C++ 11

by Elliot Woods

Introduction

C++ an old language. It has been around since 1983. It is often seen as archaic, obtuse, and perhaps just plain out of touch by today's standards. Contrary to this, many people believe it offers the best balance of performance and clarity on the coding high street, and many other people use it fot its strong ecosystem of 3rd party libraries, device support and general acceptance. Even new technologies (like CUDA) often use C++ as their language of choice.

Some more modern languages (such as JavaScript and C#) make programs which run in a very different way to C/C++. They have a 'virtual machine', which is a very different type of computer than the one which crunches electronic signals on a circuit board. The virtual machine receives and processes program instructions like a real machine, but allows for all sorts of ideas which don't directly translate to silicon electronics, such as dynamic typing and reflection. The virtual machine abstracts the constraints of the processor away from the thinking of the programmer.

C/C++ does not have a virtual machine, which (for the time being) often gives it a performance edge over these newer languages. It is quite strict in that the instructions you type deep down have a 1:1 translation with physical processor instructions. This gives the language some inflexibilities, but means that code can be both understood naturally by a human, and clearly translate to machine code.

In this chapter we'll look at some of the new patterns in the C++ language introduced in C++11, which retain this promise whilst offering new ways of writing code.

auto

Perhaps the most used, and simplest new pattern in C++11 is auto. You'll love it. And probably won't remember life without it after a day or 2. Consider the following...

ofRectangle myRectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();
ofVec2f rectangleCenter = myRectangle.getCenter();
float rectangleCenterX = rectangleCenter.x;

In this code block, we are declaring 3 variables:

On each line of code we are:

  1. Getting a variable on the right hand side. which is of a certain type (ofRectangle, ofVec2f, float respectively)
  2. Declaring a new variable which is explicitly typed to match the value on the right
  3. Assigning the value to the variable

The type of data on the right and left side of the = is the same. Since C++ is strictly typed (e.g. a function which returns float will always return float), it is impossible for the value on the right hand side to ever be anything different. The compiler knows what data type the right hand side of the code will give, e.g. it knows that on line 1 that on the right hand side of the = is an ofRectangle. So perhaps if we were to write something like:

auto myRectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();
auto rectangleCenter = myRectangle.getCenter();
auto rectangleCenterX = rectangleCenter.x;

Then the compiler can do some of the coding for us. In fact, this is exactly the facility of the auto feature. This code block compiles to exactly the same result as the first code block did. The compiler notices what's on the right hand side and substitutes in the correct type wherever it sees auto.

How this helps

auto is going to save you keystrokes. Imagine the following:

//.h
vector<shared_ptr<ofThread> > myVectorOfThreads;
//.cpp

// the old way
vector<shared_ptr<ofThread>>::iterator firstThreadIterator = this->myVectorOfThreads.begin();

// the new way
auto firstThreadIterator = this->myVectorOfThreads.begin();

This makes the code more readable, but also you could take advantage of auto in other ways.

For example, when you reuse or copy variables, you can use auto along the way, meaning that you only have to define which type you want to use at the beginning and not everywhere else in your code. For example in the above h file, you might change the vector to a list, or change shared_ptr<ofThread> to ofThread *. These changes would perpetuate automatically to wherever an auto is being used int the code. Nifty huh?

Watch out for this

auto is not a new type

Note that the following doesn't work:

auto myRectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();
myRectangle = "look mum! i'm a string!!"; // compiler error!

Remember that auto isn't a type itself, it's not a magic container that can take any kind of thing (such as var in C# or another dynamic typed language), it is simply a keyword which gets substituted at compile time, you can imagine that the compiler just writes in for you whatever makes sense on that line where it is. In this case, the first line makes sure that myRectangle is an ofRectangle, and you can't assign a string to an ofRectangle.

You can't use auto in function arguments

Since the auto must be implicitly defined by the line of code where it is used, and that this decision is made at compile time, it can not be a function argument, let's see what that means..

Imagine that the following was valid: (NOTE : it isn't!)

float multiplyBy2(auto number) {
	return number * 2;
}

int firstNumber = 1;
float secondNumber = 2.0f;

cout << multiplyBy2(firstNumber) << endl;
cout << multiplyBy2(secondNumber) << endl;

Now if this code were valid, then the first time the function is called, the auto would mean int, and the second time it would mean float. Therefore saying that the text auto is simply substituted with an explicit type where it is written doesn't make sense. So basically you can't use auto in function arguments (you might want to look into template instead, which would automatically generate 2 pieces of code for the 2 different types).

