Null-termination-aware string-view class for C++
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README.md

str_view

Null-termination-aware string-view class for C++.

Author: Adam Sawicki - http://asawicki.info
Version: 1.1.0, 2018-09-11
License: MIT

Documentation: see below and comments in the code of str_view.hpp file.

Introduction

str_view is a small library for C++. It offers a convenient and optimized class that represents view into a character string. It has a form of a single header file: str_view.hpp, which you can just add to your project. All the members are defined as inline, so no compilation of additional CPP files or linking with additional libraries is required.

str_view depends only on standard C and C++ library. It has been developed and tested under Windows using Microsoft Visual Studio Communiity 2017 version 15.7.1, but it should work in other compilers and platforms as well. If you find any compatibility issues, please let me know. It works in both 32-bit and 64-bit code.

The class is defined as str_view_template, because it's a template that can be parametrized with character types. Two typedefs are provided:

  • str_view - compatible with char and std::string (single-byte or UTF-8 strings).
  • wstr_view - compatible with wchar_t and std::wstring (2-byte UTF-16 strings, also called Unicode in WinAPI).

All the examples below use str_view, but everything what is described here applies also to wstr_view and Unicode strings.

An object of str_view class represents a view into an externally owned character string, or piece of thereof. It stores pointer to its beginning and its length. The original string must remain alive and unchanged as long as the view object is alive and points to it. Otherwise behavior is undefined.

String pointed by str_view is immutable. It means it is possible to only read properties (like length) and characters of the pointer string, but not to alter it in any way through the view, either its length or individual characters. Defining str_view object as const only means that the view itself is immutable and cannot be changed to point to a different string.

It is best used for passing parameters into library functions that can take strings of unknown origin. Let's consider an example library function:

void Foo(const str_view& v);

Creating string view

There are multiple ways in which a string view object can be constructed, as there are multiple overloaded constructors. None of them are marked as explicit, so implicit conversion is allowed.

Basic construction

Default constructor initializes valid, but empty string (one with length of 0).

Foo(str_view()); // Passed ""

View can be created from a null-terminated string. It can be either string literal...

Foo("Ala ma kota"); // Passed "Ala ma kota"

...or dynamically created C string.

char sz[32];
sprintf_s(sz, "Number is %i", 7);
Foo(sz); // Passed "Number is 7"

View can also be created from STL string.

std::string str = "Ala ma kota";
Foo(str); // Passed "Ala ma kota"

The class also supports copy constructor, move constructor, assignment operator, move assignment operator, swap method and global swap function.

Advanced construction

Passing null as source pointer is also valid. It initializes view to an empty string.

Foo(str_view(nullptr)); // Passed ""

View can also be created from an array of characters, by specifying pointer to first character and length (number of characters). Such string doesn't need to be null-terminated.

char array[4] = { 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D' };
Foo(str_view(array,
    4)); // length
// Passed "ABCD"

View can be created to point to only a piece of original string.

const char* sz = "Ala ma kota";
Foo(str_view(sz + 4,
    2)); // length
// Passed "ma"

It can also point to a piece of STL string. No copy is performed. The view object still refers to the original string.

std::string str = "Ala ma kota";
Foo(str_view(str,
    4, // offset
    2)); // length
// Passed "ma"

The class offers powerful substr method that returns new view, which may point to a piece of source view.

str_view orig = "Ala ma kota";
Foo(orig.substr(
    4)); // offset
// Passed "ma kota" - substring from offset 4 to the end.

Foo(orig.substr(
    0, // offset
    3)); // length
// Passed "Ala" - substring limited to 3 characters.

Foo(orig.substr(
    4, // offset
    2)); // length
// Passed "ma"

Using string view

str_view class offers a convenient set of methods and operators similar to std::string and std::string_view from C++17, but it's not fully compatible with any of them.

Call length() to retrieve length of string view (number of charecters). Alternative name is size(), but it's not recommended because its name may be misleading - it may suggest size in bytes not in characters.

empty() method returns true when the string is empty (has length of 0). It may be more efficient than length().

data() method returns a pointer to the underlying character array. Characters are always laid out sequentially in memory, so the pointer may be used as normal C array.

begin() and end() methods return pointers to the first character and to the character following the last character of the view, respectively. Together they form a range that may be used e.g. with STL algorithms that expect a pair of iterators. They also enable usage of range-based for loop.

str_view v = str_view("Ala ma kota");
// Prints "Ala ma kota"
for(char ch : v)
    printf("%c", ch);

Individual characters can be read using overloaded operator[]. Alternative syntax is at() method. None of them perform range checking, for performance reasons.

First character can also be fetched using front() method, and last character is returned by back() method.

