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Defining Classes

This topic describes the basics of defining classes in InterSystems IRIS® data platform.

Introduction to Terminology

The following shows a simple InterSystems IRIS class definition, with some typical elements:

Class Demo.MyClass Extends %RegisteredObject

Property Property1 As %String;

Property Property2 As %Numeric;

Method MyMethod() As %String
   set returnvalue=..Property1_..Property2
   quit returnvalue


Note the following points:

This class refers to several system classes provided by InterSystems IRIS. These classes are %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab (whose full name is %Library.RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab), %StringOpens in a new tab (%Library.StringOpens in a new tab), and %NumericOpens in a new tab (%Library.NumericOpens in a new tab). %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab is a key class in InterSystems IRIS, because it defines the object interface. It provides the methods you use to create and work with object instances. %StringOpens in a new tab and %NumericOpens in a new tab are data type classes. As a consequence, the corresponding properties hold literal values (rather than other kinds of values).

Kinds of Classes

InterSystems IRIS provides a large set of class definitions that your classes can use in the following general ways:

  • You can use classes as superclasses for your classes.

  • You can use classes as values of properties, values of arguments to methods, values returned by methods, and so on.

  • Some classes simply provide specific APIs. You typically do not use these classes in either of the preceding ways. Instead you write code that calls methods of the API.

The most common choices for superclasses are as follows:

  • %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab — This class represents the object interface in its most generic form.

  • %PersistentOpens in a new tab — This class represents a persistent object. In addition to providing the object interface, this class provides methods for saving objects to the database and reading objects from the database.

  • %SerialObjectOpens in a new tab — This class represents an object that can be embedded in (serialized within) another object.

  • Subclasses of any of the preceding classes.

  • None — It is not necessary to specify a superclass when you create a class.

The most common choices for values of properties, values of arguments to methods, values returned by methods, and so on are as follows:

Object Classes

The phrase object class refers to any subclass of %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab. With an object class, you can create an instance of the class, specify properties of the instance, and invoke methods of the instance.

The generic term object refers to an instance of an object class.

There are three general categories of object classes:

The following figure shows the inheritance relationship among these three classes. The boxes list some of the methods defined in the classes:

The classes %Persistent and %SerialObject inherit the methods of the parent class %RegisteredObject.

Collection classes and stream classes are object classes with specialized behavior.

Data Type Classes

The phrase data type class refers to any class whose ClassType keyword equals datatype or any subclass of such a class. These classes are not object classes (a data type class cannot define properties, and you cannot create an instance of the class). The purpose of a data type class (more accurately a data type generator class) is to be used as the type of a property of an object class.

Kinds of Class Members

An InterSystems IRIS class definition can include the following items, all known as class members:

  • Parameters — A parameter defines a constant value for use by this class. The value is set at compilation time, in most cases.

  • Methods — InterSystems IRIS supports two types of methods: instance methods and class methods. An instance method is invoked from a specific instance of a class and performs some action related to that instance; this type of method is useful only in object classes. A class method is a method that can be invoked whether or not an instance of its class is in memory; this type of method is called a static method in other languages.

  • Properties — A property contains data for an instance of the class. Properties are useful only in object classes. The following section provides more information.

  • Class queries — A class query defines an SQL query that can be used by the class and specifies a class to use as a container for the query. Often (but not necessarily), you define class queries in a persistent class, to perform queries on the stored data for that class. You can, however, define class queries in any class.

  • Other kinds of class members that are relevant only for persistent classes:

    • Storage definitions

    • Indices

    • Foreign keys

    • SQL triggers

  • XData blocks — An XData block is a named unit of data defined within the class, typically for use by a method in the class. These have many possible applications.

  • Projections — A class projection provides a way to extend the behavior of the class compiler.

    The projection mechanism is used by the Java projections; hence the origin of the term projection.

