Last updated: February 22, 2017

What Does Polymorphism Mean?

Polymorphism is an object-oriented programming concept that refers to the ability of a variable, function or object to take on multiple forms. A language that features polymorphism allows developers to program in the general rather than program in the specific.


Techopedia Explains Polymorphism

In a programming language that exhibits polymorphism, objects of classes belonging to the same hierarchical tree (inherited from a common base class) may possess functions bearing the same name, but each having different behaviors.

As an example, assume there is a base class named Animals from which the subclasses Horse, Fish and Bird are derived. Also assume that the Animals class has a function named Move, which is inherited by all subclasses mentioned. With polymorphism, each subclass may have its own way of implementing the function. So, for example, when the Move function is called in an object of the Horse class, the function might respond by displaying trotting on the screen. On the other hand, when the same function is called in an object of the Fish class, swimming might be displayed on the screen. In the case of a Bird object, it may be flying.

In effect, polymorphism cuts down the work of the developer because he can now create a sort of general class with all the attributes and behaviors that he envisions for it. When the time comes for the developer to create more specific subclasses with certain unique attributes and behaviors, the developer can simply alter code in the specific portions where the behaviors differ. All other portions of the code can be left as is.


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