Author Archive

Learn from my fail: check your pointers

I spent quite some time tracking down an issue I was having with my C++ project. Here is a snippet of the code:

class foo
{
private:
    bool* myArray;

public:
    foo()
    {
        myArray = new bool[5];

        for(int i=0; i<5; i++)
        {
            myArray = false;
        }
    }

    void init()
    {
        myArray[0] = true;
    }
};

Every time I ran it, it would throw a memory access violation. I was very puzzled by this since it was just a standard boolean array holding true or false. It wasn’t anything very advanced. I used the Visual Studio debugger to poke around. It goes through the constructor fine and then when it goes into the init() function myArray would become a null pointer. The debugger would report that myArray has a memory address of 0x00000000.

I was very confused because how could the pointer be initialized properly in the constructor, but not be initialized when I step into another function in the same object? I chased it all afternoon and decided to give up and walk away. The next morning, I looked at the code again. Then it hit me: the problem and solution was staring at me in the face.

In the for loop in the constructor I have this code:

myArray = false;

I had forgotten to put in the array subscript! If myArray was a true null pointer, it would have just said it was uninitialized or “nullptr” with a stop icon instead of a zero memory location. What was happening was that the pointer was being set to false, which is zero. That is why the debugger showed that the memory location was 0x00000000. So when I access the pointer to assign a value, I am accessing memory that is already reserved or in-use so it throws a memory access violation. The code is “valid” which is why it doesn’t show any errors during compilation, but it doesn’t produce the desired results at runtime.

With the correct code:

myArray[i] = false;

Everything works fine and I was able to continue my project! After working with C# for a while, it’s an eye opener how much the .Net garbage collector and managed heap does for the programmer.

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Sending callbacks from C# to C++

Some days you just have to work with old methods to get the job done. I am working on a project that needs to be in native C++ for legacy reasons, but would prefer to bring it to the modern era of programming by using C#. I wanted a way to get data from the native classes to the managed classes so the entire program could be extended easier in the future and made more simple for someone to use (the original program was very linear and very tightly integrated that the user was required to be a programmer to use it). Using Microsoft’s Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) as a bridge between native C++ and managed C#, it is possible to make the two play together nicely. I’m going to assume that you have a basic knowledge of Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and basic C#/C++/CLR coding skills.

If you want to follow along, the complete code for the demo program is available at:

http://phamous-apps.com/wordpress/NativeCallbackDemo.zip

I first create a new C++/CLR Class Library and a new C# Windows Form application in Visual Studio:

My solution looks like the following image. CEventTest is the CLI bridge between native and managed classes while NativeClass is a class written in pure C++. I keep all the code in the header file so there is nothing in the CPP file except for a #include for the associated header file so the compiler will compile the program.

The C# project (EventTest) is just a windows form with a multi-line textbox and some buttons like the following image.

In NativeClass.h, I have the following code:

#pragma once

#include
using namespace std;

typedef void (__stdcall *CallbackType)(unsigned char*, int);

class NativeClass
{
public:

    NativeClass(void);
    ~NativeClass(void);

    void CreateByteArray(CallbackType callback)
    {
        int size = 64;
        int byteSize = size * sizeof(float);

        unsigned char* byteArray = new unsigned char[byteSize];
        float* myFloatArray = new float[size];

        for(int i=0; i<size; i++)
        {
            myFloatArray[i] = (float)i * 2;
        }

        memcpy(byteArray, myFloatArray, byteSize);

        callback(byteArray, byteSize);
    }
};

Ok, this seems like very advanced code, but keep calm and I’ll explain what’s going on. The line:

typedef void (__stdcall *CallbackType)(unsigned char*, int);

declares the callback function prototype. CallbackType is a type that I made up. You can call it FooBarType if you want. The next part is the parameter list of the function that is going to be passed. The function I’m sending will have a byte array (unsigned char pointer) and an integer (to define the size of the array). The rest is standard boilerplate code for a function pointer. Just accept that it is magic and change the parts that I mentioned.

The rest of the file is a standard C++ class. The function CreateByteArray takes in the function pointer, so “callback” contains the pointer to the function. We can use “callback” like any other function now. The rest of the code of this function creates a byte array and fills the array with sequential float values. At the end of the function I use “callback” like a normal function. So, that’s one step and the native code is done for now.

