This page looks best with JavaScript enabled

[MECpp]Item-30 Proxy Classes

 ·  ☕ 7 min read · 👀... views

Objects that stand for other objects are often called proxy objects (or surrogates), and the classes that give rise to proxy objects are often called proxy classes, which is useful for implementing multidimensional arrays, differentiating lvalue/rvalue, and suppressing implicit conversions.

Implementing Two-Dimensional Arrays

Consider this statement:

1
2
3
int data[10][20];
...
cout << data[3][6]; // fine

We want to create a general 2D array supporting operations such as data[3][6]. However, there’s no such thing as a operator[][] in C++. The reason it is legal to write code above that appears to use operator[][] is because the variable data is not really a two-dimensinal array at all, but a 10-element one-dimensional array, each element of which is itself a 20-element array. So the expression data[3][6] really means (data[3])[6] - the seventh element of the array that is the fourth element of data.

Playing the same trick as above, we can define our Array2D class by overloading operator[] to return an object of a new class, Array1D:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
template<class T>
class Array2D {
public:
    class Array1D {
    public:
        T& operator[](int index);
        const T& operator[](int index) const;
    };

    Array1D operator[](int index);
    const Array1D operator[](int index) const;
    ...
};

Then it is legal to write code like this:

1
2
3
Array2D<float> data(10, 20);
...
cout << data[3][6];

Conceptually intances of Array1D class (which is a proxy class) do not exist for clients of Array2D. Such clients program as if they were using real, live two-dimensional arrays.

Distinguishing Reads from Writes via operator[]

operator[] can be called in two different contexts:

  1. rvalue usage for read
  2. lvalue usage for write

In general, using an object as an lvalue means using it such that it might be modified, and using it as rvalue means using it such that it cannot be modified.

From MECpp item 29 reference counting, we can see reads can be much less expensive than writes - writes of reference-counted object may involve copying an entire data structure, while reads never require more than the simple returning of a value - so it will save a lot to differentiate lvalue usage from rvalue usage. However, it is impossible to tell whether operator[] is beeing invoked in an lvalue or an rvalue context from within operator[] - operator[] alone does not have the ability to determine the calling context.

The solution: we delay our lvalue-vs-rvalue actions until we see how the result of operator[] is used - by using proxy class to postpone our decision until after operator[] has returned (lazy evaluation, see MECpp item 7):

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
class String {   // reference-counted strings
public:

    class CharProxy {   // proxy fro string chars
    public:
        CharProxy(String& str, int index);  // creation
        CharProxy& operator=(const CharProxy& rhs); // lvalue uses
        CharProxy& operator=(char c);  // lvalue uses
        operator char() const; // rvalue uses
    private:
        String& theString;  // string this proxy pertains to        
        int charIndex;  // char within that string this proxy stands for
    };

    const CharProxy operator[](int index) const; // for const Strings
    CharProxy operator[](int index);  // for non-const Strings
    ...
    friend class CharProxy; // CharProxy need access to private data member: value
private:
    RCPtr<StringValue> value;
};

Now let’s see how it works. Given reference-counted stirngs using proxies above String s1, s2;,

For rvalue usage

Consider this statement cout << s1[5];: s1[5] yields a CharProxy object, and compiler implicitly converts this CharProxy into char using the conversion operator declared in the CharProxy class. This is representitive of the CharProxy-to-char conversion that takes place for all CharProxy objects used as rvalues.

For lvalue usage

Lvalue usage is handled differently:

Say, for statement s2[5] = 'x';, the expression s2[5] yields a CharProxy object, which is the target of an assignment, so the assignment operator in the CharProxy class will be called - this is the crucial postponed step to differentiate writes from reads. Inside this CharProxy assignment operator, we know the string character for which the proxy stands is being used as an lvalue.

Similarly, the statement s1[3] = s2[7]; calls the assignment operator for two CharProxy objects, and inside the operator, we know the object on the left is being used as an lvalue and the object on the right as an rvalue.

