Silviu-Marius Ardelean's blog

a software engineer's web log

The Chameleon Pathnames

The title might be as well “When the pathname is not what it has to be”.

The experience of developing plugins for Adobe Acrobat/Reader reserved me different surprises, surprises that made the task more challenging. One of the biggest surprise I had was the impact of the Adobe’s Cloud idea over the Acrobat’ API within Acrobat products. Their feature idea is to keep all the already opened documents within their Cloud in order to make them available to different devices you’re interacting with.

In my case, having interactions with external non-Adobe’s applications, the things complicated when trying to get the file pathname. This option is coming enabled by default.

This is how the Acrobat.com Cloud looks like within Acrobat products This is how the Acrobat.com Cloud looks like within Acrobat products

Usually, when we are thinking to files path we expect to have something similar to GetFullPathName(). But according to Acrobat SDK’s concept: not every file opened into Acrobat/Reader has to be a local disk file. It may be associated with a stream, a network file, etc.

The reason why I was looking to get the correct file path is that my plugin and others are connecting to a system that expects the local or network file path. So it was needed to find a way to get an usual file path.

The challenge I am talking about has reproduced with an Adobe.com environment activated, having such a file already synchronized in the Acrobat.com cloud by using:

acrobat.com_path_functions

But both API’s functions return proper values with non-Cloud files. With a local filename not already uploaded within Acrobat.com I got the correct file path with both functions.

So the workaround I was thinking invokes the next steps:

1. Get the file path using ASFileSysDIPathFromPath(). In case your project is a Unicode project don’t forget that the returned type is a char* and you’ll need to encode it to the proper Unicode (UTF-8 in my case).

2. Check if it is a cloud path (starts with Acrobat.com:).

where

3. Save the file content into a temporary file (ex. C:\Users\Silviu.Ardelean\AppData\Local\Temp\)

where

4. Provided the temporary file path to the proxy module that expect it to interact with my system.

5. Clean/delete the temporary files on plugin uploading – PluginUnload() callback.

Additional comments
In case your plugins will interact with external non-Adobe’s application most probably you’ll have to do different tricks. Because of the way the Acrobat SDK is designed, without direct support for wchar_t and std::wstring you will need do make different conversions and encoding/decoding (ex. the ATL macros CW2A, CA2W(), functions such MultiByteToWideChar() on Windows, etc).

If you don’t have to interact with external non-Adobe’s applications be confident with Acrobat’s SDK types and data structures. In this way you’ll avoid such conversions.

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pre vs. post increment operator – benchmark

Compiler: Visual C++ 2010
Operating System: Windows 7 32bits
Tested machine CPU: Intel core i3
Download: preVSpost (demo project) (888)

A recent Visual C++ team’s comment on twitter.com reminded me a hot topic that exists in C++ programming world: there is a long discussion of using pre versus post increment operators, specially, for iterators. Even me I was witness to a discussion like this. The discussion started from a FAQ written by me on www.codexpert.ro.

The reason of preferring pre increment operators is simple. For each post-increment operator a temporary object is needed.
Visual C++ STL implementation looks similarly with next code:

But for pre-increment operator implementation this temporary object is not needed anymore.

In the discussion that I mentioned above, somebody came with a dummy application and tried to prove that things have changed because of new compilers optimizations (the code exists in the attached file, too). This sample is too simple and far away to the real code. Normally the real code has more code line codes that eat CPU time even if you’re compiling with /O2 settings (is obviously).
Base on that VC++ team’s tweet related to viva64.com’s research I decided to create my own benchmark base on single and multicore architectures. For those that don’t know Viva64 is a company specialized on Static Code Analysis.
Starting from their project I extended the tested for other STL containers: std::vector, std::list, std::map, and std::unordered_map (VC++ 2010 hash table implementation).
For parallel core tests I used Microsoft’s new technology called Parallel Pattern Library.

