Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tag Dispatching and Inheritance

Tag Dispatching and Inheritance

In the previous blog we described Tag Dispatching by Type.

Though very convenient, when many classes (tagged by as many tags) share the same implementation, we get as many dispatch structs with the same implementation (or, better, forwarding to the same struct). This can be avoided by using similarities between classes, or between tags. In Boost.Geometry, for example, some geometries are single while others are multi. That multi-ness can be recognized by the metafunction is_multi which results in true for a multi-polygon and in false for a single polygon. We can include an IsMulti boolean template parameter in the dispatch structure, so that it is selected not only on tag dispatching, but also in is_multi.

This similarity can also be implemented using a tag hierarchy and inheritance.

Let's go back to the fruit example. All citrus fruit species have pulp vesicles. There are many citrus fruits species. And, of course, we don't want to repeat the dispatch structure has_vesicles so many times. So we try to define our tag hierarchy:

struct citrus_tag {};
struct pome_tag {};

struct apple_tag : pome_tag {};
struct pear_tag : pome_tag {};

banana_tag {};

struct orange_tag : citrus_tag {};
struct lemon_tag : citrus_tag {};
struct lime_tag : citrus_tag {};

And then we couple the tags, like we did in previous blog:

template <typename T> struct tag {};
template <> struct tag<apple> { typedef apple_tag type; };
template <> struct tag<pear> { typedef pear_tag type; };
template <> struct tag<orange> { typedef orange_tag type; };
template <> struct tag<lime> { typedef lime_tag type; };
template <> struct tag<banana> { typedef banana_tag type; };

The new thing, besides the inheritance in the tags above, is that we now define a tag_cast metafunction:

    typename Tag, typename BaseTag,
    typename BT2 = void, typename BT3 = void, typename BT4 = void,
    typename BT5 = void, typename BT6 = void, typename BT7 = void
struct tag_cast
    typedef typename boost::mpl::if_
          typename boost::is_base_of<BaseTag, Tag>::type,
          // Try next one in line:
          typename tag_cast<Tag, BT2, BT3, BT4, BT5, BT6, BT7, void>::type
        >::type type;

template <typename Tag>
struct tag_cast<Tag, void, void, void, void, void, void, void>
    // If not found, take specified tag, so do not cast
    typedef Tag type;

We can now check if a tag is a citrus tag, by calling defining a new tag as tag_cast<tag, citrus_tag>::type. This new tag is either a citrus tag, or it is the tag it already was.

And we can dispatch by this tag as well. So it looks like:

namespace dispatch
    template <typename T> struct has_vesicles : boost::false_type {};
    template <> struct has_vesicles<citrus_tag> : boost::true_type {};

template <typename Fruit>
std::string has_vesicles(Fruit const& fruit)
    // (Potentially) go up in hierachy: take tag corresponding to Fruit,
    // downcast to citrus_tag if possible
    typedef typename tag_cast<typename tag<Fruit>::type, citrus_tag>::type tag;

    return std::string("has vesicles: ")
        + (dispatch::has_vesicles<tag>::value ? "true" : "false");

This tag_cast, as proposed above, can not only cast to one base-class, but also to a range of base-classes. The definition
 typedef typename tag_cast<typename tag<Fruit>::type, citrus_tag, pome_tag>::type tag;
will result in a citrus_tag if it is a citrus, a pome_tag if it is a pome, and otherwise it results in the input tag. Besides this, it also walks through a tag hierarchy, so if citrus_tag and pome_tag were both derived from, e.g., a rosid_tag, and rosid_tag was specified in this call, it would result in a rosid_tag.

The sample program here shows two base classes, not listed here.

Our main program now displays correctly if the specific fruits have vesicles or not

int main()
    using namespace fruit;

    apple a("my apple");
    pear p("my pear");
    orange o("my orange");

    std::cout << has_vesicles(a) << std::endl;
    std::cout << has_vesicles(p) << std::endl;
    std::cout << has_vesicles(o) << std::endl;

    return 0;

Back to Boost.Geometry. Until now it is not done, but we might depricate the is_multi meta-function and replace it by this:

struct multi_tag;
struct multi_point_tag : multi_tag {};
struct multi_linestring_tag : multi_tag {};
struct multi_polygon_tag : multi_tag {};

And instead of calling is_multi, we call tag_cast<tag, multi_tag>. We then know if it is a multi and can dispatch on it. The same for linear. This will probably be very convenient, it has to be worked out a little more.

Casting and (multiple) inheritance
The tag_cast as implemented above casts to specified tags. We can not just call the parent-tag. One of the reasons for this is multiple inheritance.
Tag inheritance can be multiple. This is convenient because, of course, there can be different tag classifications for the same set of tags. For example: if a geometry contains segments, or is linear, or is areal. So we might get:

struct multi_tag;
struct multi_point_tag : multi_tag {};
struct multi_linestring_tag : multi_tag, linear_tag {};
struct multi_polygon_tag : multi_tag, areal_tag {};
When calling tag_cast, the results depends on the order of the specified base tags. And so does the dispatching.

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