Pointed string can be copied to a specified destination array of characters using method copy_to(), or to an STL string using method to_string().

String views can be compared lexicographically using all comparison operators, like ==, !=, <, <= etc. There is also more powerful method compare() which returns negative integer, zero, or positive integer, depending on the result of the comparison. Comparison can be made case-insensitive.

str_view v1 = str_view("aaa");
str_view v2 = str_view("BBB");
int r = v1.compare(v2,
    false); // case_sensitive
// r is -1 because v1 goes before v2 when compared in case-insensitive way.

String view can also be searched and checked using methods: starts_with() and ends_with() (also supports case-insensitive comparison), find(), rfind(), find_first_of(), find_last_of(), find_first_not_of(), find_last_not_of().

Last but not least, because strings in a C++ program often need to end up as null-terminated C strings to be passed to some external libraries, the class offers c_str() method similar to std::string that returns pointer to such null-terminated string. It may be either pointer to the original string if it's null terminated, or an internal copy. The copy is valid as long as str_view object is alive and it's not modified to point to a different string. It is automatically destroyed.

str_view v = str_view("Ala ma kota");
str_view sub_v = v.substr(4, 2);
printf("sub_v is: %s", sub_v.c_str()); // Prints "sub_v is: ma"

Performance

Unique feature of this library is that a string view is "null-termination-aware" - it not only remembers pointer and length of the referred string, but also the way it was created to avoid unnecessary operations and lazily evaluate those that are requested.

  • If it was created from a null-terminated string:
    • c_str() trivially returns pointer to the original string.
    • Length is unknown and it is calculated upon first call to length().
  • On the other hand, if it was created from a string that is not null-terminated:
    • Length is explicitly known, so length() trivially returns it.
    • c_str() creates a local, null-terminated copy of the string upon first call.

Example 1: View created from a null-terminated string.

const char* sz = "Ala ma kota";
str_view v = str_view(sz);

// empty() peeks only first character. Length still unknown.
printf("Empty: %s\n", v.empty() ? "true" : "false"); // Prints "Empty: false"
// length() calculates length on first call.
printf("Length: %zu\n", v.length()); // Prints "Length: 11"
// c_str() trivially returns original pointer.
printf("String is: %s\n", v.c_str()); // Prints "Ala ma kota"

Example 2: View created from a STL string.

std::string s = "Ala ma kota";
str_view v = str_view(s);

// c_str() returns pointer returned from original s.c_str().
printf("String is: %s\n", v.c_str());
// Length is explicitly known from s, so empty() trivially checks if it's not 0.
printf("Empty: %s\n", v.empty() ? "true" : "false");
// Length is explicitly known from s, so length() trivially returns it.
printf("Length: %zu\n", v.length());

Example 3: View created from character array that is not null-terminated.

const char* sz = "Ala ma kota";
str_view v = str_view(sz + 4, 2);

// c_str() creates and returns local, null-terminated copy.
printf("String is: %s\n", v.c_str()); // Prints "ma"
// Length is explicitly known, so empty() trivially checks if it's not 0.
printf("Empty: %s\n", v.empty() ? "true" : "false"); // Prints "Empty: false"
// Length is explicitly known, so length() trivially returns it.
printf("Length: %zu\n", v.length()); // Prints "Length: 2"

This optimization also works with substrings:

str_view vFull = str_view("Ala ma kota");
str_view vBegin = vFull.substr(
    0, // offset
    3); // length

// Substring is not null-terminated. c_str() creates and returns local, null-terminated copy.
printf("String is: %s\n", vBegin.c_str()); // Prints "Ala"
// Length is explicitly known, so empty() trivially checks if it's not 0.
printf("Empty: %s\n", vBegin.empty() ? "true" : "false"); // Prints "Empty: false"
// Length is explicitly known, so length() trivially returns it.
printf("Length: %zu\n", vBegin.length()); // Prints "Length: 3"
str_view vFull = str_view("Ala ma kota");
str_view vEnd = vFull.substr(
    7); // offset

// Substring is null-terminated. c_str() returns original pointer, adjusted by offset.
printf("String is: %s\n", vEnd.c_str()); // Prints "kota"
// Length is still unknown. empty() peeks only first character.
printf("Empty: %s\n", vEnd.empty() ? "true" : "false"); // Prints "Empty: false"
// length() calculates length on first call.
printf("Length: %zu\n", vEnd.length()); // Prints "Length: 4"

Thread-safety

Despite lazy evaluation, the class is thread-safe. More specifically, const methods of a single str_view object, including length(), empty(), and c_str(), can be called simultaneously from multiple threads. They are synchronized internally using atomics.