Now that we know exactly the context in which caller invokes the operator[], it is easy to implement them:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
const String::CharProxy String::operator[](int index) const
{
    // return a const proxy
    // Because CharProxy::operator= isn't a const member function,
    // the returned proxies can't be used as the target of assignment, and this behavior is exactly what we want for const version of operator[]
    return CharProxy(const_cast<String&>(*this), index);
}

String::CharProxy String::operator[](int index)
{
    return CharProxy(*this, index);
}
 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
String::CharProxy::CharProxy(String& str, int index)
: theString(str), charIndex(index) {}

String::CharProxy::operator char() const
{
    return theString.value->data[charIndex];
}

String::CharProxy& String::CharProxy::operator=(const CharProxy& rhs)
{
    if (theString.value->isShared())
    {
        theString.value = new StringValue(theString.value->data);
    }
    theString.value->data[charIndex] = 
        rhs.theString.value->data[charIndex];
    return *this;
}

String::CharProxy& String::CharProxy::operator=(char c)
{
    if (theString.value->isShared())
    {
        theString.value = new StringValue(theString.value->data);
    }
    theString.value->data[charIndex] = c;
    return *this;
}

Preventing implicit conversions in single-argument constructor

Refer to MECpp item 5.

Limitations

  1. Taking the address

    In general, taking the address of a proxy yields a different type of pointer than does taking the address of a real object. Thus, the statement char *p = &s1[1]; will cause error. To eliminate the problem, we’ll have to overload the address-of operators for CharProxy class:

     1
     2
     3
     4
     5
     6
     7
     8
     9
    10
    
    class String {
    public:
        ...
        class CharProxy {
            char * operator&();
            const char * operator&() const;
            ...
        };
        ...
    };
    
     1
     2
     3
     4
     5
     6
     7
     8
     9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    
    const char * String::CharProxy::operator&()
    {
        return &(theString.value->data[charIndex]);
    }
    char * String::CharProxy::operator&()
    {
        if (theString.value->isShared())
        {
            theString.value = new StringValue(theString.value->data);
        }
        theString.value->markUnshareable(); 
        return &(theString.value->data[charIndex]);
    }
    
  2. Integrating with templates

    If we have a template for reference-counted arrays that use proxy classes to distringuish lvalue and rvalue invocations of operator[]:

     1
     2
     3
     4
     5
     6
     7
     8
     9
    10
    11
    12
    13
    14
    
    template<class T>
    class Array {
    public:
        class Proxy {
        public:
            Proxy(Array<T>& array, int index);
            Proxy& operator=(const T& rhs);
            operator T() const;
            ...
        };
        const Proxy operator[](int index) const;
        Proxy operator[](int index);
        ...
    };
    

    Then for Array<int> intArray;, we can’t make statement such as intArray[5] += 5; or ++intArray[5];, since operator+= and operator++ is not defined for proxy objects. To solve this problem, we have to define each of these functions for the Array<T>::Proxy, which, unfortunately, is a lot of work.

    Similarly, we can’t invoke member functions on real objects through proxies. For an array taking Rational as elements (Array<Rational> array;), there is no way to invoke Rational's member function like this:

    1
    2
    
    cout << array[4].numerator();  // error!
    int denom = array[22].denominator();  // error!
    

    The solution is similar: we need to overload these functions so that they also apply to proxies.

  3. Passed to functions taking references to non-const objects

    1
    2
    3
    
    void swap(char& a, char& b);
    String s = "+C+";
    swap(s[0], s[1]);  // won't compile
    

    A CharProxy may be implicitly converted into a char, but there is no conversion function to a char&. Further more, the char to which it may be converted can’t be bound to swap’s char& parameters, because that char is a temporary object (operator char returns by value,) and, as MECpp item 19 explains, temporary objects are refused to be bound to non-const reference parameters.

  4. Implicit type conversions

    The process where a proxy object implicitly converted into the real object it stands for, a user-defined conversion function is invoked. As MECpp item 5 explains, only one user-defined conversion function is used by compiler when implicitly converting a parameter at a call site into the type needed by the corresponding function parameter.

Share on
Support the author with