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How can a call to an overloaded function be Ambiguous

Last Updated on November 23, 2023 by Ankit Kochar

When programming in languages like C++, Java, or Python, leveraging the concept of function overloading can enhance code readability and maintainability. Function overloading allows developers to define multiple functions with the same name but different parameter lists within a class or namespace. However, there are instances when invoking an overloaded function becomes ambiguous, leading to compilation errors or unexpected behavior. Understanding the reasons behind such ambiguity and how to resolve it is crucial for writing robust and error-free code.

What is an Overloaded Function?

Overloaded functions or methods in object-oriented programming are a part of polymorphism where there can be more than one function with the same name but different working. The function name can be the same but the number of parameters or the data type of the parameter can be different in the function. Thus, we get to know from this reason as well how can a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous.

Function overloading is done in compile time and it is faster in execution and less flexible as compared to runtime execution which has slower execution but offers more flexibility.

Reasons why a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous

In the above example, it can be obvious for us to see how can a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous. As the first function has three parameters namely, score, total and grade, having three data types orderly as, integer, integer and float. The second function has two parameters, average with integer data type and grade with the character data type.

Let’s look at a code to understand this concept of how can a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous.

#include <iostream>
using namespace std; 
void fun(int score, int total, float sgpa)
  cout << "The score and totals is" << endl;
  cout << score <<endl <<total;
void fun(float average, char* grade)
    cout << endl << "Average is = " << average;
    cout << endl << "Grade is = " << grade;
// Driver code
int main()
    fun(167, 200,8.35);
    fun(53.3, “C”);
    return 0;
The score and totals is
Average is = 53.3
Grade is = C

Another answer to how can a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous is when there is a default argument put in place, the function will tend to behave ambiguously when no value is passed, it is going to have a predefined value to it which will be assigned when it is in execution else the user can pass an updated value as an argument.

For ex:-

In the above-mentioned example, the default value of total is set up as 500 which is taken as the total value in case the argument is not passed by the user for the total score as mentioned in the second function which consists of only the score. It is another reason, how can a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous. Let us understand this with the help of code:

// Default argument
#include <iostream>
using namespace std; 
void fun(int score, int total = 500)
    cout << endl << "Score is = " << score;
    cout << endl << "Total is = " << total;
// Driver code
int main()
    fun(167, 200);
    return 0;
Score is = 167
Total is = 200
Score is = 256
Total is = 500

The above program states how can a call to an overloaded function be ambiguous as the moment score was passed with an additional parameter, the total was user defined as 200 unlike the following scenario, when score gave alone, the total was already assumed to be 500 as it is already a default parameter.

Understanding Ambiguity

The mentioned codes helped us get an idea on what makes an impact on creating ambiguity while calling functions and how functions tend to behave differently in specific circumstances, which are named as follows:-

  • Number
  • Order
  • Data Type

Any difference or perhaps, ambiguity to the above three while calling a function can lead to overloading. And this may result in an entirely different outcome with an additional returned value altogether.

In conclusion, dealing with ambiguous function calls due to function overloading is a common challenge faced by developers. However, armed with a deeper understanding of the factors causing ambiguity, such as identical parameter types or multiple viable function matches, it becomes possible to troubleshoot and resolve these issues effectively. Employing techniques like type casting, using explicit function calls, or adjusting function parameters can help disambiguate overloaded functions, ensuring clearer code and smoother program execution.

FAQs Related to Function Overloading

Here are some FAQs related to Overloaded Function

1. What causes ambiguity in overloaded function calls?
Ambiguity in overloaded function calls primarily arises when multiple functions within the same scope have similar names but matching parameter lists, leading to uncertainty for the compiler to determine the correct function to invoke.

2. How can I resolve ambiguous function calls?
There are several ways to resolve ambiguous function calls:

  • Using explicit type casting to specify the desired function signature.
  • Renaming functions to have distinct names.
  • Adjusting the parameter list of overloaded functions to make them more specific.
  • Utilizing namespaces or scopes to differentiate between functions.

3. Does function overloading impact code performance?
Function overloading itself does not significantly impact code performance. However, resolving ambiguous function calls might introduce slight overhead due to additional checks or type conversions required by the compiler.

4. Can function overloading be done in all programming languages?
No, not all programming languages support function overloading. Languages like C++, Java, and Python support function overloading, while some others like C do not offer this feature.

5. Are there any best practices to avoid ambiguous function calls?
Yes, adopting clear and descriptive function names, avoiding excessive overloading, and designing functions with distinct parameter types can help prevent ambiguity when overloading functions. Additionally, maintaining consistent coding conventions across the codebase aids in avoiding potential conflicts.

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