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From: Darryl Green (darryl.green_at_[hidden])
Date: 2008-08-21 11:00:16

On Tue, 2008-08-19 at 23:03 +0400, Andrey Semashev wrote:
> Darryl Green wrote:
> > I don't know if I will have time to do a proper review of the library.
> > The following are my notes on it so far.
> Thank you for your effort.

This is as close to a review as I am going to have time for. I've had a
bit of a look at the code, but still haven't tried to use the library.
The code is clear, but I do wonder at the necessity of some of the low
level "hacks" used to implement the state "container" used. Could a
fusion set not have done the same job?

> > Docs are quite good, but perhaps lack enough rationale style
> > documentation on how the library models FSM concepts. Would benefit from
> > some "how to" examples of more realistic usage and some "how to" docs on
> > translating FSMs expressed using UML (or Harel) statecharts into a form
> > implementable using FSM.
> Ok, I will add a separate rationale section. As for "how-to", I thought
> the tutorial would play this role. I'll think about it.

Using the tutorial is ok - it just needs to illustrate some of the
mappings from concepts that can be expressed i a UML staechart to your
library better/more comprehensively.

> > Unusual terminology.
> I'm not sure what parts of documentation you are referring to when
> saying "unusual terminology".

I wasn't referring to the documentation but to the naming conventions in the library itself.

> I'm sure, my English is far from perfect
> and may not know some formal terms. I would be glad to fix all
> inconsistencies.

I did not intend to critique the English or the internal consistency of
the documentation. Rather I think adopting a terminology consistent with
some published standard state machine representation/model such as UML
is almost essential. If boost is to ccontain 2 libraries for
implementing state machines, there should at least be a clear mapping
between concepts in one and the other. Identical terminology should be
used where possible. Note that for the most part, adopting Statechart
terminology aligns with UML. If you need to adopt different concepts
with their own definitions it will need some rationale and additional

> > Some idiosyncratic behaviour. The FSM delivers the event to the
> > on_process() handler in the "switched to" state when the transition is
> > specified using the transition map, while delivering it to the
> > on_process() handler in the current state if no transition map entry
> > matches.
> There's a rationale in the docs for this behavior. The main reason is
> that if the transition rule is executed after the on_process handler in
> the current state, it is possible that the on_process handler switches
> to another state itself, which would make the chosen transition invalid.

I agree - there is a conflict between the transition map and the
on_process handler in the current state.

As a potential FSM user I am concerned that I could accidentally
completely change the FSM by ending up with what should have been a
simple action, executed on a transition, executed as the only reaction
to an event (due to an error in the transition table) or have what was
intended to be a gated reaction in one state actually be invoked as a
result of a transition from another state, producing an effect somewhat
like duplicating an event.

An action to be executed during a transition defined by the transition
table should never, as far as I can see, itself cause a state change
(ie. contain a switch_to) while one intended to process events in the
absence of a transition row for the event and state concerned should
contain a switch_to unless it is being used to define an in-state
reaction. These seem like 2 completely separate concepts.

> > Would it not be better to have a model similar to Boost.Statechart

> That would completely change the purpose of transitions and transition
> table. Now the transition table is used to define the conditions when to
> transit and which state to transit to. With your approach the transition
> table would define _how_ to transit, i.e. what to do while transiting.
> This would leave the logic of deciding whether to transit or not to
> event handlers only.

That was not my intent. I was relying on the specification for
transitions and custom reactions in Boost Statechart to define the

Statechart transitions define the conditions on which to transit (state
is implicit as the reactions typelist is a member of the state, while
the event is a parameter of the transition) as well as the how to
transit (the optional transition action).

Statechart custom reactions also define both when and how to transit.
The Statechart transit function (similar to switch_to) can only be used
within a custom reaction react() function (which is broadly similar to
the on_process function, and provides the "when") and takes an optional
transition action parameter (along with the state to transit to) to
provide the "how".

You cannot define both a custom reaction and a transition for the same
event in the same state.

This all results in a set of well defined and separate concepts and
classes. I am struggling with the on_process duality in FSM and would
like to see it resolved with something closer to the Statechart

> I also made a quick C++ parser on this library to
> markup the code samples I used in the library docs. The latter, indeed,
> was just a toy.

It sounds like an interesting toy. Is the code available?

> I think, the library would be most suitable for various
> protocol clients, which should maintain internal state and act according
> to it and where different event types can be distinguished.

That is my main area of interest/experience with FSMs as well. Boost
Statechart is very effective in this space. If FSM were able to offer
the same ease of use and direct translation of statecharts to code as
Statechart or offer an even better DSL along with higher performance it
would be fantastic. As it is it offers high performance, but at a
considerable cost in both the other areas, as well as scaleability. I'm
going to abstain from passing a yes or no vote. I don't have a use for
the library as is, but that doesn't seem like a very strong reason to
vote against it. I won't vote for it because I hold out hope that
something better is possible - although it won't be easy.


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