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Stout Developer Guide

Stout is a header-only C++ library. Simply add the include folder to your include path (i.e., -I/path/to/stout/include) during compilation (eventually we plan to support installation).

NOTE: Depending on which headers you'd like to use, you may require the following third party libraries:

  • Boost
  • Google's glog (this dependency will be removed in the future)
  • Google's protobuf (version 3.3.x - 3.5.x is required to run tests)
  • Google's gmock/gtest

There are a handful of data structures provided within the library (including some collections), as well as some namespaced and miscellaneous utilities. Also included are abstractions for command line flags.

Stout provides and heavily leverages some monadic structures including Option and Try.

Note that the library is designed to completely avoid exceptions. See exceptions for further discussion.

Option, Some, and None

The Option type provides a safe alternative to using nullptr. An Option can be constructed explicitly or implicitly:

    Option<bool> o(true);
    Option<bool> o = true;

You can check if a value is present using Option::isSome() and Option::isNone() and retrieve the value using Option::get():

    if (!o.isNone()) {
      ... o.get() ...

Note that the current implementation copies the underlying values (see Philosophy for more discussion). Nothing prevents you from using pointers, however, the pointer will not be deleted when the Option is destructed:

    Option<std::string*> o = new std::string("hello world");

The None type acts as "syntactic sugar" to make using Option less verbose. For example:

    Option<T> foo(const Option<T>& o)
      return None(); // Can use 'None' here.


    foo(None()); // Or here.


    Option<int> o = None(); // Or here.

Similar to None, the Some type can be used to construct an Option as well. In most circumstances Some is unnecessary due to the implicit Option constructor, however, it can still be useful to remove any ambiguities as well as when embedded within collections:

    Option<Option<std::string>> o = Some("42");

    std::map<std::string, Option<std::string>> values;
    values["value1"] = None();
    values["value2"] = Some("42");

Try, Result, and Error

A Try provides a mechanism to return a value or an error without throwing exceptions. Like Option, you can explicitly or implicitly construct a Try:

    Try<bool> t(true);
    Try<bool> t = true;

You can check if a value is present using Try::isSome() and Try::isError() and retrieve the value using Try::get() or the error via Try::error:

    if (!t.isError()) {
      ... t.get() ...
    } else {
      ... t.error() ...

A Result is a combination of a Try and an Option; you can think of a Result as semantically being equivalent to Try<Option<T>>. In addition to isSome() and isError() a Result includes isNone().

The Error type acts as "syntactic sugar" for implicitly constructing a Try or Result. For example:

    Try<bool> parse(const std::string& s)
      if (s == "true") {
        return true;
      } else if (s == "false") {
        return false;
      } else {
        return Error("Failed to parse string as boolean");

    Try<bool> t = parse("false");

You can also use None and Some with Result just like with Option:

    Result<bool> r = None();
    Result<bool> r = Some(true);


A lot of functions that return void can also "return" an error. Since we don't use exceptions (see Exceptions) we capture this pattern using Try<Nothing> (see Try).


A collection of utilities for working with a filesystem. Currently we provide fs::size, fs::usage, and fs::symlink.


A collection of utilities for doing gzip compression and decompression using gzip::compress and gzip::decompress.

  gzip::decompress(gzip::compress("hello world"));


Requires Boost.

Provides structures and rendering of the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) grammar using boost::variant. A JSON "value" (JSON::Value) is one of (i.e., a variant of) JSON::String, JSON::Number, JSON::Object, JSON::Array, JSON::True, JSON::False, and JSON::Null.

We explicitly define 'true' (JSON::True), 'false' (JSON::False), and 'null' (JSON::Null), for clarity and also because boost::variant "picks" the wrong type when we try and use std::string, long (or int), double (or float), and bool all in the same variant.

