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Re: Fix for illegal token pasting in libstdc++ headers

On Tue, Jul 04, 2000 at 09:32:13AM -0700, Zack Weinberg wrote:
> If I may rant, this is one reason why writing "operator+" with no
> space between the keyword and the punctuator should be considered
> harmful.  It gives the false impression that the entire is a single
> token, which in turn leads people to write code that does silly things
> like the above.

I shall rant as well, then.  Zack's argument would lead to writing

  std :: vector < int > v ( 3 ) ;

C++ isn't LISP.  Punctuation parses differently in our brains, 
and the C++ language is designed to take advantage of that.  In 
our brains, proximity equates to close relation, and our coding 
style should use the fact.

Conceptually, "operator+" -- actually, "operator+(" -- really is 
one token: it's the name of a function.  Arguments from details 
of yacc/lex processing are unhelpful because brains don't parse the 
way yacc/lex do.

A similar argument has been made for preferring

  Foo *f;

on the basis that in the grammar, the "*" binds more tightly to 
"f" than to "Foo".  It is usually noted further that the convention 
would prevent errors in the case of

  Foo *f, *g;

The response is that in C++, we discourage defining two or more 
variables in the same statement for that very reason, and because 
it also leads to other errors such as declaring variables too 
early, and failing to initialize them.  Furthermore, consider 

  Foo *f = 0;

This appears to a sensible reader to be assigning zero into "*f", 
rather than into f itself, as is actually occurring.  In C++, 
types are more important conceptually than in C, and a type is 
recognized as a unit and not just a momentary construction.  We

  Lib_grumble::Foo* f = 0;

because it matches our mental contructions.  "Lib_grumble::Foo" 
contains no spaces because conceptually it's a single name, and 
"Lib_grumble::Foo*" because conceptually it's a single type.
Wherever possible we put in spaces to separate conceptual units, 
not lexical ones.

When compiler parsing differs substantively from natural mental
processing, errors are possible.  We use coding conventions to prevent 
cases of such confusion arising.  While it might be best to design a 
language in which mental and technical parsing details match exactly, 
history has dictated that we base our syntax on C, instead.  C has
many virtues, but sensible syntax design is not among them.

Nathan Myers
ncm at cantrip dot org

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