1. How the tests were made
1.1. Code stuff
In order to get execution time I used same timer as Viva64 team (with few changes). Each container instance was populated with 100000 elements of same random data. An effective computing function was repeated 10 times. Into this function some template functions are called for 300 times. The single core computing function contains loops like this:

For the parallel core computing the first simple for loop has changed in:

Where cnt is an instance of combinable class and the sum of partial computed elements is obtained by calling combine() method:

As you can see, the parallel_for function uses one of the new C++ standard features: a lambda function. This lambda function and the combinable class implements the so called parallel aggregation pattern and helps you to avoid the multithreaded common share resource issues. The code is executed on independent tasks. The reason that this approach is fast is that there is very little need for synchronization operations. Calculating the per-task local results uses no shared variables, and therefore requires no locks. The combine operation is a separate sequential step and also does not require locks.

1.2. Effective results
The tests were running on a Intel core i3 machine (4 cores) running Windows 7 on 32bits OS. I tested debug and release mode for single and multi cores computation. The test application was build in VC++ 2010 one of the first C++11 compliant.
The OX axis represents the execution repeated times, and the OY axis means time in seconds.

1.2.1. Single core computation
Debug

Release

1.2.2. Multi cores computation
As you know, multi core programming is the future. For C++ programmers Microsoft propose a very interesting library called Parallel Pattern Library.
The overall goal is to decompose the problem into independent tasks that do not share data, while providing a sufficient number of tasks to occupy the number of cores available.

This is how it looks my task manager when the demo application runs in parallel mode.

Isn’t it nice comparing to a single core use? 🙂

Debug

Release

1.2.3. Speedup
Speedup is an efficiency performance metric for a parallel algorithm comparing to a serial algorithm.

Debug

Release

Conclusions:
The biggest differences appear in the debugging area where the pre-increment is “the champion”.
With primitive types (like int and pointers), the opposite might be true, because of the pipe-lining that a CPU does. With post-increment, due to optimizations in release there is no copy to be returned for these simple types.
According to these results I have to agree with Viva64 team. Even if the results are so close in release version I keep my opinion that using pre increment operator is preferred instead of post increment operators. We all know how long it takes the debug period and how important is every second that we win in long debugging days.
If you still have doubts in using pre-increment operator or you need a flexible way of switching this operators in your code you can easily implement some macros like these:

#define VECTOR_ITERATOR(type, var_iter) std::vector::iterator var_iter;
#define VECTOR_FOR(vect, var_iter) for (var_iter = vect.begin(); var_iter != vect.end(); ++var_iter)

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Numeric type conversion to std::string and vice versa

In our real applications we have to convert from strings to integer or to real variables and vice versa (double/float/int variable to std::string).
We can realize these conversions using C style CRT function or we can try C++ approach via STL.
Unfortunately, current C standard libraries do not offer a complete support for any type of conversion. For instance, if we try to put an integer into a C++ string object (std::(w)string) using a well known function itoa() then we get next error:

// error C2664: ‘itoa’ : cannot convert parameter 2 from ‘std::string’ to ‘char *’

A C style approach in order to avoid this error means using an intermediary buffer:

Same story if we try to convert a std::string to an int:

// error C2664: ‘atoi’ : cannot convert parameter 1 from ‘std::string’ to ‘const char *’

In this case we can use c_str() in order to return a constant pointer to char.

An elegant way to get rid of such problems is to build two conversion function that use templates and C++ streams.
Base on this idea, I created a Sting2Numeric class that contains two static methods: Type2String() and String2Type().

where BadConvertion is a std::runtime_error‘s derived class.

Because of ANSI and UNICODE project’s compatibility I defined few macros:

Because of this compatibility I strongly recommend using a xstring alias instead of std::wstring or std::string.
When you want to convert an int, float, double, or other numerical type to a xstring in a C++ style you can use the Type2String() function. Vice versa, if you want to convert a xstring to these types you can use String2Type().

