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Smart Pointers in Boost


April 2002/Smart Pointers in Boost/Sidebar

Answers from the Original Boosters


The three moderators of the Boost mailing list are Beman Dawes, Dave Abrahams, and Jens Maurer. (If you're not familiar with these names, see their biographies on www.boost.org). I interviewed Beman, Dave, and Jens on their views of Boost. Following is a summarized version of what they had to say:

Why do you think Boost is important?

Boost is one of the only communities working on the process and practice of library design. There are lots of libraries available elsewhere whose design pre-dates the ISO C++ Standard. These libraries often fail to exploit the potential of compile-time evaluation (i.e., templates) and thus miss type-checking and optimization opportunities. The license requirements allow the use of Boost libraries in commercial and non-commercial projects free of charge, thereby helping them to produce better programs.

In today's professional software development world, it can be hard to make the case for long-term investment in reusable components. Developers are (often rightly) expected to do the simplest thing that could possibly work, under the assumption that the generalization won't be needed. As the problems they need to solve become more complex, however, they need library components that can help them keep their solutions simple. The C++ Standard library goes some distance towards filling that role, but programmers will continue to need more than it provides. What should be the design, documentation, and coding practices for the libraries that programmers need? Boost's emergent collaborative process provides one answer.

What will happen to the libraries when (if) they become a part of Standard C++? Will they still be available in Boost? Will compiler vendors be able to use the implementation of Boost libraries in their packages?

It is likely that the libraries that become a part of Standard C++ will still be available in Boost for quite some time after the release of the respective standard. Experience with C99 and C++98 shows that compiler vendors require some time to catch up with the latest standard. Compiler vendors are certainly allowed to use the Boost-provided implementation of the specified library interfaces, by virtue of Boost's license requirements. However, some Boost libraries could benefit from compiler support or manual adaptation to the target platform.

Why should C++ users (rather than those that submit libraries) join Boost?

A new mailing list called boost-users@yahoogroups.com has been set up, specifically targeted at Boost users. However, Boost users are always welcome to join the main mailing list as well. Since Boost provides C++ libraries, Boost users are C++ programmers. I believe all C++ programmers can learn a lot from following discussions on the Boost mailing list. It's also a chance to see how world-class developers approach and solve problems.

If companies were to specialize in supporting the Boost libraries, would that be a problem?

Not at all, that would be a welcome step. It would be even better if such companies would contribute any bug fixes or changes they make back to the community.

David adds: I'd like to start such a company myself.

Does Boost aim to be widely used by developers before libraries have been included in the Standard, or should it be regarded as research work?

Boost is absolutely not to be regarded as research work, though many of the techniques are cutting-edge. During the formal review process, membership relentlessly pursues issues of practical importance to real-world software. After all, experience can only be gained by using it, not by waiting until the paperwork is done.


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