Alchemy is a collection of independent library components that specifically relate to efficient low-level constructs used with embedded and network programming.The latest version of Embedded Alchemy[^] can be found on GitHub.
The most recent entries as well as Alchemy topics to be posted soon:
I am currently working on a Masters Degree in Cybersecurity at Johns Hopkins University. Therefore, I have not been able to devote much time to the further development of Alchemy. I will be finished with my degree in the Spring of 2017 and I plan to resume Alchemy's development. I plan to use my newly acquired knowledge to add constructs that will help improve the security of devices built for the Internet of (Insecure) Things.
For this entry, I would like to introduce the
type_traits header file. This file contains utility templates that greatly simplify work when writing template-based libraries. This is especially true for libraries that employ template meta-programming. The header file is available with C++ TR1 and above. This library provides tools to identify types, their qualifying properties and even peel-off properties one-by-one programmatically at compile-time. There are also transformation meta-functions that provide basic meta-programming operations such as a compile-time conditional.
The definitions in
type_traits will save us a lot of time implementing Alchemy. As I introduce some of the tools that are available in the header, I will also demonstrate how these operations can be implemented. This will help you understand how to construct variations of the same type of solution when applying it in a different context. As an example of this, I will create a construct that behaves similarly to the tertiary operator, but is evaluated at compile-time.
Previously I had discussed the tuple data type. The tuple is a general purpose container that can be comprised of any sequence of types. Both the types and the values can be accessed by index or traversing similar to a linked list.
The TypeList is a category of types that are very similar to the tuple, except no data is stored within the type list. Whether the final implementation is constructed in the form of a linked list, an array, or even a tree, they are all typically referred to as Typelists. I believe that the Typelist construct is credited to Andrei Alexandrescu. He first published an article in the C/C++ Users Journal, but a more thorough description can be found in his book, Modern C++ Design.
During my design analysis for my Network Alchemy implementation I thought that the tuple may be the answer to allow me to iterate over the types defined in a network message definition. Tuples are data structures that are a generalization of the
std::pair. Rather than having a limitation of 2 items in a tuple, potentially any number of items can be constructed within a custom tuple definition. The upper-limit will most likely be associated with the limit of your compilers ability to recurse down within a nested template structure. Conceptually, a tuple is similar to a compile-time linked list. If a tuple were implemented in terms of the
std::pair, it would be constructed like this:
When I create a new library, I like to approach the design from two different directions. The first is the traditional route, analyzing the functionality that I need and designing a suitable interface to access those features. I also may write a set of pseudo-code that demonstrates what it would look like to use the library. Generally with writing unit tests I get to cover this second option. It is all the better if I write the tests while developing the interface. Then I discover if the interface is a clunky collection of garbage or an joy to work with.
Alchemy is a unique API, in that I don't actually want there to appear to be a library at work. One goal that I set for alchemy is to facilitate the proper handling of network data without requiring much work on the users part. In this sense, I need to work backwards. I would like to take the proposed syntax, and attempt to design my library API to meet the target syntax. The expressive ability of C++ is one of the things that I really like at the language.
Byte-gender; not, "Yes! Please!"
Good! Now that I have your attention let's solve a relatively simple problem, byte sex. A less sensational name for this concept is byte endianess. This is one of those concepts that you should at least be aware of, even if you don't have to pay much attention to it in your day-to-day work. Each CPU architecture has it's own definition for memory. One of these properties is the endianess format of data registers. This is the first issue that I address for Network Alchemy.
I discussed the merits of selecting a suitable unit test framework for your development project in my previous post. I described the qualities that I found most valuable in the test framework that I use, CxxTest. The qualities are xUnit framework, portability, simplicity, and flexibility. There are other frameworks for C++ that contain many more features, however, rarely have I had to expand on what is provided in order to test something. Moreover, CxxTest is lightweight enough, that other test tools can be integrated with it, such as Google's GMock library.
While many of the principles of developing robust software are easy to explain, it is much more difficult to know how and when to apply these principles. Practice and learning from mistakes is generally the most productive way to understand these principles. However, it is much more desirable to understand the principles before a flawed system is built; an example from the physical world is the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Therefore I am starting a journey to demonstrate how to create robust software. This is not a simple task that can be summarized in a magazine article, a chapter in a book or a reference application with full source code.