Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2013-12-02
  The fractured pieces of C++
A lot of early programming in C++ was simply objects and polymorphism. This was pretty powerful stuff for those of us used to C, and we build some pretty big things with it. But after implementing linked lists several times, we began wondering about that other odd uncle in the toolbox: templates.

What I and many others ended up with after diving in there was encumbered lists. This is generally frowned upon by advanced C++ people who point out that there is a standard library with a number of "high quality" containers in them. But we arrived at encumbered lists, because we were making lists of polymorphic objects. The STL containers are all made for uniform types.

To provide a bridge, the boost people threw the PIMPL hammer at it.

As I understand it, the original use of PIMPL was to "hide" full class definition from users of the class (usually at library boundaries), and also to significantly speed up compile times for large systems. Compiling has never been an instantaneous process (sadly). Over my career, I've had to deal with more than one system that took hours to rebuild, so knocking time off is more than an academic curiousity.

Applied to the problem of polymorphic objects in containers, you end up with a PIMPL front-ing object, with a hidden implementation behind an abstract interface. Throw in a smart pointer as well to manage life-cycle and you suddenly have problem of memory coherency, because for your first object allocated you get:

And heaven help you if you have a string or something else dynamic in your object.

I think there's a better way, but its a shame that no one else has actually built anything that gives you the power of containers, the algorythms, but plays well with polymorphic objects.

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