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Grinder README

Grinder is a simple C++ library providing an "asynchronous" event loop.

To use Grinder in your project, just copy the .cpp and .h files you need into your project. The files use standard C++11 as well as some POSIX-ish APIs. The Grinder/Linux directory contains wrappers around some useful Linux-specific APIs like timerfd and signalfd.

The main.cpp file contains some test/demo code.


The main component is the EventLoop which controls the processing of events. It is the heart of the system.

EventSource subclasses provide a mechanism for detecting when events are ready. The EventLoop uses the EventSource interface to figure out when the events are ready as well as dispatching events. All of the ___Source classes as well as the classes in the Grinder/Linux directory provide implementations of the EventSource interface.

The EventSource interface is composed of the following pure virtual functions:

  • bool prepare(int& max_timeout) This function is called before the event loop polls any file descriptors. If your event source knows it's ready now, implementations can return true and skip polling. The max_timeout argument is an output parameter that can limit how long the poll() timeout is. The value is in milliseconds and may be lowered by other event sources.
  • bool check() This function is called after the file descriptors have been polled. The check() function won't be called if the prepare() function returned true for a particular event loop iteration. Examples of using this function are to check if specific FileEvents have occured or whether a timer has elapsed. Return true to have the event handler dispatched or false to not dispatch.
  • bool dispatch(EventHandler& handler) This function is called when either the prepare() or check() functions have returned true indicating that an event has occurred. The handler argument provides a reference to the function to be called. Implementations of this function might choose to read a file descriptor or setup some event source-specific state which might be useful to event handlers. When this function returns false, the event source dispatching will be removed from the event loop and deleted. If it returns true, events will continue to be checked and dispatched.

There are 3 basic event source types, represented by the base classes FileSource, IdleSource, and TimeoutSource. Most event sources will want to subclass one of these rather than subclassing the EventSource directly.

The typedef for EventHandler provides a function type that should be used when setting the callback for event sources. You can use a functor, function pointer or anonymous (lambda) function for the event handler. If the handler returns false, the event source which called the handler will be removed from the event loop. If it returns true, the event source will continue to be checked and dispatched.

Event Sources


File sources have a file descriptor as well as a set of events to be watched for on the file descriptor. The EventLoop uses the poll() function or similar to check whether any of the file descriptors are ready. Most event sources will want to subclass this class.


Idle sources are a special kind of event source which will only be dispatched when there's nothing else for the event loop to do (ie. no timers have expired and no file descriptors are ready). Usually you won't use this class directly but rather add idle event sources to the event loop using EventLoop::add_idle() passing it a function to be called when the event loop is idle.


Timeout sources show an example of a class which is directly inherited from EventSource as they have no backing file descriptor. Timeouts are not particularly accurate but provide a convenient mechanism to call a function at roughly some time in the future. Ususally you won't use TimeoutSource class directly but rather add timeout event sources to the event loop using EventLoop::add_timeout().

An alternative to TimeoutSource for Linux is the TimerFD class. It inherits from FileSource as it uses the Linux-specific timerfd API. This should in theory provide better accuracy, but the class is only designed to handle timers accurate to whole milliseconds.


Signal sources are designed to wrangle Unix signals into the event loop.

It's important that only one SignalSource instance be added to an event loop. Since the SignalSource installs global signal handlers, and optionally modifies the global process signal mask, adding more than one SignalSource to event loops will cause bad things to happen.

The recommended usage is to create a single SignalSource when setting up the EventLoop initially, and adding it to the loop, leaving it to be freed when the loop cleans up. Keep a pointer the EventSource if you want to add or remove signals to be watched using the SignalSource::add() and SignalSource::remove() member functions. Any other usage is likely to cause problems.

There are two concrete implementations of the SignalSource, GenericSignalSource and the Linux-specific SignalFD.

GenericSignalSource installs a global signal handler which writes to one end of a pipe, while the event source, being derived from FileSource (via SignalSource), watches the other end of the pipe in the event loop. The signal handler writes the signal number as a 32-bit unsigned integer and the GenericSignalSource reads the signal number, sets the SignalSource::signo member variable and then dispatches the event to the handler.

An alternative to GenericSignalSource for Linux is the SignalFD class which provides a wrapper around the Linux-specific signalfd API. It derives from FileSource (via SignalSource) and watches a file descriptor that the kernel will send signal information to.

Building and Embedding

Currently the library is meant to be integrated into other projects directly. There is a Makefile included in the root source directory which is just meant for testing the build. It doesn't support fancy stuff like out-of-tree builds or installing the library. The Makefile produces a file and GrinderTest program in the root directory.

There's also a file in the root source directory which is just enough to compile the code (into a single demo program) using QtCreator/qmake. This is only meant for use when working on Grinder code in the QtCreator IDE, not for a real build system.

Using it with your Project

This is the current recommended method of using Grinder in your project:

  1. Copy the entire Grinder sub-directory into your project's tree.
  2. Copy the License.txt and optionally the files into that same directory.
  3. If not using the Linux-specific classes, you can delete the Grinder/Linux directory.
  4. Add the .cpp files to be compiled by your build system/C++ compiler.
  • For GCC-like compilers, you should use the -std=c++11 flag to enable the C++11 support which Grinder requires.
  • Add the directory containing the Grinder directory to the compiler's include search path. This is so your code can use Grinder headers like #include <Grinder/TheHeader.h>.
  1. In the code that uses Grinder, it is recommended to include the main Grinder header like #include <Grinder/Grinder>. That header includes all of the other headers, including platform-specific ones if supported.

It is up to the project whether to build an actual library. With some build-systems it's convenient to build "helper" libraries and in other cases you might want a proper shared library if several programs you control use Grinder. The optimal method for a single application is to link the compiled Grinder object files directly into the main binary.


While Grinder is meant to be cross-platform, at least initially such support is not widely tested. Primary development happens on Linux as well as minor testing on OSX.

No testing on Windows has been performed but it is a goal to add both generic and platform-specific support for Windows. The EventLoop, EventSource, IdleSource, and TimeoutSource should be fine on Windows out of the box. SignalSource and FileSource, which use file descriptors rather than Win32 HANDLEs are most likely to require porting effort. Supporting sockets on Windows should be relatively painless as it has a file-descriptor like API on Windows.

Class Hierarchy

Below is a little diagram to show the class inheritance in Grinder.

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