Category Archives: Programming

ACCU Meetup: Code Craft

Jason Gorman of CodeManShip gave an interesting talk on code craft this week. The talk began with the business case for Code Craft, based on the cost of changing a line of code. If you compare the number of changes in source code repository to the expense of their development teams, the cost generally increases massively over time – 40X more expensive per line of code change after 8 years for one company. The same hockey-stick chart appears in Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained”. Code Craft skills tend to flatten the cost-of-change curve, which is good for the business, and make the code easier to change, which is good for the developers.

Code Craft Skills

Write good unit tests, use version control, do continuous integration, apply design principles, refactor code safely.

Cost – if the cost of a change in design is 1, then the cost in implementation is 6.5, in testing is 15 and in maintenance is 100.  Bringing testing forward in the development process gives a massive return on investment.  Legacy code can be defined as any code that doesn’t have fast running, automated unit tests that can discover a bug quickly – enabling a cheap fix.  You must automate testing and enable the feedback loop to iterate quickly – ideally in minutes or seconds.

Readability – 50%-80% of time spent on a codebase is reading code, not writing it.  Making code easier to read and understand has a great pay-off.  Code that’s hard to understand is easy to break.

Complexity – attack complexity, try to replace it with the simplest thing, which is less likely to be wrong.

Duplication – never copy/paste code, especially off the internet!  You have no idea if it works or even compiles.  Making changes to common logic is multiplied if there’s duplicate code.  Duplication is the opposite of reuse – generate an abstraction to help improve the design.  Duplication can be hard to spot (e.g. customer playing several roles which could have been parameterised).

Ripple Effect – a change to one area of code breaks a much wider circle of code.  Cost of change greatly increased – need to have a local effect from a small change to code.

Principles of Clean Code

The speaker also coaches teams in the following principles:

1. Shorter feedback loops – automated unit testing.  Not possible with manual testing iterations or a manual testing phase.  Automated system testing can give good coverage, but is often too slow, can take hours to run.  Need to run in minutes or seconds.  Ideal chain is Unit Testing -> Integration testing -> System testing.  Want most of the testing in first layer, minimal number of smoke tests in the top System layer.

2. Simple Design – the code works, clearly reveals intent, free of duplication, made out of simple parts.  Need another pair of eyes to check the code is easy to read.  Code review your own code every few minutes.

3. Single responsibility – traditionally, this is taught as classes should only have one reason to change.  Or better, look at the number of combinations of the sections of code implemented in a function – it’s more powerful to break functions into smaller parts then use composition to implement the larger function.  Smaller components/functions => many more ways to re-use. So give each piece of software a single responsibility.

4. Tell, don’t ask – lots of low-level coupling between objects. Better to have objects sharing smallest possible interface to each other. Don’t pass the whole object – pass the data needed to do the operation.  Put the work where the knowledge lives – do the work in the right place so that data and behaviour belong together.

5. Dependency Inversion – you should be able to swap your dependencies.  Talk to dependencies as abstractions through interfaces.  Eg1 all commands inherit from ICommand and high-level components work on generic interface, not concrete classes.  Eg2 VideoRental example, rather than coupling to Imdb, replace with an interface.  Better for mocking/testing as well.

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How to report performance improvements

Bruce Dawson blogged about typical language when reporting speed-ups. Interesting that he found confusing/plain wrong examples in the real world as well as in software development. 

I usually try to communicate improvements in the style “10X faster” as well, to avoid any ambiguity. 

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C++ London Meetup: Distributed C++

This is the first time that the Stockholm C++ and the London C++ group have combined to produce a series of lightning talks, half given from Sweden and half from England.

Bjorn Fahller: A variant of recursive descent parser
Raised issues with generators and lexers when trying to do this, particularly for debugging. What about std::variant? Has knowledge of the type that it’s holding, and there’s std::visit that can overload function call operators for each type.

// visitor class is defined elsewhere, too far from its declaration!
visitor visitor_obj; 
int i = std::visit(visitor_obj, variant_var );

// Alternative - Bjarne's overload approach with lambdas  
auto t = lexer.next_token();
std::visit(
      overload{
    [=](ident var){ return lookup( var.value); },
    [=](number n){ return n.value;}
  }
  , t );

The template overload makes clever use of deriving from a lambda via templates and C++17 features. The details are here.

Bjarne also referenced: Matt Kline’s post on std::visit is everything wrong with modern c++.

Mikael Rosbacke – Yet another state machine tool
How to make it easy to write state machines? Hierarchy, entry/exit action, queuing, no heap allocations, no code generation.

Mikael’s framework provides a finite state machine base class from which you derive and post events as they arrive. Each state derives from a framework state base class, and provides an event method to transition into other states.

