Thursday, March 31, 2011

Harbour/xharbour Diff : 8/57 - DETACHED LOCALS AND REFERENCES by Przemyslaw Czerpak

When local variables are used in codeblocks then it's possible that
the codeblocks will exist after leaving the function when they were
created. It's potentially very serious problem which have to be resolved
to avoid internal VM structure corruption. In Clipper, Harbour and
xHarbour special mechanism is used in such situation. Local variables
are "detached" from VM stack so they are still accessible after leaving
the function, f.e.:
      proc make_cb()
         local n := 123
         return {|| ++n  }
We call such variables "detached locals".
Here there are two important differences between Clipper and [x]Harbour.
In Clipper variables are detached when function exits (returns) and it
does not know which variables were used but simply detach whole local
variable frame from VM stack. It's very important to know that because
it can be source of serious memory problems in OS like DOS.
This simple code illustrates it:

      // link using RTLINK and run with //e:0 //swapk:0
      // repeat test second time with additional non empty parameter 
      #define N_LOOPS 15
      #xcommand FREE MEMORY => ? 'free memory: ' + ;
                                 AllTrim( Str( Memory( 104 ) ) )
      proc main( x )
         local n, a
         a := array( N_LOOPS )
         FREE MEMORY
         for n := 1 to N_LOOPS
            a[n] := f( x )
            FREE MEMORY
      func f(x)
         local cb, tmp, ref
         tmp := space( 60000 )
         if empty( x )
            cb := {|| .t. }
            cb := {|| ref }
      return cb

If you execute above program with non empty parameter then 'tmp' variable
is detached with codeblock which uses 'ref' variable and not released as
long as codeblock is still accessible. It means that in few iterations
all memory are allocated and program crashes. Clipper's programmers should
know that and be careful when use detached local and if necessary clear
explicitly other local variables before returning from the function by
setting NIL to them.
In Harbour and xHarbour only variables explicitly used in codeblocks
are detached and detaching is done when codeblock is created and original
local variables are replaced by references. It is possible because Harbour
and xHarbour support multilevel references chains so it works correctly
also for local parameters passed be reference from parent functions.
In Clipper only one level references are supported what creates second
important differences. When Clipper detaches frame with local parameters
then it has to unreference all existing references breaking them. This code
illustrates it:

      proc main()
         local cb, n := 100
         mk_block( @cb, @n )
         ? "after detaching:"
         ? eval( cb ), n
      proc mk_block( cb, n )
         n := 100
         cb := {|| ++n }
         ? "before detaching:"
         ? eval( cb ), n

Above code compiled by Clipper shows:

      before detaching:
             101        101
      after detaching:
             102        101

so after detaching the references to 'n' variable is broken and codeblocks
access his own copy of this variables.
In Harbour it works correctly so the results are correct and it shows:

      before detaching:
             101        101
      after detaching:
             102        102

In xHarbour ( for unknown to me reasons ) Clipper bug is explicitly emulated
though it was possible to fix it because xHarbour inherited from Harbour
the same early detaching mechanism with multilevel references so just like
in Clipper xHarbour programmers have to carefully watch for possibly broken
references by detached locals and add workarounds for it if necessary.

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Welcome to Clipper... Clipper... Clipper

In 1997, then using Delphi 3, I had already created 32-bits Windows applications for HRIS, ERP and CRM. In 2007, using Ruby on Rails, an AJAX powered CRM site running on Apache & MySQL was created and I am now using Visual Studio .Net 2008 to create web-based projects and Delphi 7 for Win32 applications using SQL2005 & DBFCDX.

So, why then am I reviving the Original Clipper... Clipper... Clipper via a Blog as CA-Clipper is a programming language for the DOS world ? Believe it or not, there are still some clients using my mission-critical CA-Clipper applications for DOS installed in the late 80's and up to the mid 90's. This is testimony to CA-Clipper's robustness as a language :-)

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This site started out as a teeny-weeny section of Who the heck is Chee Chong Hwa ? and has graduated into a full blown web site of more than 140 pages (actually hundreds of A4 size pages) ! This is due to its growing popularity and tremendous encouragements from visiting Clipperheads from 100 countries worldwide, from North America, Central America, Caribbean, South America, Europe, Middle-East, Africa and Asia-Pacific. Thanx Clipperheads, you all made this happen !

What is Clipper ?

You may ask, what is this Clipper stuff ? Could Clipper be something to do with sailing as it is the name of a very fast sailing American ship in the 19th century ?

Well, Clipper or to be precise, CA-Clipper is the premier PC-Software development tool for DOS. It was first developed by Nantucket Corporation initially as a compiler for dBase3+ programs. Since then, CA-Clipper has evolved away from its x-base roots with the introduction of lexical scoping & pre-defined objects like TBrowse. As at today, the most stable version ofClipper is 5.2e while the latest version, 5.3a was introduced on 21 May 1996.

As at 11th November, 1996, an unofficial 5.3a fixes file was made available by Jo French. See the About CA-Clipper 5.3a section for more details. BTW, Jo French uploaded the revised 5.3a fixes file on 20th November, 1996.

Latest News

The latest news is that CA has finally released the long-awaited 5.3b patch on 21 May, 1997.

For 5.3b users, you must a take a look at Jo French's comments on unfixed bugs in 5.3b.

BTW, have you used Click ? If you're a serious Clipperprogrammer and need an excellent code formatter, Click is a natural choice. How to get it ? Simple, access Phil Barnett's site via my Cool Clipper Sites.

32-bits Clipper for Windows ?

Have you tried Xbase ++ ? Well, I have and compared to Delphi (my current Windows programming tool of choice), I'm still sticking to Delphi.

Anyway, you should visit the Alaska Home Page. Give it a chance and then draw your own conclusions !.

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