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Apache C++ Standard Library User's Guide

27.4 The Internal Structure of the Iostreams Layers

As explained earlier, the standard iostreams have two layers, one for formatting, and another for code conversion and transport of characters to and from the external device. For convenience, let's repeat here as Figure 22 the same illustration of the iostreams layers given as Figure 20:

Figure 22: The iostreams layers

The next sections gives a more detailed description of the iostreams software architecture, including the classes and their inheritance relationship and respective responsibilities. If you would rather start using iostreams directly, go on to Chapter 28.

27.4.1 The Internal Structure of the Formatting Layer

Classes that belong to the formatting layer are often referred to as the stream classes. Figure 23 illustrates the class hierarchy of all the stream classes:

Figure 23: Internal class hierarchy of the formatting layer

You may notice that the classes strstream, istrstream, and ostrstream are not included in this diagram, even though we describe them in the Apache C++ Standard Library Reference Guide. Sometimes called deprecated features in the standard, these classes are provided solely for the sake of compatibility with the traditional iostreams, and will not be supported in future versions of the standard iostreams.

In the next sections, we discuss in more detail the components and characteristics of the components that are included in the class hierarchy given in Figure 23. Iostreams Base Class ios_base

This class is the base class of all stream classes. Independent of character type, it encapsulates information that is needed by all streams. This information includes:

Additionally, ios_base defines several types that are used by all stream classes, such as format flags, status bits, open mode, exception class, and so on. The Iostreams Character Type-Dependent Base Class

Here is the virtual base class template for the stream templates:

The class holds a pointer to the stream buffer, which contains the underlying character buffer and state information that reflects the integrity of the stream buffer. Note that basic_ios<> is a class template taking two parameters, the type of character handled by the stream, and the character traits.

The type of character can be type char for single-byte characters, or type wchar_t for wide characters, or any other user-defined character type. There are instantiations for char and wchar_t provided by the C++ Standard Library.

For convenience, there are typedefs for these specializations:

typedef basic_ios<char> ios;


typedef basic_ios<wchar_t> wios;

Note that std::ios is not a class anymore, as it was in the traditional iostreams. It is a synonym for a template specialization. If you have existing programs that use the old iostreams, they may no longer be compatible with the standard iostreams. (See Chapter 45.) Character Traits

Character traits describe the properties of a character type. Many things change with the character type, such as:

A complete list of character traits is given in the Apache C++ Standard Library Reference Guide entry for char_traits.

There are specializations defined for type char and wchar_t. In general, this class template is not meant to be explicitly instantiated for a user-defined character type. You should always define class template specializations.

Fortunately, the C++ Standard Library is designed to make the most common cases the easiest. The traits template parameter has a sensible default value, so usually you need not bother with character traits at all. The Input and Output Streams

The three stream class templates for input and output are:

The class template std::basic_istream handles input, and std::basic_ostream is for output. The class template std::basic_iostream deals with input and output; such a stream is called a bidirectional stream.

The three stream templates define functions for parsing and formatting, which are overloaded versions of operator>>() for input, called extractors, and overloaded versions of operator<<() for output, called inserters.

Additionally, there are member functions for unformatted input and output, like read(), write(), etc. The File Streams

The file stream classes support input and output to and from files. They are:

There are functions for opening and closing files, similar to the C functions fopen() and fclose(). Internally they use a special kind of stream buffer, called a file buffer, to control the transport of characters to/from the associated file. The function of the file streams is illustrated in Figure 24:

Figure 24: File I/O The String Streams

The string stream class templates support in-memory I/O; that is, reading and writing to a string held in memory. They are:

There are functions for getting and setting the string to be used as a buffer. Internally a specialized stream buffer is used. In this particular case, the buffer and the external device are the same. Figure 25 illustrates how the string stream classes work:

Figure 25: In-memory I/O

27.4.2 The Transport Layer's Internal Structure

Classes of the transport layer of the standard iostreams are often referred to as the stream buffer classes. Figure 26 gives the class hierarchy of all stream buffer classes.

Figure 26: Hierarchy of the transport layer

The stream buffer classes are responsible for transfer of characters from and to external devices. The Stream Buffer

This class template represents an abstract stream buffer:

It does not have any knowledge about the external device. Instead, it defines the virtual functions overflow() and underflow() to perform the actual transport. These two functions have knowledge of the peculiarities of the external device they are connected to. They must be overridden by all derived stream buffer classes, like file and string buffers.

The stream buffer class maintains two character sequences: the get area, which represents the input sequence read from an external device, and the put area, which is the output sequence to be written to the device. There are functions for providing the next character from the buffer, such as sgetc(), etc. They are typically called by the formatting layer in order to receive characters for parsing. Accordingly, there are also functions for placing the next character into the buffer, such as sputc(), etc.

A stream buffer also carries a locale object. The File Buffer

The file buffer class templates associate the input and output sequences with a file. A file buffer takes the form:

The file buffer has functions like open() and close(). The file buffer class inherits a locale object from its stream buffer base class. It uses the locale's code conversion facet for transforming the external character encoding to the encoding used internally. Figure 27 shows how the file buffer works:

Figure 27: Character code conversion performed by the file buffer The String Stream Buffer

These class templates implement in-memory I/O:

With string buffers, the internal buffer and the external device are one and the same. The internal buffer is dynamic, in that it is extended if necessary to hold all the characters written to it. You can obtain copies of the internally held buffer, and you can provide a string to be copied into the internal buffer.

27.4.3 Collaboration of Streams and Stream Buffers

The base class template basic_ios<> holds a pointer to a stream buffer. The derived stream templates, like file and string streams, contain a file or string buffer object. The stream buffer pointer of the base class template refers to this embedded object. This architecture is illustrated in Figure 28:

Figure 28: How an input file stream uses a file buffer

Stream buffers can be used independently of streams, as for unformatted I/O, for example. However, streams always need a stream buffer.

27.4.4 Collaboration of Locales and Iostreams

The base class ios_base contains a locale object. The formatting and parsing functions defined by the derived stream classes use the numeric facets of that locale.

The class template basic_ios holds a pointer to the stream buffer. This stream buffer has a locale object, too, usually a copy of the same locale object used by the functions of the stream classes. The stream buffer's input and output functions use the code conversion facet of the attached locale. Figure 29 illustrates the architecture:

Figure 29: How an input file stream uses locales

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