Subject: [boost] [local] Review (and resignation from review assistant)
From: Gregory Crosswhite (gcrosswhite_at_[hidden])
Date: 2011-11-20 19:53:29
The discussion on the mailing list has caused me to realize that I have sufficient passion for the Local library that it is difficult for me to stay neutral, so I will be recusing myself from my position as Review Assistant for this library. (I have learned that should I decide to help out again in the future in this role for another review, I will make sure that it is for a library that I don't feel strongly about either way!)
On the other hand, this means that there is no longer any reason not to post a review of this library.
I have been a fan of this library for a long time because for me it solved the problem of having a nice way to write (pseudo-)closures in C++03 without having to write and maintain a lot of pointless boilerplate code, and without having to use a completely foreign syntax that I could never seem to get to work. Here is my review of it.
> - What is your evaluation of the design?
The library is very well designed. The function declaration syntax looks a little foreign at first, but it is very easy to get used to. Furthermore, error messages are usually able to point you to what you did wrong. The fact that you can write the body of the function in plain C++ code is a major advantage of this library. Some have referred to Boost.Bind, Boost.Lambda and Boost.Phoenix as essentially being equivalent to this library, but in none of those libraries can you express the body of your function in plain C++; one advantage of this is that errors in your code result in normal C++ error messages rather than cryptic error messages.
It is also clear reading through the documentation that Lorenzo has put a great deal of thought into possible use cases of his library; there are a great number of features which most users might never need to use but which are available for those times when they are completely necessary --- such as explicitly providing types of bound parameters, and marking functions inline --- and they are provided in such a way that when they aren't needed they introduce no additional overhead to the syntax.
> - What is your evaluation of the implementation?
I am not familiar enough with preprocessor programming to be able to make a fully qualified statement on this. However, it looks reasonable based on the Implementation appendix. The virtual function call is a shame as, if I recall correctly, it can make Boost.Local slower than Boost.Phoenix when the compiler is not smart enough to optimize it into a direct call, but Lorenzo has put so much time and expertise into the design of this library that I doubt it is possible to improve on this while maintaining compatibility with C++03. For me this part of the overhead is not a big deal because I primarily have been using Boost.Local in test suites where the difference in performance does not matter.
> - What is your evaluation of the documentation?
The documentation is some of the best well written I have seen for a Boost library. It does a good job both explaining how the library works, providing a reference for remembering how the syntax works, and explaining why the library was designed the way that it does.
As I have told Lorenzo in a separate e-mail, I do have a minor criticism of the Tutorial section: the ordering of the first four sections is probably not what typical user reading it the first time would want because it puts the most important and essential feature, variable binding, after two features, default and empty argument features, which are nice to have but are not likely to be needed in typical usage, especially considering that a first-time user is most likely just looking for a convenient way to create a simple (pseudo-)closure in C++03. Thus, I suggest the following ordering:
This way a typical user, who will only care about writing a function that binds a few local variables, will be able to get started immediately after reading the second section rather than first having to wade through two sections describing features that they are unlikely to care about right away. The rationale for putting "Default Parameters" before "Empty Parameters" is that a typical user is very unlikely to need to know how to call the macro with no arguments because there are few use cases where a typical user won't want to bind *anything* from the local environment (since most of the time this means that they won't be thinking in terms of local functions in the first place), so they are less likely to care about how to do this than they are about how to specify default parameters.
> - What is your evaluation of the potential usefulness of the library?
This library is very useful for people who want to use much of the functionality of C++11 lambdas on C++03 compilers, as I can say from personal experience in using it.
As I have said before, the existence of Boost.Bind, Boost.Lambda and Boost.Phoenix do not reduce the utility of this library. They do have a large advantage over Boost.Local of being succinct, which is why I often prefer them over Boost.Local when it is easy to do so. However, because they require to you learn completely new syntax for *all* of the code in the function body, and because they make use of heavy metatemplate programming that results in absolutely horrendous error message that do not give you a clue where they are wrong, for anything non-trivial Boost.Local is hands-down *far* easier to use because you can use plain C++ statement syntax which results in plain C++ error message when you get something wrong.
Put another way, Boost.Bind, Boost.Lambda and Boost.Phoenix are complementary to rather than competitors of Boost.Local.
> - Did you try to use the library? With what compiler? Did you have any
I have used the library extensively in my own codes, though most often in test suites. I have used them on OSX with GCC 4.2, and on Linux with (if I recall correctly) GCC 4.3 and 4.4.
> - How much effort did you put into your evaluation? A glance? A quick
> reading? In-depth study?
I have become accustomed to using the library on a regular basis and hence my evaluation is written based on my personal experience with it.
> Please state clearly whether you think this library should be accepted as a Boost library.
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