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Manoj Rao

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Generator is a routine that can be used to control the iteration behavior of the loop. It is essential in implementing programs that deal with large amounts of data that need to be iterated. Consider the following code

vector<int> foo() {
    // initialize a very large vector
    vector<int> my_vec = {/* VERY VERY LARGE AMOUNTS OF DATA */};

    // ... do something

    return my_vec;

void foo_caller() {
    // I'm screwed!
    vector<int> ret_foo_vec = foo();

This example just illustrates the situation in which one would run into issues while dealing with large data structures. This is not a canonical example but sufficient to get the point across.

Now, there isn’t much we can do to avoid the huge amounts of data copied over other than “pass a reference instead of value” but it is not always posssible to avoid a situation where it must be done. Even in cases where memory copies are avoided, foo_caller() will have to first copy the entire structure into address space before starting to process data.

With generator pattern the reader or foo_caller() in our case can start to process each entry in the container bit by bit. Python famously provides a nice interface for this:

def foo() -> Generator[int]:
    # large list my_arr
    for i in my_arr:
        yield i

    # foo done
def foo_caller():
    # handles elements one by one
    for gen_item in foo():

Brave Generators in C++ Pre-processor:

To acknowledge the enterprising people who have ventured into implementing Generator patterns in C++ before it was mainstream, there are many blogs that illustrate this, but as far I could tell, this blog explained clearly a while ago. Old School Generators in C++ However, I’m sure there is a better way, because, after all Generators are nothing but the following: a big iterable structure of data can be iterated over with a reasonable implementation of next() and a way to indicate termination of the iteration. There is no out of the box feature in C++ that could manage this sorcery. But first, let’s look at how one would implement without standard language or library support for this feature.

Lambdas in C++ to the rescue:

As mentioned in C++ Lambda Post, Lambda functions are kinda underrated or at least under utilized. My goal is to start employing where it makes sense and/or the code more elegant.

std::function<int(vector<int>)> generator = [] (container) {
    auto iter = std::begin(container);
    return [=]() mutable {
        return (iter != std::end(container)) ? iter++ : nullptr;

// the large structure - my_vec from earlier
while ((i = generator(my_vec)) != nullptr)
    std::cout << "generator: " << i << std::endl;

That is quirky syntax

For folks unfamiliar with the syntactic sugar of C++, we basically defined a a general purpose function wrapper and assigned it a lambda with a capture.

Who knows, I might have even enjoyed uncovering this.


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