Friday, April 22, 2011

Opaque Pointer and Binary Compatibility

23, April 2011
Binary Compatibility:
When you compile a small application that prints "hello, world", we are implicitly depending on third party libraries usually developed by compiler vendor. If there is bug, or upgraded software from the vendor, can we run our application without recompiling? If yes, we say that the library is binary compatible.

Or in-other words, let us say we supplied a library, and later we come up with great ideas that requires changes in many classes layouts, how can you ship the upgraded libraries without recompiling client code? The solution is Handle/Body idiom (refer Advanced C++ book by Jim Copelin).

Binary compatibility depends on various factors Application Binary Interface definition, source compatibility opaque pointer in code.

Opaque Pointer (Also referred as Handle/Body Idiom, Pimpl Idiom, Cheshire Cat etc.):

To achieve binary compatibility we separate implementation from interface, so easy to say? The interface will have an indirection (pointer or Handle) to implementation (Body). An excellent article on Qt d-pointer (a.k.a. data pointer) is available on Qt developer page and KDE developer page.

Note that the concept of Opaque Pointer or Pointer to Implementation (PIMPL) is used extensively in many software libraries. I came across PIMPL in mobile software, Qt, Boost, many more. I am preparing an article for GeeksforGeeks, soon it will be published.

Also note the concept of q-pointer (pointer back to Handle class) that references the API class for any functionality defined in API class hierarchy.

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