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From: David Abrahams (david.abrahams_at_[hidden])
Date: 2001-09-01 13:38:36

----- Original Message -----
From: "Greg Colvin" <gcolvin_at_[hidden]>
To: <boost_at_[hidden]>
Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2001 1:23 PM
Subject: Re: [boost] shared_xxx issues

> From: David Abrahams <david.abrahams_at_[hidden]>
> > First Issue:
> >
> > I've just found myself wanting a really flexible smart pointer, along
> > lines of the one in Loki by Andrei Alexandrescu. For a long time I
> > that I would rarely want more than shared_ptr, but I can see that this
> > going to come up again and again for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't use
> > Andrei's design because very few compilers will apply the empty base
> > optimization in cases of multiple inheritance. So, even if shared_ptr is
> > choice for submission to the committee I would really like to see a
> > policy-based smart pointer in boost.
> Which policies is it that you want?

In this particular case, I wanted an embedded reference count, a specialized
allocator, and an embedded size which could be passed to the allocator upon

> > Second Issue:
> >
> > I found the following code in shared_array (and I assume the analogous
> > is in shared_ptr):
> >
> > void reset(T* p=0)
> > {
> > if ( px == p ) return; // fix: self-assignment safe
> >
> > What this does is to make a silent success of resetting a shared_ptr
> > the pointer it owns. The problem with that is that resetting a
shared_ptr to
> > any /other/ pointer which is managed by a shared_ptr is a fatal (and
> > hard-to-detect) error, which happens even to experienced programmers. I
> > don't think the trade-off is a good one. Making this special case (which
> > can detect) silently work when all other cases will fail without
> > is a mistake. I'd rather see an assert() here.
> Of course the problem with an assert() is that it only detects
> this one easy case, a harmless one, and misses the hard and truly
> dangerous cases, and thus might lead to a false sense of security.

I think you have the right policy, but in the wrong place. That policy
applies well to documented external behavior, like the conditions under
which an exception will be thrown. Assertions should not be documented per
se, since they are just checks for preconditions, and not all preconditions
can be checked. All preconditions, however, should be documented.

Admittedly, the chances that a shared_ptr will be reset to point at the same
object are slim, but if it /does/ happen, there's a good chance that the
same code could reset it to point at some other object which is already
managed (to see this, ask yourself, "why would a programmer ever
intentionally reset() a smart pointer to the same value?" I can think of
reasons, but it's a bit of a stretch). This is is the only chance we get to
catch a very common source of bugs. Currently, we have a precondition like
this one for reset (is it documented?): "the argument must not point to an
object whose lifetime is managed by another smart pointer...unless it's the
same one that you are calling reset on". I propose to take out the exception
for this one case so that we stand a chance of detecting real bugs.

> It is possible of course to maintain a list or set of pointers
> to all shared objects and assert that p is not in the set of shared
> objects, as my cyclic_ptr experiment did.

But, as you also said, it doesn't work for multiple-inheritance.

> As a general rule any use of the raw pointer functions of shared_.*
> should be hidden away from ordinary use behind a create/recreate
> interface. I would be happy to deprecate all these functions
> if suitable replacements could be found.

What is recreate?

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