Let’s turn to the CEventTest class now. CEventTest will bridge the native code with the managed code. The code is as follows (the comments will explain the code):

// CEventTest.h

#pragma once

#include
using namespace std;

#include "NativeClass.h"

namespace CEventTest {

	// must be outside of class so other classes can use them
	public delegate void NumberSender(int x);

	// delegate used for native C++ callback function
	public delegate void NativeDelegate(unsigned char* buffer, int bufferSize);

	public ref class Processor
	{
	private:
        // native C++ class to use. it must be a pointer.
        static NativeClass* nativeC;

        // must be declared outside of method or else garbage collector will delete!
        static NativeDelegate^ callback;

	public:

		/*
		events must be static in order to be accessed by thread
		and is public so other class can register the event handler
		*/
		static event NumberSender^ SendNumber;

		/*
		This function starts the C++ native class and passes our managed method to it as a callback funtion.
		*/
		static void StartNative()
		{
			using System::IntPtr;
			using System::Runtime::InteropServices::Marshal;

			// get a pointer to the delegate
			IntPtr cbPtr = Marshal::GetFunctionPointerForDelegate(callback);

			// call the native C++ function with our delegate pointer
			nativeC->CreateByteArray(static_cast(cbPtr.ToPointer()));
		}

		// constructor
		Processor()
		{
			nativeC = new NativeClass();

			// cast our managed method to a delegate
			callback = gcnew NativeDelegate(&Processor::NativeByteReceiver);
		}

		// destructor
		~Processor()
		{
			delete nativeC;
		}

		/*
		Our managed method which is to be used as native C++ callback function
		*/

		static void NativeByteReceiver(unsigned char* byteArray, int byteSize)
		{
			int size = byteSize / sizeof(float);

			float* myFloatArray = new float[size];

			memcpy(myFloatArray, byteArray, byteSize);

			for(int i=0; i<size; i++)
			{
				// signal an event
				SendNumber((int)myFloatArray[i]);
			}
		}

		void RunNativeDemo()
		{
			StartNative();
		}
   };
}

Delegates are the equivalent of callback functions in CLI. They must be declared outside of the class like the callback function declaration in C++. I’ve declared two delegates here:

public delegate void NumberSender(int x);
public delegate void NativeDelegate(unsigned char* buffer, int bufferSize);

The first delegate “NumberSender” is used to send an integer value to managed code (ie- the C# class). The other delegate “NativeDelegate” is used to magically take the managed C++ function and get a function pointer for the native C++ class. Remember the managed function and the delegate must have the same argument list (an unsigned char pointer and an integer).

In the class, the native C++ code must be in an object so a pointer can be used. Just accept that it has to be a pointer in order for it to work so that is why it is a static pointer:

// native C++ class to use. it must be a native pointer.
static NativeClass* nativeC;

I also have a public event so that the event can be registered with managed classes:

// managed CLI pointer for the event
static event NumberSender^ SendNumber;

The function for starting the native code has to be static. We need to use the IntPtr type and the Marshal class to get the pointer. A new NativeDelegate is created and is told the function in this class to use. Pass the memory address to the delegate constructor. Then a memory pointer is derived via marshalling. Then we call the function in the native class like normal, but we need to cast the delegate pointer to the callback function type that was declared in native class. Just change the following code to suit your needs.

/*
This function starts the C++ native class and passes our managed
method to it as a callback funtion.
*/

static void StartNative()
{
    using System::IntPtr;
    using System::Runtime::InteropServices::Marshal;

    // cast our managed method to a delegate
    NativeDelegate^ callback = gcnew NativeDelegate(&Processor::NativeByteReceiver);

    // get a pointer to the delegate
    IntPtr cbPtr = Marshal::GetFunctionPointerForDelegate(callback);

    // call the native C++ function with our delegate pointer
    nativeC->CreateByteArray(static_cast(cbPtr.ToPointer()));
}

When the function is called in the native code, the order of events shift back to the CLR class:

/*
Our managed method which is to be used as native C++ callback function
*/

static void NativeByteReceiver(unsigned char* byteArray, int byteSize)
{
    int size = byteSize / sizeof(float);

    float* myFloatArray = new float[size];

    memcpy(myFloatArray, byteArray, byteSize);

    for(int i=0; i<size; i++)
    {
        // signal an event
        SendNumber((int)myFloatArray[i]);
     }
}

It does the reverse of the native class function where it takes the byte array and puts the data into a float array. Each value in the float array is then sent to the C# code via the SendNumber event.

