Crash Course: core functionalities

Table of Contents

Introduction

EnTT comes with a bunch of core functionalities mostly used by the other parts of the library itself.
Hardly users will include these features in their code, but it's worth describing what EnTT offers so as not to reinvent the wheel in case of need.

Unique sequential identifiers

Sometimes it's useful to be able to give unique, sequential numeric identifiers to types either at compile-time or runtime.
There are plenty of different solutions for this out there and I could have used one of them. However, I decided to spend my time to define a couple of tools that fully embraces what the modern C++ has to offer.

Compile-time generator

To generate sequential numeric identifiers at compile-time, EnTT offers the identifier class template:

// defines the identifiers for the given types
using id = entt::identifier<a_type, another_type>;

// ...

switch(a_type_identifier) {
case id::type<a_type>:
    // ...
    break;
case id::type<another_type>:
    // ...
    break;
default:
    // ...
}

This is all what this class template has to offer: a type inline variable that contains a numeric identifier for the given type. It can be used in any context where constant expressions are required.

As long as the list remains unchanged, identifiers are also guaranteed to be stable across different runs. In case they have been used in a production environment and a type has to be removed, one can just use a placeholder to left the other identifiers unchanged:

template<typename> struct ignore_type {};

using id = entt::identifier<
    a_type_still_valid,
    ignore_type<a_type_no_longer_valid>,
    another_type_still_valid
>;

Perhaps a bit ugly to see in a codebase but it gets the job done at least.

Runtime generator

To generate sequential numeric identifiers at runtime, EnTT offers the family class template:

// defines a custom generator
using id = entt::family<struct my_tag>;

// ...

const auto a_type_id = id::type<a_type>;
const auto another_type_id = id::type<another_type>;

This is all what a family has to offer: a type inline variable that contains a numeric identifier for the given type.
The generator is customizable, so as to get different sequences for different purposes if needed.

Please, note that identifiers aren't guaranteed to be stable across different runs. Indeed it mostly depends on the flow of execution.

Hashed strings

A hashed string is a zero overhead unique identifier. Users can use human-readable identifiers in the codebase while using their numeric counterparts at runtime, thus without affecting performance.
The class has an implicit constexpr constructor that chews a bunch of characters. Once created, all what one can do with it is getting back the original string through the data member function or converting the instance into a number.
The good part is that a hashed string can be used wherever a constant expression is required and no string-to-number conversion will take place at runtime if used carefully.

Example of use:

auto load(entt::hashed_string::hash_type resource) {
    // uses the numeric representation of the resource to load and return it
}

auto resource = load(entt::hashed_string{"gui/background"});

There is also a user defined literal dedicated to hashed strings to make them more user-friendly:

constexpr auto str = "text"_hs;

Finally, in case users need to create hashed strings at runtime, this class also offers the necessary functionalities:

std::string orig{"text"};

// create a full-featured hashed string...
entt::hashed_string str{orig.c_str()};

// ... or compute only the unique identifier
const auto hash = entt::hashed_string::value(orig.c_str());

Wide characters

The hashed string has a design that is close to that of an std::basic_string. It means that hashed_string is nothing more than an alias for basic_hashed_string<char>. For those who want to use the C++ type for wide character representation, there exists also the alias hashed_wstring for basic_hashed_string<wchar_t>.
In this case, the user defined literal to use to create hashed strings on the fly is _hws:

constexpr auto str = "text"_hws;

Note that the hash type of the hashed_wstring is the same of its counterpart.

Conflicts

The hashed string class uses internally FNV-1a to compute the numeric counterpart of a string. Because of the pigeonhole principle, conflicts are possible. This is a fact.
There is no silver bullet to solve the problem of conflicts when dealing with hashing functions. In this case, the best solution seemed to be to give up. That's all.
After all, human-readable unique identifiers aren't something strictly defined and over which users have not the control. Choosing a slightly different identifier is probably the best solution to make the conflict disappear in this case.

Monostate

The monostate pattern is often presented as an alternative to a singleton based configuration system. This is exactly its purpose in EnTT. Moreover, this implementation is thread safe by design (hopefully).
Keys are represented by hashed strings, values are basic types like ints or bools. Values of different types can be associated to each key, even more than one at a time. Because of this, users must pay attention to use the same type both during an assignment and when they try to read back their data. Otherwise, they will probably incur in unexpected results.

