While catching up on recent postings to Lambda the Ultimate, I was rather surprised to discover that last week concepts were, by a vote of the committee members, completely removed from the C++0x draft specification.

On Monday, July 13th 2009 Concepts were dramatically voted out of C++0x during the C++ standards committee meeting in Frankfurt. […] When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe it. Concepts were supposed to be the most important addition to core C++ since 1998. Tremendous efforts and discussions were dedicated to Concepts in every committee meeting during the past five years. After dozens of official papers, tutorials and articles — all of which were dedicated to presenting and evangelizing Concepts — it seemed very unlikely that just before the finishing line, Concepts would be dropped in a dramatic voting.

C++0x is the next version of the C++ language standard. It should more properly be called C++1x, since the chances of it being released within the year are like the chances that Microsoft would contribute code to the Linux kernel — er, bad example. Anyway, the point is that it’s not going to be done this year.

While I’ve been following the development of C++0x with interest, I haven’t been immersing myself in the implementation details. In essence, I want to know what’s coming up, but I’m not too interested in committing to memory the nuts and bolts of a specification that is likely to be revised several more times before it is finalized. I’m not totally abstaining from C++0x until it’s done. I do use some features where they are useful and already implemented, for example I am using unordered_map, the standard library’s version of a hash table, in the latest iteration of my work on the lottery problem. However, my understanding of the majority of C++0x features has been relatively, for lack of a better word, “conceptual”.

The layman’s understanding that I had of the C++0x concepts feature led me to react with shock to learning of it’s removal. It sounded incredibly useful, and I didn’t see what could be such a big problem that it would have to be ripped out entirely. That changed when I read more about concepts as they (were going to) exist in C++0x.

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I thought of a quick addendum to Monday’s article on covariant, templatized copy constructors. The end of that article said

[T]here is a large caveat that you may have noticed. Due to the the inversion of the inheritance hierarchy around the cloning mixins, we have completely lost the ability to construct derived objects using anything but the default constructor. If you need to construct a Derived (which is really a Cloneable<Derived_>) and pass an argument to the Derived_ constructor, you cannot.

And then I go on to suggest using a factory pattern that is aware of the quirky type hierarchy described in that post. But in fact there is a relatively elegant way around this problem without using factories.

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One problem that programmers new to C++ often run into when they begin to write non-trivial programs is that of slicing.

In object-oriented programming, a subclass often holds more information than its superclass. Thus, if we assign an instance of the subclass to a variable of type superclass, there is not enough space to store the extra information, and it is sliced off.

The simple way to avoid slicing is to avoid making copies. Simply pass polymorphic objects around by reference (or by pointer) rather than by value, and one never has to worry about slicing. But sometimes the need to copy is unavoidable. In particular, when the need arises to make a copy of a derived object and all you have is a base pointer, things get hairy. How do you know which derived class the pointer’s target really belongs to, in order to make a proper, deep, non-sliced copy?

Fortunately, this problem has a well-known solution pattern called the virtual copy constructor idiom. One implements a virtual clone() method that makes a proper deep, non-sliced copy. There’s nothing wrong with this idiom, but it does entail the inelegance of having to repeat near-identical code for the clone() method in each derived class.

C++ programmers encountering this pattern for the first time often get the bright idea that this code can be centralized through the use of templates. Doing this while maintaining all the advantages of a non-templatized virtual copy constructor turns out to be much trickier than it first appears. This post will explain the problem, and how to do something that I have not yet found described on the Internet: implement the virtual copy constructor idiom using templates without sacrificing covariance.

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In Monday’s post, “Out-of-Band Error Reporting Without Exceptions”, I described a method for elegantly obtaining three out of five major advantages of C++ exceptions without actually using them. Now I’ll tell you how to go about grabbing a fourth advantage: exception type hierarchies.

C++ exceptions are hierarchical, and their hierarchy is a type hierarchy such that a more-derived exception can be treated, if desired, as one of its base exception types. For example, a FileNotFoundException might be derived from FileIOException. Some code may choose to handle FileNotFoundExceptions distinctly from other FileIOExceptions. Other code might delegate all FileIOExceptions to a common handler. In C++ this is done with implicit typecasting in the catch statements in a try block.

Wouldn’t it be useful if we could do something similar with the ErrorReport and CheckedValue classes that were defined in Monday’s post, instead of just having an error/not-an-error indicator and a human-readable message? Well, we can. It’s easy to use but a little tricky to set up.

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