Written for the intermediate or advanced C++ programmer, renowned C++ expert Scott Meyers provides essential techniques for getting more out of the Standard Template Library in Effective STL
, a tutorial for doing more with this powerful library.
STL is a hugely powerful feature of today's C++, but one with a well-earned reputation for complexity. The book is organised into 50 tips that explore different areas of the STL. Besides providing a list of dos and don'ts, Meyers presents a lot of background on what works and what doesn't with STL. Each tip is demonstrated with in-depth coding samples, many of which make use of two-colour printing to highlight the most important lines of code. (Advanced developers will enjoy Meyers' in-depth explanations, while those who are in a hurry can skip ahead to the recommended tip itself.)
A good part of this book involves using containers, like vectors and maps, which are built into STL. (Besides the standard built-in containers, the author also highlights recent additions to STL like b-trees, which are available as extensions from other vendors.) You'll learn the best ways to allocate, add, change and delete items inside containers, including associative containers like maps. You'll also learn to avoid common pitfalls for writing code that is slow or just plain wrong.
Other areas covered in Effective STL include getting the most out of the 100-plus STL algorithms that are bundled with this library. Meyers shows you how to choose the correct algorithm for sorting, and other functions. (Even advanced developers will learn something here.) Sections on using function objects (called functors) round out the text. Meyers shows you when these classes make sense and the best ways to implement them. Besides specific tips, you'll get plenty of general programming advice. A useful appendix shows the limitations of STL as implemented in Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0 and how to overcome them.
Overall, Effective STL is a really invaluable source of programming expertise on an essential aspect of today's C++ for anyone who is using--or planning to use--STL in real production code. It is quite simply a must-have. --Richard Dragan
- introduction to advanced Standard Template Library (STL) programming techniques
- 50 tips and best practices for STL illustrated with sample tutorial code
- choosing containers
- efficient copying of elements inside containers
- removing, erasing and cleaning up items from containers
- using custom allocators with STL containers
- thread safety with STL
- tips for programming with the STL "vector" and "string" classes (including reserving memory and calling legacy C/C++ code)
- tips for associative containers (including comparing items, sorted vectors and non-standard enhancements to STL)
- tips for selecting and using STL iterator classes
- STL algorithms (including sorting, removing and comparing items)
- using functors with STL
- general tips for STL programming (including advice for choosing algorithms and understanding compiler diagnostic messages)
- string locales
- overcoming STL imitations in Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0
From the Inside Flap
It came without ribbons!
It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!
— Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
, Random House, 1957
I first wrote about the Standard Template Library in 1995, when I concluded the final Item of More Effective C++ with a brief STL overview. I should have known better. Shortly thereafter, I began receiving mail asking when I’d write Effective STL.
I resisted the idea for several years. At first, I wasn’t familiar enough with the STL to offer advice on it, but as time went on and my experience with it grew, this concern gave way to other reservations. There was never any question that the library represented a breakthrough in efficient and extensible design, but when it came to using the STL, there were practical problems I couldn’t overlook. Porting all but the simplest STL programs was a challenge, not only because library implementations varied, but also because template support in the underlying compilers ranged from good to awful. STL tutorials were hard to come by, so learning “the STL way of programming” was difficult, and once that hurdle was overcome, finding comprehensible and accurate reference documentation was equally difficult. Perhaps most daunting, even the smallest STL usage error often led to a blizzard of compiler diagnostics, each thousands of characters long, most referring to classes, functions, or templates not mentioned in the offending source code, almost all incomprehensible. Though I had great admiration for the STL and for the people behind it, I felt uncomfortable recommending it to practicing programmers. I wasn’t sure it was possible to use the STL effectively.
Then I began to notice something that took me by surprise. Despite the portability problems, despite the dismal documentation, despite the compiler diagnostics resembling transmission line noise, many of my consulting clients were using the STL anyway. Furthermore, they weren’t just playing with it, they were using it in production code! That was a revelation. I knew that the STL featured an elegant design, but any library where programmers are willing to endure portability headaches, poor documentation, and incomprehensible error messages has a lot more going for it than just good design. For an increasingly large number of professional programmers, I realized, even a bad implementation of the STL was preferable to no implementation at all.
Furthermore, I knew that the situation regarding the STL would only get better. Libraries and compilers would grow more conformant with the Standard (they have), better documentation would become available (it has — check out the bibliography beginning on page 225), and compiler diagnostics would improve (for the most part, we’re still waiting, but Item 49 offers suggestions for how to cope while we wait). I therefore decided to chip in and do my part for the burgeoning STL movement, and this book is the result: 50 specific ways to improve your use of C++’s Standard Template Library.
My original plan was to write the book in the second half of 1999, and with that thought in mind, I put together an outline. But then I paused and changed course. I suspended work on the book, and I developed an introductory training course on the STL, which I then taught several times to different groups of programmers. About a year later, I returned to the book, significantly revising the outline based on my experiences with the training course. In the same way that my Effective C++ has been successful by being grounded in the problems faced by real programmers, it’s my hope that Effective STL similarly addresses the practical aspects of STL programming — the aspects most important to professional developers.
I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my understanding of C++. If you have suggestions for new guidelines for STL programming or if you have comments on the guidelines in this book, please let me know. In addition, it is my continuing goal to make this book as accurate as possible, so for each error in this book that is reported to me — be it technical, grammatical, typographical, or otherwise — I will, in future printings, gladly add to the acknowledgments the name of the first person to bring that error to my attention. Send your suggested guidelines, your comments, and your criticisms to email@example.com.
I maintain a list of changes to this book since its first printing, including bug-fixes, clarifications, and technical updates.I use the list to make announcements likely to be of interest to people who follow my work on C++.