You can't use auto as a function return type

I'm not sure why, you just can't. It kinda makes sense that you should be able to, but you just can't, I don't make the rules...

const and references

Let's do a const auto:

ofRectangle rectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();
//is the same as
auto rectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();

//and
const ofRectangle rectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();
//is the same as
const auto rectangle = ofGetCurrentViewport();

Next look at auto & for when we want reference types.

float x = rectangle.x;
//is the same as
auto x = rectangle.x;

//and

float & x = rectangle.x;
//is the same as
auto & x = rectangle.x;

Summary

for (thing : things)

Consider the following common pattern:

vector<ofPixels> mySelfies;
/*
take some snaps here and store in mySelfies
*/

//oh dear, my photos are all in portrait
for(int i=0; i<mySelfies.size(); i++) {
	//rotate them from landscape to portrait
	mySelfies[i].rotate90(1);
}

vector<ofxSnapChat::Friend> myFriends = snapChatClient.getFriends();

//now let's send them to all my friends
for(int i=0; i<myFriends.size(); i++) {
	if (myFriends[i].isOnline()) {
		for(int i=0; i<mySelfies.size(); i++) {
			myFriends[i].sendImage(mySelfies[i]);
		}
	}
}

Well we're forever doing things like for(int i=0; i<mySelfies.size(); i++) {, so let's see if we can find a neater way of doing this with for thing in things which in C++11 we can write as for (thing : things)...

vector<ofPixels> mySelfies;
/*
take some lovely snaps
*/

//oh dear, my photos are all in portrait
for(auto & mySelfie : mySelfies) {
	//rotate them from landscape to portrait
	mySelfie.rotate90(1); // (1)
}

auto myFriends = snapChatClient.getFriends();

//now let's send them to all my friends
for(auto & myFriend : myFriends) {
	if (myFriend.isOnline()) {
		for(auto & mySelfie : mySelfies) {
			myFriend.sendImage(mySelfie); // (2)
		}
	}
}

Notice that for(thing : things) gels so well with auto. Also notice that I'm using auto & since:

Summary

override

override saves you time not by reducing the amount of typing you do, but by reducing the amount of head-scratching you might do when dealing with virtual functions. Imagine the following:

class BuildingProjectionMapper {
public:
//...
    virtual void mapTheNeoClassicalColumns();
//...
};

class AutoBuildingProjectionMapper : public BuildingProjectionMapper {
public:
	void mapTheNeoClassicalColums(); // woops, I spelt column incorrectly
};

Now if I implement AutoBuildingProjectionMapper::mapTheNeoClassicalColums, it may never get called, and I may be wondering why my function calls are all being handled by the base class. The problem is that the compiler never told me that the function that I was trying to override didn't exist. Here comes override to the rescue.

class AutoBuildingProjectionMapper : public BuildingProjectionMapper {
public:
	void mapTheNeoClassicalColums() override;
};

This tells the compiler that I'm intending to override a virtual function. In this case, the compiler will tell me that no virtual function called mapTheNeoClassicalColums exists, and that therefore my override is faulty. So following the compiler's complaint I can go in and fix the spelling mistake. Then I can get on with making my Projection Mappening on the town library facade.

This is especially useful when you make changes to your base class, e.g. in oF 0.9.0, many base classes have changed, and by using override in addons, addon authors can be hard-notified that their code is now invalid and needs updating.

Summary

Lambda functions

This one is a little more complex. Rather than making things quicker or safer to write, it adds a new feature to the way you can design your code. As such, we'll introduce the basics of what they do, then make some interesting examples.

Lambda functions are very common in JavaScript, C# and other modern languages, and can be very liberating to use. They can seem more scary than they really are, so I suggest just getting on with some examples to start with. Let's make a simple example:

void kateBushFunction() {
	cout << "Heathcliff, it's me Cathy." << endl;
}

void changePopMusicForever() {
    auto kateBushLambdaFunction = []() {
        cout << "So cold. Let me into your window." << endl;
    };
	kateBushFunction();
	kateBushLambdaFunction();
}

Let's take a guess what happens here. Yep, we get:

Heathcliff, it's me Cathy.
So cold. Let me into your window.

So the lambda function is just like a normal function, but the biggest differences are that:

  1. The function is defined within the executable code of another function (in this case kateBushLambdaFunction is defined inside changePopMusicForever).
  2. The function is now also a variable

That second one is where the lambda function really comes into its own. Because we can pass it around, store it, throw it away, copy it. Let's make a more concrete example of this.

Passing lambda functions as variables

When we want to pass a lambda function as a variable, we need to introduce a type which can hold that data (since we can't use auto in function arguments or when defining members of classes). A common type which can store a lambda function is std::function<void()>. I understand that void() looks a bit funny at first, but it will make sense when we do a bit more with lambdas later on.

class Graphic {
public:
    void draw() {
        whatToDraw();
    }

    std::function<void()> whatToDraw;
};

class ofApp : ofBaseApp {
/*
.. all the usual stuff
*/
protected:
	vector<Graphic> graphicElements;
};
void ofApp::setup() {
	Graphic circle;
	circle.whatToDraw = []() {
		ofDrawCircle(50,50,20);
	};
	this->graphicElements.push_back(circle);

	Graphic rectangle;
	rectangle.whatToDraw = []() {
		ofRect(50,50,200,200);
	};
	this->graphicElements.push_back(rectangle);
}

void ofApp::draw() {
	for(auto & graphic : this->graphicElements) {
		graphic.draw();
	}
}

We could do this by creating classes which inherit from Graphic and override the draw function (e.g. CircleGraphic and RectangleGraphic). But instead of defining new classes, we've created 2 instances of Graphic which contain different function definitions by using lambda functions. This is convenient as it's often a pain to make new class definitions when we just want to change a little bit of functionality of a class.