The last function in the class (“RunNativeDemo”) just starts the entire process.

Go to the EventTest project in the Solution Explorer, right click on the project name, and click “Add Reference”. Find the project CEventTest and add the reference. Now the CLR library can be used by the C# windows form project!

In the C# designer view, double-click on the “Native Demo” button and it will generate the method stub. Create the object for the CLR class library (I name the class “Processor” and the object “countThread”). Inside the button’s method stub, I just called the function that runs the native code via CLR.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.ComponentModel;
using System.Data;
using System.Drawing;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.Windows.Forms;

// remember to include the reference to the CLR class library
using CEventTest;

namespace EventTest
{
	public partial class Form1 : Form
	{
		// declare the CLR object
		private Processor countThread;

		public Form1()
		{
			InitializeComponent();

			// initialize the CLR object
			countThread = new Processor();

			// link the event for the number sending to a function in this class
			Processor.SendNumber += new NumberSender(Processor_SendNumber);
		}

		/// <summary>
		/// Given an integer, display the number in the textbox
		/// </summary>
		///The integer value sent from the caller
		void Processor_SendNumber(int x)
		{
			// Invoking is required for accessing GUI components
			if (this.InvokeRequired)
			{
				Invoke(new NumberSender(Processor_SendNumber), new object[] { x });
			}
			else
			{
				// Create a string with the number to display in the textbox
				textBox1.AppendText(string.Format("Received Value: {0}\r\n", x));
			}
		}

		/// <summary>
		/// Starts the process to run native code
		/// </summary>
		private void uxNative_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
		{
			countThread.RunNativeDemo();
		}
	}
}

The callback function in the form requires invoking the delegate. The subject matter is somewhat advanced to explain here so if you want to know more then read up on MSDN and Google. We’ll just accept it as magic here. As long as you have the if-else statement like the above code, swap out the delegate for your own delegate, put your argument list in the object array, and put the GUI-related code in the else block, then you are fine.

Compile the project and run. If everything is working correctly, when the “Native Demo” button is pressed, it should show a list of numbers in the textbox.

There we go! It’s magic! I’m sorry if I skipped a lot of conceptual details because I know I did but I just wanted to throw some code out there for those who want to see the concept in action. It seems there are a lot of write-ups out on the web that explain the theory and have a very basic example, but nothing to show a practical use of the concept.

I also want to note that even though my example uses a byte array, you can use any type you want for the callbacks. Floats, integers, doubles, arrays, etc. I just chose to use a byte array because that is what my project required. I could have just sent the original float array as-is if I wanted to. All I would have to do is change the type to float* instead of unsigned char* and remove the mempy step.

Also it may seem a bit much too just return a byte array from native C++ to C# in this way, but the original code in my project had the callback in a C++ thread (to separate it from the C# GUI thread), which would have complicated the example. I did not want to confuse you so the threading code was removed.

Hopefully this tutorial helped someone and didn’t bore anyone to sleep. For further reading, these links were the ones I used to piece this project together:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/6507705/callbacks-from-c-back-to-c-sharp

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2298242/callback-functions-in-c

http://forums.asp.net/t/571841.aspx

Console.Beep for 64-bit Windows

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with making music with computers. I do not have a music background so it’s been a difficult route. One of the things I regret is not taking a music or band class in high school. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites that explain how to read sheet music and plenty of videos to watch to learn how to play popular songs. It’s like learning a new programming language in which you’re learning new syntax and semantics, but takes a lot of practice and constant self-improvement via experimentation and feedback from others to perfect.

Now you’re probably thinking why I’m talking about music theory on a programming blog. Well, a cheap and easy way to make music is to write a console application using Visual C# Express. You can use Console.Beep() and specify a frequency and duration to make a note. This is the route I tried, but I was extremely disappointed to find out that Console.Beep() didn’t work with the 64-bit version of Windows starting with Vista and newer.

