Overloading the << Operator for Your Own Classes

Output streams use the insertion (<<) operator for standard types. You can also overload the << operator for your own classes.


The write function example showed the use of a Date structure. A date is an ideal candidate for a C++ class in which the data members (month, day, and year) are hidden from view. An output stream is the logical destination for displaying such a structure. This code displays a date using the cout object:

Date dt(1, 2, 92);

cout <<dt;

To get cout to accept a Date object after the insertion operator, overload the insertion operator to recognize an ostream object on the left and a Date on the right. The overloaded << operator function must then be declared as a friend of class Date so it can access the private data within a Date object.

// overload_date.cpp
// compile with: /EHsc
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

class Date
    int mo, da, yr;
    Date(int m, int d, int y)
        mo = m; da = d; yr = y;
    friend ostream& operator<<(ostream& os, const Date& dt);

ostream& operator<<(ostream& os, const Date& dt)
    os << dt.mo << '/' << dt.da << '/' << dt.yr;
    return os;

int main()
    Date dt(5, 6, 92);
    cout << dt;


The overloaded operator returns a reference to the original ostream object, which means you can combine insertions:

cout <<"The date is" <<dt <<flush;

See also

Output Streams