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CppCon 2016 Trip Report

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

So, CppCon 2016 has finished, and I'm back home and all caught up with "normal" life again. I thought it was about time I wrote up my trip report before it was too late.

Pre-conference Workshop

For me, the conference started on Saturday 17th September, as I was running a two-day workshop on Concurrent Thinking. This was well-attended, and I had some great conversations with people during the breaks and at the end of each day.

The main conference

The main conference started on Monday morning, with a keynote from Bjarne Stroustrup on the evolution of C++. He walked us through how far C++ has come since its humble beginnings, and what he hopes to see in the future — essentially all those things he hoped to see in C++17 that didn't make it, plus a couple of extras.

Over the course of the rest of the week there were over 100 sessions across a wide variety of C++-related topics. It was often hard to choose which session to go and see, but since everything was recorded, it was possible to catch up afterwards by watching the CppCon Youtube Channel.

Highlights for me included:

  • Kenny Kerr and James McNellis on Embracing Standard C++ for the Windows Runtime (Video). Kenny and James talked about the new standard C++ projection for the Windows Runtime, which provides essentially a set of smart pointer wrappers for all the Windows Runtime types to hide the messy COM-style boilerplate that would otherwise be required. They compared a simple .NET app, the pages of boilerplate code required today in C++ to do the same, and then showed how it is again simple with the new library. I look forward to being able to use it for writing Windows-based applications.

  • Hartmut Kaiser on Parallelism in Modern C++ (Video). Hartmut talked about the new parallel STL, how futures and asynchronous operations work together to take advantage of parallel hardware, and issues like data placement, vectorization, and the potential for moving work to GPUs.

  • Michael Spencer on My Little Optimizer: Undefined Behavior is Magic (Video). Michael showed how the presence of undefined behaviour can drasticly change the output of code generated by an optimizing compiler, and can actually let it generate better code. This was very interesting to see. We all know that we need to avoid undefined behaviour, but it's enlightening to see how the existence of undefined behaviour at all can improve optimization.

Every presentation I watched was great, but these stood out. I still have a long list of sessions I'm going to watch on video; there is just so much to take in.

The plenary was by Herb Sutter, who talked about "Leak Freedom by default". The first half of the talk was a summary of what we have in the standard library today — std::unique_ptr<T> and std::shared_ptr<T> do most of the heavy lifting. He showed a poster "to stick on your colleague's wall" showing which to use when. The remainder of the talk was discussion around the remaining cases, notably those data structures with cycles, which are not well-supported by today's standard library. In particular, Herb introduced his "experimental" deferred-reclamation (i.e. Garbage Collection) library, which uses a custom heap and deferred_ptr<T> to allow you to detect and destroy unreachable objects. This got me thinking if there was another way to do it, which will be the subject of a later blog post.

The people

By far the best part of the conference is the people. I had many in-depth discussions with people that would be hard to have via email. It was great to meet people face to face; some I was meeting for the first time, and others who I haven't met in person for years.

While you can watch the videos and read the slides without attending, there is no substitute for the in-person interactions.

My sessions

As well as the workshop, I presented a talk on The Continuing Future of C++ Concurrency, which was on Tuesday afternoon, and then I was on the panel for the final session of the conference: Implementing the C++ Standard Library on Friday afternoon.

As for the other sessions, videos are available on the CppCon Youtube channel:

Plus, you can also download my slides for The Continuing Future of C++ Concurrency.

Posted by Anthony Williams
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