Generic toString()

Abstract

I want to point that I'm aware that spdlog handles classes with overloaded operator<<. I'm using toString() not only for logging, but also to e.g. write xmls.

Recently in my hobby project there was a need to add logs. I was using spdlog which provides quite user-friendly interface to log various types. For example, you can write something like this:

const std::string foo{ "foo" };
const auto bar{ 20. };
const auto baz{ 6 };
logger.info("Foo: {}, bar: {}, baz: {}", foo, bar, baz);

Generally it handles basic types, so we can get rid of boilerplates with std::to_string() etc.
It's enought most of the times. Ye, most of the times..

What about such simple thing as bool? I'd really like to write logger.info("condition: {}", true/false) and expect "condition: true/false", not "condition: 1/0"

Expectations

I wrote generic toString() in the project to meet couple of expectations:

-remove boilerplates e.g. std::to_string(int), condition ? "true" : "false" -cover all primitives and widely used STL types like std::string -easily add support for my own classes e.g. struct Pos { int x, y; };

bool

std::string toString(bool b)
{
    return b ? "true" : "false";
}

I think there's no explanation needed. Let's move on.

Primitives

bool was easy, we didn't even use SFINAE. Primitives support will be easy too. We'll take advantage of std::to_string, but first, we need to make sure that for given type T we can call mentioned std::to_string:

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<std::is_integral_v<T>::value ||
                 std::is_unsigned_v<T>::value ||
                 std::is_floating_point_v<T>::value,
                 std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return std::to_string(value);
}

Looks good, ye? Well.. not exactly. We need to keep in mind that std::is_integral::value is true also for bools, so we need to handle this properly:

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<!std::is_same_v<T, bool> &&
                 (std::is_integral_v<T> ||
                  std::is_unsigned_v<T> ||
                  std::is_floating_point_v<T>),
                 std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return std::to_string(value);
}

Now it should work like a charm, but my all three neurons that are responsible for aestetic taste are crying seeying this. Let's move it to some helper..

namespace details
{
    template <typename T>
    constexpr auto canCallStdString = !std::is_same_v<T, bool> &&
                                      (std::is_integral_v<T> ||
                                       std::is_unsigned_v<T> ||
                                       std::is_floating_point_v<T>);
}

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<details::canCallStdString<T>, std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return std::to_string(value);
}

that's better. Moving right along.

std::string

Now let's support std::string and everything that can be converted to it. Easy peasy:

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<std::is_convertible_v<T, std::string>, std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return { value };
}

Custom classes support

At this point we covered two of the expectations:
+remove boilerplates e.g. std::to_string(int), condition ? "true" : "false"
+cover all primitives and widely used STL types like std::string
-easily add support for my own classes.

In my project I made a decision that class will have a std::string toString() const method. With that assumption we need to simply detect if given type has such method. If so, just return object.toString();

//big credits to this guy, for a hints: https://stackoverflow.com/a/16824239/4175394
template <typename Type>
struct HasToString {
private:
    template<typename T>
    static constexpr auto check(T*) -> typename std::is_same<
                                                             decltype(std::declval<T>().toString()), 
                                                             std::string
                                                            >::type;

    template<typename>
    static constexpr std::false_type check(...);

    using type = decltype(check<Type>(nullptr));

public:
    static constexpr bool value = type::value;
};

What do we have here? We want to check if Type has toString(). We're using expression SFINAE to achieve that.

In private section we have two overloads of a template check() method. First one's signature is that it'd return std::true_type, second std::false_type. But how compiler 'knows' that it should prefer first one when Type has toString()? Thanks to partial ordering.

tl;dr
(...) If more than one specialization matches, partial order rules are used to determine which specialization is more specialized. The most specialized specialization is used, if it is unique (...)

In our case we have method that'll accept any parameters: template <typename> static constexpr std::false_type check(...);

and method that takes only a pointer template <typename T> static constexpr auto check(T*)

Thanks to the partial ordering, compiler will first try to use the one with pointer parameter. Then it tries to deduce return type

std::is_same<
             decltype(std::declval<T>().toString()), 
             std::string
            >::type;

If T has toString(), decltype will succedd, then if T::toString() returns std::string, std::is_same::type will be a std::true_type, if no - std::false_type.

What if T doesn't have toString()? Like I said, compiler tries. If given type won't have toString(), decltype(std::declval().toString()) will fail. Compiler won't consider it as a compilation error thanks to the SFINAE and will go to next check method.

