Tag Archives: C++

Overload magazine: Order Notation in Practice

Overload 124Roger Orr wrote an excellent article for Overload about complexity measurement. It’s amazing how many candidate for programming roles in general, and C++ roles in particular, aren’t comfortable with order notation. This introduction should be a must read before interviewing!

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How to speed up your C++ build

I’ve been working on a software library for some time and have seen it grow to include a large number of types. This has gradually increased the time needed to build the library – in fact, to build the whole package in our CI system recently hit an hour. At that point, I needed to take action to bring the build time back to a reasonable level.

  • Increase the number of cores on the build machine
  • Reduce the number of header includes per source file
  • Configure pre-compiled headers on the largest projects


The graph above shows the improvements with each step. Doubling the number of cores on the build machine halved the build time because much of the time is spent compiling .cpp files which can be done in parallel.

Reducing the number of header inclusions also had a big effect. Initially, I’d taken the approach that all headers could be included stand-alone, and they would include their own dependencies. For this large project, though, that turned out to be expensive – so instead, I produced a single header that included all the others in the right order. Although that also has drawbacks (like, any change to any of those headers forces all the project files to be re-built), it’s reasonable for the workflow involved in this area of work.

Finally, turning on pre-compiled headers had a really noticeable improvement – particularly in building individual projects within the package (which many of our developers will be doing). From what I’ve read on MSDN, the previous step was a pre-requisite – it’s recommended to have .cpp files include the same framework header files in the same order.

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C++: reasons to return void and/or return early

I was recently refactoring some code, leaving a function in which the most natural thing was to return a call to a void function. The code structure was like this simplified example, where I wanted to return early from a nested if statement, but it felt clumsy to put bar() and return on separate lines:

void bar()
    printf( "bar\n" );

void foo( int a, double b )
    if ( a > 0 )
        double c = a * b;
        if ( c > 0 && c > a )
            return bar();

    printf( "foo\n" );

I was surprised that this worked, because I half expected the compiler to do something sinister like optimise out the call to bar(), given that it returns void and only executes useful code via side-effects.

This post asks the same question, but it seems that this is supported in C++ and can be useful for template functions that return void.

Some readers may take issue with the early return in the code above. I admit I used to follow the mantra of maintaining a single return point in any function (except perhaps an early return after checking pre-conditions on parameters). However, the modern C++ take on this is that early returns are recommended and may lead to faster code. Herb Sutter has this to say:

allowing the function itself to return early when it knows it’s done is perfectly fine and fully under the function’s control. To put the final nail in the coffin, note that “single exit” has always been a fiction in any language that has exceptions, because you can get an early exceptional return from any point where you call something that could throw an exception


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LINQ for C++ by Steve Love

The October 2013 issue of Overload includes an article by Steve Love on building a range library that enables LINQ like syntax in C++.


This looks pretty good and is along similar lines to the approach in cpplinq.

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F# equivalent of C++ ‘Most vexing Parse’

I first read of the C++ “Most Vexing Parse” in the Scott Meyers Effective C++ series. For reference, here’s the code:

double aDouble;
int i(int(aDouble)); // This doesn't do what you think

The commented line actually declares a function i that takes a single integer parameter and returns an integer. Now, today, I saw something similar in F# that made me scratch my head and I think is similar:

let func a b c =
    return a + b + c

let main () =
    let sum = func a b
    // use sum

The symptom was that my function (here, called func) wasn’t being called. Yet stepping through in the debugger, I could break on the line that called it – yet it wouldn’t step into the function! Of course, by missing one of func’s parameters in the function call, I’d actually declared sum to be a new function taking one parameter (or to use functional terminology, I’d curried a and b).

This is hard to spot when the calling code and function declaration are in separate files and when you’ve added a new parameter to the function and it still compiles but doesn’t do what you expected!

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cpplinq – functional style for C++ using lambdas

I’ve just tried out CppLinq, a C++11 library that brings LINQ-style syntax into scope for C++ programmers that are used to writing code in a functional style. I’ve been using C++11 lambdas with STL algorithms like foreach, transform, accumulate – but this syntax using where, for_each, sum and ‘>>’ to chain commands together is so much neater. In fact, it brings C++11 style very close to the succinct F# piping style that is so popular.

To use cpplinq, you can just download a single header file and include it in your code. Awesome – having just battled for hours to use some other 3rd party library which required multiple libs, source files and compiler switches, this is so easy by comparison.

This Dr Dobbs article has several code examples which act as an simple tutorial.

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How to emulate C++11’s ‘enum class’ in C++03

One of many neat features in C++11 is the introduction of ‘enum class’ – this addresses problems arising from enum declarations such as scoping (the enum cases leak in the same scope as the enum type) and implicit conversion to integer. See Stroustrup’s C++11 FAQ for more details.

However, in the papers that motivated the new language feature (N1513 and N2347) they discuss the current workarounds for C++03. One such workaround is to define a class to represent the enum type – it’s much more verbose than the new C++11 feature, but it solves the scoping and conversion issues.

