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C++ In Action: Introduction


Writing good software requires much more than just learning the language. Firstly, the program doesn't execute in a vacuum. It has to interact with the computer. And interacting with the computer means going through the operating system. Without having some knowledge of the operating system, it is impossible to write serious programs. Secondly, we not only want to write programs that run--we want our programs to be small, fast, reliable, robust and scaleable. Thirdly, we want to finish the development of a program in a sensible amount of time, and we want to maintain and enhance it afterwards.

The goal of the second part of the book, The Techniques, is to make possible the transition from 'weekend programming' to 'industrial strength programming.'

I will describe the technique that makes programming in C++ an order of magnitude more robust and maintainable. I call it "managing resources" since it is centered on the idea of a program creating, acquiring, owning and releasing various kinds of resources. For every resource, at any point in time during the execution of the program, there has to be a well-defined owner responsible for its release. This simple idea turns out to be extremely powerful in designing and maintaining complex software systems. Many a bug has been avoided or found and fixed using resource ownership analysis.

Resource management meshes very naturally with C++ exception handling. In fact, writing sensible C++ programs that use exceptions seems virtually impossible without the encapsulation of resources. So, when should you use exceptions? What do they buy you? It depends on what your response is to the following simple question: Do you always check the result of new (or, for C programmers, the result of malloc)? This is a rhetorical question. Unless you are an exceptionally careful programmer--you don't. That means you are already using exceptions, whether you want it or not. Because accessing a null pointer results in an exception called the General Protection Fault (GP-fault or Access Violation, as the programmers call it). If your program is not exception-aware, it will die a horrible death upon such an exception. What's more, the operating system will shame you by putting up a message box, leaving no doubt that it was your application that was written using sub-standard programming practices (maybe not in so many words).

My point is, in order to write robust and reliable applications--and that's what this book is about--you will sooner or later have to use exceptions. Of course, there are other programming techniques that were and still are being successfully applied to the development of reasonably robust and reliable applications. None of them, however, comes close in terms of simplicity and maintainability to the application of C++ exceptions in combination with the resource management techniques.

I will introduce the interaction with the operating system through a series of Windows programming exercises. They will lead the reader into new programming paradigms: message-based programming, Model-View-Controller approach to user interface, etc.

The advances in computer hardware paved the way to a new generation of PC operating systems. Preemptive multitasking and virtual memory are finally mainstream features on personal computers. So how does one write an application that takes advantage of multitasking? How does one synchronize multiple threads accessing the same data structure? And most importantly, how does multitasking mesh with the object-oriented paradigm and C++? I will try to answer these questions.

Virtual memory gives your application the illusion of practically infinite memory. On a 32-bit system you can address 4 gigabytes of virtual memory--in practice the amount of available memory is limited by the size of your hard disk(s). For the application you write it means that it can easily deal with multi-megabyte memory based data structures. Or can it? Welcome to the world of thrashing! I will explain which algorithms and data structures are compatible with virtual memory and how to use memory-mapped files to save disk space.

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