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Thinking in C++
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4: Data Abstraction

C++ is a productivity enhancement tool. Why else
would you make the effort (and it is an effort,
regardless of how easy we attempt to make the transition)

to switch from some language that you already know and are productive with to a new language in which you’re going to be less productive for a while, until you get the hang of it? It’s because you’ve become convinced that you’re going to get big gains by using this new tool.

Productivity, in computer programming terms, means that fewer people can make much more complex and impressive programs in less time. There are certainly other issues when it comes to choosing a language, such as efficiency (does the nature of the language cause slowdown and code bloat?), safety (does the language help you ensure that your program will always do what you plan, and handle errors gracefully?), and maintenance (does the language help you create code that is easy to understand, modify, and extend?). These are certainly important factors that will be examined in this book.

But raw productivity means a program that formerly took three of you a week to write now takes one of you a day or two. This touches several levels of economics. You’re happy because you get the rush of power that comes from building something, your client (or boss) is happy because products are produced faster and with fewer people, and the customers are happy because they get products more cheaply. The only way to get massive increases in productivity is to leverage off other people’s code. That is, to use libraries.

A library is simply a bunch of code that someone else has written and packaged together. Often, the most minimal package is a file with an extension like lib and one or more header files to tell your compiler what’s in the library. The linker knows how to search through the library file and extract the appropriate compiled code. But that’s only one way to deliver a library. On platforms that span many architectures, such as Linux/Unix, often the only sensible way to deliver a library is with source code, so it can be reconfigured and recompiled on the new target.

Thus, libraries are probably the most important way to improve productivity, and one of the primary design goals of C++ is to make library use easier. This implies that there’s something hard about using libraries in C. Understanding this factor will give you a first insight into the design of C++, and thus insight into how to use it.

Thinking in C++
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire