Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Modifying temporaries

Temporary objects are created and destroyed all the time in a C++ program. A simple example would be a function that returns by value. A temporary is as good as a const object because it makes little sense (usually) to change a temporary object, which is unnamed and has a very short time span. (Note: A temporary can be bound to a const reference in which case the scope of the temporary is the same as that of the reference.) However, as it turns out, in C++ you can change temporaries ... if they are of class type! You can call non-const member functions on a temporary. This is quite similar to binding a temporary to a non-const reference and changing it. Section 3.10.10 in C++ ISO/IEC 14882:1998 standard clearly mentions this exception. There are at least two practical use of such an exception. One is the "Named Parameter" idiom and the other one is the Move Constructor idiom. In case of the named parameter idiom, the member functions might prefer to return the object by non-const reference instead of a by value. Here is an example:

class X
int a;
char b;
X() : a(0), b(0) {}
X setA(int i) { a = i; return *this; } // non-const function
X setB(char c) { b = c; return *this; } // non-const function

std::ostream & operator << (std::ostream & o, X const & x)
o << x.a << " " << x.b;
return o;

X createX() // returns X by value.
return X();

int main (void)
// The following code uses the named parameter idiom.
std::cout << createX().setA(10).setB('Z') << std::endl;

Saturday, March 21, 2009

LEESA: A new way of typed XML programming in C++

Some of my recent research work has focused on developing a highly generic and reusable library for complex object structure traversal, which is best exemplified by schema driven XML programming. I'm glad to present a research paper called LEESA: Embedding Strategic and XPath-like Object Structure Traversals in C++, which will be published in the proceedings of IFIP Working Conference on Domain Specific Languages (DSL WC), 2009 at Oxford, UK. LEESA stands for Language for Embedded quEry and traverSAl. LEESA has advanced the state-of-the-art of the typed XML programming in standard C++ to a level where many benefits of static type analysis can be maintained while enjoying a succinct syntax similar to that of XPath. Below, a quick motivating example of LEESA that sorts and prints the names of the authors in a XML book catalog is shown.

Catalog() >> Book() >> Author() >> Sort(Author(), LastNameComparator) >> ForEach(Author(), print);

The key thing to be noted here is that it is not a string encoded query. In fact, the C++ compiler checks the compatibility of this expression against the book catalog XML schema at compile-time! LEESA uses Expression templates idiom to achieve this highly intuitive, XPath-like syntax. Overall, LEESA's implementation is an exciting combination of generic programming, operator overloading, expression templates, C++ metaprogramming, Boost MPL, C++0x Concepts, and heck a lot of template hackery to make all the things work together! Interesting details are presented in the paper mentioned above.

The source code of LEESA is available. However, LEESA's current implementation is based on Universal Data Model (UDM 3.2.1) -- a full-fledged code generator for model-driven development that can be used as a XML schema compiler. Other code generators could be used provided they are extended to produce the necessary layers of abstraction described in the paper.

In the upcoming posts, I plan to document some of my experiences of developing LEESA.