Is goto Still Considered Harmful?

Discussion in 'C Programming' started by Lynn McGuire, Mar 12, 2014.

  1. Lynn McGuire

    Tim Rentsch Guest

    gotos are like weeds. A garden may have a few weeds scattered
    here and there yet still be a fairly nice garden. But when a
    garden has weeds all over the place it starts to look pretty
    ratty, even if it's a rather nice garden otherwise. And of
    course the very nicest gardens have no weeds at all.

    Dijkstra's point is not about gotos but about programmers, viz.,
    programmers who feel no compunction against using goto freely
    tend to write lousy code. And this is borne out IME: even among
    developers who are okay with using goto on occasion, the good
    ones still have an aversion to using it generally and look for an
    alternate formulation before resorting to goto.
    Tim Rentsch, Mar 29, 2014
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  2. Lynn McGuire

    Tim Rentsch Guest

    The short answer is no, but it's instructive to look at why.

    First, if the width of _Bool is 1, then it may only ever store
    the values 0 and 1. Any bit pattern occupying a _Bool object
    will therefore denote either 0, or 1, or a trap representation.
    If the bit pattern denotes a 0 value then 0 will be stored; if
    the bit pattern denotes a 1 value then 1 will be stored; and if
    the _Bool object holds a trap representation then any behavior at
    all is permissible, either copying the bits, or storing a 0 or 1
    value, or crashing the program. So a compiler is not obliged to
    exactly copy the bits in this case, although of course it may,
    but the key thing is it doesn't have to.

    Now consider the question when the width of _Bool is greater
    than 1. Under this assumption a _Bool may now hold an object
    representation corresponding to the value 2 or 3 (and perhaps
    others, but these are enough), and are legal values, ie, not
    trap representations. The Standard imposes two requirements:
    one, that conversion to the same type causes no change to the
    value or representation; and two, that conversion to a _Bool
    type produces 0 if the original value compares equal to 0, and 1
    otherwise. The only way both of these requirements can be
    satisfied simultaneously is if a _Bool object may not definedly
    hold a value other than 0 or 1. Hence the possibility that the
    width of a _Bool is greater than 1 is not satisfiable in a
    conforming implementation. Therefore we may conclude that _Bool
    /must/ have a width of 1, which gives each implementation enough
    freedom to either just copy the bits or not, as it chooses.
    Tim Rentsch, Mar 29, 2014
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  3. It just depends. There's a case for nan or 0, sometimes I use DBL_MAX.
    You might or might not want an assert in there too. Whilst you've still got
    to return something, on many environments asserts are left in on release
    builds, so it's largely academic.

    If you know the context the function is going to be called from, that tells
    you what to do. For example I recently wrote an average function for a
    palette chooser. You could conceivably get an empty list (e.g. if user chooses
    a 256 colour palette from 8x8 image), so it's correct to quietly return black
    for unused cells. So in that case, putting return 0 is the easy if slightly
    hacky way of dealing with it.
    Malcolm McLean, Mar 30, 2014
  4. Lynn McGuire

    James Kuyper Guest

    Well, in my experience, most C programmers seem to prefer function
    lengths that I'm not willing to call "short". I can't say for sure how
    many of them you would be willing to consider "educated", but I believe
    that a significant fraction of them had CS degrees.

    I do see a lot of short member functions written by educated C++
    programmers, because they tend to make heavy use of classes with
    inheritance, with each class in the inheritence tree having
    responsibility for only a small piece of the total behavior of the code.
    That responsibility can often be met by defining a small number of very
    simple member functions. Non-member functions, however, (main() in
    particular) are often very long.
    James Kuyper, Mar 31, 2014
  5. A lot of C++ programmers write short access functions, getField() and setField(), that simply
    read and assign a member variable, maybe with a range check. Whilst you do need the odd one,
    heavy use of getter and setters is usually a sign that the programmer hasn't really understood how
    to abstract functionality. Whilst the idea is that the getters and setters can be over-ridden or
    rewritten at a later date, that's unlikely to happen, more likely the code will need a total rewrite.
    Malcolm McLean, Mar 31, 2014
  6. The usual rationale is that changing the member variable means you need
    to update _other_ state in the object (or resource you're wrapping) as a
    side effect; the setField() functions provide a place for that to
    happen, and the getField() functions are for symmetry. Or you may need
    to get the current state from the wrapped resource, or calculate it, etc.

    Some member variables _can_ be safely updated by callers, at least in
    this version of the class. But what if you may need to make them
    private in a future version due to adding side effects? Better to make
    callers use the accessor functions now so they aren't broken by an API
    change that _should_ be transparent to them.

    (The above applies to OO interfaces in C as well, just minus the
    syntactic sugar that C++ classes provide to make it a little less painful.)

