A C++ template device to obtain an underlying type

What happens when you need to get the underlying data type of a pointer or reference? You can write some crazy metaprogram to do it for you. Like this:


template <typename T> struct get_real_type      { typedef T type; };
template <typename T> struct get_real_type<T*>  { typedef T type; };
template <typename T> struct get_real_type<T&>  { typedef T type; };

template <class T>
int foo() {
    return get_real_type<T>::type::N;
}

struct Bar {
    static const int N=24;
};

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
int main() {
    cout << foo<Bar*>() << endl;
    cout << foo<Bar&>() << endl;
    cout << foo<Bar>() << endl;
}

Incidentally, this is also the basis for the implementation of std::remove_reference. Actually you’d be better of using std::remove_reference, for your own sanity.


Cool C++0X features XVII: Lambdas syntax

After creating a device to sum an initializer list as an example of this new feature last time, we created a generic function to receive a function object, which worked just very similarly to Smalltalk’s inject. After creating the usual function object, overloading the () operator, we saw a much cooler way of doing that using lambdas, like this:

int main() {
	auto f = [] (int a, int b){ return a+b; } ;
	do_something(f, 0, {1, 2, 3, 4});
	return 0;
}

Pretty cool. Pretty weird too. Let’s analyze how to declare a lambda before we continue discussing about the usage of this new feature.

auto f

Auto f. Lambdas have a type, and you can explicitly declare it. The type might be quite complicated though, and it doesn’t really add any information that makes reading the code any easier, so we are better off using C++0x’s new feature, auto, which will infer the type for us. Saves a lot of typing, trust me.

auto f = [] (int a, int b)

Brackets, and then the parameters specification. Looks weird but the brackets are there just to tell the compiler “hey, an anonymous method comes here” (actually the brackets could be omitted in this case but we’ll need them later on). After that, it’s just a normal method declaration. Useless trivia: before C++0x you could have anonymous objects but not anonymous methods. Can you think where would you have an anonymous object? I think I even wrote an article about it on this blog, but I’m too lazy to search for it.

auto f = [] (int a, int b) { return a+b; }

After the lambda’s signature, which is the same as the signature of a common method, you have the body of the method. It can be as short or as long as you want, it’s just a method’s body (though for the sanity of the maintainer you’d better keep it short).

Watch out though, that’s not the end of the declaration, we’re missing a crucial piece on this lambda:

auto f = [] (int a, int b) { return a+b; }<strong>;</strong>

I’d use the blink tag, but I think it has been deprecated. Notice that last semicolon; when you declare the lambda’s body you finish with a semicolon inside, just as you would inside a normal method, but that’s not the end of the expression, for the lambda declared outside the body of that method still needs another semicolon to appraise the compiler god.

And now, we know almost everything we need to know about lambda’s syntax. Notice how the return type of the method is automagically deduced. That’s useful, but there’s something the compiler can’t deduce by itself about the return type. If you are trying to return a reference to something, you need to make this explicit, the compiler has no way of detecting if you need a copy return or a reference return (until the next draft of C++, which I heard incorporates mind reading capabilities into the compiler. You may have to wait a couple of years though). This is easy to specify, though:

auto f = [&] (int a, int b) { return a+b; };

Just add an ampersand between the brackets and the lambda will return a reference instead of a copy of whatever object you’re trying to return. How about receiving a reference instead of returning one? That’s easy, remember the signature is the same as any other method:

auto f = [] (int& a, int& b) { return a+b; };

That’s it, now we know how to use basic lambdas. You should keep in mind, though, this mythical beast has a lot more to it than just its syntax. We’ll discuss about some of it’s darkest secrets, how to use it, when to use it, how does it work. That discussion is for next time, though.


Cool C++0X features XVI: Lambdas

Last time we created a device to sum an initializer list of ints, something like this:

void Add(initializer_list<int> lst) {
	int sum = 0;
	for (auto i = lst.begin(); i != lst.end(); ++i)
		sum += *i;

	cout << sum << "n";
}

And then we said this can be improved using some new C++0x wizardry to support actions other than adding. How would we do that? Easy, we need to decouple the iteration of the list from the operation logic. We can do something like this:

// Note how we don't care about the type of OP, just that
// it can be called (i.e. has an operator ())
template <class OP>
void do_something(OP op, int init, initializer_list<int> lst) {
	int sum = init;
	for (auto i = lst.begin(); i != lst.end(); ++i)
	{
		int x = *i;
		sum = op(sum, x);
	}

	cout << sum << "n";
}

struct Sum {
	int operator() (int a, int b)
	{
		return a + b;
	}
};

int main() {
	do_something(Sum(), 0, {1, 2, 3, 4});
	return 0;
}

We had to do some changes other than passing the operation-object into the do_something method; since the start value (zero) was hardcoded we had to remove it to really decouple the action from the iteration.