Example of use:

entt::monostate<entt::hashed_string{"mykey"}>{} = true;
entt::monostate<"mykey"_hs>{} = 42;

// ...

const bool b = entt::monostate<"mykey"_hs>{};
const int i = entt::monostate<entt::hashed_string{"mykey"}>{};

Type support

EnTT provides some basic information about types of all kinds.
It also offers additional features that are not yet available in the standard library or that will never be.

Type info

This class template isn't a drop-in replacement for std::type_info but can provide similar information which are not implementation defined and don't require to enable RTTI.
Therefore, they can sometimes be even more reliable than those obtained otherwise.

Currently, there are a couple of information available:

  • The numeric identifier associated with a given type:

    auto id = entt::type_info<my_type>::id();
    

    In general, the id function is also constexpr but this isn't guaranteed for all compilers and platforms (although it's valid with the most well-known and popular ones).

    This function can use non-standard features of the language for its own purposes. This makes it possible to provide compile-time identifiers that remain stable across different runs.
    In all cases, users can prevent the library from using these features by means of the ENTT_STANDARD_CPP definition. In this case, there is no guarantee that identifiers remain stable across executions. Moreover, they are generated at runtime and are no longer a compile-time thing.

  • The name associated with a given type:

    auto name = entt::type_info<my_type>::name();
    

    The name associated with a type is extracted from some information generally made available by the compiler in use. Therefore, it may differ depending on the compiler and may be empty in the event that this information isn't available.
    For example, given the following class:

    struct my_type { /* ... */ };
    

    The name is my_type when compiled with GCC or CLang and struct my_type when MSVC is in use.
    Most of the time the name is also retrieved at compile-time and is therefore always returned through an std::string_view. Users can easily access it and modify it as needed, for example by removing the word struct to standardize the result. EnTT won't do this for obvious reasons, since it requires copying and creating a new string potentially at runtime.

    This function can use non-standard features of the language for its own purposes. As for the numeric identifier, users can prevent the library from using non-standard features by means of the ENTT_STANDARD_CPP definition. In this case, the name will be empty by default.

An external type system can also be used if needed. In fact, type_info can be specialized by type and is also sfinae-friendly in order to allow more refined specializations such as:

template<typename Type>
struct entt::type_info<Type, std::enable_if_t<has_custom_data_v<Type>>> {
    static constexpr entt::id_type id() ENTT_NOEXCEPT {
        return Type::custom_id();
    }

    static constexpr std::string_view name() ENTT_NOEXCEPT {
        return Type::custom_name();
    }
};

Note that this class template and its specializations are widely used within EnTT. It also plays a very important role in making EnTT work transparently across boundaries in many cases.
Please refer to the dedicated section for more details.

Almost unique identifiers

Since the default non-standard, compile-time implementation makes use of hashed strings, it may happen that two types are assigned the same numeric identifier.
In fact, although this is quite rare, it's not entirely excluded.

Another case where two types are assigned the same identifier is when classes from different contexts (for example two or more libraries loaded at runtime) have the same fully qualified name.
If the types have the same name and belong to the same namespace then their identifiers could be identical (they won't necessarily be the same though).

Fortunately, there are several easy ways to deal with this:

  • The most trivial one is to define the ENTT_STANDARD_CPP macro. Runtime identifiers don't suffer from the same problem in fact. However, this solution doesn't work well with a plugin system, where the libraries aren't linked.

  • Another possibility is to specialize the type_info class for one of the conflicting types, in order to assign it a custom identifier. This is probably the easiest solution that also preserves the feature of the tool.

  • A fully customized identifier generation policy (based for example on enum classes or preprocessing steps) may represent yet another option.

These are just some examples of possible approaches to the problem but there are many others. As already mentioned above, since users have full control over their types, this problem is in any case easy to solve and should not worry too much.
In all likelihood, it will never happen to run into a conflict anyway.

