Notes on getting started with the Foundation library.

§1. Introduction. The Foundation module supplies some of the conveniences of more modern programming languages to ANSI C. It offers the usual stuff of standard libraries everywhere: memory management, collection classes, filename and file system access, regular-expression matching and so on, and it does so while abstracting away differences between operating systems (Windows, Linux, Unix, MacOS, Android and so on).

Almost all functionality is optional and can be ignored if not wanted. With a few provisos, the code is thread-safe, sturdy and well tested, since it forms the support code for the Inform programming language's compiler and outlying tools, including Inweb itself. If you need to write a command-line utility in ANSI C with no dependencies on other tools or libraries to speak of, you could do worse. But you certainly don't need it to use inweb, even if you're writing in C.

For a brief example of a command-line utility using some of the commoner features of Foundation in a simple way, see eastertide. Further exercises can be found in foundation-test.

§2. To use foundation, a program must at minimum do three things.

1. The Contents section of its web must import Foundation as a module, thus:

    Import: foundation

Import lines appear after the metadata, but before the roster of sections and chapters.

2. The constant PROGRAM_NAME must be defined equal to a C string with a brief version of the program's name. For example,

    @d PROGRAM_NAME "declutter"

3. The main function for the client should, as one of its very first acts, call Foundation::start(), and should similarly, just before it exits, call Foundation::end(). Any other module used should be started after Foundation starts, and ended before Foundation ends.

§3. Truth. Every large C program starts by defining constants for truth and falsity. So does Foundation: TRUE, FALSE, and a third state NOT_APPLICABLE.

§4. Text streams and formatted output. Perhaps the most useful feature of Foundation is that it provides for memory-managed strings of Unicode text. These are unified with text files which are open for output, in a type called text_stream. It's expected that they may be very large indeed, and appending text to or finding the length of a text in memory runs in \(O(1)\) time.

A typical function writing to one of these might be:

    void Hypothetical::writer(text_stream *OUT, text_stream *authority, int N) {
        WRITE("According to %S, the square of %d is %d.\n", authority, N, N*N);

Here WRITE is a variadic macro rather like printf, and note the use of the escape %S to write a text stream. It writes formatted output into the stream OUT, and is actually an abbreviation for this:

    void Hypothetical::writer(text_stream *OUT, text_stream *authority, int N) {
        WRITE_TO(OUT, "According to %S, the square of %d is %d.\n", authority, N, N*N);

The function Hypothetical::writer can write equally to a text file or to a string, whichever it's given, and doesn't need to worry about memory management or text encodings.

The standard output and standard error "files" on Unix-based systems are referred to as STDOUT and STDERR, both constants of type text_stream * defined by Foundation. The value NULL, used as a text stream, is valid and prints as the empty string, while ignoring any content written to it. All of these capitalised macros are defined in Streams.

PRINT("...") is an abbreviation for WRITE_TO(STDOUT, "..."), and LOG("...") similarly writes to the log file. (See Debugging Log.)

§5. If you're using The InC Dialect (in inweb), the slight extension to C made by Inweb, there's a simple notation for constants of this type:

    text_stream *error_message = I"quadro-triticale stocks depleted";

The I prefix is meant to imitate the L used in standard C99 for long string constants. But this is a feature of inweb rather than of Foundation.

§6. Programs doing a lot of parsing need to create and throw away strings all of the time, so we shouldn't be too casual about memory management for them. Str::new creates a new empty string; Str::duplicate duplicates an existing one. But these are permanent creations, and not easy to deallocate (though calling Str::clear to empty out their text will free any large amount of memory they might be using). If you want a string just for a momentary period, do this:

    WRITE_TO(alpha, "This is temporary");

Between the use of these two macros, alpha is a valid text_stream *, and is a string capable of growing to arbitrary size.

§7. Foundation provides an elaborate system for providing new string escapes like %S: see Writers and Loggers. A similar system manages a debugging log, to which it's easy to make "dollar escapes" for pretty-printing internal data structures: for example, if you've made a structure called recipe, you could make $R pretty-print one.

§8. Foundation also has an extensive library of string-handling routines, providing the sort of facilities you would expect in a typical scripting language. See String Manipulation and Pattern Matching, which can match text streams against regular expressions, though note that the latter use an idiosyncratic notation.

There's also Tries and Avinues for rapid character sequence parsing.

