Section notes for Week 1 (C++ Basics)

Section Notes for Week 1 (C++ Basics)


  1. Welcome
  2. Administrivia
  3. Conversion of Java into C++
  4. C++ I/O
  5. C++ Preprocessor
  6. Pointers, local variables, and the stack
  7. new and delete
  8. Code Review
  9. More Example Code


So. CS225. This is probably the most important (and FUN! YAY!) class of your undergrad career. Data structures are really, really, really neat toys, and the ability to use them effectively is what separates poor to average programmers from the best. If you pay attention, go to class (and section) every day and do the MP's, it will make you into a great programmer. For those of you who were bored in CS125, this class will teach you something new.

On the other hand, if you do a really half-assed job, don't care, and try to just skate by, you will most likely fail. This class is worth 4 hours for a reason. It will require a fair amount of work. But so long as you stay current and do the MP's on time, you should be just fine.

This means I'm your friend! Yay! I will do my best to keep things interesting in here. The notes are on the web, but it's to your advantage to show up. You'll see more examples, and get to ask questions. Plus I'll show you cool tricks that Jason skips over if there's time.


The course website is Familiarize yourself with its many nooks and crannies, fill them with jelly, and enjoy.

This class will revolve around UNIX (Specifically, Solaris). UNIX kicks ass. If you don't already know how to use it, learn.. This semester we will be using the EWS Solaris Labs. If you compile code elsewhere, it is your responsibility to make sure it compiles on those systems. Information specific to EWS can be found in the EWS Lab Manual.

The Official Editor in this class is still xemacs, and it works the same as in the Windows labs. Just run xemacs from the prompt. If you are interested in a more visually appealing editor and setup, consult my UNIX Beautifier Tutorial.

You are also responsible for reading the two class newsgroups, class.cs225 and class.cs225.announce in your new favorite newsreader (kidding, you can read the newsgroup in outlook express if you want). Jason will make announcements about MP's and exams to the .announce group, and general discussion about MP's will take place in the class newsgroups. Please check there first before going to office hours to save both of us some time.

Some quick notes about Usenet Etiquette:

  1. Don't post code.
    Describing how to solve a problem is usually OK, as are code snippets. But don't dump an entire file or function to the newsgroup.

  2. Don't top post.
    Embed your responses to people's questions in the quoted text of their message, and TRIM irrelevant sections of the message.

  3. Don't be THAT guy.
    If you post a question and then figure it out, do NOT post a replay saying "Nevermind, I got it." Other people may have that question too. Answer yourself on the group. It's only fair.

  4. Don't "Me too!"
    Don't post simply to say "Me too!" or other one line expressions of idiocy.

  5. Don't test post.
    If you want to test your newsreader, post to alt.test or cmi.test.

  6. Stay on topic.
    The newsgroup is for discussion of CS225 related material only. If a conversation develops over which brand of toilet paper (or which newsreader) is best, resist the urge to participate.

In short: "Think twice, post once."

How I like to Run Things

The way I usually do section is that I give a quick review of what Jason presented in Lecture, and then move to the workstation to work on some actual code.

Feel free to interrupt me at any time in general. This is not lecture. Also often times many other students share your question or concern, but just don't have the guts to ask. I realize that no matter what I say you guys are still going to be uncomfortable jumping in for a couple weeks. But at least try to timidly raise your hands or something. No question should go unanswered.

Also, occasionally when there's extra time or the topic warrants it, I delve into slightly more advanced topics just to solidify understanding. You won't be responsible for that material (I'll let you know which is which), but it's almost always good to know.

C++ vs Java

So in this class, we will be using C++. It's a whole lot like Java, except better. Jason's already gone through the spiel of why C++ in lecture. My reason for liking the language is the surge of power you get from your code running directly on the hardware, instead of in some wussy virtual machine.

Superficial differences between C++ and Java

Example: transformed into and Cup.C with Cup.h


I/O in C++ is a bit cleaner than in Java. It is done by three predefined objects called the Standard Input Output streams. They are cin, cout and cerr.

Examples using cin, cout, and cerr

The Preprocessor

In order to handle include files, C++ has an extra stage to its compilation process. Before the compiler converts C++ code into asm, a program called the preprocessor runs through your code and interprets the following directives, among others:

Example of the preprocessor (CC -E) in action


Pointers kick ass. Jason said that Java doesn't have pointers in lecture. This is not entirely true. Every object variable in Java was in fact a pointer. A limited, wussy pointer, but a pointer nonetheless. (The converse, as we shall see, does NOT hold. A regular object variable in C++ is allocated on the stack, without the need to call new).

Pointers allow you direct access to the computers memory. A pointer variable holds NOTHING other than a numerical (in this case, 32 bit) value. This number is an address in memory. Real, honest to god memory. In fact, it helps if you actually think of pointers as integers with no type, only an address. If you forget to assign an pointer to an address, bad things happen. You can write to random areas of memory, and make things go crazy in a hurry. CS just got a little more interesting.

Now it's time for some handwaving on the whiteboard to refresh your memories of the how a compiler works with automatically allocated variables in Java, and show the analog in C++. Recall that every variable has three things: an address in memory, a value, and a name, and that local variables are placed on the stack

Operators dealing with pointers:

Examples dealing with these operators.

new and delete

So in Java, when you wanted memory for an array or an object, you requested it with new. This is still the case in C++. What is NOT the case is that this memory is automatically cleaned up for you during the program's lifetime. For every piece of memory you allocate with new in C++, you must keep track of it and eventually return it to the system with delete.

Common pitfalls:

  1. Forgetting to free memory
    All this may seem simple, but things can get tricky later on, when there aren't pointer variables for each memory location in more complicated data structures. You have to keep the layout of things in your head (or better yet, on paper).
  2. Using already freed memory
    delete does NOT change the value of a pointer. You must do that yourself with NULL. If you use already freed memory, your program will eventually crash at an unexpected location (usually an unrelated call to new or delete).
  3. Freeing already freed memory
    Some C++ implementations will catch this, others will corrupt themselves and eventually crash.
  4. Freeing unallocated memory
    Sometimes you forget to call new. Calling delete on an unallocated pointer causes the C++ library to write to random areas of memory, leading to an eventual crash.

Example of new and delete.
Example of new and delete with arrays
Example of pointer arithmetic
Example of new and delete gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Code Review

Back in my day, they forced us all to use a system called PSP, or the Personal Software Process. I loved it. I organized my whole life around PSP charts. I went insane. It was great.

The PSP process divides development into 5 stages: Planning, Design, Code, Compile, and Test. You record how much time you spend in each stage, and how many bugs you introduce into each stage, and what these bugs were. (Bug classes included Documentation, Syntax, Build System, Assignment, Interface, Checking, Data, Function, System, Environment). After doing this analysis for a while, you got really good at predicting how long something would take you, and also which bugs you were most prone to make where.

They forced us to do it, and everyone hated it. Like I said, I followed it religiously though, and it worked. By the end of the semester, I was writing MP's that ran and passed all test cases on the first try. By the end of the following summer, I was writing large software projects for the NCSA that did the same. If you want to be a great programmer, I highly recommend this process.

At the very least, do what Jason suggests. Before rushing off to compile something, check it over. Keep a log of what mistakes you make, and turn that log into a simple checklist. It takes something like 10X less time to find bugs in code review than it does through debugging.

Sample Checklist:

More Example Code

More Example code can be found right here