Monday, May 4, 2009

c++ : first thing in parentheses of a func prototype

A parenthesis indicates a function call/prototype. The latter is a real readability issue -- If there's an unreadable param, then function call won't be simple -- doomed.

"First part" inside the parenthesis of a prototype is a parameter_type_specifier, just like variable declarations. However, a variable declaration is (and reads) simpler -- it has 0 or 1 "=", and everything on the left consists of the variable type and the variable name. There's no obligatory "distractions".

For a function prototype, there are other params and there's a context ie the function as a whole. The function makes sense only as a whole [1]. It's generally ineffective to try and interpret a "first part" without context. Therefore when you encounter a monstrous "first part", you have to swallow it along with the context -- more indigestion.

[1] In the same vein, a non-static field/method in isolation has limited meaning compared to the class as a whole. We are trained to think in terms of functions -- deep rooted in our psyche. Function is the standard level of abstraction.

Now let's look at some of the things that wash up as "first part".

* a dummy type (template param) like T, S or a misleading name like InputIterator.
* indistinguishable from type params, we see type aliases defined in typedef. Like size_t.
<=== These are the 2 deceptive kind of "first part", as they often resemble user-defined class types.

* since T is allowed, so is pair<K,T>
* a specialized template -- since pair<K,T> is allowed, so is vector<int>
* an iterator, like std::vector<T>::const_iterator
* functors like ....?

To make things worse, in the "first part" we also see ptr/ref to the above items, such as
- ref/ptr to a type param T
- ptr or ref to a type alias
- For template names, things get complicated -- we can get vector<T*> and vector<T>*. Example qq[ Property<N, T>& ] as in [[pricing]] P51
-- throw in iterator, you can get qq[ map(K,V*)::iterator* ]

In java, a method param can be as complicated as Map<T, List<T>> but for C++ as soon as ref/ptr meets templates, complexity quadruples.

Some people put in a function ptr in the "first part". I feel this should be a typedef.

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