We could have avoided using JSON::String or JSON::Number and just used std::string and double respectively, but we choose to include them for completeness (although, this does slow compilation due to the extra template instantiations). That being said, you can use the native types in place of constructing the JSON wrapper. For example:

  // {
  //   "foo": "value1",
  //   "bar": "value2",
  //   "baz": 42.0,
  //   "bam": 0.42,
  // }
  JSON::Object object;
  object.values["foo"] = JSON::String("value1");
  object.values["bar"] = "value2";
  object.values["baz"] = JSON::Number(42.0);
  object.values["bam"] = 0.42;

Of course, nesting of a JSON::Value is also permitted as per the JSON specification:

  // An array of objects:
  // [
  //   { "first": "Benjamin", "last": "Hindman" },
  //   { "first": "Michael", "last": "Hindman" }
  // ]
  JSON::Array array;

  JSON::Object object1;
  object1.values["first"] = "Benjamin";
  object1.values["last"] = "Hindman";


  JSON::Object object2;
  object2.values["first"] = "Michael";
  object2.values["last"] = "Hindman";


You can "render" a JSON value using std::ostream operator<< (or by using stringify (see here).


jsonify takes an instance of a C++ object and returns a representation of JSON string captured in a light-weight proxy object. The proxy object can either be implicitly converted to a std::string, or directly inserted into an output stream.

jsonify(const T&) is implemented by calling the function json. We perform unqualified function call so that it can detect overloads via argument dependent lookup. That is, we will search for, and use a free function named json in the same namespace as T.

NOTE: This relationship is similar to boost::hash and hash_value.

json takes two parameters: a pointer to a writer type, and the type of the object. The following are the available writers and their member functions:

  • BooleanWriter -- set(value)
  • NumberWriter -- set(value)
  • StringWriter -- append(value)
  • ArrayWriter -- element(value)
  • ObjectWriter -- field(key, value)
namespace store {

struct Customer
  std::string first_name;
  std::string last_name;
  int age;

void json(JSON::ObjectWriter* writer, const Customer& customer)
  writer->field("first name", customer.first_name);
  writer->field("last name", customer.last_name);
  writer->field("age", customer.age);

} // namespace store {

store::Customer customer{"michael", "park", 25};
std::cout << jsonify(customer);
// prints: {"first name":"michael","last name":"park","age":25}

jsonify(const F&) overload takes a function object F that takes a pointer to writer. This is useful in cases where we don't want to define a public json function out-of-line.

namespace store {

struct Customer
  std::string first_name;
  std::string last_name;
  int age;

} // namespace store {

store::Customer customer{"michael", "park", 25};
std::cout << jsonify([&customer](JSON::ObjectWriter* writer) {
  writer->field("first name", customer.first_name);
  writer->field("last name", customer.last_name);
  writer->field("age", customer.age);
// prints: {"first name":"michael","last name":"park","age":25}


To help deal with compatibility issues between C++98/03 and C++11 we wrap some of the TR1 types from functional in lambda. That way, when using lambda::bind you'll get std::tr1::bind where TR1 is available and std::bind when C++11 is available.


A collection of utilities for working with the networking subsystem. Currently we provide net::download and net::getHostname.


The os namespace provides numerous utilities for working with the operating system. Most of these utilities are simple wrappers around C-style functions that don't cleanly take or return C++ types, for example os::getenv, os::setenv, os::realpath, etc. The library also includes a handful of "shell familiars", such as os::chown, os::touch, os::ls, os::find, os::su, os::glob, etc. We call out a few of the special abstractions below.

Reading and Writing std::string

To make reading and writing from files easier there are implementations of os::read and os::write that take and return std::string.


Most of the ways to get or set information about files requires complicated calls using the stat family of functions. We provide simple wrappers around stat via things like os::exists, os::stat::isdir, os::stat::isfile, and os::stat::islink.


There are some fairly extensive abstractions around getting process information from the operating system. There is an os::Process type that gets provided by utilities like os::processes. You can construct an arbitrary fork/exec process tree by constructing an os::Fork, get all the processes in a process tree using os::pstree, and kill all the processes in a process tree using os::killtree (the latter is similar to the shell command kill but strictly more powerful in that it can walk a process tree, following groups and sessions if requested).


There is an os::sysctl abstraction for getting and setting kernel state on OS X.


