The Lazy Programmer

August 9, 2009

Dynamic C++ Update

Filed under: C#,Dynamic-Typing — ferruccio @ 2:51 pm
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I’ve been tinkering with my Dynamic C++ project on occasion in order to get it to build successfully under OSX without much luck. Most of it built just fine, but there were a bunch of places where the boost::variant::apply_visitor() function was giving me all sorts of grief.
The original problem was that I was passing an instance of a locally defined struct as the functor argument to apply_visitor(), such as:

unsigned int var::count() const {
    struct count_visitor : public boost::static_visitor<unsigned int> {
        unsigned int operator () (null_t) const { throw exception("invalid .count() operation on $"); }
        unsigned int operator () (int_t) const { throw exception("invalid .count() operation on int"); }
        unsigned int operator () (double_t) const { throw exception("invalid .count() operation on double"); }
        unsigned int operator () (string_t s) const { return>length(); }
        unsigned int operator () (list_ptr l) const { return l->size(); }
        unsigned int operator () (array_ptr a) const { return a->size(); }
        unsigned int operator () (set_ptr s) const { return s->size(); }
        unsigned int operator () (dict_ptr d) const { return d->size(); }

    return boost::apply_visitor(count_visitor(), _var);



June 15, 2009

Dynamic C++

Filed under: C#,Dynamic-Typing,Programming — ferruccio @ 10:01 pm

A while back, I started building a PDF parser in C++. I had been using the Adobe PDF IFilter to extract text from PDF files in order to index the content, but I wanted to be able to be able to also extract formatting information so I dug into the PDF format. The PDF format itself is fairly easy to parse, but the contents can be quite complex.

The PDF format consists of a series of objects, expressed in a simple syntax based on PostScript. There are primitives such as strings and numbers, and there are collections (arrays and dictionaries) which can contain both primitives and containers. You can see how things quickly become complicated when you have dictionaries containing arrays containing other complex objects.


January 5, 2009

Returning multiple values from a function in C++

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 10:22 pm
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Ideally all functions should return just one value. There are many times, however, when returning more than one value makes a function so much more convenient. The classic example of this convenience is file input. When we read data from a file we want to know two things: Did we reach the end of the file? and if not, what is the next piece of data from the file.

Sometimes, we can encode multiple return values into one. For many of us, the first C idiom we learned from K&R is processing input a character at a time:

int ch;
while ((ch = getchar()) != EOF) {
    // do character processing...

This works because the EOF macro was set to something outside the range of valid characters (usually -1). While this approach can work fairly well for simple cases, it quickly breaks down as the types we wish to return get more complex.


November 18, 2008

Functional C++

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 9:56 pm
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It’s been awhile since my last post. It was near the end of a product shipping cycle and, well, you know how that goes. Then I got a bit addicted to stackoverflow and spent way too much time each night reading and answering  questions. Eventually, I started a couple of side-projects which may eventually yield something interesting to write about.

Anyway, a little over a month ago, I answered a question on Stack Overflow titled “What is the one programming skill you always wanted to master but haven’t had time?” I didn’t have to think much to come up with an answer to that: Functional Programming.

I understand some of the fundamental concepts behind functional programming and occasionally I dabble a bit with LISP or I read a bit more of SICP but the practical applications of FP have been elusive to me.


August 10, 2008

Adding a lock() statement to C++

Filed under: C#,Multi-threading,Programming — ferruccio @ 9:43 am
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One of the things I like about C# that I miss in C++ is the lock() statement. It provides a simple way to control access to an object across multiple threads.

When I first started writing Windows apps, I used the Windows critical section API directly. After getting tired of EnterCriticalSection/LeaveCriticalSection, (I suspect like everybody else) I created a CriticalSection class that was a simple wrapper around the raw API.

Eventually, I got around to using mutexes from the Boost Thread class. You can create a scope guard whose destructor releases its referenced object, but it still lacks the simple elegance and clarity of being able to say:

lock (some-object) {
    do something to some-object


August 3, 2008

Formatting Output with Boost

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 9:20 pm
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Sometimes a GUI is overkill for a project. You just need a simple tool to do some task. Perhaps it needs to be scripted. So you whip up a console mode program and you eventually have to output something. At this point, many developers will simply ignore the C++ iostreams library and reach for good old printf(). I can certainly understand why. The iostreams objects are easy enough to use for simple formatting tasks. However, when you need to do something more sophisticated, you will often find yourself digging through reference material, muttering "this should be easy…"


June 4, 2008

C++: Using Boost ranges to simplify enumerations

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 8:58 pm
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Let’s say you’ve created a class which encapsulates an STL-style container and you now need to expose the data in that container. There are a few possibilities which we’ve probably all tried and found to be unsatifactory.


April 22, 2008

Using Boost to tokenize strings

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 9:55 pm
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Like most C++ programmers that came from a C background, whenever I needed to parse a string into a bunch of tokens, I reached for strtok(). Sure, it’s not thread-safe. But I can take care of that later if it becomes an issue, right?

Eventually, I ran across the STL and learned to put my strings and other objects into containers. But strtok would eventually rear it’s ugly head to break the abstraction of STL strings just so I could split up a string without putting in too much effort.

At some point, I started playing with Boost. If you’re a C++ programmer and you don’t know what Boost is, you need to go to and take a look at it right now because I guarantee that you are doing way too much unnecessary work without it. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you’re done looking around.


April 17, 2008

Benchmarking stack_array<T>

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 10:45 pm
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In my last post I presented a stack_array template/macro combination that I use to create dynamically sized arrays on the stack. By allocating the space on the stack we get the dual benefits of not having to worry about freeing memory and better performance. I knew the performance had to be better, but how much better? Would I have been better off just using STL vectors?

April 2, 2008

C++: How to create variable length arrays on the stack

Filed under: C#,Programming — ferruccio @ 9:12 pm
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A very common pattern in C++ programming is allocating a variable size array in a function and releasing it before the function exits:

void function(int size)
   char* pbuf = new char[size];

   ... function body ...

   delete [] pbuf;

This works but is error-prone. Especially if there are multiple exit points or if an exception is thrown. You could use STL vectors, but you usually don’t need to change the size of the array once it has been created. Also, you may not want the heap allocation overhead.

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