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High Performance Dynamic Typing in C++ using a Replacement for boost::any

, 9 May 2011
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A high-performance alternative to boost::any.

Introduction

The Boost library provides a very useful little class called boost::any which can contain a value of virtually any type as long as that value supports copy construction and assignment. This boost::any type allows dynamic querying of the contained type, and safe type conversions. Despite its usefulness, boost::any is not as efficient as it could be, so I have rewritten my own, which I have immodestly called cdiggins::any.

Updated in 2011: After five years, I have rewritten the class from scratch to fix some really nasty bugs and to simplify the code.

Using cdiggins::any

The cdiggins::any type can be used to hold normal value types, and provides a mechanism to safely and explicitly cast back to the appropriate type.

any a = 42;
cout << a.cast<int>() << endl;
a = 13;
cout << a.cast<int>() << endl;
a = "hello";
cout << a.cast<const char*>() << endl;
a = std::string("1234567890");
cout << a.cast<std::string>() << endl;
int n = 42;
a = &n;
cout << *a.cast<int*>() << endl;
any b = true;
cout << b.cast<bool>() << endl;
swap(a, b);        
cout << a.cast<bool>() << endl;
a.cast<bool>() = false;
cout << a.cast<bool>() << endl;

Design of cdiggins::any

The cdiggins::any class contains two pointers: one to a policy class (any::policy) and one is a pointer to the data (any::data) which may in certain cases be used to contain the data itself (for example, if storing a primitive data type smaller than or equal to the size of a pointer).

The policy class is used for performing allocations, deallocation, copies, etc., and determines whether to use any::data to hold the data or point to the data.

Finally, without further ado, here is the implementation of the cdiggins::any class for your enjoyment:

#pragma once
/*
 * (C) Copyright Christopher Diggins 2005-2011
 * (C) Copyright Pablo Aguilar 2005
 * (C) Copyright Kevlin Henney 2001
 *
 * Distributed under the Boost Software License, Version 1.0. (See
 * accompanying file LICENSE_1_0.txt or copy at
 * http://www.boost.org/LICENSE_1_0.txt
 */

#include <stdexcept>

namespace cdiggins
{
namespace anyimpl
{
    struct bad_any_cast 
    {
    };

    struct empty_any 
    {
    };

    struct base_any_policy 
    {
        virtual void static_delete(void** x) = 0;
        virtual void copy_from_value(void const* src, void** dest) = 0;
        virtual void clone(void* const* src, void** dest) = 0;
        virtual void move(void* const* src, void** dest) = 0;
        virtual void* get_value(void** src) = 0;
        virtual size_t get_size() = 0;
    };

    template<typename T>
    struct typed_base_any_policy : base_any_policy
    {
        virtual size_t get_size() { return sizeof(T); } 
    };

    template<typename T>
    struct small_any_policy : typed_base_any_policy<T>
    {
        virtual void static_delete(void** x) { }
        virtual void copy_from_value(void const* src, void** dest)
            { new(dest) T(*reinterpret_cast<T const*>(src)); }
        virtual void clone(void* const* src, void** dest) { *dest = *src; }
        virtual void move(void* const* src, void** dest) { *dest = *src; }
        virtual void* get_value(void** src) { return reinterpret_cast<void*>(src); }
    };

    template<typename T>
    struct big_any_policy : typed_base_any_policy<T>
    {
        virtual void static_delete(void** x) { if (*x) 
            delete(*reinterpret_cast<T**>(x)); *x = NULL; }
        virtual void copy_from_value(void const* src, void** dest) { 
           *dest = new T(*reinterpret_cast<T const*>(src)); }
        virtual void clone(void* const* src, void** dest) { 
           *dest = new T(**reinterpret_cast<T* const*>(src)); }
        virtual void move(void* const* src, void** dest) { 
          (*reinterpret_cast<T**>(dest))->~T(); 
          **reinterpret_cast<T**>(dest) = **reinterpret_cast<T* const*>(src); }
        virtual void* get_value(void** src) { return *src; }
    };

    template<typename T>
    struct choose_policy 
    {
        typedef big_any_policy<T> type;
    };

    template<typename T> 
    struct choose_policy<T*> 
    { 
        typedef small_any_policy<T*> type; 
    };
    
    struct any;

    /// Choosing the policy for an any type is illegal, but should never happen.
    /// This is designed to throw a compiler error.
    template<>
    struct choose_policy<any>
    {
        typedef void type;
    };

    /// Specializations for small types.
    #define SMALL_POLICY(TYPE) template<> struct 
       choose_policy<TYPE> { typedef small_any_policy<TYPE> type; };

    SMALL_POLICY(signed char);
    SMALL_POLICY(unsigned char);
    SMALL_POLICY(signed short);
    SMALL_POLICY(unsigned short);
    SMALL_POLICY(signed int);
    SMALL_POLICY(unsigned int);
    SMALL_POLICY(signed long);
    SMALL_POLICY(unsigned long);
    SMALL_POLICY(float);
    SMALL_POLICY(bool);

    #undef SMALL_POLICY

    /// This function will return a different policy for each type. 
    template<typename T>
    base_any_policy* get_policy()
    {
        static typename choose_policy<T>::type policy;
        return &policy;
    };
}

struct any
{
private:
    // fields
    anyimpl::base_any_policy* policy;
    void* object;

public:
    /// Initializing constructor.
    template <typename T>
    any(const T& x) 
        : policy(anyimpl::get_policy<anyimpl::empty_any>()), object(NULL) 
    {
        assign(x);
    }       

