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abstraction

Abstraction (from the Latin abs, meaning away from and trahere , meaning to draw) is the process of taking away or removing characteristics from something in order to reduce it to a set of essential characteristics. In object-oriented programming, abstraction is one of three central principles (along with encapsulation and inheritance). Through the process of abstraction, a programmer hides all but the relevant data about an object in order to reduce complexity and increase efficiency. In the same way that abstraction sometimes works in art, the object that remains is a representation of the original, with unwanted detail omitted. The resulting object itself can be referred to as an abstraction, meaning a named entity made up of selected attributes and behavior specific to a particular usage of the originating entity. Abstraction is related to both encapsulation and data hiding.

In the process of abstraction, the programmer tries to ensure that the entity is named in a manner that will make sense and that it will have all the relevant aspects included and none of the extraneous ones. A real-world analogy of abstraction might work like this: You (the object) are arranging to meet a blind date and are deciding what to tell them so that they can recognize you in the restaurant. You decide to include the information about where you will be located, your height, hair color, and the color of your jacket. This is all data that will help the procedure (your date finding you) work smoothly. You should include all that information. On the other hand, there are a lot of bits of information about you that aren't relevant to this situation: your social security number, your admiration for obscure films, and what you took to "show and tell" in fifth grade are all irrelevant to this particular situation because they won't help your date find you. However, since entities may have any number of abstractions, you may get to use them in another procedure in the future.

This was last updated in June 2014

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