Other than creating a function object (which is the correct name for the object wrapping our operation) we don’t see any strange changes, there’s no C++0x there, but C++0x gives us a little tool which gives you the power of creating much simpler and nicer code, or to make the next maintainers’ life a living hell. That’s a discussion for other time though, now let’s take a sneak preview a lambdas, the evolution of function objects:

int main() {
	auto f = [] (int a, int b){ return a+b; } ;
	do_something(f, 0, {1, 2, 3, 4});
	return 0;
}

Note that we didn’t change anything on the method iterating the list, we just changed main! There’s a lot to talk about lambdas, so this is only an intro to the subject. Next time we’ll discuss the subtleties of the new syntax.


Cool C++0X features XIII: auto and ranged for, cleaner loops FTW

Long time without updating this series. Last time we saw how the ugly

for (FooContainer::const_iterator i = foobar.begin(); i != foobar.end(); ++i)

could be transformed into the much cleaner

for (auto i = foobar.begin(); i != foobar.end(); ++i)

Yet we are not done, we can clean that a lot more using for range statements.

Ranged for is basically syntactic sugar (no flamewar intended) for shorter for statements. It’s nothing new and it’s been part of many languages for many years already, so there will be no lores about the greatness of C++ innovations (flamewar intended), but it still is a nice improvement to have, considering how tedious can be to write nested loops. This certainly looks much cleaner:

for (auto x : foobar)

This last for-statement, even though it looks good enough to print and hang in a wall, raises a lot of questions. What’s the type of x? What if I want to change its value? Let’s try to answer that.

The type of the iterator will be the same as the type of the vector, so in this case x would be an int:

std::vector foobar;
for (auto x : foobar) {
	std::cout &lt;&lt; (x+2);
}

And now, what happens if you want to alter the contents of a list and not only display them? That’s easy too, just declare x as an auto reference:

std::vector foobar;
for (auto&amp; x : foobar) {
	std::cout &lt;&lt; (x+2);
}

This looks really nice but it won’t really do anything, for two different reasons:
* Ranged fors won’t work until g++ 4.5.6 is released
* The list is empty!

There are many ways to initialize that list, but we’ll see how C++0X let’s you do it in a new way the next time.


Cool C++0X features XV: Initializer lists for custom (non-std) objects

Last time we saw how you can use C style array-initialization for C++ objects, like this:

	std::vector<int> v = {1,2,3,4};

We also saw this works for may types of objects, like maps and pairs. How about custom developed objects? Yes, that’s right, you can have initilizer lists for your own objects too, and it’s quite easy. C++0x offers initializer_lists which you can use on your constructors (or any other methods, for that mater) to have C-style initialization. Let’s see an example. We already know how to sum a list of numbers using template lists and variadic templates, so let’s try adding an initializer consisting of numbers:

Let’s start by creating a class which can accept an initializer list:

#include <initializer_list>
using namespace std;

struct Add_List {
	Add_List(initializer_list<int> lst) {
	}
};

int main() {
	Add_List x = {1, 2, 3};
	return 0;
}

That’s interesting, as you can see an initializer list is actualy a template class, meaning that nested initializers can easily be defined too. Now, we have the interface, how can we access each element of the list? Let’s do the same thing I did when I found out about initilizers, let’s search for the header file.

  template<class _E>
    class initializer_list
    {
    public:
      typedef _E 		value_type;
      typedef const _E& 	reference;
      typedef const _E& 	const_reference;
      typedef size_t 		size_type;
      typedef const _E* 	iterator;
      typedef const _E* 	const_iterator;

    private:
      iterator			_M_array;
      size_type			_M_len;

      // The compiler can call a private constructor.
      initializer_list(const_iterator __a, size_type __l)
      : _M_array(__a), _M_len(__l) { }

    public:
      initializer_list() : _M_array(NULL), _M_len(0) { }

      // Number of elements.
      size_type
      size() const { return _M_len; }

      // First element.
      const_iterator
      begin() const { return _M_array; }

      // One past the last element.
      const_iterator
      end() const { return begin() + size(); }
  };

Looks surprisingly easy (note that this is for G++ 4.something only). And it is, most of the magic happens in the compiler, so the userland code is quite straight forward. According to that header file, we could build something like this:

#include <iostream>
#include <initializer_list>
using namespace std;

struct Add_List {
	Add_List(initializer_list<int> lst) {
		int sum = 0;
		for (auto i = lst.begin(); i != lst.end(); ++i)
			sum += *i;

		cout << sum << "n";
	}
};

int main() {
	Add_List x = {1, 2, 3};
	return 0;
}

As you can see, the initializer lists can be used in any place an iterable container is required, as long as it’s const. There’s not much more magic to it, but we can use some more C++0x devices to make our list-adding device much more cool, for example to support different actions and not only addition. Next time, though.