    Overloading operators (so callers appear to be directly updating a
    member variable) seems more elegant in some respects, but it hides a
    (possibly expensive) function call, which may introduce other problems.
    That's a general problem with C++'s operator overloading, not specific
    to this.

    Stephen Sprunk, Mar 31, 2014
  7. I've never run across such a case.
    Not at all. You can test the smaller functions in isolation and remove
    their complexity from the top-level function; that itself has value,
    even if the compiler just ends up inlining them.

    Also, massive functions imply that your function is doing too many
    things, which is inherently problematic and difficult to test or
    troubleshoot; it is often better to create a set of small but related
    functions, which then call a common set of helper functions.
    How did all that state get into the top-level function, though? Use the
    same mechanism to pass (a portion of) that state to the helper functions.
    Unit tests mean _every_ function is called from at least two places.
    That's nice but not necessary.
    If you have a fairly uniform dispatch loop that can use such a
    structure, sure. Many times, you can't.

    Still, if the cases are more than a few lines each, I prefer to put the
    code in a separate function, even if that's the only caller (besides the
    unit test, of course).
    Experience and maturity cannot overcome the inherent limit on the amount
    of information that can be kept in short-term memory.
    That doesn't mean they're a good idea.
    A lot of that is whitespace, preprocessor directives or comments. Also,
    that function clearly does a sequence of operations that could have been
    broken up into helper functions--even if it were the only caller. My
    bet is that it started out a lot smaller but grew over time as features
    and special cases (or bug fixes) were added, a series of straws that
    should have broken the camel's back long ago.

    Stephen Sprunk, Mar 31, 2014
  8. Lynn McGuire

    James Kuyper Guest

    That depends upon how you define unit tests. For purposes of unit
    testing, I treat functions with internal linkage as part of the
    function(s) with external linkage in the same translation unit that
    (directly or indirectly) call them. If they have any feature which
    cannot be properly tested through calls to those externally linked
    functions, then that generally means that the feature is either
    unnecessary or at least badly designed.

    No, but it can dramatically increase that limit. Well-designed programs
    stress your short-term memory capacity much less than poorly designed
    programs, because they're easier to understand.
    James Kuyper, Mar 31, 2014
  9. Lynn McGuire

    Ian Collins Guest

    That function appears to be a classic case of the code rot that occurs
    when functionality as added without any thought to improving the design.
    One of the things I found surprisingly hard when managing development
    teams was getting programmers to refactor code before updating it. It's
    all too easy just to pile on more functionality. This is usually a
    symptom of poor management not allowing time for code improvements and a
    lack of unit tests which support refactoring.
    Ian Collins, Mar 31, 2014
  10. That's the standard rationale. It does work sometimes. The reality is that
    setting a member directly can't usually be replaced by an interface that
    does something, because that would change the contract and break code in
    unpredicatable ways.
    E.g. we have a setSalary method that sets an employee's salary. We could
    decide that we'll update his tax bracket at the same time to keep the class
    always consistent. But now we've broken logic that goes

    employee.setSalary( newsalary);
    if(employee.getTaxBracket() != taxBracketForSalary(newsalary))
    SendLetter("Your tax has changed");

    So in fact we've got to rewrite the program. Which is possibly the best thing
    to do.
    Malcolm McLean, Mar 31, 2014
  11. Lynn McGuire

    Stefan Ram Guest

    When the documentation of the public interface (the
    contract) of the setSalary function already contained the
    guarantee that this function will only change the salary and
    nothing else, then changing this guarantee will change the
    public interface of the entity, which in any case (not only
    in the case of fields) means that all clients of the old
    public interface are not necessarily valid clients of the
    new interface. So, one usually tries to avoid to change
    public interfaces, not only in the case of field and setters.
    Stefan Ram, Mar 31, 2014
  12. Lynn McGuire

    Phil Carmody Guest

    Oh, come on, that function is carp, there's no other word for it.

    Phil Carmody, Apr 1, 2014
  13. Lynn McGuire

    Stefan Ram Guest

    A carp is a fish. The (other )word for it is »crap«.
    Stefan Ram, Apr 1, 2014
  14. Lynn McGuire

    Ian Collins Guest

    Ah Phil, you can which one of us has been corrupted by the politics of
    Ian Collins, Apr 1, 2014
  15. Lynn McGuire

    Stefan Ram Guest

    As an example for how to solve problems with small functions,
    I wrote this program that prints a list of prime numbers:

