Prefer composition over inheritance? Exploring the Trade-Offs of OOP Approaches

In object-oriented programming (OOP), two common approaches for code reuse and structuring are inheritance and composition. Both approaches offer advantages and trade-offs, and understanding when to use each can greatly impact the design and maintainability of your code. In this article, we will explore the reasons why composition is often preferred over inheritance, as well as situations where inheritance may be a more suitable choice.

Understanding Inheritance and Composition

Before diving into the trade-offs, let's define inheritance and composition within the context of OOP:

  • Inheritance: Inheritance involves creating a new class (the "child" or "derived" class) that inherits properties and behaviors from an existing class (the "parent" or "base" class). The child class can extend or override the functionality of the parent class.
  • Composition: Composition involves creating a class that contains instances of other classes (the "components" or "parts"). The class delegates certain responsibilities to its components, rather than inheriting those responsibilities from a parent class.

The Advantages of Composition

Composition offers several advantages over inheritance:

1. Flexibility and Adaptability

Composition allows for more flexibility and adaptability in your code. By composing objects from different classes, you can combine and recombine functionality in various ways, without being constrained by the rigid hierarchy of inheritance.

class Engine:
    def start(self):
        print("Engine started")

class Car:
    def __init__(self):
        self.engine = Engine()

    def start(self):

car = Car()

2. Avoiding the Diamond Problem

The "Diamond Problem" is a common issue that arises in multiple inheritance, where a class inherits from two or more classes that have a common base class. This can lead to confusion and ambiguity in method resolution. Composition helps avoid this problem altogether by allowing objects to interact through interfaces instead of through direct inheritance.

class A:
    def foo(self):

class B(A):
    def foo(self):

class C(A):
    def foo(self):

class D(B, C):

d = D()

The Trade-Offs of Composition

While composition has its advantages, there are also trade-offs to consider:

1. Increased Complexity

Composition can introduce additional complexity to your codebase. With inheritance, the behavior of the child class is largely determined by the parent class. In composition, however, the behavior of the containing class depends on the interactions between its components. This can make code harder to understand and debug.

2. Increased Boilerplate Code

With composition, you may need to write more code to delegate certain responsibilities to components. This can lead to increased boilerplate code, especially if you have several components with similar behaviors.

When to Choose Inheritance

There are situations where inheritance may be a more suitable choice:

1. "Is-a" Relationship

If you have a clear "is-a" relationship between two classes, where one class is a specific type of another class, then inheritance can provide a more intuitive and expressive solution. For example, a `Square` class can inherit from a `Rectangle` class, as a square is a specific type of rectangle.

2. Code Reuse

If you have common functionality that can be shared across multiple classes, inheritance can be a convenient way to reuse code. By defining the common functionality in a base class, you can avoid duplicating code in multiple classes.


When it comes to deciding between inheritance and composition, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the specific requirements and constraints of your project. In general, composition offers more flexibility and adaptability, while inheritance can provide a more intuitive and expressive solution for "is-a" relationships and code reuse. By understanding the trade-offs and considering the unique context of your project, you can make informed decisions on which approach to use.