See https://www.github.com/rosbacke/mcu-tools.

Simon Pettersson – The Art of manufacturing types
Compile time lookup-table – with a very convincing demo in compiler explorer, where marking the lookup result as constexpr changed the compiled code to simply a constant.

See https://github.com/simonvpe/cmap

Paul Dreik – what is this std::forward thing?
A beginner’s guide to forwarding references – suppose you want to write a wrapper function that does some action then calls an underlying function. You would need to use std::forward like this, otherwise the wrong overload of function f would be called:

struct S{};

void f(S& s){ puts("f(S&)"); }
void f(S&& s){ puts("f(S&&)"); }

template<typename T>
void wrap(T&& t){
  f(std::forward<T>(t));
}

int main(){
  S s;

  wrap( s );
  wrap( S() );
}

Dominic Jones – Reflecting on names – Facilitating expression tree transforms
Would like to transform expressions differently according to the variable inputs:

transform(a + a) -> 2 * a
transform(a + b) -> a * b

Thoughts are to introduce varid, a keyword based on the position of the declaration of the variables. Evaluated at compile time, a bit like address-of, possibly the hash of the file name, row and column of the referenced variable. The use is for faster automatic differentiation.

Phil Nash – a Composable Command Line Parser
When writing Catch 1.0, Phil wrote Clara 0.x – a command line parser library (but it never reached maturity). As part of Catch 2.0, he has written and completed Clara 1.0! The latest version of the library introduces class Opt which declares command line options, which are then combined with the pipe operator.

auto a = 
      Opt( width, "width" )
        ["-w"]["--width"]
        ("How wide should it be?")
    + Opt( name, "name" )
        ["-n"]["--name"]
        ("By what name should I be known");

See github.com/philsquared.

C++ London University
Tristan is a volunteer at this initiative to support interested parties in learning C++. Hosted by Mirriad, it comprises a mixture of lectures, exercises and covers the basics. 4 meetings so far, looking for tutors and more students! Tristan Brindle – tcbrindle@gmail.com, http://www.cpplondonuni.com, gitHub.com/cpplondonuni

Ian Sheret – Automatic Differentiation in C++
For mathematical functions in various domains. z = f(x,y) e.g. hypotenuse as root of sum of squares in a triangle. But what about values of z near x and y, if we change by some epsilon? Can use Ceres Jets to keep track of the differentiated values. Templatise the function so that you can pass in the Jet variables (instead of simply doubles). Then the return value automatically returns the derivatives as well as the function value!

Andrew Gresyk – Effective Screening Interviews
Consider cultural fit and technical fit – but if they do a separate cultural interview, 80% of people pass that anyway. Need to test communication and ability to write real code – asking knowledge questions only is not sufficient. Replace questions with practical exercises.

Jamie Taylor – Beyond SSO: The Merits of Fixed-Length Strings
std::string – easier and safer to work with than a c string. Handles memory allocation. Uses short string optimisation – short strings go on the stack, so no dynamic allocation.

But – length of SSO buffer is implementation defined. If string is too long, will dynamically allocate. Also, the fixed buffer inside the std::string will frequently be much larger than a very small string you wish to create (typically 32-bytes).

// fl::string is an alternative where the size of the buffer
// is customisable in the template parameters
template<size_t length>
class fl::string
{
  // Implementation elided!
  char m_data[length];
};

Don’t want to pay full cost of e.g. 32 byte std::string if your string will only be 3 characters. This allows you to specify the maximum length in the template. Get average 6x and 13x speed-ups for 8 and 32 character strings for both creation and access of string keys in maps. Can be more friendly for your cache and great for low-latency.

Vittorio Romeo – you must type it out 3 times
Vittorio wants to write a generic log and call method with a noexcept handler – but has to type the same forwarding signature three times! Solution could be the “=>” operator that’s been proposed.

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Video: Meta – Toward Generative C++, Herb Sutter

Herb Sutter shared this video of his Qt 2017 talk on his personal metaclasses project.  

 

I first heard about this development at ACCU 2017. The benefits of standardising best practices for definitions of interfaces/value types etc are huge and would let the developer concentrate more on the business problem they are solving, rather than the technicalities of the language. 

  

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C++ London Meetup: FFIG and Why Iterators got it Wrong


This month’s C++ London meetup features two talks – the first on C++/Python integration and the second on C++ iterators.

Foreign Function Interface Generator (FFIG) – Jonathan Coe
Jonathan presented his hobby project, FFIG, largely written on the train during his commute (!).

I want to be able to write C++ code and call it from Python without doing any extra work

He explained that existing solutions (Boost::python and SWIG) generate interfaces that bind you to a specific binary Python implementation. Whilst a work in progress, FFIG’s generated libraries are Python library independent (meaning you can compile once and call from multiple Python libraries).