For slicing, see the string_position type, representing positions for the benefit of functions like Str::substr.

§9. Individual characters are represented in Foundation using the standard POSIX type wchar_t, which on all modern systems is a very wide integer, whether or not signed. It's safe to assume it can hold all normal Unicode code points. See Characters for class functions like Characters::isdigit, which have been carefully written to work equivalently on either Windows or Unix-based systems.

C Strings and Wide Strings provide bare-minimum facilities for handling traditional null-terminated char and wchar_t arrays, but don't use these. Texts are just better.

§10. Objects. To a very limited extent, Foundation enables C programs to have "classes", "objects" and "methods", and it makes use of that ability itself, too. (See Foundation Classes for the list of classes made by foundation.) For example, suppose we are writing a program to store recipes, and we want something in C which corresponds to objects of the class recipe. We need to do three things:

1. Declare an enumerated constant ending _CLASS to represent this type in the memory manager, and then make a matching use of a macro to define some associated functions, which we never see or think about. For example:

    @ Here are my classes...

    @e recipe_CLASS


The mention of "individually" is because this is for data structures where we expect to have relatively few instances. If we expect to have huge numbers of throwaway instances, we would instead write:

    @ Here are my classes...

    @e salt_grain_CLASS


The memory manager then claims these in blocks of 1000. Use this only if it's actually needed; note that DESTROY cannot be used with objects created this way.

2. We have to declare the actual structure, and typedef the name to it. For example:

    typedef struct recipe {
        struct text_stream *name_of_dish;
        int oven_temperature;
    } recipe;

Here CLASS_DEFINITION is a macro defined in Memory which expands to the necessary field(s) to keep track of this. We won't use those fields, or ever think about them.

3. In fact we've now finished. The macro CREATE(recipe) returns a new instance, and DESTROY(R) would destroy an existing one, R. Unless manually destroyed, objects last forever; there is no garbage collection. In practice the Inform tools suite, for which Foundation was written, almost never destroy objects.

Customarily, though, we wrap the use of CREATE in a constructor function:

    recipe *Recipes::new(text_stream *name) {
        recipe *R = CREATE(recipe);
        R->name_of_dish = Str::duplicate(name);
        R->oven_temperature = 200;
        return R;

We also often use the convenient LOOP_OVER macro:

    void Recipes::list_all(text_stream *OUT) {
        WRITE("I know about the following recipes:\n");
        recipe *R;
        LOOP_OVER(R, recipe)
            WRITE("- %S\n", R->name_of_dish);

LOOP_OVER loops through all created recipe instances (which have not been destroyed).

There are a few other facilities, for which see Memory, and also ways to allocate memory for arrays — see Memory::calloc and Memory::malloc.

§11. Methods. It's also possible to have method calls on object instances, though the syntax is not as tidy as it would be in an object-oriented language. To allow this for recipe, we would have to add another line to the structure:

    typedef struct recipe {
        struct text_stream *name_of_dish;
        int oven_temperature;
        struct method_set *methods;
    } recipe;

and another line to the constructor function:

        R->methods = Methods::new_set();

The object R is then ready to receive method calls. Each different call needs an enumerated constant ending _MTID to identify it, and an indication of the type of the function call involved:

    @ Here is my "cook the recipe" method call:

    @e COOK_MTID

    VOID_METHOD_TYPE(COOK_MTID, recipe *R, int time_in_oven)

It's now possible to call this on any recipe:

    VOID_METHOD_CALL(duck_a_l_orange, COOK_MTID, 45);

What then happens? Nothing at all, unless the recipe instance in question — here, duck_a_l_orange — has been given a receiver function. Let's revisit the constructor function for recipes:

    recipe *Recipes::new(text_stream *name) {
        recipe *R = CREATE(recipe);
        R->name_of_dish = Str::duplicate(name);
        R->oven_temperature = 200;
        R->methods = Methods::new_set();
        METHOD_ADD(R, COOK_MTID, Recipes::cook);
        return R;

and now add:

    void Recipes::cook(recipe *R, int time_in_oven) {

using the arguments promised in the declaration above. With all this done, the effect of

    VOID_METHOD_CALL(duck_a_l_orange, COOK_MTID, 45);

is to call:

    Recipes::cook(duck_a_l_orange, 45);

§12. In fact it's possible to attach multiple receivers to the same object, in which case they each run in turn. As a variant on this, methods can also return their "success". If multiple receivers run, the first to return TRUE has claimed the right to act, and subsequent receivers aren't consulted.