PS: An important lesson from this article: don’t be afraid to look into the system headers, they won’t bite. You should never ever change them, but taking a peek can only improve your C++ knowledge.


Cool C++0X features XIV: Initializer lists

We talked last time about ranged fors and how they can simplify our life in C++0x. Now we are going to take a trip back to old C land. Remember when you could initialize your arrays like this:

int v[] = {1, 2, 3, 4};

C++ brought a lot of changes to the world, and suddenly instead of int[] you were supposed to use vector, and with it your initializer didn’t work anymore. Though luck. Try to compile this:

#include <vector>
int main() {
	std::vector<int> v = {1,2,3,4};
	return 0;
}

If you did compile it with g++, you may have noticed an interesting error message:

error: in C++98 ā€˜vā€™ must be initialized by constructor, not by ā€˜{...}ā€™
warning: extended initializer lists only available with -std=c++0x or -std=gnu++0x

That’s interesting. Try to compile it with g++ again, but using C++0x instead of plain C++. Magic, now it works!

Initializers lists bring the best of C to C++ world (?) by letting you use initialize any object with an initializer. And I mean *any* object, not just vectors. For example, say you have a map (a map and a bunch of other stuff):

int main() {
	map<string, vector<int>> v = {
			{ "a", {1,2,3} },
			{ "b", {4,5,6} },
			{ "c", {7,8,9} }
		};

	cout << v["b"][1] << "n";
	return 0;
}

Yes, that works! Maps, vectors, pairs, and even your own custom objects, but we’ll see that next time.


Cool C++0X features XII: type inference with auto

In the last four entries we worked on a simple example, like the one I’m pasting below, of type inference with decltype, which led us to learn about delayed type declaration and decltypes with auto. This time I want to focus just on the auto keyword instead.

template <class... Args>
auto wrap(Args... a) -> decltype( do_something(a...) ) {
	std::cout << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << "n";
	return do_something(a...);
}

We saw last time how decltype can be used in a contrived way to create a local variable without specifying its type, only how to deduce the type for this variable. Luckily, that verbose method of type declaration can be summed up in the following way:

	int x = 2;
	int y = 3;
	decltype(x*y) z = x*y;
	int x = 2;
	int y = 3;
	auto z = x*y;

That’s right, when you are declaring local variables it’s easier and cleaner to just use auto. This feature isn’t even “in the wild” yet, so you can’t really predict what will people do with it, but it seems to me that limiting its use to local variables with a very short lived scope is the best strategy. We are yet to see what monstrosities the abuse of this feature will produce, and I’m sure there will be many. Regardless of their potential to drive insane any maintainers, its best use probably comes in loops.

In any C++ application, you’ll find code like this:

for (FooContainer<Bar>::const_iterator i = foobar.begin(); i != foobar.end(); ++i)

This ugly code can be eliminated with something much more elegant:

for (auto i = foobar.begin(); i != foobar.end(); ++i)

Looks nicer indeed, but we can improve it much further with other tools. We’ll see how the next time. For the time being, let’s see for what auto is not to be used.

When using auto, keep in mind it was designed to simplify the declaration of a variable with a complex or difficult to reason type, not as a replacement for other language features like templates. This is a common mistake:

Wrong

void f(auto x) {
	cout << x;
}
Right

template <T>
void f(T x) {
	cout << x;
}

It makes no sense to use auto in the place of a template, since a template means that the type will be completed later whereas auto means it should be deduced from an initializer.


Cool C++0X features XI: decltype and disappearing constness

After a long, long hiatus, the C++0x series are back. You may want to check where we left by reading the last posts of this series.

In the last few entries we saw how to use decltype for type inference. Object types is a problem that seems easy but gets complicated very quickly, for example when you start dealing with constness. Constness is difficult in many ways but this time I want to review how constness works with type inference. This topic is not C++0x specific as it’s present for template type deduction too, but decltype adds a new level of complexity to it.

here-be-dragons

Let’s start with an example. Would this compile?

struct Foo {
	int bar;
};

void f(const Foo foo)
{
	foo.bar = 42;
}

Clearly not, having a const Foo means you can’t touch foo.bar. How about this?

struct Foo {
	int bar;
};

void f(const Foo foo)
{
	int& x = foo.bar;
}

That won’t compile either, you can’t initialize an int reference from a const int, yet we can do this:

void f(const Foo foo)
{
	const int& x = foo.bar;
}

If we know that works it must mean that s.result’s type is const int. Right? Depends.