Arguments, scope and return types

Now how about getting variables in and out of the function? A common pattern with normal functions is using function arguments to get variables into the function, and returning variables to get values out again. Let's see how that works with lambdas.

float multiplyByTwoFunction(float x) {
	return x * 2.0f;
}

void test() {
	auto multiplyByTwoLambda = [](float x) {
		return x * 2.0f;
	};

	cout << multiplyByTwoFunction(2.0f) << endl;
	cout << multiplyByTwoLambda(2.0f) << endl;
}

This would of course print out:

4
4

That's great! But we also have to be careful that because this function now has a float return type and a float argument, it is a different type of function to kateBushLambdaFunction. Note that if we want to pass this function as an argument we'd need to do like:

void performActionOnFloat(float & x, std::function<float(float)> action) {
	x = action(x);
}

Specifically, the type which can hold a lambda function is:

std::function<return type(arguments)>

You can use multiple arguments (like you can with normal functions).

Scope

Finally, we often need to introduce a 'scope' to the lambda function. The scope means what variables from outside the function can be seen inside the function. We define the scope in-between the []s in the lambda function definition, for example:

float multiplier = 4.0f;
auto multiplyByOurMultiplier = [multiplier](float x) { // (1)
	return x * multiplier;
}
cout << multiplyByOurMultiplier(2.0f); // prints 8

By putting the variable name multiplier within the []s of the lambda function definition at (1), we now can use the variable multiplier within the function definition. A really handy thing to put there is [this] which puts this within the scope of the function, i.e. makes all the members of the current class available from within the function.

You can: * Add multiple variables to the scope, e.g. [this, multiplier] * Add variables as references (rather than copies) to the scope, e.g.: [&multiplier] * Automatically add any variables to the scope which you use inside the function using [=] (make a copy of the variable at the function definition) or [&] (use a reference to the variable).

Summary so far

Worker thread example

Now let's go for a more down-deep example of how you might use lambda functions to save the world you from getting bogged down. In this example we have a class which talks to a camera device. The particular thing about this camera device is that the camera must run in its own thread, and all operations on the camera must run in that thread.

Imagine our ofApp looks like:

class ofApp : public ofBaseApp {
	/*
	the usual stuff
	*/

	CameraClass camera;
	ofParameter<float> exposure;
}

class CameraClass : public ofThread {
protected:
	void threadedFunction() override {
		while (this->isCameraRunning()) {
			this->device.getFrame();
			this->pixelsLock.lock();
			this->pixels.setFromExternalPixels(this->device->getData(), 640, 480, 3);
			this->pixelsLock.unlock();
			// (1)
		}
	}

	CameraDriver device;
	ofPixels pixels;
	ofMutex pixelsLock;
}

Now if we want a way to set the exposure on the camera from our ofApp we need to signal this to the CameraClass, and have it set the exposure in the right thread (e.g. at (1) which happens between grabbing frames from the camera).

One way of doing this would be to store some data saying that we needed to change the exposure, and what that new exposure value is. Then at (1) we would need to check for that data and have the code to act on it appropriately. The problem with that is that it's really laborious and introduces lots of special cases (e.g. what if something had to read the gain and then change the exposure accordingly?).

A nice workaround is to use lambda functions for this purpose, e.g. :

class CameraClass : public ofThread {
protected:
	void threadedFunction() override {
		while (this->isCameraRunning()) {
			this->device.getFrame();
			this->pixelsLock.lock();
			this->pixels.setFromExternalPixels(this->device->getData(), 640, 480, 3);
			this->pixelsLock.unlock();

			this->actionsLock.lock();
			for(auto & action : this->actions) {
				action(this->device);
			}
			this->actions.clear();
			this->actionsLock.unlock();
		}
	}

	void performInThread(std::function<void(CameraDriver&)> action) {
		this->actionsLock.lock();
		this->actions.push_back(action);
		this->actionsLock.unlock();
	}

	CameraDriver device;
	ofPixels pixels;
	ofMutex pixelsLock;

	vector<std::function<void(CameraDriver&)> > actions;
	ofMutex actionsLock;
}
//somewhere in ofApp

this->camera->performInThread([this](CameraDriver & device) {
	device.setExposure(this->exposure);
});

This will then push the instruction into CameraClass, so that at the right time this function is called within the thread managing the camera, taking the this->exposure variable from the ofApp and acting on the CameraDriver defined in CameraClass. All this happens without having to pass lots of variables around, in a really flexible way. To see how this is implemented in ofxMachineVision, check out the ofxMachineVision::Utils::ActionQueueThread at https://github.com/elliotwoods/ofxMachineVision/blob/master/src/ofxMachineVision/Utils/ActionQueueThread.cpp .

please note that this book / chapter is a work in progress. Feel free to suggest edits / corrections here