    #include <stdio.h>

    static int divides( int const divisor, int const number )
    { return number % divisor == 0; }

    static int numberofdivisors( int const n )
    { int sum = 0; for( int i = 1; i <= n; ++i )sum += divides( i, n ); return sum; }

    static int prime( int const number )
    { return numberofdivisors( number )== 2; }

    static void printifprime( int const number )
    { if( prime( number ))printf( "%d\n", number ); }

    int main(){ for( int i = 1; i < 101; ++i )printifprime( i ); }
    Stefan Ram, Apr 1, 2014
  16. Lynn McGuire

    Stefan Ram Guest

    As an example for how to solve problems with if-goto
    I wrote this assembler program to print some prime numbers:

    #include <stdio.h>

    int main()
    { int i;
    int sum;
    int j;
    int p;
    int tmp;
    i = 1;
    loop: if( i >= 101 )goto out;
    sum = 0;
    j = 1;
    innerloop: if( j > i )goto innerout;
    tmp = i % j;
    tmp = tmp == 0;
    sum += tmp;
    goto innerloop;
    innerout: p = sum == 2;
    if( !p )goto over;
    printf( "%d\n", i );
    over: ++i;
    goto loop;
    out: ; }
    Stefan Ram, Apr 1, 2014
  17. There's some truth in that.
    The situation is that we have an employee, a salary, an associated tax band,
    and when a change in salary results in a change in tax band, we need to
    send him a letter informing him of the fact.
    So we've got three levels of task.
    Lowest level - write the new salary to the field.
    Medium level - ensure the tax band is calculated and represented correctly.
    High level - send the letter.

    The idea of abstracted get/setters is that a task at the lowest level can
    be reimplemented as a task at a higher level. So instead of rewriting the
    field, we recalculate the tax band or even send the letter.
    But a change in the level of a function is much more likely to break things
    deeply than a change in what the function does (e.g. a high-level
    updateSalary() method sends a letter, we rewrite it to send a carbon copy
    to the printer as well. That change is of a different order to changing
    setSalary() from a field write to sending a letter).

    You do need some access functions. But they should be the exception.
    Malcolm McLean, Apr 1, 2014
  18. Effectively that's right. A setter is "kind of defined as just changing the member".
    So it shouldn't be public, which means there's no reason for it to be a function.
    We've also got special cases. For example it's probably valid to copy an employee, so we'll need
    to set the salary field there. Similarly in retrieving him from disk. Then when he retires or leaves
    the company there might be a rule, or it might be added at a later date.
    There's fundamental difference. The middle level is only manipulating the employee. It needs to
    know about the employee and the rules for tax bands (which probably means a connection to
    some kind of tax law engine). But it doesn't need to know about letters and printers, nor should it.
    The entire concept of "change the implementation but not the interface" is flawed, when you think
    about it. With the exception of cosmetic changes to code, the only reason to change an implementation
    is to change the object's behaviour in some respect. So what we really mean is "keep the interface valid".
    That's not an easy thing to define. For example, say we move from drawing pixel lines to drawing
    anti-aliased lines. That's fine if caller wants something to display to the end user, hopeless if he's
    doing post-processing of the output. That doesn't mean that the change is unreasonable, just
    that we've got to be careful.
    But getters and setters are probably more likely to break than other functions, if rewritten. They
    create the illusion of object-oriented programming when in fact they're just syntactical sugar for
    Malcolm McLean, Apr 1, 2014
  19. Lynn McGuire

    Stefan Ram Guest

    There are different definitions of »setter«. For example,
    some definitions say that a setter does not change a member,
    but a property. Some definitions say that a setter does not
    always change a member, but might conditionally not change a
    member to protect class invariants, or might have additional
    effects, such as »setVisible( false )« making a screen
    object invisible. Some people seem to call every function
    whose name begins with »set« followed by a word a setter.
    Stefan Ram, Apr 2, 2014
  20. There's a continuum between setting a field, range-checking and setting a field, setting and changing
    another member, and triggering widespread changes.
    However if you've got a matching pair of get/set functions, and a field which contains that value,
    then I'd say you're using get/setters. I don't ban them totally - obviouslya GUI checkbox, for example,
    will reasonably have an internal state and a get/set pair to access it. Butthat's rather a special case,
    it's a sort of graphical wrapper for a boolean which the user can edit, so you're giving the user direct
    access to a field.
    You might also have a background colour. But I'd be unhappy (though not toounhappy) about a
    get / set background colour pair. In reality the user is probably going to want white or grey - if you
    permit a "theme" then you don't really want it implemented by thousands of calls to set background
    methods. And it's not clear what a set background should do if you move to a fancy 3d type effect
    with a shadow under the tick. And if it's necessary to query the checkbox background as part of
    caller's logic control, really his program is extremely badly designed.
    So I'd prefer a "set appearance" method which offers a limited menu of aesthetically pleasing
    Malcolm McLean, Apr 2, 2014
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