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From Marvin Humphrey <>
Subject Re: [lucy-dev] Brittle struct ABI proof-of-concept
Date Wed, 09 May 2012 01:33:45 GMT
On Tue, May 8, 2012 at 4:26 AM, Nick Wellnhofer <> wrote:
> Now suppose that a Dog object is passed to a function which accepts an
> Animal parameter. This means we have to pass dog->superself which is an
> Animal struct with a pointer to the Dog MetaClass. The function then invokes
> Animal_speak which is overridden by Dog_speak in Dog.  This will use the
> method pointers, offsets and fixups of the Dog MetaClass. But using the zero
> fixup, the Animal object will be passed to Dog_speak which is wrong.  In
> this case we'd need a negative fixup to "cast" the Animal object back to a
> Dog object.

Yep, that's a problem.  We can fix it by interleaving the secondary fixups
with our method pointers, at a cost of increasing the per-method space
requirements for MetaClass objects.

   static inline void
   Dog_speak(Dog *self) {
       const uint64_t offsets = Dog_speak_OFFSETS;
       char *const address = *(char**)self + (uint32_t)offsets;
       Dog_speak_t method = *((Dog_speak_t*)address);
       ptrdiff_t fixup = *((ptrdiff_t*)(address + sizeof(void*))  // <------
                         + (int32_t)(offsets >> 32);
       void *const view = (char*)self + fixup;


    Bjarne Stroustrup: "Multiple Inheritance for C++"

    5.1 Implementation

    On entry to C::f, the this pointer must point to the beginning of the C
    object (and not to the B part). However, it is not in general known at
    compile time that the B pointed to by pb is part of a C so the compiler
    cannot subtract the constant delta(B). Consequently delta(B) must be
    stored so that it can be found at run time. Since it is only used when
    calling a virtual function the obvious place to store it is in the table
    of virtual functions (vtbl). For reasons that will be explained below the
    delta is stored with each function in the vtbl so that a vtbl entry will
    be of the form†:

        struct vtbl_entry {
            void (*fct)();
            int delta;

> It's possible to define separate fixups for the Animal struct inside the Dog
> object, but this would further complicate the MetaClass initialization.

The fixups don't have to be stored inside instantiated Dog objects, they can
go in the MetaClass.  It does make MetaClass initialization slightly more
complicated, but I think it's workable.

> Another thing I'm wondering about is how casting of objects to superclasses
> would work with the scheme you proposed. Casting to the parent class using
> ->superself is easy. But I think we'll need an additional mechanism for
> casts to superclasses further up in the hierarchy.

Right, we need something similar to the C++ dynamic_cast operator and Java
typecasts.  I think we can get away with two new macros per instantiable
class, plus one new global function.

    Core_cast(void *object, MetaClass *source, MetaClass *target) {
        if (object) {
            MetaClass  *metaclass = ((Object*)object)->metaclass;
            MetaClass **ancestors = metaclass->ancestors;
            for (size_t i = 0, max = metaclass->num_ancestors; i < max; i++) {
                if (ancestor == target) { // conversion is valid
                    ptrdiff_t fixup = source->obj_alloc_size
                                      - target->obj_alloc_size;
                    return ((char*)self) + fixup;
        return NULL;

    #define Object_METACLASS cOBJECT

    #define OBJECT_CAST(self, type) \
        ((type*)Core_cast(self, cOBJECT, type ## _METACLASS))

Here's sample usage involving both downcasting (Object to Boxer) and upcasting
(Boxer to Dog):

    Boxer_equals(Boxer *self, Object *other) {
        Boxer *twin = OBJECT_CAST(other, Boxer);
        if (!twin)                                 { return false; }
        if (strcmp(self->color, twin->color) != 0) { return false; }
        Dog_equals_t super_equals
            = SUPER_METHOD_PTR(cBOXER, Dog_equals);
        return super_equals(BOXER_CAST(self, Dog), other);

(Note that the usage of SUPER_METHOD_PTR is slightly different from how we use
it in Lucy at present -- if we had followed current Lucy usage patterns, we
would have cast the method pointer to Boxer_equals_t rather than Dog_equals_t.
We use Dog_equals_t instead because it matches up more cleanly with the return
type of BOXER_CAST(self, Dog).)

Since each FOO_CAST macro requires a particular input type, this is an
improvement in type safety compared to a C typecast, at a runtime CPU cost
(same as C++ dynamic_cast).

PS: In the example code, I added "ancestors" and "num_ancestors" members to
MetaClass, and "color" to Boxer.  I also used SUPER_METHOD_PTR, though that
isn't in the proof-of-concept branch.

Marvin Humphrey

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