In order to avoid possible thrown exception I recommend to you using a try catch block whenever you’re using these functions. I prefer using xstring for string/wstring variables definition, too.
Here is a sample of using this class:

The String2Numeric class can be extended. For instance, if the conversion throw an error then you can add detailed information in the exception message.

Download String2Numeric (850) class.

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Dynamic popup and drop down menus for custom representations

Many applications allow dynamic customization for visual objects or data views. For instance, well known Internet Explorer application provides toolbars customization using a popup menu that appears when the user execute right click mouse action in toolbar zone area.

Internet Explorer sample menu

Other sample where this kind of menu is very useful is when it’s used in order to customize database data representation in Windows controls like List control or grid control. These kind of applications allow data filtering and show/hide columns using this kind of menu. The user just right click on control header and gets what he need.

Starting from this idea, I implemented a class CDynamicPopupMenu. This class allows an easy building of this kind of menus. I used if in a demo dialog base application over a list control.

my demo application

Internally, this class uses a STL container (std::map) with a data structure used in order to embed items menu properties. When the menu is built, menu’s behavior is implemented using these properties.

Add new menu item
The new item add menu method has next definition:

where:

  • item_id – represents internal item ID; the ID is used for menu customization, too;
  • parent_id – parent item ID used when we define a new items sub-group (a drop-down menu); the attribute value is 0 if menu item is a part of initial menu;
  • is_visible – this flag is used a item is checked / unchecked. In my demo application this flag is set true for all list control’s columns that we want to display. For “Select All” and “Check All” items this flag is false because we want to create new subgroup that contains new columns, but we don’t have “Select All” or “Check All” columns.
  • check_flag – this flag allow check/uncheck menu property;
  • has_child – if is true allows a subgroup definition (a new drop-down menu);
  • item_name – unicode menu item name;
  • enable_flag – defines if the item is enable or disable.
  • Add separator item
    Add separator item method definition looks like this:

    where:

  • item_id – menu item ID;
  • parent_id – parent item ID from the subgroup has started; the attribute value is 0 if menu item is a part of initial menu.
  • Menu add items sample
    In my demo application, in CtestPopupMenuDlg::SetDefaultMapValues(void) method, among other things, you can find next calls:

    Get menu internal data
    In order to access the internal data container (std::map) that stores all dynamic menu items you just can use next method:

    followed by:

    Create and display menu
    Menu creation must be done just after we add all menu items. The menu is displayed only after TrackPopupCustomMenu() call. The definition of this method looks like this:

    where:

  • point – mouse coordinates where the menu start building;
  • hWnd – parrent window handle where the menu is created.
  • Function’s return value is the menu IDs that was selected. If no item was selected the function returns 0.
    In my demo application, menus creation is called on list control right-click method (NM_RCLICK).

    As you can see, I’m calling TrackPopupCostumMenu(), using mouse point property when the user right-click over list control.
    I am saving list control handler, selected item ID and WM_NOTIFY value into a pointer to message notification structure NMHDR. Then I’m passing this pointer to OnNotify() method.
    Using WM_NOTIFY message and OnNotify() method, I inform parent control window that a new event was generated.

    I am calling GetItemCheckedFlag() if order to detect selected item check status (check / uncheck). Then, if item state means check I apply negation over this bool flag and I’m calling SetCheckedItemFlag() method. Finnaly this method produce changes in my control list, depending on my menu command (FillData() method).

    Menu interaction with parent window (list control)
    In my demo application, the interaction between dynamic menu and list control to be treated by FillData() method.
    In order to use CDynamicPopupMenu’s internal container data is need to initialize a DynamicMenuData pointer with GetDynamicMenuData()’s returned value.

    Using that pointer to internal menu data, I iterate over internal container, and for those items that are visible and selected set on true I insert columns in my list control.
    Similarly, when using such menus, the application can apply filters on real data.
    CDynamicPopupMenu class contains other useful methods. This kind of menu can be used in different situations in order to change application’s behavior.

    Download demo application: testPopupMenu (Visual C++ 2005 project)

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