C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
(Click here for a personal note from Marshall Cline.)
Section 14:
[14.2] Do friends violate encapsulation?

No! If they're used properly, they enhance encapsulation.

You often need to split a class in half when the two halves will have different numbers of instances or different lifetimes. In these cases, the two halves usually need direct access to each other (the two halves used to be in the same class, so you haven't increased the amount of code that needs direct access to a data structure; you've simply reshuffled the code into two classes instead of one). The safest way to implement this is to make the two halves friends of each other.

If you use friends like just described, you'll keep private things private. People who don't understand this often make naive efforts to avoid using friendship in situations like the above, and often they actually destroy encapsulation. They either use public data (grotesque!), or they make the data accessible between the halves via public get() and set() member functions. Having a public get() and set() member function for a private datum is OK only when the private datum "makes sense" from outside the class (from a user's perspective). In many cases, these get()/set() member functions are almost as bad as public data: they hide (only) the name of the private datum, but they don't hide the existence of the private datum.

Similarly, if you use friend functions as a syntactic variant of a class's public access functions, they don't violate encapsulation any more than a member function violates encapsulation. In other words, a class's friends don't violate the encapsulation barrier: along with the class's member functions, they are the encapsulation barrier.

(Many people think of a friend function as something outside the class. Instead, try thinking of a friend function as part of the class's public interface. A friend function in the class declaration doesn't violate encapsulation any more than a public member function violates encapsulation: both have exactly the same authority with respect to accessing the class's non-public parts.)