Type index

Types in EnTT are assigned also unique, sequential indexes generated at runtime:

auto index = entt::type_index<my_type>::value();

This value may differ from the numeric identifier of a type and isn't guaranteed to be stable across different runs. However, it can be very useful as index in associative and unordered associative containers or for positional accesses in a vector or an array.

So as not to conflict with the other tools available, the family class isn't used to generate these indexes. Therefore, the numeric identifiers returned by the two tools may differ.
On the other hand, this leaves users with full powers over the family class and therefore the generation of custom runtime sequences of indices for their own purposes, if necessary.

An external generator can also be used if needed. In fact, type_index can be specialized by type and is also sfinae-friendly in order to allow more refined specializations such as:

template<typename Type>
struct entt::type_index<Type, std::void_d<decltype(Type::index())>> {
    static entt::id_type value() ENTT_NOEXCEPT {
        return Type::index();
    }
};

Note that indexes must still be generated sequentially in this case.
The tool is widely used within EnTT. Generating indices not sequentially would break an assumption and would likely lead to undesired behaviors.

Type traits

A handful of utilities and traits not present in the standard template library but which can be useful in everyday life.
This list is not exhaustive and contains only some of the most useful classes. Refer to the inline documentation for more information on the features offered by this module.

Member class type

The auto template parameter introduced with C++17 made it possible to simplify many class templates and template functions but also made the class type opaque when members are passed as template arguments.
The purpose of this utility is to extract the class type in a few lines of code:

template<typename Member>
using clazz = entt::member_class_t<Member>;

Integral constant

Since std::integral_constant may be annoying because of its form that requires to specify both a type and a value of that type, there is a more user-friendly shortcut for the creation of integral constants.
This shortcut is the alias template entt::integral_constant:

constexpr auto constant = entt::integral_constant<42>;

Among the other uses, when combined with a hashed string it helps to define tags as human-readable names where actual types would be required otherwise:

constexpr auto enemy_tag = entt::integral_constant<"enemy"_hs>;
registry.emplace<enemy_tag>(entity);

Tag

Since id_type is very important and widely used in EnTT, there is a more user-friendly shortcut for the creation of integral constants based on it.
This shortcut is the alias template entt::tag.

If used in combination with hashed strings, it helps to use human-readable names where types would be required otherwise. As an example:

registry.emplace<entt::tag<"enemy"_hs>>(entity);

However, this isn't the only permitted use. Literally any value convertible to id_type is a good candidate, such as the named constants of an unscoped enum.

Utilities

It's not possible to escape the temptation to add utilities of some kind to a library. In fact, EnTT also provides a handful of tools to simplify the life of developers:

  • entt::identity: the identity function object that will be available with C++20. It returns its argument unchanged and nothing more. It's useful as a sort of do nothing function in template programming.

  • entt::overload: a tool to disambiguate different overloads from their function type. It works with both free and member functions.
    Consider the following definition:

    struct clazz {
        void bar(int) {}
        void bar() {}
    };
    

    This utility can be used to get the right overload as:

    auto *member = entt::overload<void(int)>(&clazz::bar);
    

    The line above is literally equivalent to:

    auto *member = static_cast<void(clazz:: *)(int)>(&clazz::bar);
    

    Just easier to read and shorter to type.

  • entt::overloaded: a small class template used to create a new type with an overloaded operator() from a bunch of lambdas or functors.
    As an example:

    entt::overloaded func{
        [](int value) { /* ... */ },
        [](char value) { /* ... */ }
    };
    
    func(42);
    func('c');
    

    Rather useful when doing metaprogramming and having to pass to a function a callable object that supports multiple types at once.

  • entt::y_combinator: this is a C++ implementation of the y-combinator. If it's not clear what it is, there is probably no need for this utility.
    Below is a small example to show its use:

    entt::y_combinator gauss([](const auto &self, auto value) -> unsigned int {
        return value ? (value + self(value-1u)) : 0;
    });
    
    const auto result = gauss(3u);
    

    Maybe convoluted at a first glance but certainly effective. Unfortunately, the language doesn't make it possible to do much better.

This is a rundown of the (actually few) utilities made available by EnTT. The list will probably grow over time but the size of each will remain rather small, as has been the case so far.






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