Boost Reflect Library 0.1.0
Dynamic VTables

In C++ vtables enable virtual methods and runtime polymorphism. Boost.Reflect implements a much more powerful and dynamic version of vtables with boost::reflect::vtable. Unlike normal vtables, which are statically populated at compile time, boost::reflect::vtable can change dynamically at runtime and can be populated from any type that implements its interface.

Traditional C++ vtables provide one global instance and all objects of a particular type point to that single instance. Boost.Reflect's vtable provides a unique copy per instance as each instance is dynamically bound.

Furthermore, boost::reflect::vtable allows any Functor to be assigned.

Creating a new Dynamic VTable

Like regular C++ vtables, you must define the signature of your methods.

    struct Service {
      std::string name()const;
    struct Calculator : Service {
      double add( double v );           

    BOOST_REFLECT_ANY( Service,(name) )
    BOOST_REFLECT_ANY_DERIVED( Calculator, (Service), (add) )

These macros expand into something morally equal to:

    namespace boost { namespace reflect {
        template<typename InterfaceDelegate > 
        struct vtable<Service,InterfaceDelegate>  {
            typedef Service interface_type;
            boost::function<std::string()> name;
        template<typename InterfaceDelegate > 
        struct vtable<Calculator,InterfaceDelegate> : vtable<Service,InterfaceDelegate> {
            typedef Calculator interface_type;
            boost::function<double(double)> add;
    } } 

The result is that you can use a vtable<Calculator> like so:

    std::string get_name()       { return "hello world"; }
    double      do_add(double v) { return v+3.1415;      }

    vtable<Calculator> calc; = get_name;
    calc.add  = do_add;

    BOOST_ASSERT( == "hello world" );
    BOOST_ASSERT( calc.add(5) == 8.1415 );

That by itself is useful, but not all that special. The power of boost::vtable is that it supports an InterfaceDelegate to define how member pointers are mapped to function objects, and they support reflection allowing you to visit each member.

The default InterfaceDelegate is boost::reflect::mirror_interface which attempts to mirror the interface of Service and Calculator without modifying return types, parameters, constness, or adding other operations.

VTable Interface Delegates

An interface delegate takes the form of a template meta-function that calculates the functor type for a given member pointer and provides a visitor that can be used to initialize your calculated types from a reference to an instance of any type that provides the same interface.

    struct your_delegate {
        template<typename MemberPointer>
        struct calculate_type {
          typedef your_member_functor_type<MemberPointer>  type; 

        template<typename AssignType, typename VTableType>
        struct set_visitor {
          set_visitor( VTableType& vt, AssignType& self );

          template<typename VTable, typename MemberFunctor>
          void operator()( MemberFunctor VTable::* m, const char* name )const;

In the case of boost::reflect::mirror_interface you end up with:

    struct mirror_interface 
      template<typename MemberPointer>
      struct calculate_type {
        typedef mirror_member<MemberPointer>  type; 
      // set_visitor omited... for now

Which, for every mirrored member defines a type of mirror_member<> which is implemented as:

    template<typename R, typename Class BOOST_PP_COMMA_IF(n) PARAM_TYPE_NAMES>
    struct mirror_member<R(Class::*)(PARAM_TYPES)const> 
      // boost::result_of
      typedef typename adapt_void<R>::result_type                    result_type;
      typedef mirror_member                                          self_type;
      typedef boost::fusion::vector<PARAM_TYPES>                     fused_params;
      typedef boost::function_traits<result_type(PARAM_TYPES)>       traits;
      static const bool                                              is_const = true;
      static const bool                                              is_signal = false;

      typedef typename boost::remove_pointer<result_type(*)(PARAM_TYPES)>::type   signature;

      result_type operator()( PARAM_ARGS )const {
        return m_delegate( boost::fusion::make_vector(PARAM_NAMES) );
      result_type operator() ( const fused_params& fp )const {
        return m_delegate( fp );
      mirror_member& operator=( const mirror_member& d )  {
        m_delegate = d.m_delegate;
        return *this;
      template<typename T>
      mirror_member& operator=( const T& d )  {
        m_delegate = adapt_void<R,T>(d);
        return *this;
      template<typename C, typename M>
      void set_delegate(  C* s, M m ) {
        m_delegate = adapt_void<R, boost::function<R(const fused_params&)> >(
                                        boost::bind(m,s PARAM_PLACE_HOLDERS ) ));
        boost::function<result_type(const fused_params&)> m_delegate; 

First thing you will realize is that each functor provides a lot of typedefs that are useful for meta-programming. The second thing you will notice is that the mirrored interface is actually a bit more that simply mirroring the interface, it also supports boost::fusion's fused parameters interface. This greatly simplifies writing generic code for a particular interface.

Should boost::reflect::mirror_interface be true to its name and not add other operations such as fused parameter lists and instead create a boost::reflect::fused_interface? Unless it is found to cause conflicts, the extra function of mirror_interface is probably better than the extra complications of switching between fused/unfused interfaces.

In addition to providing fused parameters, the mirror_interface also adapts void return types into void_t return types. This greatly simplifies meta programming.

VTable Delegate set_visitors.

The purpose of the InterfaceDelegate::set_visitor struct is to assign your calculated functor from an arbitrary type's member function with the same name and signature. The set_visitor is called with a member pointer on a boost::reflect::vtable to your calculated functor type. This visitor is templated on the arbitrary type being assigned to the vtable and so now you must assign your functor from T::name which is challenging because the visitor doesn't know the 'name' on T except as a const char*. This is worked around because the Functor defined by BOOST_REFLECT_ANY() provides a useful static method:

      template<typename Type, typename AssignType> \
      static void get_member_ptr( AssignType v ) {  v = &Type::elem; } \

This can then be used like so:

      template<typename T, typename VTableType>
      class set_visitor {
          set_visitor( VTableType& vt, T& self )

          template<typename InterfaceName, typename M>
          void operator()( M InterfaceName::* m, const char* name )const {
            assign<M> a(m_self,vtable.*m);
            M::template get_member_ptr<T>( a );
          template<typename Member>
          struct assign {
            assign( T& _v, Member& _m ):v(_v),m(_m){}

            template<typename MemberPtr>
            void operator=( const MemberPtr& p ) {
              m.set_delegate( &v, p );
              T&      v;
              Member& m;
          T&          m_self;
          VTableType& vtable;

Using this method you can create arbitrary helper structs that can assign your delegate functors from an arbitrary member ptr.

But wait, if you were observant you would realize that we never defined get_member_ptr() for our mirror_member<> type. This is where the BOOST_REFLECT_ANY() macro brings it all together.

BOOST_REFLECT_ANY( interface_type, (method_name) ), boost::reflect::vtable is actually defined as:

    struct vtable<interface_type,InterfaceDelegate> {
        struct  __reflect__method_name
          public InterfaceDelegate::calculate_type<BOOST_TYPEOF(&interface_type::elem)>::type  
            static const char* name() { return "method_name"; } 
            template<typename Type, typename AssignType> 
            static void get_member_ptr( AssignType v ) {  v = &Type::elem; } 
        } method_name;

So your calculated functor type is uniquely derived from for each name and thus provides the required get_member_ptr() function. get_member_ptr() does not return &Type::elem because of the complex issues around knowing that the return type *should be*. By passing in an arbitrary type which is then assigned the result of &Type::elem you are given the benefit of argument deduction and matching.

As a consequence of this design you can actualy use boost::reflect::any_ptr<interface_type> to do some nifty things like:


© Daniel Larimer 2010-2011 - Licensed under Boost Software License, Version 1.0 Boost Reflect Library