The language used to define the various class members (not including any ObjectScript, Python, SQL or other code used to implement the members) is sometimes referred to as the Class Definition Language (CDL).

Kinds of Properties

Formally, there are two kinds of properties: attributes and relationships.

Attributes hold values. Attribute properties are usually referred to simply as properties. Depending on the property definition, the value that it holds can be any of the following:

Relationships hold associations between objects. Relationship properties are referred to as relationships. Relationships are supported only in persistent classes. See Defining and Using Relationships.

Defining a Class: The Basics

This section discusses basic class definitions in more detail. It discusses the following topics:

Typically, you use an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) to define classes. You can also define classes programmatically using the class definition classes or via an XML class definition file. If you define an SQL table using SQL DDL statements, the system creates a corresponding class definition.

Choosing a Superclass

When you define a class, one of your earliest design decisions is choosing the class (or classes) which to base your class. If there is only a single superclass, include Extends followed by the superclass name, at the start of the class definition.

Class Demo.MyClass Extends Superclass 



If there are multiple superclasses, specify them as a comma-separated list, enclosed in parentheses.

Class Demo.MyClass Extends (Superclass1, Superclass2, Superclass3) 



It is not necessary to specify a superclass when you create a class. It is common to use %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab as the superclass even if the class does not represent any kind of object, because doing so gives your class access to many commonly used macros, but you can instead directly include the include files that contain them.

Include Files

When you create a class that does not extend %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab or any of its subclasses, you might want to include the following include files:

If your class does extend %RegisteredObjectOpens in a new tab or any of its subclasses, these macros are available automatically.

You can also create your own include files and include them in class definitions as needed.

To include an include file at the beginning of a class definition, use syntax of the following form. Note that you must omit the .inc extension of the include file:

Include MyMacros

For example:

Include %occInclude

Class Classname 

To include multiple include files at the beginning of a class definition, use syntax of the following form:

Include (MyMacros, YourMacros) 

Note that this syntax does not have a leading pound sign (in contrast to the syntax required in a routine). Also, the Include directive is not case-sensitive, so you could use INCLUDE instead, for example. The include file name is case-sensitive.

See also #include.

Specifying Class Keywords

In some cases, it is necessary to control details of the code generated by the class compiler. For one example, for a persistent class, you can specify an SQL table name, if you do not want to (or cannot) use the default table name. For another example, you can mark a class as final, so that subclasses of it cannot be created. The class definitions support a specific set of keywords for such purposes. If you need to specify class keywords, include them within square brackets after the superclass, as follows:

Class Demo.MyClass Extends Demo.MySuperclass [ Keyword1, Keyword2, ...]



For example, the available class keywords include Abstract and Final. For an introduction, see Compiler Keywords. InterSystems IRIS also provides specific keywords for each kind of class member.

Introduction to Defining Class Parameters

A class parameter defines a constant value for all objects of a given class. To add a class parameter to a class definition, add an element like one of the following to the class:

Parameter PARAMNAME as Type;
Parameter PARAMNAME as Type = value;
Parameter PARAMNAME as Type [ Keywords ] = value;

Keywords represents any parameter keywords. For an introduction to keywords, see Compiler Keywords. For parameter keywords; see Parameter Keywords. These are optional.

Introduction to Defining Properties

An object class can include properties.

To add a property to a class definition, add an element like one of the following to the class:

Property PropName as Classname;
Property PropName as Classname [ Keywords ] ;
Property PropName as Classname(PARAM1=value,PARAM2=value) [ Keywords ] ;
Property PropName as Classname(PARAM1=value,PARAM2=value) ;

PropName is the name of the property, and Classname is an optional class name (if you omit this, the property is assumed to be of type %StringOpens in a new tab).

Keywords represents any property keywords. For an introduction to keywords, see Compiler Keywords. For property keywords; see Property Keywords. These are optional.

Depending on the class used by the property, you might also be able to specify property parameters, as shown in the third and fourth variations.

