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C++ and its major Boost

C++ has some major shortcomings. The STL doesn't include a hash map using custom keys, its string to number converters make it hard to detect errors, and there just seem to be so many languages that are bundled with better standard libraries (look at Java and its support for Time/Date, atomic type conversion).

However, I am a huge fan of C++. I like the fact that there are unsigned types (unlike Java), type safety makes code less error prone (unlike python, ruby, and perl), it is polymorphic and inheritable (unlike C), its reference types provide speed, and it is ported more often to embedded platforms than any other language besides maybe C. So, how are these strengths leveraged by overcoming the obvious weaknesses?

Enter Boost. It has solutions for many of the shortcomings of C++ and some very useful utilities as well. In a recent development project, I used Boost as a supplement to C++ within the Windows environment because I wasn't sold on the .NET framework, and I wanted to be platform compatible with Linux. Boost provided this cross-platform capability with several utilities:
  • lexical_cast, a cast function that allowed for easy translation between string and numeric types,
  • command options, a library that takes command line arguments and parses them against registered available options,
  • unsorted map and hash function, which allowed for custom key types for maps that allowed for faster lexicographical comparisons than something like a string key,
  • bimaps, a bidirectional map that allows for searching for a key-value pair in both directions,
  • time duration and posix time, which allowed for the representation and the arithmetic operations of microsecond-resolution time values,
  • progress timer, which provided a report of the elapsed time for a program operation as it finished,
  • progress bar, which provided a very simple interface to print out a progress bar to the command prompt,
  • macro processing, which allowed for easy comma-delimited expansion of arrays without having to write the code explicitly (think variadic macros like printf), and finally
  • foreach, which looped through a container by providing the actual reference to the object pointed by the iterator.

The command line options and progress bar were of real big help to me, but my favorite utilities were the lexical_cast and the time libraries. I liked lexical cast because I could literally take any string value and easily convert it to an integer, float, double, etc. with just one line of code that also provides for error checking. The time objects (time_duration and ptime) were indispensable, particularly when I started chasing down the rat-hole of trying to come up with my own operators and conversion functions for time since I was taking time stamps and trying to perform arithmetic on them. One does not truly appreciate the amount of time and effort that these code writers have put into the Boost package until one realizes just how much work is required to get things just right. And isn't that just what software development is all about.

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