Well, there is a work-around! This MSDN forum post outlines how to send the beep to the computer speakers via a class. It appears to take the note information (amplitude, frequency, and duration), convert it into a sine wave, converts the sine wave to a byte array, saves the byte array as a WAV file in memory, and plays the WAV file to the computer speakers. Brilliant!

I am not the author of the code so any questions regarding it should be posted in the forum post, but I will repost the code here in case the forum post disappears.

// include these at the top of the file:
// using System;
// using System.IO;
// using System.Media;

// the following code goes inside your namespace
public class Beep
{
    // I added this function because amplitude should just always be 1000
    // < 1000 sounds muffled and > 1000 throws an exception
    public static void Play( double frequency, double duration )
    {
        BeepBeep( 1000, frequency, duration );
    }

    private static void BeepBeep( double Amplitude, double Frequency, double Duration )
    {
        double Amp = ( ( Amplitude * ( System.Math.Pow( 2, 15 ) ) ) / 1000 ) - 1;
        double DeltaFT = 2 * Math.PI * Frequency / 44100.0;

        int Samples = (int)(441.0 * Duration / 10.0);
        int Bytes = Samples * sizeof(int);
        int[] Hdr = { 0X46464952, 36 + Bytes, 0X45564157, 0X20746D66, 16, 0X20001, 44100, 176400, 0X100004, 0X61746164, Bytes };

        using ( MemoryStream MS = new MemoryStream( 44 + Bytes ) )
        {
            using ( BinaryWriter BW = new BinaryWriter( MS ) )
            {
                for ( int I = 0; I < Hdr.Length; I++ )
                {
                    BW.Write( Hdr[I] );
                }
                for ( int T = 0; T < Samples; T++ )
                {
                    short Sample = System.Convert.ToInt16( Amp * Math.Sin( DeltaFT * T ) );
                    BW.Write( Sample );
                    BW.Write( Sample );
                }

                BW.Flush();
                MS.Seek( 0, SeekOrigin.Begin );
                using ( SoundPlayer SP = new SoundPlayer( MS ) )
                {
                    SP.PlaySync();
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

Enumeration and arrays

Recently, I discovered the usefulness of the enum type in C++. I can’t believe how long I’ve gone without using an enum because I didn’t know why I should use it over a #define. The two main reasons to use enums over #define is 1) sequential self-numbering and 2) enums allow the value to be visible to the debugger. This post is about the first reason.

Let’s say we want a list of variables, and the variables need to be assigned a unique number for processing, but we don’t care what number is assigned to it. Enumeration to the rescue! Define an enum with a list of variables and it will assign each variable an integer value starting from zero. For example:

enum
{
    alpha,
    beta,
    delta,
    gamma
};

// The values stored in the enum variables are:
// alpha == 0
// beta == 1
// delta == 2
// gamma == 3

Now you can add another variable to the the list in any position (because remember we don’t care what number is assigned to it, it just has to be a unique number) and you won’t have to renumber the other values. It just does it automatically!

enum
{
    alpha,
    beta,
    omega, //<---------
    delta,
    gamma
};

// The values stored in the enum variables are:
// alpha == 0
// beta == 1
// omega == 2
// delta == 3
// gamma == 4

You’re probably thinking: “Great, it self-numbers. What’s the point?” Well the point is that you can use this as array indices and declarations. Assume you have some boolean option settings for your program with the following options: isFullScreen, isWidescreen, isMoving.

Let’s start out making a new file called “options.h” with the following code:

namespace options
{
    enum
    {
        isFullScreen,
        isWidescreen,
        isMoving,
        size
    };
}

I put the enum inside a namespace so that I can use the enum in multiple places without creating an instance of an object. The namespace also allows Visual Studio to list all the enum variables in the autocomplete dialog when using the scope operator ("::"). All I need to do is add #include "options.h" to the top of the header files where I want to use this enum. The last variable size is always going to be the size of the array. Now, remember an enum variable is a const integer value which is why we can use it as an array index value. To use this enum in a class I would use the following code snippet:

// include the namespace file
#include "options.h"

// declares the array, but does not initialize the elements
bool myOptions[options::size];

// then I can initialize the values like so:
myOptions[options::isFullScreen] = false;
myOptions[options::isWidescreen] = false;
myOptions[options::isMoving] = false;

...

