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Observer Design Pattern


Observer is a behavioral software design pattern, that is being extensively utilized in almost every single self-respecting codebase as a means to efficiently communicate between objects in an event-based fashion. It wouldn't be an understatement to say it is the foundation of event based programming.

In fact, underlying the ubiquitous, in network programming, “Model View Controller” (MVC) design pattern, is the observer pattern.

Observers are used in every single game engine - they're known there mostly as “Event dispatchers”.

Alternative terminology for this pattern includes the following: - Publish-Subscribe, Listener-Reporter.


  • a class, called the Subject, maintains a list of Observers and notifies them automatically on any state changes, usually by calling one of their methods - which are typically aptly named notify().
  • Various nosy Observer (concrete) classes want to know when the Subject does something in which they are interested in and want to react to it in a potentially unique way. Those classes inherit from the IObserver interface class.
  • Observers subscribe to the Subject class upon their construction.
    • In code: They are given (dependency injection) a pointer to the Subject, they pass it to the base IObserver class's constructor, and then they call the Subject's subscribe method with this as the argument.
  • new subscribers are added to the observer's list.
  • When the subject's state, or a subset of its state that a particular observer is interested in, is changed the Subject notifies all the interested parties on this state change, by calling notify.
  • Observer objects should automatically unsubscribe themselves from the Subject when destroyed.

The pattern promotes loose coupling since the Subjects don't need to know anything about the observers.

Also note that the Subject doesn't own the observers; the subject is merely referencing them. There is no need of ownership relationships in this scenario.


As a homework exercise, you can expand this project, by allowing Observers to subscribe to a particular MessageType. A MessageType is to differentiate between the actions of the subject Car. For example a Car goes forward, turns right, left, honks, crashes etc. Now one observer might not be interested in turning left or right, whereas another might only be interested in crashes (could be the insurance company : D) so it only subscribes to events of type MessageType::Crash. The misc.h header file contains various enums/flags which can be used to improve upon. I already gave you plenty of tips to proceed on your own (and may the power protect you).

Extra Tip: for “multiple interests” the observers can pass along a bitwise OR of multiple flags to subscribe to multiple notifications at once.

I used Windows, Visual Studio and C++ 17 to build the project.


Github repository link.