// Header file
class Weekday
  // Note that the private enum cases have underscores to differentiate
  // from the public cases
  typedef enum Weekday_ { Mon_, Tues_, Wed_, Thurs_, Fri_, Sat_, Sun_ };
  Weekday_ value_;

  static const Weekday Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun;
  explicit Weekday( const Weekday_& value ) : value_( value ){}

  bool operator<( const Weekday& rhs ) const { return this->value_ < rhs.value_; }
  bool operator==( const Weekday& rhs ) const { return this->value_ == rhs.value_; }
  bool operator!=( const Weekday& rhs ) const { return !(this->operator==(rhs)); }

// Source file
// Definitions for the public Weekday instances 
// in terms of the private enum
const Weekday Weekday::Mon( Mon_ );
const Weekday Weekday::Tues( Tues_ );
const Weekday Weekday::Wed( Wed_ );
const Weekday Weekday::Thurs( Thurs_ );
const Weekday Weekday::Fri( Fri_ );
const Weekday Weekday::Sat( Sat_ );
const Weekday Weekday::Sun( Sun_ );

That’s it – I’ve been using this recently and it works pretty well. I also added a “to_int()” member and a static “from_int()” member to explicitly convert bewteen the enum class and integers – the implementation is simply a switch over the enum cases.


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How to transform between a double date-time and std::string in C++

One of the attractions of writing software using the .NET framework is the wealth of support for doing simple things like translating between different data formats. These tasks are typically much harder to achieve in C++ due to the lack of an equivalent framework. One such task that I came across the other day is that date-times are often represented by a double in Windows, where the integer part represents the date since some epoch and the fractional part is the time as a fraction of 24 hours. Even with access to the Boost library, I still had to do some work to produce a simple transformation in C++.

#include <boost/format.hpp>
#include <boost/date_time/gregorian/gregorian.hpp>
#include <boost/date_time/posix_time/posix_time.hpp>

typedef double DateTime;

  boost::gregorian::date parse_date( DateTime date_time )
      boost::gregorian::date dt = boost::date_time::parse_date<boost::gregorian::date>( "1899-12-30", boost::date_time::ymd_order_iso );
      dt += boost::gregorian::date_duration( static_cast<long>( floor(date_time) ) );

  boost::posix_time::time_duration parse_time( DateTime date_time )
    double fractionalDay = date_time - floor(date_time);
    long milliseconds = static_cast<long>( floor( fractionalDay * 24.0 * 60.0 * 60.0 * 1000.0 + 0.5) );
    return boost::posix_time::milliseconds( milliseconds );

std::string to_date_string( DateTime date_time )
  boost::gregorian::date dt = parse_date( date_time );
  return (boost::format( "%4-%02d-%02d" ) % dt.year() % dt.month().as_number() % dt.day().as_number()).str();

DateTime from_date_string( const std::string& value )
  boost::gregorian::date epoch = boost::date_time::parse_date<boost::gregorian::date>( "1899-12-30", boost::date_time::ymd_order_iso);
  boost::gregorian::date dt = boost::date_time::parse_date<boost::gregorian::date>( value, boost::date_time::ymd_order_iso);

  boost::gregorian::date_duration diff = dt - epoch;
  return diff.days();

std::string to_date_time_string( DateTime date_time )
  boost::gregorian::date date_part = parse_date( date_time );
  boost::posix_time::time_duration time_part = parse_time( date_time );

  long long fractional_seconds = time_part.fractional_seconds();
  boost::date_time::time_resolutions resolution = time_part.resolution();
  if ( resolution == boost::date_time::micro )
    fractional_seconds /= 1000;
    if (resolution != boost::date_time::milli)
      throw std::logic_error( "Unexpected time resolution" );

  return (boost::format( "%d-%02d-%02d %02d:%02d:%02d.%03d" )
    % date_part.Year() % date_part.month().as_number() % date_part.day().as_number()
    % time_part.hours() % time_part.minutes() % time_part.seconds() % fractional_seconds ).str();

DateTime from_date_time_string( const std::string& value )
  DateTime date = from_date_string( value );
  boost::posix_time::ptime t = boost::posix_time::time_from_string( value );
  double milliseconds = static_cast<double>(t.time_of_day().total_milliseconds());

  return date + (milliseconds / 24.0 / 60.0 / 60.0 / 1000.0);

Please comment if you know a more straight-forward way to achieve this transformation, especially using Boost. Syntactically, the code could be simplified using C++11 auto, but I’ve spelt out the types explicitly throughout because I found it helpful to see which parts of the boost library are being used.

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Going Native 2013 – Don’t Help the Compiler, Stephan Lavavej

This presentation from Stephan Lavavej could have been entitled “Compiler Knows Best” – he rockets through numerous examples where the advice is to write less code and let the compiler do the right thing.

Here’s a slide of one of the key messages:


Other highlights for me:

  • decltype(auto) coming in C++14 looks very cool (eliminates duplicate code when using auto with decltype for late-specified return values)
  • Don’t call std::make_pair( x, y ) – the T, U are inferred by template argument deduction, so should always be left out (unless you want to force a type conversion when T != typeof(x) e.g. short -> long
  • Use nullptr because it is convertable to all pointer types, but 0 and NULL are always type int

I love the new features of C++11 and couldn’t have written some of the cool libraries I’m working on without them. But – presentations like this make me concerned for the complexity of the language and the steep learning curve that even experienced C++ hires will have to climb.

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Why do std::shared_ptr and std::unique_ptr have different template parameters?

Interesting question on StackOverflow – Why does unique_ptr take two template parameters when shared_ptr only takes one?

I haven’t used std::unique_ptr much and wasn’t aware that you could supply a custom deletor.

If you provide the deleter as template argument (as in unique_ptr) it is part of the type and you don’t need to store anything additional in the objects of this type. If deleter is passed as constructor’s argument (as in shared_ptr) you need to store it in the object. This is the cost of additional flexibility, since you can use different deleters for the objects of the same type

Since unique_ptr is lightweight and doesn’t have the overhead of a control block, it uses a template parameter for the deletor. std::shared_ptr takes the other choice since it already has a control block and gains the extra flexibility.

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