Does C++ support 'finally' blocks? (And what's this 'RAII' I keep hearing about?) – Dev

The best answers to the question “Does C++ support 'finally' blocks? (And what's this 'RAII' I keep hearing about?)” in the category Dev.

QUESTION:

Does C++ support ‘finally‘ blocks?

What is the RAII idiom?

What is the difference between C++’s RAII idiom and C#’s ‘using’ statement?

ANSWER:

In C++ the finally is NOT required because of RAII.

RAII moves the responsibility of exception safety from the user of the object to the designer (and implementer) of the object. I would argue this is the correct place as you then only need to get exception safety correct once (in the design/implementation). By using finally you need to get exception safety correct every time you use an object.

Also IMO the code looks neater (see below).

Example:

A database object. To make sure the DB connection is used it must be opened and closed. By using RAII this can be done in the constructor/destructor.

C++ Like RAII

void someFunc()
{
    DB    db("DBDesciptionString");
    // Use the db object.

} // db goes out of scope and destructor closes the connection.
  // This happens even in the presence of exceptions.

The use of RAII makes using a DB object correctly very easy. The DB object will correctly close itself by the use of a destructor no matter how we try and abuse it.

Java Like Finally

void someFunc()
{
    DB      db = new DB("DBDesciptionString");
    try
    {
        // Use the db object.
    }
    finally
    {
        // Can not rely on finaliser.
        // So we must explicitly close the connection.
        try
        {
            db.close();
        }
        catch(Throwable e)
        {
           /* Ignore */
           // Make sure not to throw exception if one is already propagating.
        }
    }
}

When using finally the correct use of the object is delegated to the user of the object. i.e. It is the responsibility of the object user to correctly to explicitly close the DB connection. Now you could argue that this can be done in the finaliser, but resources may have limited availability or other constraints and thus you generally do want to control the release of the object and not rely on the non deterministic behavior of the garbage collector.

Also this is a simple example.
When you have multiple resources that need to be released the code can get complicated.

A more detailed analysis can be found here: http://accu.org/index.php/journals/236

ANSWER:

No, C++ does not support ‘finally’ blocks. The reason is that C++ instead supports RAII: “Resource Acquisition Is Initialization” — a poor name for a really useful concept.

The idea is that an object’s destructor is responsible for freeing resources. When the object has automatic storage duration, the object’s destructor will be called when the block in which it was created exits — even when that block is exited in the presence of an exception. Here is Bjarne Stroustrup’s explanation of the topic.

A common use for RAII is locking a mutex:

// A class with implements RAII
class lock
{
    mutex &m_;

public:
    lock(mutex &m)
      : m_(m)
    {
        m.acquire();
    }
    ~lock()
    {
        m_.release();
    }
};

// A class which uses 'mutex' and 'lock' objects
class foo
{
    mutex mutex_; // mutex for locking 'foo' object
public:
    void bar()
    {
        lock scopeLock(mutex_); // lock object.

        foobar(); // an operation which may throw an exception

        // scopeLock will be destructed even if an exception
        // occurs, which will release the mutex and allow
        // other functions to lock the object and run.
    }
};

RAII also simplifies using objects as members of other classes. When the owning class’ is destructed, the resource managed by the RAII class gets released because the destructor for the RAII-managed class gets called as a result. This means that when you use RAII for all members in a class that manage resources, you can get away with using a very simple, maybe even the default, destructor for the owner class since it doesn’t need to manually manage its member resource lifetimes. (Thanks to Mike B for pointing this out.)

For those familliar with C# or VB.NET, you may recognize that RAII is similar to .NET deterministic destruction using IDisposable and ‘using’ statements. Indeed, the two methods are very similar. The main difference is that RAII will deterministically release any type of resource — including memory. When implementing IDisposable in .NET (even the .NET language C++/CLI), resources will be deterministically released except for memory. In .NET, memory is not deterministically released; memory is only released during garbage collection cycles.

