How to write template-like data structure in pure C

June 2013 · 3 minute read


write type-independent data structure (say, red-black tree, dynamic array etc.) in pure C (which means you cannot use templates and any other features)


First of all, lets create an interface of our “generic” (or “template") type. We can interpret void* as this unknown type and build some interface functions. It definitely has to have a constructor and destructor. Also, it can have a comparator and kind of print function.

So, we can define it like this:

typedef void* (*ConstructorFunc)(const void*);
typedef void (*DestructorFunc)(void*);
typedef int (*CompareFunc)(const void*, const void*);
typedef void (*PrintFunc)(const void*);

struct FuncFactory_struct
   ConstructorFunc constructor;
   CompareFunc compareFunc;
   DestructorFunc destructorFunc;
   PrintFunc printFunc;

#define FuncFactory struct FuncFactory_struct

And about implementation details..

Lets assume we have to implement this for some integral type (like int) and more complicated one (say, string). So, we have to define them and then build our Factory structure and fill with these functions:

void* StringConstructor(const void*);
< 0 === [line1 < line2] 
= 0 === [line1 == line2] 
> 0 === [line1 > line2]
int StringComparer(const void*, const void*);
void StringDestructor(void*);
void StringPrinter(const void*);

void* IntegerConstructor(const void*);
int IntegerComparer(const void*, const void*);
void IntegerDestructor(void*);
void IntegerPrinter(const void*);

We can now write implementation of this declarations. Each implementation will use malloc and free for void* memory management and then cast it to appropriate type:

void* IntegerConstructor(const void* from)
   const int* data = (const int*)from;

   int* a = (int*)malloc(sizeof(int));

   (*a) = (*data);

   return a;

int IntegerComparer(const void* op1, const void* op2)
   const int* a = (const int*) op1;
   const int* b = (const int*) op2;

   return (*a) - (*b);

void IntegerDestructor(void* a)
   a = 0;

void IntegerPrinter(const void* data)
   const int* a = (const int*)data;
   printf("%d", (*a));

And for String:

void* StringConstructor(const void* data)
   const char* from = (const char*) data;
   char* str = 0;

   int n = strlen(from) + 1;
   str = (char*)malloc(n*sizeof(char));
   return strcpy(str, from);

int StringComparer(const void* line1, const void* line2)
   const char* str1 = (const char*) line1;
   const char* str2 = (const char*) line2;

   return strcmp(str1, str2);

void StringDestructor(void* data)
   data = 0;

void StringPrinter(const void* line)
   const char* str = (const char*)line;

And I’ll provide some example of usage. Lets assume we have some tree structure and we have a task to implement¬† search of a value. Before usage we have to initialize our functions factory. We can just use function names as function pointers.

void InitIntegerFactoryStruct(FuncFactory* factory)
// ....
FuncFactory integerFunctions;
AVL_tree* integerTree = 0;
integerTree = CreateAVLTree(&integerFunctions);

And usage:

struct AVL_tree_struct
   TreeNode* root;
   TreeNode* zero_node;
   FuncFactory* functions;
#define AVL_tree struct AVL_tree_struct

TreeNode* FindNode(const AVL_tree* tree, const void* value)
   TreeNode* tn = tree->root;
   CompareFunc cmp = tree->functions->compareFunc;
   while ( (tn != 0) && ( cmp(tn->value, value) != 0 ))
      if (cmp(tn->value, value) > 0)
         tn = tn->left_child;
         tn = tn->right_child;

   if (tn == 0)
      return (tree->zero_node);
      if (IsALeftChild(tn) || IsARightChild(tn))
         return tn;
      else if (tn == tree->root)
            return (tree->root);

      return (tree->zero_node);
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