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Thinking in C++
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6: Initialization & Cleanup

Chapter 4 made a significant improvement in library
use by taking all the scattered components of a typical
C library and encapsulating them into a structure (an abstract data type, called a class from now on).

This not only provides a single unified point of entry into a library component, but it also hides the names of the functions within the class name. In Chapter 5, access control (implementation hiding) was introduced. This gives the class designer a way to establish clear boundaries for determining what the client programmer is allowed to manipulate and what is off limits. It means the internal mechanisms of a data type’s operation are under the control and discretion of the class designer, and it’s clear to client programmers what members they can and should pay attention to.

Together, encapsulation and access control make a significant step in improving the ease of library use. The concept of “new data type” they provide is better in some ways than the existing built-in data types from C. The C++ compiler can now provide type-checking guarantees for that data type and thus ensure a level of safety when that data type is being used.

When it comes to safety, however, there’s a lot more the compiler can do for us than C provides. In this and future chapters, you’ll see additional features that have been engineered into C++ that make the bugs in your program almost leap out and grab you, sometimes before you even compile the program, but usually in the form of compiler warnings and errors. For this reason, you will soon get used to the unlikely-sounding scenario that a C++ program that compiles often runs right the first time.

Two of these safety issues are initialization and cleanup. A large segment of C bugs occur when the programmer forgets to initialize or clean up a variable. This is especially true with C libraries, when client programmers don’t know how to initialize a struct, or even that they must. (Libraries often do not include an initialization function, so the client programmer is forced to initialize the struct by hand.) Cleanup is a special problem because C programmers are comfortable with forgetting about variables once they are finished, so any cleaning up that may be necessary for a library’s struct is often missed.

In C++, the concept of initialization and cleanup is essential for easy library use and to eliminate the many subtle bugs that occur when the client programmer forgets to perform these activities. This chapter examines the features in C++ that help guarantee proper initialization and cleanup.

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