

  • DIMM (dual in-line memory module)

    A DIMM (dual in-line memory module) is the standard memory card used in servers and PCs.

  • nearline storage

    Nearline storage is the on-site storage of data on removable media.

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • 3D XPoint

    3D XPoint is memory storage technology jointly developed by Intel and Micron Technology Inc.

  • RRAM or ReRAM (resistive RAM)

    RRAM or ReRAM (resistive random access memory) is a form of nonvolatile storage that operates by changing the resistance of a ...

  • JEDEC

    JEDEC is a global industry group that develops open standards for microelectronics.

SearchCloudStorage

  • Google Cloud Storage

    Google Cloud Storage is an enterprise public cloud storage platform that can house large unstructured data sets.

  • RESTful API

    A RESTful application program interface breaks down a transaction to create a series of small modules, each of which addresses an...

  • cloud storage infrastructure

    Cloud storage infrastructure is the hardware and software framework that supports the computing requirements of a private or ...

Close