    /// Empty constructor. 
    any() 
        : policy(anyimpl::get_policy<anyimpl::empty_any>()), object(NULL) 
    { }

    /// Special initializing constructor for string literals. 
    any(const char* x) 
        : policy(anyimpl::get_policy<anyimpl::empty_any>()), object(NULL) 
    { 
        assign(x);
    }

    /// Copy constructor. 
    any(const any& x) 
        : policy(anyimpl::get_policy<anyimpl::empty_any>()), object(NULL)         
    {            
        assign(x);
    }

    /// Destructor. 
    ~any() {
        policy->static_delete(&object);
    }

    /// Assignment function from another any. 
    any& assign(const any& x) {
        reset();
        policy = x.policy;
        policy->clone(&x.object, &object);
        return *this;
    }

    /// Assignment function. 
    template <typename T>
    any& assign(const T& x) {
        reset();
        policy = anyimpl::get_policy<T>();
        policy->copy_from_value(&x, &object);
        return *this;
    }

    /// Assignment operator.
    template<typename T>
    any& operator=(const T& x) {
        return assign(x);
    }

    /// Assignment operator, specialed for literal strings. 
    /// They have types like const char [6] which don't work as expected. 
    any& operator=(const char* x) {
        return assign(x);
    }

    /// Utility functions
    any& swap(any& x) {
        std::swap(policy, x.policy);
        std::swap(object, x.object);
        return *this;
    }

    /// Cast operator. You can only cast to the original type.
    template<typename T>
    T& cast() {
        if (policy != anyimpl::get_policy<T>()) 
            throw anyimpl::bad_any_cast();
        T* r = reinterpret_cast<T*>(policy->get_value(&object)); 
        return *r;
    }

    /// Returns true if the any contains no value. 
    bool empty() const {
        return policy == anyimpl::get_policy<anyimpl::empty_any>();
    }

    /// Frees any allocated memory, and sets the value to NULL.
    void reset() {
        policy->static_delete(&object);
        policy = anyimpl::get_policy<anyimpl::empty_any>();
    }

    /// Returns true if the two types are the same. 
    bool compatible(const any& x) const {
        return policy == x.policy;
    }
};
}

Final Words

Thanks to Pablo Aguilar who helped with an early version of the cdiggins::any class. Thanks to Raute who helped me identify the critical problems in the original version of cdiggins::any.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Christopher Diggins
Software Developer Autodesk
Canada Canada
This article was written by Christopher Diggins, a computer science nerd who currently works at Autodesk as an SDK specialist.
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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionPlease someone add Move constructor Pinmemberjeefo124-May-14 16:54 
Questionnot working with "unsigned int" Pinmembercristi.arghiroiu19-Feb-14 1:00 
Questionfix the const problem [modified] Pinmemberpj220_20068-Aug-13 22:12 
AnswerRe: fix the const problem Pinmemberskyformat99@gmail.com31-Jan-14 21:47 
AnswerRe: fix the const problem PinmemberDavid O'Neil28-Feb-14 20:23 
QuestionBugfix [modified] PinmemberDavid O'Neil9-Jul-13 20:45 
QuestionAn overlooked usage case in new code PinmemberDavid O'Neil26-Jan-13 19:01 
QuestionA small helper function for you [modified] PinmemberDavid O'Neil24-Jan-13 17:53 
Questionerror: 'TYPE' was not declared in this scope Pinmemberyurenjimi198520-Nov-12 15:44 
/// Specializations for small types.
    #define SMALL_POLICY(TYPE) template<> struct
       choose_policy<TYPE> { typedef small_any_policy<TYPE> type; };
 
94:22: error: 'TYPE' was not declared in this scope
 
What is the TYPE ?? I am using g++ to compile it.
AnswerRe: error: 'TYPE' was not declared in this scope PinmemberMember 968039912-Dec-12 12:10 
GeneralIt looks good, but is that dynamic typing? PinmemberJamming114-May-11 12:20 
GeneralRe: It looks good, but is that dynamic typing? PinmemberMetaVoid29-Sep-11 9:46 
GeneralMemory Leaks and Crashes when storing "non-primitiv" data! PinmemberRaute11-Aug-10 3:57 
GeneralRe: Memory Leaks and Crashes when storing "non-primitiv" data! PinmemberChristopher Diggins9-May-11 15:31 
GeneralQuestion on checking empty PinmemberMember 421168429-Mar-10 9:26 
GeneralPreventing Reallocations PinmemberAnand Krishnamoorthi18-Apr-07 6:15 
QuestionSmall Types Assignment Problem? PinmemberAnand Krishnamoorthi18-Apr-07 6:10 
AnswerRe: Small Types Assignment Problem? Pinmemberxryl6695-Sep-07 2:28 
GeneralCompile problem with cast PinmemberNeville Franks17-Jul-06 13:15 
GeneralRe: Compile problem with cast Pinmemberpablo_mag17-Jul-06 14:00 
GeneralRe: Compile problem with cast [modified] PinmemberNeville Franks17-Jul-06 14:31 
GeneralRe: Compile problem with cast [modified] Pinmemberpablo_mag17-Jul-06 15:55 
GeneralRe: Compile problem with cast PinmemberNeville Franks17-Jul-06 18:53 
GeneralCompile error with const char* Pinmemberfarshizzo26-Apr-06 7:23 
GeneralRe: Compile error with const char* Pinmemberpablo_mag17-Jul-06 13:47 

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