There are a handful of wrappers that make working with signals easier, including os::signals::pending, os::signals::block, and os::signals::unblock. In addition, there is a suppression abstraction that enables executing a block of code while blocking a signal. Consider writing to a pipe which may raise a SIGPIPE if the pipe has been closed. Using suppress you can do:

    suppress (SIGPIPE) {
      write(fd, data, size);
      if (errno == EPIPE) {
        // The pipe has been closed!


The path namespace provides the path::join function for joining together filesystem paths. Additionally to the path namespace there also exists the class Path. Path provides basename() and dirname() as thread safe replacements for standard ::basename() and ::dirname().


Requires Linux.

The proc namespace provides some abstractions for working with the Linux proc filesystem. The key abstractions are proc::ProcessStatus which models the data provided in /proc/[pid]/stat and proc::SystemStatus which models the data provided in /proc/stat.


Requires protobuf.

Helpers for reading and writing protobufs from files and file descriptors are provided via protobuf::read and protobuf::write. These assume a "recordio" format where the length of the serialized data is read/written first followed by the actual data.

There is also a protobuf to JSON converter via JSON::protobuf that enables serializing a protobuf into JSON:

    google::protobuf::Message message;
    ... fill in message ...
    JSON::Object o = JSON::protobuf(message);


Utilities for inspecting and manipulating strings are available in the strings namespace. This includes varying tokenization techniques via strings::tokenize, strings::split, and strings::pairs.

String formatting is provided via strings::format. The strings::format functions produces strings based on the printf family of functions. Except, unlike the printf family of functions, the strings::format routines attempt to "stringify" (see here) any arguments that are not POD types (i.e., "plain old data": primitives, pointers, certain structs/classes and unions, etc). This enables passing structs/classes to strings::format provided there is a definition/specialization of std::ostream operator<< available for that type. Note that the %s format specifier is expected for each argument that gets passed. A specialization for std::string is also provided so that std::string::c_str is not necessary (but again, %s is expected as the format specifier).

Command Line Flags

One frustration with existing command line flags libraries was the burden they put on writing tests that attempted to have many different instantiations of the flags. For example, running two instances of the same component within a test where each instance was started with different command line flags. To solve this, we provide a command line flags abstraction called Flags (in the flags namespace) that you can extend to define your own flags:

    struct MyFlags : virtual flags::Flags // Use `virtual` for composition!
        // A flag with a default value.
            "Some information about foo",

        // A flag without a default value,
        // defined below with an `Option`.
            "Some information about bar");

      int foo;
      Option<std::string> bar;

You can then load the flags via argc and argv via:

    MyFlags flags;
    Try<flags::Warnings> load = flags.load(None(), argc, argv);

    if (load.isError()) { ... }

    ... ...
    ... ... ...

You can load flags from the environment in addition to argc and argv by specifying a prefix to use when looking for flags:

    MyFlags flags;
    Try<flags::Warnings> load = flags.load("PREFIX_", argc, argv);

Then both PREFIX_foo and PREFIX_bar will be loaded from the environment as well as possibly from on the command line.

There are various ways to deal with unknown flags (i.e., --baz in our example above) and duplicates (i.e., --foo on the command line twice or once in the environment and once on the command line). See the header files for the various load overloads.


Many of the collections and containers provided either by Boost or the C++ standard are cumbersome to use or yield brittle, hard to maintain code. For many of the standard data structures we provide wrappers with modified interfaces often simplified or enhanced using types like Try and Option. These wrappers include hashmap, hashset, multihashmap, and multimap.

NOTE: The collections are not namespaced.

LinkedHashMap is a hashmap that maintains the order in which the keys have been inserted. This allows both constant-time access to a particular key-value pair, as well as iteration over key-value pairs according to the insertion order.

There is also a Cache implementation that provides a templated implementation of a least-recently used (LRU) cache. Note that the key type must be compatible with std::unordered_map.

Finally, we provide some overloaded operators for doing set union (|), set intersection (&), and set appending (+) using std::set.


There are a handful of types and utilities that fall into the miscellaneous category. Note that like the collections these are not namespaced.


