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The New C++: Lay down your guns, knives, and clubs
Pick up your multI-cores
"The world is built on C++," Herb Sutter tells The Reg. Considering he's one of the language's chief stewards, we question his impartiality. But he does have a point.
Apple's Mac OS X, Adobe Illustrator, Facebook, Google's Chrome browser, the Apache MapReduce clustered data-processing architecture, Microsoft Windows 7 and Internet Explorer, Firefox, and MySQL – to name just a handful – are written in part or in their entirety with C++.
According to Sutter, C++ is on the verge of its biggest change in the 13 years since it became an official ISO standard, a change that will make it relevant for the next two decades.
The recently finished C++ ISO standard, with the working name of C++0x, is due to be published this summer, following the finishing touches to the ISO spec language and standards wonks agreed upon in March.
Sutter didn't create C++, but he is chair of the ISO's C++ committee in addition to being a noted C++ programmer, author, and chief native-languages architect at Microsoft.
Sutter's world: C++ owns it
Sutter tells us: "This is the first major rev of the standard with new features since 1998." when the ISO ratified the first C++ standard.
The new C++ features many changes, but when asked to name the biggest, Sutter highlights those that address some of C++'s biggest bugbears: productivity and efficiency.
The complexity of working in C++ is one thing that Sun Microsystems' James Gosling tried to tackle when making a language that was more programmer-friendly; he cooked up Java, reputedly calling it C++ "without the guns, knives, and clubs." C++'s complexity might also be responsible for making C++ jockeys more prone to swearing than other coders.
Sutter lists auto keywords, lambda functions, and initializer lists as reasons you'll type – and swear – less. Some of the C++ clutter has also been stripped out.
"It really feels like you get the familiar power and way of talking about your code, but [it] feels like a fresh language that doesn't get in your way ... and [you] can write in much more expressive language," Sutter tells us.
Arguably the most significant changes will help C++ catch up to Java in popularity, now that C++ software can be built and run with fewer headaches in the rapidly dawning world of multi-core CPUs.
C++0x introduces a standardized memory model, something that Sun introduced in Java Standard Edition (Java SE) 5.0 in 2005.
Without a memory model, devs have either been building or picking their own libraries to achieve concurrency. Concurrency goes hand in hand with multi-core, as it means that chips with more than one core can run different threads in an application across their cores – or even on different servers. It helps handle the way the threads talk to the chip's memory.
The need for a consistent memory model is growing as more multi-core chips from Intel, AMD, and others become standard in mainstream computers from the PC on your desk to servers at Facebook to the smartphone in your hand.