Let’s say you’re making a C library that deals with fruits.Fruits have many "attributes" that could be tied to them.They could have a size, a color, and a weight, for starters.
When you’re adding a new fruit, you want to be sure to add these attributes too.So, like many people, you start to use X macros. After all, it’s a typical use.
Your lib could look like this:
Using X macros ensures that if you add a new fruit in the list, you have to add its attributes too.This then populates automatically the data_array with the new value and attributes, and you can’t forget to update this array.
That’s the big pro of X macros. It allows you to define a bunch of information in a single place, and reuse it easily.
In our case though, it has a big con. Namely, you’re breaking the first rule of implementation details in interfaces:
You don’t talk about implementation details in interfaces.
The data in data_array is strictly implementation detail. If data about the fruits were to be dynamically loaded (through a file, for example) at a later point, You still gave the opportunity to the user to use the details directly. And remember: the user will always do stupid shit with your interface.Remember that you too are someone else’s user.
Considering the user’s behavior, you have no choice but to leave the minimum of information on your interface. Namely, the enum itself.
But now, you don’t have this guarantee that you won’t forget to update data_array at compile time if you add a new enum value, like with the X macro.
Luckily, you are working in a relatively modern environment. And you have access to #C11. So you can actually enforce this.
To make it short, you have to ensure at compile time that size of data_array is the same as the number of values in fruits_e. Let’s start by adding a "num value" to our enum.
And now, we just need to assert at compile time that
FRUITS_NUM_VALUE == SIZE_data_array.
C11 offers the
_Static_assert keyword.Let’s try it.
Now, if I add a new value in my fruits_e enum…fruits.h
It breaks at compile time.error
../src/lib/fruits.c:20:1: error: static assertion failed: "Some data is missing in data_array." _Static_assert(FRUITS_NUM_VALUE == SIZE_data_array, "Some data is missing in data_array.");
That’s nice! We now have the same verification at compile time than the X macro.
But wait, my enum has skips!
This tricks only works if your enum starts from 0 and has no specific values or skips.FRUITS_NUM_VALUES would not actually be the size of the enum in this case, even if last.
So what could we do if your enum actually looked like this?
It’s easy. We’re going to go back to X macros!
They will allow us to define the enum the way we want, and to count the number of elements in our enum at the same time.fruits.h
Sadly, because of how the preprocessor works, we can’t define FRUITS_NUM_VALUE in our interface. But it’s not a big deal, because we now have access to this enum through an X macro, which allow us to make this kind of stuff.
In the end, we’re back to X macros.
X macros are powerful tools, but you should be careful not to expose any detail of your implementation if you are using them in a header. With C11, you have the possibility to have the same level of compile-time check using
_Static_assert, making them much more interesting to use directly.
If you’re not using them in any interface though, you’re free to do it the way you want. Just be careful from the evil users.