C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
(Click here for a personal note from Marshall Cline.)
Section 10:
10.1 What's the deal with constructors?
10.2 Is there any difference between List x; and List x();?
10.3 Can one constructor of a class call another constructor of the same class to initialize the this object? Updated!
10.4 Is the default constructor for Fred always Fred::Fred()?
10.5 Which constructor gets called when I create an array of Fred objects?
10.6 Should my constructors use "initialization lists" or "assignment"?
10.7 Should you use the this pointer in the constructor?
10.8 What is the "Named Constructor Idiom"?
10.9 Does return-by-value mean extra copies and extra overhead?
10.10 Does the compiler optimize returning a local variable by value?
10.11 Why can't I initialize my static member data in my constructor's initialization list?
10.12 Why are classes with static data members getting linker errors?
10.13 Can I add = initializer; to the declaration of a class-scope static const data member?
10.14 What's the "static initialization order fiasco"?
10.15 How do I prevent the "static initialization order fiasco"?
10.16 Why doesn't the construct-on-first-use idiom use a static object instead of a static pointer?
10.17 How do I prevent the "static initialization order fiasco" for my static data members?
10.18 Do I need to worry about the "static initialization order fiasco" for variables of built-in/intrinsic types?
10.19 How can I handle a constructor that fails?
10.20 What is the "Named Parameter Idiom"?
10.21 Why am I getting an error after declaring a Foo object via Foo x(Bar())?
10.22 What is the purpose of the explicit keyword?
[10.7] Should you use the this pointer in the constructor?

Some people feel you should not use the this pointer in a constructor because the object is not fully formed yet. However you can use this in the constructor (in the {body} and even in the initialization list) if you are careful.

Here is something that always works: the {body} of a constructor (or a function called from the constructor) can reliably access the data members declared in a base class and/or the data members declared in the constructor's own class. This is because all those data members are guaranteed to have been fully constructed by the time the constructor's {body} starts executing.

Here is something that never works: the {body} of a constructor (or a function called from the constructor) cannot get down to a derived class by calling a virtual member function that is overridden in the derived class. If your goal was to get to the overridden function in the derived class, you won't get what you want. Note that you won't get to the override in the derived class independent of how you call the virtual member function: explicitly using the this pointer (e.g., this->method()), implicitly using the this pointer (e.g., method()), or even calling some other function that calls the virtual member function on your this object. The bottom line is this: even if the caller is constructing an object of a derived class, during the constructor of the base class, your object is not yet of that derived class. You have been warned.

Here is something that sometimes works: if you pass any of the data members in this object to another data member's initializer, you must make sure that the other data member has already been initialized. The good news is that you can determine whether the other data member has (or has not) been initialized using some straightforward language rules that are independent of the particular compiler you're using. The bad news is that you have to know those language rules (e.g., base class sub-objects are initialized first (look up the order if you have multiple and/or virtual inheritance!), then data members defined in the class are initialized in the order in which they appear in the class declaration). If you don't know these rules, then don't pass any data member from the this object (regardless of whether or not you explicitly use the this keyword) to any other data member's initializer! And if you do know the rules, please be careful.