Next method is like a devnull, it accepts everything but 'returns' std::false_type.

To summarize that:

  1. If Type has std::string toString(), compiler will select check which returns std::true_type.
  2. If it doesn't, compiler will select check which returns std::false_type

Ok. That was the hard part. Now the only thing to do is to create an alias to check's return type and a public bool value which will be used in the enable_if.

With explained helper we are ready to write next toString() overload. (To remove bolierplate I've created a helper)

namespace details
{
    template <typename Type>
    struct HasToString {
    private:
        template<typename T>
        static constexpr auto check(T*) -> typename std::is_same<
                                                                 decltype(std::declval<T>().toString()), 
                                                                 std::string
                                                                >::type;

        template<typename>
        static constexpr std::false_type check(...);

        using type = decltype(check<Type>(nullptr));

    public:
        static constexpr bool value = type::value;
    };
}

template <typename T>
constexpr auto HasToString = details::HasToString<T>::value;

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<HasToString<T>, std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return value.toString();
}

Homework - enums

With all that knowledge, we can easily write toString() which will be able to return pretty-string enum values. Consider it as your homework (:

Example

Go try it for yourself on Wandbox or wherever you want (:

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include <type_traits>

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<std::is_convertible_v<T, std::string>, std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return { value };
}

namespace details
{
    template <typename T>
    constexpr auto canCallStdString = !std::is_same_v<T, bool> &&
                                      (std::is_integral_v<T> ||
                                       std::is_unsigned_v<T> ||
                                       std::is_floating_point_v<T>);
}

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<details::canCallStdString<T>, std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return std::to_string(value);
}

std::string toString(bool b)
{
    return b ? "true" : "false";
}

namespace details
{
    template <typename Type>
    struct HasToString {
    private:
        template<typename T>
        static constexpr auto check(T*) -> typename std::is_same<
                                                                 decltype(std::declval<T>().toString()), 
                                                                 std::string
                                                                 >::type;

        template<typename>
        static constexpr std::false_type check(...);

        using type = decltype(check<Type>(nullptr));

    public:
        static constexpr bool value = type::value;
    };
}

template <typename T>
constexpr auto HasToString = details::HasToString<T>::value;

template <typename T>
std::enable_if_t<HasToString<T>, std::string>
    toString(const T& value)
{
    return value.toString();
}


struct Pos
{
    int x, y;

    std::string toString() const
    {
        return "x: " + std::to_string(x) + ", y: " + std::to_string(y);
    }  
};


template <typename ...Args>
void print(const Args&... args)
{
    ( std::cout<< ... << (toString(args) + "\n") );
}

int main()
{
    int foo{ -20 };
    double bar{ 13.22 };
    bool baz{ false };
    std::string qux{ "qux" };
    Pos alohomora{ 20, 40 };

    print(foo, bar, baz, qux, "Pos: ", alohomora);

    return 0;
}

The Rwview

Before releasing above art, I gave it to my collegues to review, and they were like "...hmm, yee, nice art, nice code, but generally WTF? You can simplify this even more..." and we ended up with this:

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include <utility>
#include <type_traits>

auto toString(bool b)
{
    return b ? "true" : "false";
}

template <typename T>
auto toString(T&& val) -> decltype(std::to_string(std::declval<T>()))
{
    return std::to_string(val);
}

template <typename T>
auto toString(T&& val) -> decltype(std::string(std::declval<T>()))
{
    return val;
}

template <typename T>
auto toString(T&& val) -> decltype(std::declval<T>().toString())
{
    return val.toString();
}

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

struct Pos
{
    int x, y;

    std::string toString() const
    {
        return "x: " + std::to_string(x) + ", y: " + std::to_string(y);
    }
};


template <typename ...Args>
void print(const Args&... args)
{
    (std::cout << ... << (toString(args) + std::string{ "\n" }));
}

int main()
{
    int foo{ -20 };
    double bar{ 13.22 };
    bool baz{ false };
    std::string qux{ "qux" };
    Pos alohomora{ 20, 40 };

    print(foo, bar, baz, qux, "Pos: ", alohomora);

    return 0;
}

Summary

Once again I learned that if you have a problem in C++ and you want to solve it with metaprogramming, you need to complicate the problem to the state when metaprogramming solution won't work out of the box. Or when it won't work out of the couple-of-hours-boxes. Only then satisfaction will prevail beauty of reading template compilation errors.