Notice that the property parameters, if included, are enclosed in parentheses and precede any property keywords. Also notice that the property keywords, if included, are enclosed in square brackets.

Introduction to Defining Methods

You can define two kinds of methods in InterSystems IRIS classes: class methods and instance methods.

To add a class method to a class definition, add an element like the following to the class:

ClassMethod MethodName(arguments) as Classname [ Keywords]
//method implementation

MethodName is the name of the method and arguments is a comma-separated list of arguments. Classname is an optional class name that represents the type of value (if any) returned by this method. Omit the As Classname part if the method does not return a value.

Keywords represents any method keywords. For an introduction to keywords, see Compiler Keywords. For method keywords, see Method Keywords in the Class Definition Reference. These are optional.

To add an instance method, use the same syntax with Method instead of ClassMethod:

Method MethodName(arguments) as Classname [ Keywords]
//method implementation

Instance methods are relevant only in object classes.

Naming Conventions

Class and class members follow naming conventions, described briefly here.

For complete information, see Rules and Guidelines for Identifiers and What Is Accessible in Your Namespaces.

General Rules

Every identifier must be unique within its context (for example, no two classes in a given namespace can have the same full name).

Identifiers preserve case: you must exactly match the case of a name; at the same time, two classes cannot have names that differ only in case. For example, the identifiers id1 and ID1 are considered identical for purposes of uniqueness.

Class Names

A full class name consists of two parts: a package name and a class name: the class name follows the final . character in the name. A class name must be unique within its package; a package name must be unique within an InterSystems IRIS namespace. A full class name (that is, starting with the package name) must start with either a letter or the % character. Note that any class whose package name starts with a % character is available in all namespaces.

Because persistent classes are automatically projected as SQL tables, a class definition must specify a table name that is not an SQL reserved word; if the name of a persistent class is an SQL reserved word, then the class definition must also specify a valid, non-reserved word value for its SQLTableName keyword.

For details on packages, see Packages.

Class Member Names

Every class member (such as a property or method) must have a name that is unique within its class. InterSystems strongly recommends that you do not give two members the same name, even if they are different types of members; there could be unexpected results.

Further, a member of a persistent class cannot use an SQL reserved word as its identifier. It can define an alias, however, using the SQLName or SQLFieldName keyword of that member (as appropriate).

Member names can be delimited, which allows them to include characters that are otherwise not permitted. To create a delimited member name, use double quotes for the first and last characters of the name. For example:

Property "My Property" As %String;


An InterSystems IRIS class can inherit from already existing classes. If one class inherits from another, the inheriting class is known as a subclass and the class or classes it is derived from are known as superclasses.

The following shows an example class definition that uses two superclasses:

Class User.MySubclass Extends (%Library.Persistent, %Library.Populate)

In addition to a class inheriting methods from its superclasses, the properties inherit additional methods from system property behavior classes and, in the case of a data type attribute, from the data type class.

For example, if there is a class defined called Person:

Class MyApp.Person Extends %Library.Persistent
Property Name As %String;
Property DOB As %Date;

It is simple to derive a new class, Employee, from it:

Class MyApp.Employee Extends Person
Property Salary As %Integer;
Property Department As %String;

This definition establishes the Employee class as a subclass of the Person class. In addition to its own class parameters, properties, and methods, the Employee class includes all of these elements from the Person class.

Use of Subclasses

You can use a subclass in any place in which you might use its superclass. For example, using the above defined Employee and Person classes, it is possible to open an Employee object and refer to it as a Person:

 Set x = ##class(MyApp.Person).%OpenId(id)
 Write x.Name

We can also access Employee-specific attributes or methods:

 Write x.Salary // displays the Salary property (only available in Employee instances)

Primary Superclass

The leftmost superclass that a subclass extends is known as its primary superclass. A class inherits all the members of its primary superclass, including applicable class keywords, properties, methods, queries, indexes, class parameters, and the parameters and keywords of the inherited properties and inherited methods. Except for items marked as Final, the subclass can override (but not delete) the characteristics of its inherited members.


