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C++, legacy and future

Yes, I do like C++ for being C++, an expert language close to the metal. But there are some things in C++ that should be seriously overhauled, if C++ does not want to pass the field over to C# and friends.

Frontend changes

  • Redundant keywords, basically anything where there are multiple ways to express the same thing semantically. struct or class means the same? If so, get rid of one, or add back some meaning, like struct may contain only an empty constructor and no functions.
  • Variable argument functions, i.e. the ... . This is basically totally broken. I'd rather have something like printf (const char* string, void* params = ...) which would mean "convert anything that comes to void*" and let the user cast it. If you specify something that is not void*, the compiler would check the type. This would also allow things like vector<Type>::vector(Type* params = ...) where you do get compile time type checking. Anyway, the current ... construct is dangerous and needs some overhaul.
  • A way to enforce variable initialisations. The default being "do not initialise at all" is dangerous, as the hundreds of bugs constantly remind us. If the programmer really does not want to initialise some variable, he should make it clear, like int variable = undefined; in all other cases, he should be forced to initialise to some sane value. I know, most compilers do warn, but anyway, this should be enforced on the language level.
  • Lambda functions. Seriously, std::for_each without lambdas is no fun, and this kind of stuff is just getting more and more important as it is extremely easy to make this run in parallel. There are even two proposals in the pipeline but it seems they won't make it into C++0x.
  • Automatic type deduction -- for (var it = coolMap.begin (), end = coolMap.end (); is so much nicer than for (std::map<std::string, std::pair<std::vector<std::string>, int> > >::const_iterator. At least, this seems to be "in" for C++0x
  • Getting rid of legacy features. Things like static void foo () should be done with namespace { void foo (); }, there is no need to support the legacy stuff if someone is writing against a C++0x compiler. Let's call this the strict mode or something like that, but stop C++ compilers from parsing 20 years old deprecated stuff. Same for sstream and strstream, issue an error if someone is using the deprecated stuff using a C++0x compiler and refuse to compile it.

Runtime changes

  • An usable RTTI system. C++'s RTTI system is totally rudimentary, and is not practically useful. Just take a look at Qt, MFC, Unreal Engine, wxWidgets -- all of them roll their own RTTI instead of using the C++ RTTI system.
  • Extended memory allocation functions. New and delete is fine, but I'd like to have the ability to redirect all new calls to my custom allocator (easily! Something like std::set_new_handler ()). Same for array new. Same goes for allocation hints, hinting that some memory is going to be permanent is an important clue for the allocator, as it might be put into a special heap.

Language changes

  • Arrays should be of type std::array by default, that is, if I write char [6] it should be actually the same as std::array<char, 6>, so I can use .begin () etc. on it. This is just a consistency thing, but anyway, it surely wouldn't hurt.
  • An enumerable concept is needed. This goes hand in hand with concepts and arrays being of an array type, as one can easily loop over them using a for each keyword. Boost already has a FOR_EACH macro, but language level support is needed here so people can easily use the standard containers.

Library changes

  • Library overhaul with performance in mind. Take a look at EASTL or something like this, the default C++ STL implementations are sometime just crap. This is getting better, but the standard should also enforce some performance constraints, like "empty containers must not allocate memory".
  • The new style iterators from Boost should be the default, they are easy to use -- more people will be willing to write an iterator if it is easy.
  • Proper string handling. No, std::string, std::wstring etc. is not proper string handling in the 21st century. The default should be probably UTF-8 based, with a working system to convert between various encodings -- like ICU.
  • Proper stream handling. Operating systems write data byte-oriented, not char ... This is something that makes me wonder all the time, why the heck are the iostreams char oriented? I'd much rather have some basic input_stream which can read bytes, same for output, and layer the functionality over this, i.e. input_stream::ptr is (new file_input_stream ("filename")); char_stream<char> cs (is); Makes many things much easier, and looking at Java and C#, this seems to be working in practice, too.
  • Thread creation, synchronisation. There is some thread stuff going into C++0x, but it is looking half-serious only. For example, no way to specify priorities as it is not really portable -- heck, something like priority_hint would have done it, and I wonder how someone is supposed to implement a background thread without priorities on Windows. Ok, an embedded platform might not have priorities but this should not cripple everyone.

There are changes coming that go into the right direction (atomics are coming, regular expressions, smart pointers -- but not smart arrays, uah, and finally hash maps, a working bind is coming, function objects), but the pace is too slow to remain competitive. C++ was successful in the past because it used to be extremely backwards compatible with C, but this is no longer the case with C99 and C++ going slightly different routes, moreover, most people are stuck with either C++ or C, and the interop part of C++ via C (i.e., unmangled names via extern "C") is good and does not need to be changed at all. The main problem for C++ is the lack of a driving force that can push a standard -- changing something in this language is difficult, and it really needs a cleanup so the compilers get maintainable and robust and the language itself becomes easier to use. Even 5 years after C++03, there is still just one compiler that supports C++, and that is the EDG frontend. Seriously, if a language gets that complicated that it becomes near impossible to write a compiler that supports all of it, something is going really really wrong.

Sources, references, etc.