Just as the name implies decltype yields the declared type of a variable, and what’s the declared type for Foo.bar?

struct Foo {
	int bar;
};

void f(const Foo foo)
{
	// This won't compile
	int& x = foo.bar;
	// This will
	decltype(foo.bar) x = 42;
}

That’s an interesting difference, but it makes sense once you are used to it. To make things more interesting, what happens if you start adding parenthesis (almost) randomly? Try to deduce the type of x:

void f(const Foo foo)
{
	decltype((foo.bar)) x
}

If decltype(x) is the type of x then decltype((foo.bar)) is the type of (foo.bar). Between foo.bar and (foo.bar) there’s a very important difference; the first refers to a variable whilst the last refers to an expression. Even though foo.bar was declared as int, the expression (foo.bar) will yield a const int&, since that’s the type (though implicit and not declared, since the expression is not declared).

This is how we would complete the example then:

void f(const Foo foo)
{
	// These two statements are equivalent
	decltype((foo.bar)) x = 42;
	const int& y = 42;
	// It's very easy to confirm that the typeof x is now const int&
	// This won't compile:
	x = 24;
}

As I said, disappearing constness is not a C++0x specific problem as it may occur on template type deduction, but that’s besides the point of this post. Next time we’ll continue working with type deduction, but with the new auto feature this time.


Cool C++0X features X: type inference with decltype

After creating a wrapper object on the last entries, we were left with three syntax changes two analyze:

We already saw the first, and we’ll be talking about the other two this time. This was the original wrapper function which led us here:

template <class... Args>
auto wrap(Args... a) -> decltype( do_something(a...) ) { 
	std::cout << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << "n";
	return do_something(a...);
}

Back on topic:

decltype
This operator (yes, decltype is an operator) is a cousin of sizeof which will yield the type of an expression. Why do I say it’s a cousin of sizeof? Because it’s been in the compilers for a long time, only in disguise. This is because you can’t get the size of an expression without knowing it’s type, so even though it’s implementation has existed for a long time only now it’s available to the programmer.

One of it’s interesting features is that the expression with which you call decltype won’t be evaluated, so you can safely use a function call within a decltype, like this:

auto foo(int x) -> decltype( bar(x) ) { 
	return bar(x);
}

Doing this with, say, a macro, would get bar(x) evaluated twice, yet with decltype it will be evaluated only once. Any valid C++ expression can go within a decltype operator, so for example this is valid too:

template <typename A, typename B>
auto multiply(A x, B y) -> decltype( x*y )
{ 
	return x*y;
}

What’s the type of A and B? What’s the type of A*B? We don’t care, the compiler will take care of that for us. Let’s look again at that example, more closely:

-> (delayed declaration) and decltype

Why bother creating a delayed type declaration at all and not just use the decltype in place of the auto? That’s because of a scope problem, see this:

// Declare a template function receiving two types as param
template <typename A, typename B>
// If we are declaring a multiplication operation, what's the return type of A*B?
// We can't multiply classes, and we don't know any instances of them
auto multiply(A x, B y)
// Luckily, the method signature now defined both parameters, meaning
// we don't need to expressly know the type of A*B, we just evaluate
// x*y and use whatever type that yields
	-> decltype( x*y )
{ 
	return x*y;
}

decltype
As you see, decltype can be a very powerful tool if the return type of a function is not known for the programmer when writing the code, but you can use it to declare any type, anywhere, if you are too lazy to type. If you, for example, are very bad at math and don’t remember that the integers group is closed for multiplication, you could write this:

	int x = 2;
	int y = 3;
	decltype(x*y) z = x*y;

Yes, you can use it as VB’s dim! (kidding, just kidding, please don’t hit me). Even though this works and it’s perfectly legal, auto is a better option for this. We’ll see that on the next entry.


Cool C++0X features IX: delayed type declaration

In the last two entries we worked on a wrapper object which allows us to decorate a method before or after calling (hello aspects!), or at least that’s what it should do when g++ fully implements decltypes and variadic templates. Our wrapper function looks something like this (check out the previous entry for the wrapper object):

#include <iostream>

void do_something() { std::cout << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << "n"; }
void do_something(const char*) { std::cout << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << "n"; }
int do_something(int) { std::cout << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << "n"; return 123; }

template <class... Args>
auto wrap(Args... a) -> decltype( do_something(a...) ) { 
	std::cout << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << "n";
	return do_something(a...);
}

int main() {
	wrap();
	wrap("nice");
	int x = wrap(42);
	std::cout << x << "n";
	return 0;
}

After the example, we were left with three new syntax changes to analyze:

  • -> (delayed declaration)
  • decltype
  • auto

Let’s study the -> operator this time:

-> (delayed declaration)
This is the easiest one. When a method is declared auto (I’ve left this one for the end because auto is used for other things too) it means its return type will be defined somewhere else. Note that in this regard the final implementation differs from Stroustroup’s FAQ.

The -> operator in a method’s definition says “Here’s the return type”. I’ll paste the same simple example we had last time, the following two snippets of code are equivalent:

void foo() { 
}
auto foo() -> void { 
}