C++ vs. C

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Revision as of 01:30, 6 July 2010 by Tepples (talk | contribs) (Minuses: exception size penalty: get some perspective)
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Over a decade after the 1998 standardization of the C++ programming language, the C++ vs. C debate continues.


Compared to C, C++ has a bunch of new language features with little or no runtime overhead because they are translated to code equally as efficient as the equivalent C code:

  • namespaces
  • function overloading
  • type-safe new(std::nothrow)
  • STL, the part of the C++ standard library with containers and algorithms
  • non-virtual methods
  • references, needed by operator overloading

A few features are as efficient as C yet still rawther deceptive and easy to misuse because the "simple" syntax hides how much code is actually being generated:

  • operator overloading, when compared to separate functions
  • virtual methods, when compared to C function pointer tables
  • templates instantiated several times, when compared to using the preprocessor to instantiate multiple copies


C++ also has some features requiring possibly expensive runtime library support:

  • throw
  • the default version of new without std::nothrow, which throws std::bad_alloc
  • <iostream>

Templates have a couple drawbacks:

  • Type names in error message become far more difficult to interpret.
  • Programmers can lose track of for how many different type combinations they have instantiated a template, causing code size to balloon. (The next C++ standard should include explicit instantiation, but you can't yet count on a C++ compiler to support this.)

Exceptions (throw) also have a couple drawbacks:

  • Though exceptions have little to no runtime speed penalty in a modern C++ compiler, the size of the required library support might cause a problem on embedded or handheld devices with less than about a megabyte of RAM.
  • C++ has no counterpart to the finally keyword of Java and Python. True, there isn't as much need for finally in C++ as in languages that rely on a garbage collector, given the idiom of allocating resources in constructors that C++'s deterministic destruction allows. But a method often still needs to restore the object's fields to a consistent state before eating or rethrowing the exception.

The STL allows passing an allocator to all containers, but most implementations appear to exhibit undefined behavior when allocate() returns 0 like new(std::nothrow) does. I've been told one STL implementation can be built with nothrow in mind: STLPort.[1] I'd be interested to hear about whether it has worked for you.

The <iostream> library is another divisive issue. It was envisioned as a type-safe alternative to <cstdio>, but implementations are hairy, bloated, inefficient. Yet some C++ fanboys claim that anything using good old <cstring> and <cstdio> instead of new-fangled <string> and <iostream> isn't in the spirit of C++, whatever that means. They cling to item 2 in the second edition of Scott Meyers Effective C++ and ignore item 23 of his sequel ("consider alternative libraries"). It appears that Meyers eventually recognized that <iostream> is imperfect and removed item 2 from the third edition.

External links

  • C++ FQA Lite, offering a rebuttal to the fandom's C++ FAQ Lite