Iterator of the Week

This is on going series of articles showcasing different uses for STL style iterators in C++. All source code presented here is copyright 1998-2002 James M. Curran, but may be used freely. All comment and suggestion are welcome.

#3 - A serial string Iterator 

//	#3 - SerialString -- An STL-style container adapter (with iterator) 
//  to retrieve the items from a list of variable length string.
// Copyright 2002, James M. Curran   [email protected]
// May be used freely.
// Comments, suggestions, modifications, improvements welcome....

Some Win32 APIs, such as PdhEnumObjects, return a collection of text as a series of NUL terminated string (with the complete list terminated by a second NUL. For example:
"hello world\0greetings earthling\0\0"

These classes are designed for easily handling of such collections.


#include <string.h>
#include <string>
#include <memory>
#include <iterator>

Now, before we can define the iterator, we must define the container that we will be iterating through. It was pointed out to me (by Craig Powers) that instead of using MFC's TCHARS, it would be better (and more Standard) to use a template.

template <typename CHAR>
class SerialString

Note we only care about reading items out of this container, so all we're going to need it a pointer to the first item. —Revising this to allow writing such containers is left as an exercise for the student.

	const CHAR*	pBegin;
	bool		self_delete;


I had to revise the ctor a bit here. Originally, I had a ctor which took an auto_ptr. The problem is that auto_ptr can't be used with an array. (I'd forgotten about that). But I still want to be able to use this with a dynamically allocated character buffer — and without worrying about calling delete myself. So, I replace the auto_ptr ctor, with one — declared explicit — which takes an integer, allocates a buffer that size, and later deletes it. The self_delete boolean differentiates between internally and externally allocated buffers.

	SerialString( const CHAR* p) : pBegin(p), self_delete(false)  {}
	explicit SerialString(int n) : pBegin(new CHAR[n] ), self_delete(true) {}

Since this is useless unless filled, and it, by it's current design, must be filled externally, but the buffer needing to be filled may be created internally, we gonna need a way to access that internal buffer. This is not the slickest way of dealing with the problem but it'll work for now. Unfortunately, this is (nearly) the only spot where we'd need non-const access. ("Only" is a bit on a misnomer as this function drives a truck through const-correctness)

	CHAR*	data()			{ return const_cast(pBegin);	}

On the dtor, we delete the buffer only if we allocated it. VC6 insisted on a non-const buffer here, although I'm not sure if that is per the Standard.

	~SerialString() { if (self_delete)  delete[] data();  }

Now, before we can continue defining the container (we're pretty much done with it anyway), we have to start on the iterator (this is where all the flashy parts are anyway)

Our goal here is to make the SerialString look as if it were an array of char*s, so when derefenced, an iterator should return a char* pointing to the start of a string. After incrementing, it should return a char* pointing to the start of the next string.

	class iterator : public std::iterator

Like the container, we'll only need a simple char* for our data member.

		 const CHAR*	ptr;
		iterator( const CHAR* p) : ptr(p) {}

First, let's look at derefenceing — nothing fancy here. I've included a member function function version in addition to the standard oper*

		const  CHAR* operator*() const 
				{ return ptr; }
		const CHAR* Ptr() const 
				{return ptr; }

When increamenting, you want to move the internal pointer to the start of the next string, which means we want to move it by the number of characters in the current string. NOTE: std::char_traits::length is the ISO Standard C++ way of saying either strlen() or wcslen() depending on the type of CHAR (Thanks to Igor Tandetnik for that).

		iterator operator++()   
		{ ptr +=std::char_traits::length(ptr) + 1; return *this; }

		iterator operator++(int) 
		{ iterator t(ptr); ptr += std::char_traits::length(ptr) + 1; return t; }

The next tricky item is the defining Equality between two SerialString::iterators. Naturally, they are equal if their internal pointers are equal, but as we'll see in a moments, we're defining a generic "end" iterator as having a NULL internal pointer, so we'll need to return True, if one iterator is an End and the other really is at the end.

		static bool Equal(const iterator& lhs,  const iterator& rhs)
			return	lhs.ptr==rhs.ptr  || 
				(lhs.ptr==0 && *rhs.ptr==CHAR('\0') ) || 
				(rhs.ptr==0 && *lhs.ptr == CHAR('\0') ); 

OK, we're done defining the iterator class, now back to the container class

Here, we define a begin() & end() just like the standard STL containers. begin() just creates an iterator at of it's internal pointer, while end() creates a NULL iterator. Why NULL and not the real end of the container? Because we don't know where it is, and finding it would be a lot of work (O(n)). Basically, we'd have to scan through the whole text block (with nested loops, due to the internal NULs), looking for the repeated 00s. Then, after we found it, more than likely, the user's code would scan through the text again, doing the real work. So, I've basically just move the act of looking for the double 00s to the users loop.

	iterator begin() const { return iterator(pBegin); }
	iterator end()    const { return iterator(0);   }

OK, almost done — now two quickie global inline functions for == and !=

template<typename CHAR>
inline bool operator==(const SerialString::iterator& lhs,  const SerialString::iterator& rhs)
	return  SerialString::iterator::Equal(lhs, rhs);

template<typename CHAR>
inline bool operator!=(const SerialString::iterator& lhs,  const SerialString::iterator& rhs)
	return ! SerialString::iterator::Equal(lhs,rhs); 

And finally, we'll tack on a output formatter, that makes printing an iterator equivalent to printing what it points to.

#include <ostream>
template<typename CHAR>
inline std::ostream& operator<<(std::ostream& os, SerialString::iterator it)
	os << it.Ptr();   
	return os;

#endif // defined(SERIALSTRING_H_INCLUDED)

Copyright © 2000 James M. Curran. All rights reserved.
Revised: 14-Apr-2014.