FFIG generates a C-API on top of your C++ code, which eliminates any classes/structs, but provides a library readily callable from Python. It also generates a Python (or Ruby) library that layers the objects over the C-API, to restore the original interface. A key lesson learned during development was to hide any ownership concerns from the Python layer.

Why Iterators Got It Wrong – Arno Schödl
Arno has developed a range-like library within his firm (Think-Cell), which addresses some features of iterators perceived as ugly:

// Iterators returned by begin() and end() are asymmetrical
auto it = collection.begin(); // start of a non-empty collection
std::cout << *it; // ok - prints the first element of the collection
auto it2 = collection.end(); // end of a non-empty collection
std::cout << *it2;// error - undefined behaviour, end() returns 1 past the last element!

// Algorithms may return a valid element or a sentinel "border" indicator
std::vector<int> v1{0, 1, 2, 3, 4}, v2{};
auto result1 = std::find(std::begin(v1), std::end(v1), 2);
std::cout << *result1; // ok
auto result2 = std::find(std::begin(v2), std::end(v2), 2);
std::cout << *result2; // error - de-referencing end again

The summary was that his library distinguished between elements and borders instead of using iterators. Once rolled out through the codebase, this made the code clearer and avoided any chance of undefined behaviour. However, I think the availability of Eric Niebler’s Range library (or simple higher-order functions) make the STL so easy to use that these concerns shouldn’t put off new developers.

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ACCU Meetup: Making Templates Easier, Roger Orr

Roger Orr gave this month’s ACCU presentation on Making Templates Easier in C++. He showed two techniques that people commonly use to tailor template implementations for specific types: Tag Dispatch and SFINAE (via enable_if).

With Tag Dispatch, you can switch to different implementations of a template function using traits classes based on one of the input parameter types (e.g. use std::iterator_traits to target a faster implementation for random access iterators). The downside is that you often have to duplicate code across the different implementations.

With SFINAE, you can use typedefs within a parameter type to disable particular overloads. E.g. STL containers have a ::value_type typedef, so you can use that to differentiate between collections and scalar inputs. The downside is that you sometimes have to add additional, defaulted template parameters to allow the compiler to distinguish between otherwise identical template definitions.

Roger then introduced constexpr if from C++17 and concepts from C++20.

The advantages of constexpr if are that it can be used both inside and outside templates and specialisations can be defined inline. Any code that would not compile can be put inside a constexpr if and will be discarded. This seems more straightforward than the recursive template solutions Roger showed earlier in the talk.

Concepts are intended to help define the requirements of a template in a way visible to the compiler as well as the developer. Reusing concept definitions should leave to a domain-specific language that helps within a project. Better still, use of a template parameter type that doesn’t satisfy concept requirements will generate a more helpful error message than if SFINAE were used to achieve the constraints.

The finale was an overview of the new SpaceShip operator, !

The video is now available on the SkillsMatter website.

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How to draw a triangle in Apple Watch

I’ve previously covered how to draw circles and rectangles into an image when writing an Apple Watch app. I had an idea for another watch face that needed triangles – these need a different approach using Watch Kit. Basically, you have to draw a path around the perimeter of the triangle (or any other shape), then fill in the shape. Here’s a function to draw a triangle that points to the left:

    internal func drawTriangle( _ context : CGContext?, centreX : CGFloat, centreY : CGFloat, size : CGFloat, colour : CGColor )
    {
        context?.beginPath()
        context?.move(to: CGPoint(x: centreX - size/2.0, y: centreY))
        context?.addLine(to: CGPoint(x: centreX + size/2.0, y: centreY - size/2.0))
        context?.addLine(to: CGPoint(x: centreX + size/2.0, y: centreY + size/2.0))
        context?.closePath()
        
        context?.setFillColor(colour)
        context?.fillPath()
    }

And this is the code for drawing a rectangle:

    internal func drawRectangle( _ context : CGContext?, centreX : CGFloat, centreY : CGFloat, width : CGFloat, height : CGFloat, colour : CGColor )
    {
        let origin = CGPoint( x: centreX - width/2.0, y : centreY - height/2.0 )
        let rect = CGRect( origin : origin, size : CGSize(width: width, height: height) )
        
        context?.setFillColor(colour)
        context?.fill(rect)
    }

Once you can do those primitive triangle/rectangle operations, you can put them together to render any digit you like. So I used them to draw a ‘timeometer’ in this speedo watch face:

The dial is rendered as a series of ticks – at the moment, it shows minutes and hours. I have to admit I still tend to read the time from the digits at the bottom, so I may change the dial to show seconds and minutes instead.

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