// usage example
if(myOptions[options::isFullScreen])
{
    // do something
}

That’s fine and dandy, but if we add another option, we would have to add another line to set that option to false on initialization. We’re lazy and are willing to write more code now to prevent having to write more code in the future so let’s add a reset function to the options namespace.

namespace options
{
    enum
    {
        isFullScreen,
        isWidescreen,
        isMoving,
        size
    };

    static void Reset(bool myArray[options::size], bool value);
}

// the following lines of code are in the same file as the namespace
/**
@brief Resets all the options to a specific value
@param myArray  The array of options using the namespace's enum
@param value    The value to assign to all the options
*/
void options::Reset(bool myArray[options::size], bool value)
{
    for(int i=0; i<options::size; i++)
    {
        myArray[i] = value;
    }
}

I put a value as a parameter because I want the flexibility to set all the options to true or false. The static keyword allows us to use the function without declaring an object so we just reference the function like so in the class:

// declares the array, but does not initialize the elements
bool myOptions[options::size];

// resets all the options
options::Reset(myOptions, false);

...

// usage example
if(myOptions[options::isFullScreen])
{
    // do something
}

Now let’s add another option to the enum to detect if a file is loaded:

namespace options
{
    enum
    {
        isLoaded, //<-----------
        isFullScreen,
        isWidescreen,
        isMoving,
        size
    };

    static void Reset(bool myArray[options::size], bool value);
}

The beauty of this is I can add this function without having to renumber or edit the existing code! I just add the new option where I need to use it.

// still works correctly
if(myOptions[options::isFullScreen])
{
    // do something
}

// do this for the new option
if(myOptions[options::isLoaded])
{
    // do something
}

This is not the only example for using enums with arrays. There are so many possibilities such as having an array of strings and looping through it to read the values. Learning how to use enums for arrays changed my life. It has made me more productive and made maintenance so much easier. It’s such an elegant, cheap, and easy way to improve the code tenfold.

Access denied on shared computer/drive

Like any other geek, I have more than one computer for personal use. I have an old ThinkCentre desktop (running Vista Business) as a file and media server and it does its job well. I have another desktop that I built for regular use and gaming (running Windows 7 Professional) and a ThinkPad laptop (running Windows 7 Professional) for portability.

Now the problem I encounter was the laptop could not access the ThinkCentre. In fact, I couldn’t even access the laptop’s own shared folder either! I was accessing the shared folders via the “Network” tree in “My Computer”. I kept getting an error from Windows saying “\\THINKCENTRE is not accessible” and “The specified provider name is invalid.”

What narrowed down my scope to just the laptop was the other desktop was able to access the shared folders just fine so that ruled out the ThinkCentre being the issue. To the interwebz!!! Let me save you a few hours of searching: don’t try to modify the registry or admin tools off the bat. This is the solution I found that worked for me:

http://www.vistax64.com/vista-networking-sharing/205026-specified-network-provider-name-invalid.html#post1268663

Sure enough, “Client for Microsoft Networks” was not installed on my laptop. I have no idea why, but I installed it. Go to Network and Sharing Center” > “Change Adapter Settings” > Right-click on network adapter (Wi-Fi in my case) > “Install” > “Client” > “Client for Microsoft Networks”. Press “OK” for the dialogs and restart the computer. Presto! I could now access the shared drive on the ThinkCentre!

Remove the IT worker’s perks and watch the modern world collapse

http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/12/bill-would-end-overtime-pay-requirement-for-many-more-it-workers.ars

First of all, I’m surprised that there are IT professionals that work hourly. I sort of worked hourly in the IT field, but that was while I was still in college. This bill doesn’t quite affect me as I’m now salaried, but it’s amazing that they’re even considering removing hourly worker’s overtime. What are they thinking? A person who works with computers all day isn’t doing a hard enough job as someone else? It’s certainly more challenging and complex than submitting nonsensical bills such as declaring pizza as a vegetable and censoring the internet! I can imagine the disgruntled IT professional who isn’t being paid overtime who will just wait until Monday to fix the mail server and upsetting all the executives.

Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice | Kalzumeus Software

http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-programmer/

The article discusses a different outlook on enhancing one’s professional outlook. It certainly changed my view of how I should market myself and be less socially awkward. It is a long article, but it is worth reading especially if you’re an engineer.

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