Such methods must be defined with INT_METHOD_CALL and are rarely needed. See Methods for more.

§13. Collections. Foundation provides three sorts of "collection": see Linked Lists and Stacks, and also Dictionaries. These all collect values which are expected to be pointers: for example, text streams (of type text_stream *) or objects like the ones created above. For example,

    linked_list *cookbook = NEW_LINKED_LIST(recipe);

initialises a list as ready to use. It's then accessed by macros:

    recipe *lobster_thermidor = Recipes::new(I"lobster thermidor", 200);
    ADD_TO_LINKED_LIST(lobster_thermidor, recipe, cookbook);


    recipe *R;
    LOOP_OVER_LINKED_LIST(R, recipe, cookbook)
        PRINT("I can make %S.\n", R->name_of_dish);

That's about all you can do with linked lists: they are not nearly so well worked-through as texts.

A dictionary is an associative hash which relates key names (which are text streams) to values (which are usually, but not always, also text streams). They behave very like hashes in Perl and, as the name suggests, use hashing to make access rapid. See Dictionaries.

§14. Foundation also provides for heterogeneous_tree, which is a structure able to hold a rooted tree in which nodes can be a variety of different objects, rather than having to be uniform. Functions are provided to build and verify such trees.

§15. Files and paths. Filenames and pathnames are, perhaps controversially, represented by two different types: filename and pathname. The latter should perhaps have been called "directoryname", but that ship has sailed.

Foundation does not have a unified type for URLs, as most modern libraries do. But there are some advantages to that, in that the type-checker forces us to be clear which we intend at any given time. Anyway, that vessel is also now well out to sea.

These both hold names, not actual files: they are places where files or directories might be.

Both tend to refer relative to the current working directory, represented by the null pathname pointer. Pathnames::up and Pathnames::down go to parent or subdirectories, respectively. A filename cannot exist without a pathname; for example,

    pathname *P = Pathnames::down(NULL, I"App")
    P = Pathnames::down(P, I"Config")
    filename *F = Filenames::in(P, I"options.txt");
    PRINT("I have arrived at %f.\n", F);

produces, on platforms where / is used as the file system dividing character,

    I have arrived at App/Config/options.txt.

Note the use of the escape %f for printing filenames; there's also %p for pathnames.

See Filenames and Pathnames for more.

§16. If you need to iterate over the contents of a directory in the file system, see Directories. But to create a directory, call Pathnames::create_in_file_system. For synchronisation, try Pathnames::rsync, but don't expect too much.

See Pathnames for how to access the user's home directory, the current working directory, and the installation directory for a program.

§17. Binary Files does the tedious work of writing binary data while allowing for endian-ness; and it can also compute md5 hashes of binary files, which is useful for testing the correctness of our tools.

§18. Text Files allows us to read text files. Its most useful function is TextFiles::read, which opens a file, can print an error if it doesn't exist, and if it does, then feeds the lines one at a time to an iterator. For example, if F is a filename, the following reads the file into a linked list of texts:

    linked_list *Hypothetical::list_from_file(filename *F) {
        linked_list *L = NEW_LINKED_LIST(text_stream);
        TextFiles::read(F, FALSE, "can't open colony file",
            TRUE, Hypothetical::helper, NULL, (void *) L);
        return L;

    void Hypothetical::helper(text_stream *line, text_file_position *tfp, void *v_L) {
        linked_list *L = (linked_list *) v_L;
        ADD_TO_LINKED_LIST(text, line, L);

The text_file_position here keeps track of where we are, and in particular, functions from Error Messages can then report errors where they occur:

    Errors::in_text_file("bad syntax here", tfp);

§19. The Preprocessor provides simple iteration and macro expansion in order to turn a marked-up script into a plain text file.

§20. See JSON for convenient ways to encode and decode data to the JSON interchange format.

§21. Handling webs. Foundation provides routines which can read the metadata of a web, i.e., a literate program in the inweb format, from a copy in the file system. The main function here is WebMetadata::get, which returns a web_md object. You can then access its bibliographic data using Bibliographic::get_datum, or look at the web MD object directly to see its modules (instances of module), chapters (of chapter_md) and sections (of section_md).

§22. Miscellaneous other features. What else? Well: