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Syntax Soup

2018-02-10

I've been slowly making my way back into the world of C and C++ lately; consequently I'm filled with angst at what I perceive to be failings in the design of the languages. Just a rant.

Pointers?

I can't really get over why the language was designed to overload the meaning of * as a type and an operator. int * intPtr is a type specifying intPtr points to and integer, cool, sure, whatever. Ah, but then in an expression: foo = *intPtr is dereferencing the pointer to get the value directly. Wait, what? Why? Why use it for two things! Why couldn't we have had another operator or keyword? Something like foo = deref intPtr would have been more than sufficient to clarify. If nothing else, at least Forth got this sort-of right with set and fetch (! and @, which I could actually rename if I decided I hate the syntax — good luck doing that in C).

Where Does the * Go?

I can finally begin to commiserate with the authors of Go and gofmt for building a code formatter into the language after facing the classic (inevitable) conundrum: "How do I prefer to style my pointer type declaration?"

 int  *intPtr;        // these are all the same
 int * intPtr;
 int*  intPtr;

Sign me up for "things I never wanted to bother worrying about". Worse still is the extent to which this choice permeates across projects. I would have much preferred a type keyword instead, which would leave no room for this kind of syntax silliness:

 int pointer intPtr;

This still doesn't solve the oddity of needing to read type declarations from right to left to make any sense of them. I'm not really clear yet why a single character was used for what seems to be a fundamental type. Maybe it is explained somewhere in K&R.

Good News

Finally getting back into C with more experience in other languages has me appreciating how small a language it really is. I can't say why, but I've been procrastinating on finishing K&R for a couple years at this point, what finally got me back into it was Essential C, which I can recommend.

Bad News

Now that I finally know what I'm talking about, I can (almost) coherently explain just what I never liked about C++ as a language. Pity my coworkers and friends now.

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