Used to represent some magnitude of bytes, i.e., kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, etc. The main way to construct a Bytes is to invoke Bytes::parse which expects a string made up of a number and a unit, i.e., 42B, 42MB, 42GB, 42TB. For each of the supported units there are associated types: Megabytes, Gigabytes, Terabytes. Each of these types inherit from Bytes and can be used anywhere a Bytes is expected, for example:

    Try<Bytes> bytes = Bytes::parse("32MB");

    Bytes bytes = Megabytes(10);

There are operators for comparing (equal to, greater than or less than, etc) and manipulating (addition, subtraction, etc) Bytes objects, as well as a std::ostream operator<< overload (thus making them stringifiable, see here). For example:

    Try<Bytes> bytes = Bytes::parse("32MB");

    Bytes tengb = Gigabytes(10);
    Bytes onegb = Megabytes(1024);

    stringify(tengb + onegb); // Yields "11GB".


Used to represent some duration of time. The main way to construct a Duration is to invoke Duration::parse which expects a string made up of a number and a unit, i.e., 42ns, 42us, 42ms, 42secs, 42mins, 42hrs, 42days, 42weeks. For each of the supported units there are associated types: Nanoseconds, Microseconds, Milliseconds, Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks. Each of these types inherit from Duration and can be used anywhere a Duration is expected, for example:

    Duration d = Seconds(5);

There are operators for comparing (equal to, greater than or less than, etc) and manipulating (addition, subtraction, etc) Duration objects, as well as a std::ostream operator<< overload (thus making them stringifiable, see here). Note that the std::ostream operator<< overload formats the output (including the unit) based on the magnitude, for example:

    stringify(Seconds(42)); // Yields "42secs".
    stringify(Seconds(120)); // Yields "2mins".


A data structure for recording elapsed time (according to the underlying operating system clock):

    Stopwatch stopwatch;

    Duration elapsed = stopwatch.elapsed();


    assert(elapsed <= stopwatch.elapsed());


Requires Boost.

A wrapper around boost::uuid with a simpler interface.


A macro for exiting an application without generating a signal (such as from assert) or a stack trace (such as from Google logging's CHECK family of macros). This is useful if you want to exit the program with an error message:

    EXIT(42) << "You've provided us bad input ...";

Note that a newline is automatically appended and the processes exit status is set to 42.


Requires Boost.

Macros for looping over collections:

    std::list<std::string> l;

    foreach (std::string s, l) {}
    foreach (const std::string& s, l) {}

    std::map<std::string, int> m;

    foreachpair (std::string s, int i, m) {}
    foreachpair (const std::string& s, int i, m) {}

    foreachkey (const std::string& s, m) {}
    foreachvalue (int i, m) {}


Requires Boost.

Wraps boost::lexical_cast for converting strings to numbers but returns a Try rather than throwing exceptions.


Converts arbitrary types into strings by attempting to use an overloaded std::ostream operator<< (otherwise compilation fails). Note that stringify aborts the program if the stringification process fails.


Requires pthreads.

You can give every thread its own copy of some data using the ThreadLocal abstraction:

    ThreadLocal<std::string> local;
    local = new std::string("hello");
    local->append(" world");
    std::string* s = local;
    assert(*s == "hello world");


There are some macros provided for integration with gtest that make the tests less verbose while providing better messages when tests do fail:

    Try<int> t = foo();

    // Rather than:
    ASSERT(t.isSome()) << "Error: " << t.error();

    // Just do:



"Premature optimization is the root of all evil."

You'll notice that the library is designed in a way that can lead to a lot of copying. This decision was deliberate. Capturing the semantics of pointer ownership is hard to enforce programmatically unless you copy, and in many instances these copies can be elided by an optimizing compiler. We've chosen safety rather than premature optimizations.

Note, however, that we plan to liberally augment the library as we add C++11 support. In particular, we plan to use rvalue references and std::unique_ptr (although, likely wrapped as Owned) in order to explicitly express ownership semantics. Until then, it's unlikely that the performance overhead incurred via any extra copying is your bottleneck, and if it is we'd love to hear from you!


The library WILL NEVER throw exceptions and will attempt to capture any exceptions thrown by underlying C++ functions and convert them into an Error.