Software and Tools


I couldn’t resist posting on the topic of C++ for-loops, as described by this wonderfully irreverent Reg Developer article. I shall leave you to read it, rather than summarizing it in detail here, but as a quick one-liner, it goes into the argument of incrementing counters versus incrementing iterators, and then in a final touch, touches on using algorithms over iterators.

As someone who came to C++ via the unintuitive path of Java -> C -> C++ (my coursework was more “advanced”, if I won’t get torn to pieces saying that, than the coding required in my first job), good ol’ i++ was one of my best friends. Admittedly, using other aspects of “pure” C++ were not problematic: I loved lording the use of templates in vectors, lists etc. over the Java folks. No casting in and out of Object for me! Shame Java had to go and sort out their language to allow that: no lording has happened recently.

Back to the subject at hand. I have to agree with the author of the Reg article, and say that about 90% of the time I try to “be good” and use an algorithm instead of for loops, I end up writing my own functors. (Ok ok – so the first few times I wrote a functor because I thought it was fun, not because it was neccessary – I still can count that in the percentages, can’t I?)

In short: looping algorithms – more fun than they look, but a guilty pleasure as I still cannot quite justify them for the simpler cases. But then the answer is never almost never “all or nothing” programming choices. (I’m sure there’s a completely “all or nothing” choice out there, enjoying its role as the exception that proves the rule.) As a biologist and a programmer (read “bioinformatician”, which is just too tough to say), I find I like this result, in keeping with the biologist’s perspective: the messy answers are the best ones.

By Allyson Lister

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