Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Grr++ ..

Its been about two years since I've done any serious C++ however my current interests (networking) have led me back to my software development roots.

I have been working through W. Richard Steven's UNIX Network Programming book, coding up the examples on my laptop running Centos Linux. Not only am I becoming more knowledgeable in network programming, I am also stretching my skills into the Unix world - getting some work with gcc, g++, gdb, vim, make, as well as some shell scripting.

Usually when learning from a computer programming book, you have the option to download the example source code, but I think it is beneficial to type in the code. This said, I only want to type in the code once! Essentially I want to create libraries that I can reuse as I work through the book and perhaps I may wind up with stuff that I can reuse in the future.

I enjoy W. Richard Steven's classic UNIX C code, but I am compelled to wrap the C functions in C++ classes, and here I am, back in my old stomping grounds.

Now instead of diligently working through Steven's book, I am writing C++ wrapper classes.

As I remember, this was a common theme during my past self studies. I always wanted to devise some system but I usually spent my time creating libraries and tools. The work on libraries probably bore fruit in my professional life but it seemed like I never wrote that next killer app in my spare time.

Of course I discovered Java, C#, Perl, and Python, all of which featured powerful libraries. C++ began to drift off of the radar.

But now I am back. So now what?
To begin with, I like C++. Experience has shown me that GC and reference-counted memory management schemes are not a free lunch. I have seen horrendous memory leaks in GC systems due to things like circular references.

The ability to create full objects on the stack and then let nature's memory manager do its thing actually seems powerful.

So where does C++ stink?
Smell 1 - Libraries - I want XPath and XML Dom, Regular Expressions, Data Access and Concurrency libraries at my finger tips because I have been spoiled.

Smell 2 - Tight coupling with C. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that (dare I say) all system API's are written for the C programming language (my examples being Win32 and POSIX). Therefore C++ libraries are easily created to wrap these low-level API's.

I think much of the bad rap C++ got was when it was used as an abstraction layer above C. Take MFC (please take it!) for example, I wonder how many developers swore off C++ after a few years with that crappy framework. I also wonder how many developers learned how to write crappy C++ code after a few years with that framework. Java seemed like a plush, polished gem after MFC.

Also as an aside, the scripting languages did a much (I mean MUCH) better job of abstracting away the C system-level APIs.

So here I am a few years down the road and supposedly wiser, stupidly writing crappy C++ libraries around C code and feeling like I am wasting my time (which I surely am).

So C++ is not necessarily a bad language, but I need library and framework support.

Probably the only downside is that I need to assemble my own toolkit. First of all there is Boost which appears to take STL to the next level. There is ACE which provides an abstraction layer around the system APIs, particularly in the realm of networking and concurrency. And there are other sources of libraries, notably Apache which has C++ versions of its Xerces XML libary.

No worries and maybe I can find some type of library to write along the way (old habits die hard)!