Indexes (an option in persistent classes) are inherited only from the primary superclass.

Multiple Inheritance

By means of multiple inheritance, a class can inherit its behavior and class type from more than one superclass. To establish multiple inheritance, list multiple superclasses within parentheses. The leftmost superclass is the primary superclass.

For example, if class X inherits from classes A, B, and C, its definition includes:

Class X Extends (A, B, C) 

The default inheritance order for the class compiler is from left to right, which means that differences in member definitions among superclasses are resolved in favor of the leftmost superclass (in this case, A superseding B and C, and B superseding C.)

Specifically, for class X, the values of the class parameter values, properties, and methods are inherited from class A (the first superclass listed), then from class B, and, finally, from class C. X also inherits any class members from B that A has not defined, and any class members from C that neither A nor B has defined. If class B has a class member with the same name as a member already inherited from A, then X uses the value from A; similarly, if C has a member with the same name as one inherited from either A or B, the order of precedence is A, then B, then C.

Because left-to-right inheritance is the default, there is no need to specify this; hence, the previous example class definition is equivalent to the following:

Class X Extends (A, B, C) [ Inheritance = left ]

To specify right-to-left inheritance among superclasses, use the Inheritance keyword with a value of right:

Class X Extends (A, B, C) [ Inheritance = right ]

With right-to-left inheritance, if multiple superclasses have members with the same name, the superclass to the right takes precedence.


Even with right-to-left inheritance, the leftmost superclass (sometimes known as the first superclass) is still the primary superclass. This means that the subclass inherits only the class keyword values of its leftmost superclass — there is no override for this behavior.

For example, in the case of class X inheriting from classes A, B, and C with right-to-left inheritance, if there is a conflict between a member inherited from class A and one from class B, the member from class B overrides (replaces) the previously inherited member; likewise for the members of class C in relation to those of classes A and B. The class keywords for class X come exclusively from class A. (This is why extending classes A and B — in that order — with left-to-right inheritance is not the same as extending classes B and A — in that order — with right-to-left inheritance; the keywords are inherited from the leftmost superclass in either definition, which makes the two cases different.)

Additional Topics

Also see %ClassName() and the Most Specific Type Class (MSTC).

Introduction to Compiler Keywords

As shown in Defining a Class: The Basics, you can include keywords in a class definition or in the definition of a class member. These keywords, also known as class attributes, generally affect the compiler. This section introduces some common keywords and discusses how InterSystems IRIS presents them.


The following example shows a class definition with some commonly used keywords:

/// This sample persistent class represents a person.
Class MyApp.Person Extends %Persistent [ SqlTableName = MyAppPerson ]

/// Define a unique index for the SSN property.
Index SSNKey On SSN [ Unique ];

/// Name of the person.
Property Name As %String [ Required ];

/// Person's Social Security number.
Property SSN As %String(PATTERN = "3N1""-""2N1""-""4N") [ Required ];


This example shows the following keywords:

  • For the class definition, the Extends keyword specifies the superclass (or superclasses) from which this class inherits.

    Note that the Extends keyword has a different name when you view the class in other ways; see Class Documentation.

  • For the class definition, the SqlTableName keyword determines the name of the associated table, if the default name is not to be used. This keyword is meaningful only for persistent classes.

  • For the index definition, the Unique keyword causes InterSystems IRIS to enforce uniqueness on the property on which the index is based (SSN in this example).

  • For the two properties, the Required keyword causes InterSystems IRIS to require non-null values for the properties.

PATTERN is not a keyword but instead is a property parameter; notice that PATTERN is enclosed in parentheses, rather than square brackets.

Apart from keywords related to storage (which are not generally documented), you can find details on the keywords in the Class Definition Reference. The reference information demonstrates the syntax that applies when you view a class in the usual edit mode.

See Also

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