LLVM Project News and Details from the Trenches

Monday, April 15, 2013

Status of the C++11 Migrator

Since the design document for cpp11-migrate, the C++11 migrator tool, was first proposed in early December 2012 development has been making steady progress. In this article I'll talk about what's been implemented in cpp11-migrate so far, what's coming up, and how you can get involved.

The purpose of the C++11 Migrator is to do source-to-source translation to migrate existing C++ code to use C++11 features to enhance maintainability, readability, runtime performance, and compile-time performance. Development is still early and transforms fall mostly into the first two categories. The migrator is based on Clang's LibTooling and the AST Matching library.

Most of the development so far has been carried out by a small core group at Intel. Our focus so far has been to set up project infrastructure and testing, implement a few basic transforms, and make sure those transforms work well. Our aim is to make this tool useful to the community so we're always listening for transform ideas and feedback.

How to Get cpp11-migrate

cpp11-migrate is located in the Extra Clang Tools repository. To build cpp11-migrate, you will need the LLVM and Clang sources as well. Follow the directions in Clang's Getting Started instructions making sure to perform the optional step of checking out the Extra Clang Tools repository. Once checked out into the correct directory the build system, after a reconfiguration, will automatically include the extra Clang tools as part of the next full build. If you're using the CMake build system, you can build just cpp11-migrate with the cpp11-migrate target. The check-clang-tools target provided by CMake will run all regression tests for extra Clang tools, including cpp11-migrate.

The Transforms So Far

The C++11 Migrator currently supports four features of C++11:
  • Range-based for loops
  • The nullptr literal for null pointers
  • The auto type specifier
  • override virtual specifier
The range-based for-loop transform once existed as a stand-alone tool called loop-convert contributed by Sam Panzer. When development on more transforms started, the idea became to pull all transforms under the jurisdiction of a single tool and cpp11-migrate was born. The range-based for-loop transform replaces for-loops used in one of the following three common situations:
  1. Loops over containers using iterators
  2. std::vector<int> myVec;
    for (std::vector<int>::iterator I = myVec.begin(),
                                    E = myVec.end();
         I != E; ++I)
      llvm::outs() << *I;
    std::vector<int> myVec;
    for (auto & elem : myVec)
      llvm::outs() << elem;
  3. Loops over statically allocated arrays
  4. int arr[] = {1,2,3,4,5};
    for (int i = 0; i < 5; ++i)
      llvm::outs() << arr[i];
    int arr[] = {1,2,3,4,5};
    for (auto & elem : arr)
      llvm::outs() << elem;
  5. Loops over array-like containers using operator[] or at().
  6. std::vector<int> myVec;
    for (int i = 0; i < myVec.size(); ++i)
      llvm::outs() << v[i];
    std::vector<int> myVec;
    for (auto & elem : myVec)
      llvm::outs() << elem;
The nullptr transform uses the new nullptr literal where pointers are being initialized with or assigned a null value. In cases where an explicit cast is used, the explicit cast is left behind to avoid introducing ambiguities into the code.
void foo(int *arg);
void foo(float *arg);

int *IntPtr = 0;
float *FloatPtr = NULL;
void foo(int *arg);
void foo(float *arg);

int *IntPtr = nullptr;
float *FloatPtr = nullptr;

The auto type specifier transform replaces the type specifier for variable declarations with the new auto keyword. In general, such a replacement can be done whenever the type of the variable declaration matches the type of its initializer. However, the transform targets only a few specific useful situations with readability and maintainability in mind:
  1. When the variable is an iterator for an STL container.
  2. std::vector<std::pair<int, std::string> >::iterator NameAgeI = People.begin();
    for (std::vector<MyType>::iterator I = Container.begin(),
                                       E = Container.end;
         I != E; ++I) {
      // ...
    auto NameAgeI = People.begin();
    for (auto I = Container.begin(),
                                      E = Container.end;
         I != E; ++I) {
      // ...
  3. When the initializer is an allocation using the new operator.
  4. MyType *VarPtr = new MyType();
    MyType * const VarCPtr = new MyType();
    auto VarPtr = new MyType();
    auto const VarCPtr = new MyType();
Support for a third situation is in development: creating objects with factory functions.
MyType *FooPtr = makeObject<MyType>(/*...*/);
MyType *BarPtr = MyType::create(/*...*/);
auto FooPtr = makeObject<MyType>(/*...*/);
auto BarPtr = MyType::create(/*...*/);
In each situation, the deduced type for the declared variable should be obvious to the reader. Iterators for standard containers are created by functions with specific names and are used in specific situations. For factory functions and operator new, the type is spelled out in the initializer so repeating it in the variable declaration is not necessary.

The override virtual specifier transform, contributed by Philip Dunstan, is the migrator's fourth transform and the first to be contributed from outside the core group at Intel. This transform detects virtual member functions in derived classes that override member functions from parent classes and adds the override virtual specifier to the function.
class Parent {
  virtual int getNumChildren();

class Child {
  virtual int getNumChildren();
class Parent {
  virtual int getNumChildren();

class Child {
  virtual int getNumChildren() override;

More details on these transforms, what they can and can't do, how to adjust their behaviour, and known limitations can be found in the cpp11-migrate User's Manual.

Testing on Real Projects

What better way to test the C++11 Migrator than to run it on entire real projects? We've set up a continuous integration server to build and run cpp11-migrate on two projects so far and have plans for at least three more. For each project, the goal is to build the transformed code and run that project's test suite to ensure semantics haven't changed.
  1. LLVM 3.1
  2. ITK 4.3.1
  1. LLDB
  2. OpenCV
  3. Poco
Running the migrator on real code has been enormously helpful for finding bugs. Real code from varying projects often reveals code expressions not accounted for in the development and unit testing of the transforms. Every time a bug found from transforming these projects gets fixed, new test cases are added to the regression test suite and the migrator becomes more robust.

Future Work

Fixing bugs found by migrating real code is of high priority right now since we want a good user experience for as many people as we can as soon as possible. Adding more transforms is another priority and those transforms with the most interest from the community will come first. Currently at the top of the list are:
  1. Use the standard library instead of TR1
  2. Replace use of the deprecated auto_ptr class.
In addition to fixing bugs and adding transforms, there are also more general improvements to consider. One such improvement we're making progress on is to remove the restriction that only source files are transformed and not any of the headers they include. The restriction has been in place until now because the migrator needs to know which headers are safe to transform. System headers and third-party library headers clearly shouldn't be touched.

Get Involved!

If you want to get involved, the first thing you can do is try out cpp11-migrate on your code. Bugs can be logged with LLVM's bug tracker under the product clang-tools-extra. Send an email to the Clang Developer's Mailing List if you need help or would like to get more involved. We look forward to hearing from you!


Michael Price said...

How about an option that enables C++11 behavior based on a #define'd value? This would be helpful for those of us whose required compilation environment might only support a subset of C++11 features to date.

Unknown said...

How do I test this in my own cpp files? I'm having a little trouble and I keep getting "Skipping File.cpp: Command line not found."


I tried googling it, but no help there. The user manual specifies that one needs to put a -p=place/with/compile_commands.json, and so I did.

Malcolm Parsons said...

Miguel you can specify the command line after --.

cpp11-migrate -use-nullptr filename.cpp -- -I include

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