 

† Some people believe that “Destruction is Resource Relinquishment” is a more accurate name for the RAII idiom.

ANSWER:

Beyond making clean up easy with stack-based objects, RAII is also useful because the same ‘automatic’ clean up occurs when the object is a member of another class. When the owning class is destructed, the resource managed by the RAII class gets cleaned up because the dtor for that class gets called as a result.

This means that when you reach RAII nirvana and all members in a class use RAII (like smart pointers), you can get away with a very simple (maybe even default) dtor for the owner class since it doesn’t need to manually manage its member resource lifetimes.

ANSWER:

RAII is usually better, but you can have easily the finally semantics in C++. Using a tiny amount of code.

Besides, the C++ Core Guidelines give finally.

Here is a link to the GSL Microsoft implementation and a link to the Martin Moene implementation

Bjarne Stroustrup multiple times said that everything that is in the GSL it meant to go in the standard eventually. So it should be a future-proof way to use finally.

You can easily implement yourself if you want though, continue reading.

In C++11 RAII and lambdas allows to make a general finally:

namespace detail { //adapt to your "private" namespace
template <typename F>
struct FinalAction {
    FinalAction(F f) : clean_{f} {}
   ~FinalAction() { if(enabled_) clean_(); }
    void disable() { enabled_ = false; };
  private:
    F clean_;
    bool enabled_{true}; }; }

template <typename F>
detail::FinalAction<F> finally(F f) {
    return detail::FinalAction<F>(f); }

example of use:

#include <iostream>
int main() {
    int* a = new int;
    auto delete_a = finally([a] { delete a; std::cout << "leaving the block, deleting a!\n"; });
    std::cout << "doing something ...\n"; }

the output will be:

doing something...
leaving the block, deleting a!

Personally I used this few times to ensure to close POSIX file descriptor in a C++ program.

Having a real class that manage resources and so avoids any kind of leaks is usually better, but this finally is useful in the cases where making a class sounds like an overkill.

Besides, I like it better than other languages finally because if used naturally you write the closing code nearby the opening code (in my example the new and delete) and destruction follows construction in LIFO order as usual in C++. The only downside is that you get an auto variable you don’t really use and the lambda syntax make it a little noisy (in my example in the fourth line only the word finally and the {}-block on the right are meaningful, the rest is essentially noise).

Another example:

 [...]
 auto precision = std::cout.precision();
 auto set_precision_back = finally( [precision, &std::cout]() { std::cout << std::setprecision(precision); } );
 std::cout << std::setprecision(3);

The disable member is useful if the finally has to be called only in case of failure. For example, you have to copy an object in three different containers, you can setup the finally to undo each copy and disable after all copies are successful. Doing so, if the destruction cannot throw, you ensure the strong guarantee.

disable example:

//strong guarantee
void copy_to_all(BIGobj const& a) {
    first_.push_back(a);
    auto undo_first_push = finally([first_&] { first_.pop_back(); });

    second_.push_back(a);
    auto undo_second_push = finally([second_&] { second_.pop_back(); });

    third_.push_back(a);
    //no necessary, put just to make easier to add containers in the future
    auto undo_third_push = finally([third_&] { third_.pop_back(); });

    undo_first_push.disable();
    undo_second_push.disable();
    undo_third_push.disable(); }

If you cannot use C++11 you can still have finally, but the code becomes a bit more long winded. Just define a struct with only a constructor and destructor, the constructor take references to anything needed and the destructor does the actions you need. This is basically what the lambda does, done manually.

#include <iostream>
int main() {
    int* a = new int;

    struct Delete_a_t {
        Delete_a_t(int* p) : p_(p) {}
       ~Delete_a_t() { delete p_; std::cout << "leaving the block, deleting a!\n"; }
        int* p_;
    } delete_a(a);

    std::cout << "doing something ...\n"; }

Hopefully you can use C++11, this code is more to show how the “C++ does not support finally” has been nonsense since the very first weeks of C++, it was possible to write this kind of code even before C++ got its name.