[Development] templated QObjects [was: Re: We are planning to upgrade qdoc to use clang for parsing C++]

Milian Wolff milian.wolff at kdab.com
Wed Mar 2 22:34:16 CET 2016

On Mittwoch, 2. März 2016 12:59:30 CET Thiago Macieira wrote:
> On quarta-feira, 2 de março de 2016 20:59:41 PST Milian Wolff wrote:
> > Hey Thiago,
> > 
> > what is "the runtime merging problem on Windows"?
> Ever heard of the dynamic_cast problem on Windows? It's the same.

Great, thanks a lot for this insightful write-up!

So, do you -2 a templated QObject then for these reasons? Personally, I still 
think that it would be nice to have. The cases I'm thinking of using this 
feature, i.e. QAIM, would always involve private data types. But of course, 
with Qt being a library, I realize that it has to care for all eventualities, 
like a common Foo<int> being used repeatedly and then breaking ODR.


> Here's the problem:
> QMetaObjects are identified by their pointer addresses: two meta objects are
> the same if their pointer addresses are the same (remember: QMetaObject has
> no operator==). qobject_cast uses that feature to conclude whether a given
> object derives from a given class.
> The way it's currently designed in Qt, the meta object is exported
> (Q_DECL_EXPORT) from the DLL in which the class is defined. Obviously, that
> can only happen for concrete types, not for templates. As I explained, we
> could add a feature to allow the class author to export all possible
> instantiations of a template. Each and every instantiation would be
> exported from the DLL. That's, in fact, why a full listing is required: to
> determine which instantiations to export in the first place.
> The other suggestion done here is that the user of a template create the
> meta object. That's how typeinfo works for types without virtual tables:
> each place where typeid() is called, the typeinfo is generated, then merged
> at runtime by the dynamic linker. On ELF systems without any special
> compiler flags, this works because symbols are global by default ("default"
> visibility) and all references to any symbol name are accessed via the GOT,
> which ensures that only one copy is active and all accesses get the same
> pointer address.
> Where this breaks down:
> 1) Windows: the PE-COFF file format does not work like ELF. Symbols are by
> local (the default), __declspec(dllexport), or __declspec(dllimport). If the
> symbol is local or exported, then the compiler generates access assuming
> that the copy in the current DLL is the active one; if it's imported, then
> the compiler generates code assuming it exists in another DLL and will not
> emit a copy.
> This means that if a DLL has a copy, it assumes its copy is active. If it
> has no copy, some other DLL must have it. What's more, imports are
> associated with a particular DLL, so the compile-time linker needs to know
> which DLL contains the symbol.
> I don't know how or even if throwing template types or dynamic_cast'ing them
> works on Windows. It's possible it doesn't work and will never work. I
> don't care to find out.
> 2) "hidden" visibility: modern libraries on Unix today compile with
> -fvisibility=hidden -fvisibility-inlines-hidden, like Qt does. Many of them,
> like Qt, heavily pollute the global namespace if you don't use those flags,
> and that's assuming they work at all. Every type with hidden visibility is,
> as the name says, not exported to the ELF dynamic symbol table, which means
> the dynamic linker doesn't see them and will not merge with other copies.
> 3) -Bsymbolic / "protected" visibility: this instructs the compiler and
> linker that the exported symbols are not subject to preemption and that,
> like Windows's __declspec(dllexport), the copy in this ELF module is always
> the active one and local accesses need not go through the GOT (that's why
> we use it). If this assumption fails, crazy things happen, as we've seen
> with platforms other than x86 for our -Bsymbolic usage.
> Summary: this is where the theory of the C++ Standard and reality do not
> agree. When you take the ABIs into consideration, the C++ Standard's
> definition of ODR is just wishful thinking.
> In time: C++17 Modules do not solve this issue. Modules replace some use of
> headers and #include; they have nothing to do with DLLs and symbol
> exporting/ importing.
> Glossary:
>  * ELF: Executable and Linkable Format, the file format for all object
> files, libraries, executables and core dumps on modern Unix systems, first
> deployed by Sun on Solaris.
>  * PE-COFF: Portable Executable COFF, Microsoft's variant of the COFF object
> file format, used for DLLs and executables (not for .obj files, that's
> OMF). * GOT: Global Offset Table, a technique used to achieve position-
> independence. Whenever a symbol "foo" is referenced, instead of writing its
> address into the code, the compiler generates an indirect load of the
> symbol's address from a fixed location in the GOT, which the dynamic linker
> will write to once it has finished loading all modules and can resolve all
> symbols. This can be used to make the code read-only and shareable. See
> also PLT and the GOT pointer (which is the value that the PIC register
> carries).

Milian Wolff | milian.wolff at kdab.com | Software Engineer
KDAB (Deutschland) GmbH&Co KG, a KDAB Group company
Tel: +49-30-521325470
KDAB - The Qt Experts
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