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From: Peter C B Henderson (peter.henderson_at_[hidden])
Date: 2006-06-09 05:46:33
I hope this beats the deadline. I didn't realise I had to repost after
subscribing to boost.
I only learned about this review on Wednesday June 7, so I hope this gets in
on time. Also, I have not had time to thoroughly review the design. However
one aspect of the design was brought to my attention by a colleague, and it is
on this I will comment.
The aspect that I wish to comment on is the definition of the comparison
operations. These are described as being controlled by a parameter
BOOST_PQS_COMPARISON_EPSILON, which controls slop in the comparison. I will
refer to this as epsilon comparison, as opposed to standard comparison.
Looking at the reviews so far, I haven't seen reference to this issue.
First the presence of this feature leads me to vote against the inclusion of
this library in boost. My reasons follow.
This behaviour violates the first principles of the use of operator
overloading: the overloaded operators should have comparable semantics to the
original operators and should satisfy similar relations, e.g. ++x should
behave as x+1.
In the context of a physical dimension library, this means the overarching
design goal is that operations produce exactly the same results as would be
obtained using the underlying numerical types, with the sole exception that
the dimension checking prevents invalid combinations of dimensions. With
respect to statically typed objects, whether statically defined or created by
new and assigned to statically typed pointers, another goal is that there
should be negligible increase in running time and the use of memory.
Violating these dictums w.r.t. comparison leads to numerous problems.
First, important relations no longer apply. For example trichotomy,
i.e. exactly one of x<y, x==y or x>y is true, can no longer be guaranteed.
This property is relied on for sorting and hence for the proper operation of
Second, programmers will invariably read the comparison operators as being
comparisons of floats in there usual sense. (For definiteness, I will refer
to floats throughout, however these comments apply to any numeric type.) They
will expect that they can copy a floating point routine verbatim and obtain
the same results But if the value of BOOST_PQS_COMPARISON_EPSILON is changed
anywhere in the program, this will no longer be the case and extremely hard to
find bugs will occur. In addition, the programmer can no longer be sure what
any comparison actually does, and so will have to invest time in checking that
the epsilon control variable has not been changed while attempting to
determine the cause of a bug.
At worst, this will lead to defensive programming practice where every
function will save and set this variable on entry and restore it on exit.
Even worse, since no one can be sure a function doesn't change this variable,
every function will have to save this variable and restore it before and after
every function call.
Third, the idea that this variable can be set to a single useful value is
ill-conceived. When this type of comparison is required, the value of epsilon
must be determined for each particular point in the program. It must be large
enough to account for the anticipated rounding error at that point, but not
too large so as to overly degrade the accuracy of the final result. Often, in
fact, entirely different tests may be used, for example instead of x < y+eps,
the test may be x < y*(1+ups)+eps. In many cases it may be fabs(x) < eps.
Fourth, the use of epsilon comparisons can have a severe impact on performance
as the compiler always has to issue operations to perform the full test, even
when BOOST_PQS_COMPARISON_EPSILON is set to zero.
Finally, it violates the purity of purpose the physical dimensions library.
Its sole purpose should be to ensure programmers don't make mistakes which can
be caught by dimensional analysis or due to inadvertant mixing of different
units. The epsilon comparison proposed has nothing to do with this aim,
rather it is attempting to protect inexperienced programmers from certain
easily made mistakes. If this functionality is desired, a special template
class, entirely separate from the dimensions library should be created and
these special types passed as template arguments to the dimensions library.
I hope I have not seemed too harsh in my criticism. Fortunately, this problem
can be fixed with no imparement to the purpose or functionality of the
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